Thinking And Thanking

By Tom Wacaster

Someone once said, "Thanksgiving is a state of mind, and not necessarily an expression of thought." Was he implying that one could "be" thankful while failing to express that thanks in so many words? If so, he would be wrong. No doubt thanksgiving begins in the heart. It starts with thinking about those who have blessed our lives in so many ways. It includes thinking about the different ways in which they have blessed our lives with a word of encouragement, a pat on the back, financial aid in time of need, or just being there when needed. In the first two verses of this epistle we are struck with the realization that Paul, though in prison in Rome, was thinking about his brethren in Philippi. From that prison cell in Rome Paul reflected upon their spiritual status. He refers to them as "saints." They were separated from the world, set aside for service unto the Father. As he thought on those brethren in Philippi, he also thought about their spiritual state. They were "in Christ," wherein are located all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3). As he thought on those brethren, he mentions their spiritual stature. That little congregation had matured to the point where they had appointed "bishops and deacons." Finally, Paul thought about their spiritual source of strength, namely "God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." I wonder how many times Paul had thought about those brethren in Philippi. When Epaphroditus arrived from Philippi bearing news of the situation back home, one can only wonder how the memories of Lydia, the unnamed jailor and others must have flooded his Paul's mind. When he penned this letter and placed it in the hands of Epaphroditus to carry back to them, he was thinking about them (1:1-2).

His fond memories of the brethren in Philippi drove him to his knees in thanksgiving. He was thankful for their fellowship in the furtherance of the gospel (1:5). From the "first day" of their conversion they were involved with Paul in the greatest work on the face of the earth - spreading the gospel to lost and dying humanity. Reflecting upon those good brethren, Paul was thankful for their faithfulness "from the first day until now" (1:5). Their past record provided Paul with confidence that the Lord would "perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ" (1:6). How many times have we expressed our thankfulness to our brethren for their faithfulness in determining to do what is right in the sight of God? Next, Paul was thankful for their fearless involvement in the defense and confirmation of the gospel (1:7). Finally, Paul was thankful for their friendship "in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus" (1:8). These brethren had stood at Paul's side through "thick and thin." They were, above all, his friend - and that speaks volumes of the saints in Philippi. Years ago, when speaker of the house Sam Rayburn heard that he had terminal cancer, he shocked everyone when he announced that he was going back to his small town in Bonham, Texas. Everyone said to him: They have got the finest facilities in Washington, D. C., why go back to that little town? Rayburn's words have been quoted so often that some of you have probably heard them. He said: "Because in Bohman, Texas, they know if you're sick and they care when you die." We need our friends; and it was for his friends in Philippi that Paul gave thanks.

Now let me ask you: Is thanksgiving merely a state of mind, or is it not also, and perhaps more importantly, an expression of appreciation? Ask the brethren in Philippi.

That Sinking Feeling

By Tom Wacaster

I have, on occasions, been accused of being the "most organized preacher in the brotherhood." I'm not so sure I deserve such a distinguished designation, and try as hard as I might, there are times when I feel like I am certainly the most "disorganized preacher in the brotherhood." In order to appreciate where I am going with this week's article, I think I need to give you a little background that will provide you with some insight as to how I managed to get "that sinking feeling" early this week.

My "filing" experience dates back to the pre-digital age; a time when records were kept in ledgers, handwritten, and carefully recorded for future reference. While I was still in school one of my teachers encouraged us preacher boys to start filing. He recommended the old Wilson Ministerial Topical Filing Index system. In the pre-digital age that was, in my opinion, the best system available for recording the books in my library, and for recording the location of various articles, sermons, illustrations, and poems for easy retrieval later. I was diligent in filing, spending several hours a week placing notes in the filing system under subject and topic. By the mid 80's I had accumulated more than 10,000 entries into that old filing system, and it was quite effective for retrieving the location of a desired quote, poem, or article.

Then came the age of personal computers, spread sheets, and inter-relational database systems. I quickly realized the potential of an inter-relational database for filing articles, poems, and illustrations that I might want to get my hands on later. After hours of study, I learned how to build such a database, and began the arduous task of transferring the data in that old Wilson Ministerial Topical Filing Index system into my personal computer. New material went directly into the computerized filing system, and slowly, very slowly, I transferred those 10,000 entries into my electronic system. Since then I have amassed more than 49,000 records, and the search capabilities of database systems enables me to put my hands on a vast amount of material in my library. I have been careful to keep backups, and backups of backups, lest I lose the material, resulting in the waste of so many hours involved in filing. This brings us to a little incident that gave me "that sinking feeling" this week.

I was searching my database for an item I knew I had filed away, yet with every search I came up empty. I began to suspect that something had gone horribly wrong, and after careful examination of the database, I learned that more than 4,000 entries were blank. The record was there, but the information was blank - only white space. I figured that I had lost about 10 years' worth of work. OK - no problem; I'll just restore it from one of my backups. Unfortunately, the data was lost sometime prior to late March, and all of my backups since then had the same "white space." So I was simply multiplying that corrupt file. That is when I got "that sinking feeling." As of this morning I was resigned to simply do without those precious records. Oh, how sad my day began! Now let me tell you what happened next.

Dan Cates, one of my fellow instructors here at MSOP, asked if I had some kind of "restore" or "time-line" restoration capability similar to his MAC computer. Well, I'm a PC Guy, and although PC's don't have a "time-line" restore, they do have a recycle bin. I managed to find an old file dated March 3rd that I used to restore all the lost data. There are a few things missing, but certainly not more than about a dozen or so entries. That "sinking feeling" gave way to exuberant joy. I felt that a burden had been lifted and my saddened countenance with which I began that day soon vanished.

And then I thought: Is that how God and the angels feel when a lost soul is restored to its Maker? And what about the precious soul that experiences such restoration? Is a burden lifted from his shoulders? Does his countenance change from "that sinking feeling" of having "no hope" to overwhelming joy at the realization that he has come to know God and Christ? And what about me? Have I been as diligent in seeking the recovery of a lost soul as I was in seeking some kind of backup file to recover a mere 4,000 recorded entries? And I felt ashamed!

In the final analysis, the loss of 4,000 entries out of more than 49,000 entries is miniscule. But you know what? The loss of a soul is for eternity! Perhaps we should re-examine our priorities and be just a little more diligent in restoring the lost. As we consider the billions of lost souls in our world today, perhaps we ought to pray that God will give us wisdom to grasp the importance of just one soul, and then place upon our hearts the burden of "that sinking feeling" for the lost masses of humanity.

There Is Nothing In A Name?

by Tom Wacaster

It is quite interesting to listen to the feeble attempts of men to justify those things for which they have no authority. After more than 45 years of preaching I have learned that once a person has decided to embark upon a certain course of action that is so blatantly opposed to the word of God, reason is thrown out the proverbial window.

Some years ago Johnnie Ann and I were making multiple trips to Ukraine to help establish and strengthen the Lord’s church in Poltava. We were only allowed to remain in the country for 90 days, so we would do what we could during that time, return home, and reapply for a visa and get back to Poltava as quickly as possible. That was a period of great interest regarding matters pertaining to religion in that country, and it provided a unique opportunity to preach and teach the truth with the full expectation that our labor would yield visible fruit for the Lord. But you don’t have to go to Ukraine to hear this oft-stated and ill-advised excuse for failing to abide by God’s divine authority when it comes to the name we are to wear as God’s children, or the terms that we are to use to refer to the church. It just so happens that an incident on one of our mission trips provided an opportunity to demonstrate the foolishness of those who might attempt to claim, “There is nothing in a name.” It was a great occasion to “answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:5).

His name of Sergei. He had been converted to the Lord prior to our having met him on our first trip to Poltava. He served as our contact/sponsor/interpreter on each of those mission trips. On occasion he would meet us at the airport in Kiev and escort us to Poltava. He was diligent, good at what he did, and he was wise beyond his years. I cannot remember the details as to how the meeting came about, but Sergei introduced us to two missionaries from Australia who were members of the Church of The Brethren. They showed some interest in our work and wanted to discuss some matters in private. I agreed to meet with them. “George” and “John” were their names. Both spoke good English with the typical Australian accent, which made for pleasant conversation. It also eliminated the need for Sergei to interpret, breaking him lose to work on the Ukrainian preacher that had come with these men. Upon our meeting, “John” suggested that we combine our efforts in order to make a greater impact for the cause of Christ. I simply told him that we could not extend fellowship to those who demonstrated a disrespect for the authority of Christ. I told him there were too many doctrinal issues that separated us and any attempt at cooperation between the two of us could only produce difficulty, not to mention that fellowship with error would render us partaker in their false doctrines (2 John 10-11). “Such as?” came his reply. I immediately focused on the names they wore. “How can we even begin to discuss unity when we can’t even agree on the names and terms that we use? Where, for example is the term ‘Church of the Brethren’ mentioned in the Bible?” His response was so typical of those who cannot see beyond their proverbial noses when it comes to such matters: “There is nothing in a name!” This is where the conversation became somewhat humorous. I responded to John, “George, there IS something in a name!” He quickly responded, “I’m John; he’s George.” I continued, “Ok George, whatever; let’s continue.” Again, he responded, “No, I’m John, he’s George!” I continued, “George, turn with me to Colossians 3:17.” I was abruptly interrupted, “Look, I’m John, NOT George!” I could hear the frustration in his voice; he must of thought by now he was talking to some dunce, unable to remember even the simplest of matters such as the name of a person. I then made my point: “John, I thought you said there was nothing in a name! If you are so intent on my calling you by your proper name, how do you think Christ feels about you calling the church by the wrong name?” The point was made, the conversation concluded, the study ended, and we went our separate way. I don’t think he ever got the point I was trying to make.

Names ARE important, and there IS something in a name.  If you doubt that for a minute, why not try cashing a check made out to someone other than yourself. How much success do you suppose you would have borrowing money from a bank if you refused to sign with your legal name? Why, then, do we assume that when it comes to religion, we can attach any name we select to identify the church? It is His church (Matthew 16:16-18), He paid the price (Acts 20:28), and it is His followers, and only His followers, that will be saved (Eph. 5:23). We are told that there is “none other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth (John 16:13), and the only terms used to designate the church all include a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in one fashion or the other. “The church of God” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:23), “the churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16); these are terms the Holy Spirit used to designate the church for which Jesus shed His blood. Where in God’s word do we read of the “Church of the Brethren,” the “Baptist Church,” “Pentecostal Church,” “Seventh Day Adventist Church,” “Harvest Tabernacle Church,” or “Cowboy Church,” to name just a few.

The God given name for His people, as well as that soul saving institution, the church, is extremely important. The Bible tells us that the disciples were called “Christians” first in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Why can we not be satisfied with the name provided by the Holy Spirit, and glorify God in THAT name (1 Pet. 4:16)? Would to God that names devised by human beings forever cease, and His name be glorified.

Let us wear the name of Christ only. If you have heard that there is nothing in a name, don’t you believe it for a second. Hold fast to God’s word, and make sure you have divine authority for all that you do in matters pertaining to religion (Col. 3:17). Look again at 1 Peter 4:16 and tell me, “There’s Nothing In A Name”!

The Philosophy Of One's LIfe

by Tom Wacaster

The essence of the first chapter of Philippians is captured in the words of 1:21: "For me to live is Christ; and to die is gain." Take a survey with the following lead in statement: "For me to live is: ______." Let men fill in the blank. Some might say, "For me to live is wealth!" Perhaps another, "For me to live is my job!" Or, "For me to live is pleasure!" Paul's philosophy (as well as every faithful child of God) is stated in our passage: "For me to live is Christ." Let's add a second question to our survey: "For me to die is: _______." "For me to die is the great loss!" "For to die is total defeat!" "For me to die is sheer tragedy!" Now listen to Paul: "For me to die is gain!"

Let a man or woman capture the philosophy of Paul as stated in this passage and there is no limit as to how far he will go in living for Christ. "For me to live is Christ, and die is gain!" When Paul wrote those words, he was likely sharing a jail cell with two guards; one on either side with chains binding him to his captors. Circumstances mattered little to Paul. He had a captive audience. And so, he preached! That same apostle would later write, "the word of God is not bound" (2 Tim. 2:9b). From the depths of that prison cell we can almost hear Paul whispering, "For me to live is Christ!" And because of his philosophy, the Gospel was advanced, and even while in his bonds Paul manifested Christ throughout the "whole praetorian guard!" (Phil. 1:13).

Then comes word to Paul that some, motivated by his great courage and determination, were preaching boldly out of love for Jesus and for Paul. His example had been an incentive for them to preach. When they considered him lying in prison, they doubled down on their efforts to preach and remain faithful to Christ in the face of adversity. It must have been a blow to Paul, therefore, to hear of some who were preaching Christ out of envy and strife (1:15); they were motivated by 'eritheia.' Now here is an interesting word. Originally it referred to someone who worked for pay. Such a man was in it for what he could get out of it; a "career man" if you will. The word eventually came to refer to someone who worked for public office, not to serve the people, but to benefit himself. It described a man with selfish ambition, out to advance himself, with little concern about those whom he might have to trample upon to achieve his goal. Paul says there were some preaching with the same kind of motive; they were moved only by envy and strife!

Paul was not of that mold in the least. There was not once ounce of jealousy in Paul's bones. So long as Christ was preached, he was satisfied because God was glorified, and souls were saved. What could enable Paul to have such a mind-set? It goes back to the set of his mind: "For me to live is Christ, and die is gain!" So in spite of Paul's imprisonment, and in spite of those who preached out of envy and strife, the Gospel continued its march into the palaces of the imperial government at Rome, all because of the philosophy of life that captured the mind of Paul and those faithful dedicated servants who were motivated by the apostle's wonderful example.

The application is not hard to see. Until men capture the philosophy presented in 1:21, they will never be truly free from party spirit, sectarian animosities, or earthly motives. Jealousy will rule the day and the seeds of self-destruction will run rampant through the citadels of the church of our Lord until all that is left are the shambles of a once mighty phalanx of fighting soldiers in the army of our Lord. May we never give way to despondency, never allow ourselves to think that we could serve God better if our circumstances were better than they are, and always do our best while we cling to the only philosophy of life that can provide genuine peace and joy in this life, and eternal blessings in the life to come.