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.