Athenian Religion

by Tom Wacaster

In their book, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, Conybeare and Howson have this interesting note: 

It [the Greek religion, TW] was a religion which ministered to art and amusement, and was entirely destitute of moral power.  Taste was gratified by the bright spectacle to which the Athenian awoke every morning of his life.  Excitement was agreeably kept up by festal seasons, gay processions, and varied ceremonies.  But all this religious dissipation had no tendency to make him holy.  It gave him no victory over himself: it brought him no nearer to God.  A religion which addresses itself only to the taste, is as weak as one that appeals only to the intellect.  The Greek religion was a mere deification of human attributes and the power of nature...It had no real power to raise him to a higher position than that which he occupied by nature (pages 28-281). 

I found that statement to be of interest insofar as it relates to what seems to be taking place in our society.  I read somewhere that more than 85% of our population professes some sort of religious faith.  The same article pointed out, however, that less than 15% of those surveyed admitted that their religion had any direct bearing upon their lives.  In short, their religion is no better than that of the Athenian citizen. There is no real power to transform them into something different, spiritually and morally speaking.

We have all seen the pitiful soul who plays the part of the hypocrite.  He has a "form" of religion, but possesses no real substance.  James pointed out that "faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26).  It seems that our society has moved ever closer to having the type religion characteristic of the ancient Greeks.  Human wisdom is deified, and men today, like those in Athens, spend "their time in nothing else but to either tell or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21).  When they have determined some "new thing," they glory in their knowledge, failing to realize that such knowledge just might be wrong.  Witness if you will the constant change in our encyclopedias and libraries. Volumes hot off the press today are out-of-date history tomorrow.  Knowledge without God is vain, at best.  The Greeks placed the emphasis upon that which appealed to the flesh and the gratification of the same.  It is really sad to see men today, while professing a sense of religion, failing to control the flesh.  In fact, they go so far as to engage in the things of the flesh in the name of religion.  The bottom line?  Philosophy without application is a dead philosophy, and religion without power to change is useless.

Bogus Astronauts

by Tom Wacaster

 Several years ago there appeared an article in the Houston Chronicle that still serves as a stark reminder that things are not always as they seem. The report told of a man who was "laid back," "friendly," and very "knowledgeable." These were a few of the epitaphs used by surprised individuals as they sought for words to describe Jerry Allen Whittredge, a "wanna-be" insider in NASA, CIA, and who knows where else his dreamings might have taken him. By falsely claiming to be an astronaut, this 48-year old Galveston man gained access into NASA's most secure area. He was so convincing that he was granted a tour of Marshall Space Center and access to Mission Control and was permitted to sit at the console during a shuttle mission. Mr. Whittredge is now in custody as authorities try to sort out why and how this man was able to deceive so many. The bottom line is: SOMEONE FORGOT TO CHECK HIS CREDENTIALS. As a result, a phony gained access to otherwise restricted areas, NASA officials have 'egg on their face,' and government security is under close scrutiny. IF NASA ran her business like some our brethren would have us run the church when it comes to exposing and dealing with men like Whittredge, here is what might have happened. At first 'light' of Mr. Whittredge's activities, someone would have asked, "Well, have you gone to Mr. Whittredge yourself? Have you personally discussed your grievance with him? If not, then we find no grounds to take your accusations seriously." Who cares that the man traveled the country in his mobile home, maintained a web page touting his bogus but believable identity, and continued to gain access into important areas of government circles. According to this way of thinking, until you personally track the man down, get him to sit down and answer your questions, you have no right to restrict his access to sensitive governmental areas. Any question regarding his qualifications might just label you as some sort of a vile and vicious trouble maker. When presented with overwhelming evidence that the man was, and is, a phony, those in high places would remind you that Mr. Whittredge is really very nice, "laid back," and quite "knowledgeable." "Why-y-y, have you ever listened to this man speak?" someone might respond. "He is so good, and speaks with such sincerity and deep down love for NASA and the government." Yes sir, with that kind of personality, the man should be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed continued access to these sensitive areas of government. But somewhere along the line a concerned official raises a most serious question. "Has anyone checked the man's credentials?" "Credentials? What are you, some sort of a legalist? You radical knucklehead, can't you see that this man is sincere? And besides that, what constitutes legitimate credentials? That is nothing more than your interpretation of NASA's code and qualifications list." Well, I think you get the picture by now. We are happy to report that Mr. Whittredge is now under arrest. Any harm he might have done has been effectively rendered null and void. His "mouth has been shut," and his influence curtailed. I just wish I could say the same thing about the false teachers who roam our land wrecking havoc on the Lord's church from coast to coast and beyond. Perhaps we ought to take a lesson from the government's reaction to this "bogus astronaut" and pursue the same course of action concerning false teachers that are troubling the Lord's church.

A Lot of Empty Yesterdays

by Tom Wacaster

An incident from the American Revolution illustrates what tragedy can result from procrastination. It is reported that Colonel Rahl, commander of the British troops in Trenton, New Jersey, was playing cards when a courier brought an urgent message stating that General George Washington was crossing the Delaware River. Rahl put the letter in his pocket and didn't bother to read it until the game was finished. Then, realizing the seriousness of the situation, he hurriedly tried to rally his men to meet the coming attack, but his procrastination was his undoing. He and many of his men were killed and the rest of the regiment were captured. Nolbert Quayle said, "Only a few minutes' delay cost him his life, his honor, and the liberty of his soldiers. Earth's history is strewn with the wrecks of half-finished plans and unexecuted resolutions. 'Tomorrow' is the excuse of the lazy and refuge of the incompetent."

Unfortunately the above scenario could be repeated dozens, if not hundreds of times throughout the history of mankind. Battles have been lost, business opportunities squandered, and personal relationships neglected for the simple reason that someone thought they had plenty of time. The most tragic consequence of procrastination, however, is the loss of one’s soul. Perhaps the one parable that so illustrates the tragedy of procrastination is that of the foolish virgins as set forth in Matthew 25:1-13. In contrast to the five wise virgins who kept their wicks trimmed and their flasks filled with oil, the five foolish virgins evidently thought they could, at the last moment, borrow from others in preparation for the coming of the bridegroom. Their negligence forever barred them from the wedding feast. So serious was their neglect that the bridegroom confessed, “Verity I say unto you, I know you not.”

Can you imagine the regret that will be ours should we find ourselves on that last day being turned away from that eternal home, not because of some immoral character, or because we were vile or horrible; rather because we simply neglected the opportunities that came our way.

The Holy Spirit reminds us in the Sacred Record that “Today” is the day of salvation. “Tomorrow” is not on heaven’s calendar, and “yesterday” is a page in every man’s spiritual log book that reflects how he treated “today.”

In Meredith Wilson’s “Music Man,” Robert Preston plays the part of a con-artist who comes to River City, Iowa to form a “boys band” for his own financial gain. As the story develops Harold Hill (played by Preston) unexpectedly falls in love with the local librarian Marian Paroo (played by Shirley Jones) and asks her to go out with him. He invites her to meet him at the footbridge that crosses the stream running through the park. She responds, “Please, some other time. Maybe tomorrow.” He continues to press her to meet with him; she continues to refuse. Finally, in exasperation Professor Hill says, “Pile up enough tomorrows and you'll find that you've collected nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays."

And The Band Quit Playing

by Tom Wacaster

While working in India this week it was my privilege to travel with brother Nehemiah Gootam to Nakkerkal to work with brother Premdas, one of the preachers in that area. We had completed our morning speaking engagement and had returned to brother Premdas' house, which is situated on one of the major highways that goes to Hyderabad. It would be another three hours before our next meeting. Across the street there was some sort of marriage party in progress. The house was decorated with colored lights, and a colorful tent had been erected outside the house where the guests had gathered so as to provide some shade from the blistering sun. The tent had no walls; only a covering, supported by about half a dozen poles situated at the corners and along the sides to hold the awning in place. From the activities it would appear that no expense had been withheld to provide an elaborate and festive wedding party for the bride and groom. There were fireworks, what appeared to be an abundance of food, and a band that would, on occasion, march from the house to some point down the street, playing their music as they marched along. I could not determine why the entire band would march down the street, unless it was to invite others, or perhaps simply to make their presence known. Upon returning to the house, they would situate themselves just outside the awning so the guests would have enough room to sit in the shade. As the guests gathered and visited, the band played on, with seldom a lull in their festive music.

In the distance I watched as clouds began to gather - dark clouds that promised rain, and along with it cooler temperatures. There was no attempt to make arrangements for the comfort of the guests should it rain, and the band played on, either ignorant of the approaching storm or unconcerned. It seemed like everyone was enjoying the party, and although I was not a guest, it was quite enjoyable to observe the activities from a distance. And then the rain came; and the band quit playing. At least for the moment the merrymaking and festivities came to a halt, and the guests, wedding party, and the band hurried about seeking shelter from the rain. People were shouting one thing and then another. Every effort was made to stay dry, and keep the festivities going. Before the rain, the party went on uninterrupted; the band played their merry songs; all was well. But when the rains fell, the activities were disrupted, and the band quit playing.

I am sure that we have all heard the proverbial saying, "Into everyone's life a little rain must fall." Whoever penned that proverb was trying to express the undeniable truth that life is not a bed of roses. There are interruptions in life; the "rains" come, and our lives are disrupted by the storms that come upon us. Our Lord spoke of just such storms in the parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matt. 7:24-27). One built upon the rock; his foundation was solid, and his house withstood the rains that beat upon it. The other built his house upon sand; and when the rains came, and beat upon his house, "it fell, and great was the fall thereof."

What I observed that day is analogous to so many lives. For the most part, our world marches from one point to another, "eating, drinking, and giving in marriage," unaware of the approaching clouds in the distant future. While life treats us good, the band plays on, and little, if any consideration is given to the foundation upon which we are building our house. But when the storms come, we are confronted with a dose of reality, and, if only temporarily, the band quits playing.

The rain eventually quit that day, and, once again, the band resumed its playing. It came time for us to leave for our next appointment. As we drove off, I could still hear the firecrackers going off, and the band playing its music. And I thought to myself, "How will my house fair when the rains come? And am I prepared for those occasions in life when tragedy strikes, and the storms rage, and, even if only for a moment, the band quits playing?"

Baptism Without Consent

by Tom Wacaster

I have a dear preacher friend who is not married. While considering his marital state, and the awful misery he must be experiencing, I thought perhaps it would be better if he were married. I have happened upon a plan that would accomplish my desired end, and thought I might share it with our readers. Some afternoon, while he is sleeping, I will get some fine Christian lady to accompany me, along with the necessary witnesses, to his home. We will quietly sneak in and, while my friend in sleeping, I will put the question to the bride-to-be: "Will you take this sleeper to be your lawful wedded husband?" She will, of course, answer, "I do." I will then ask my sleeping brother, "Do you take this woman to be your wife?" Unable to answer for himself, we will permit the woman to answer for him. I will then pronounce them man and wife, awake my friend and inform him of his good fortune! Ridiculous you say? Absolutely. But is there any difference between the procedure in our imaginary intentions and what is done in the modern day practice of infant baptism? I think not! There is not one single infant upon whom the rite of baptism is pronounced, that is aware of what is taking place. Sponsors (usually the parents) take certain vows on behalf of the babe for which there is not one shred of evidence in the New Testament authorizing such a practice. When will we learn that only those who believe and confess the name of Christ before men are viable candidates for obedience in the watery grave of baptism.

The Bible: Hate Literature?

by Tom Wacaster

It has been almost a full decade since Saskatchewan's NDP government amended Section 14 of the province's Human Rights Code so as to prohibit discrimination against homosexuals by adding "sexual orientation" as a protected category. Since then there has been an ongoing debate as to whether or not the Bible's strong condemnations of homosexual behavior can be construed as hate literature under the amended act, but to this scribe's knowledge there has been no official ruling. One concerned Canadian resident sought to exempt the Bible from discriminatory classification, but so far has been "unimpressed with the human rights commission's response." While no one is contemplating "going after the Bible," it is apparent that the present rendering of government policy could be used at a later time to accuse Christianity of fomenting hatred against homosexuals. A Saskatchewan lawyer has pointed out that "Section 14 is broad enough to include the Bible," and then warned: "Policies change like fashion changes. Proscribing the Bible under Section 14 remains a real possibility as long as its protection depends on policy, not law" (emphasis mine, TW). When asked what would happen if someone filed a human right action against the Bible, a government official agreed that "the human rights commission would pursue that complaint." The present trend to recognize homosexuality as a legitimate moral life style is fraught with grave implications. What starts in the North tends to migrate South.

Now we in America have a similar "hate crimes bill," the specific aim of which is to provide aid and comfort to those who want to legitimize their perverted behavior. The full impact of this hate crimes bill has yet to be realized, but it is likely that the Gay and Lesbian movement in our society will be watching with the proverbial "eagle's eye" so as to test the new law at their earliest convenience. May God give us men who have the courage of Moses, the faith of Abraham, and the fiery spirit of John the baptist; men who will let our voices be heard in the halls of Congress; men who will enact laws that uphold godliness and denounce wickedness! I will close this week's article with one author's call for courage:

Be Strong

Be Strong!
We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;
We have hard work to do, and loads to lift;
Shun not the struggle--face it; 'tis God's gift.

Be Strong!
Say not, "The days are evil. Who's to blame?"
And fold the hands and acquiesce--oh shame!
Stand up, speak out and bravely, in God's name.

Be strong!
It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,
How hard the battle goes, the day how long;
Faint not -- fight on!
Tomorrow comes the song.

--Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Sending A Clear Message: Courage in Action on Baptism

A number of years ago F. LaGard Smith published a book entitled, "Baptism, the Believer's Wedding Ceremony." It is well written, and deals effectively with some of those "thorny" issues regarding the topic of baptism. But in my estimation brother LaGard renders the totality of his work null and void in the closing two chapters of his book. Inevitably when one deals with such a controversial subject (such as baptism) he is going to be asked if his position makes any difference. To be more specific, will someone be lost who DOES NOT hold that position? In this case the question would be whether or not one has to believe in the essentiality of baptism in order to be "joined" to Christ. Brother LaGard anticipates the question, and under a section entitled, "Why Make Judgment Necessary," he has this comment: "Are unbaptized believers destined to hell? Are those who have received only infant baptism in eternal jeopardy? Only God knows... Nevertheless I would hope that God might apply the 'common law marriage' approach for those who have lived a lifetime of service in His name without having participated in the wedding ceremony of baptism" (page 206). But IS it true that "God only knows"? According to 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 God has made known to us His mind. And included among those things that God has revealed to us is His position with regard to the essentiality of baptism. "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven" (John 3:5). "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). "Repent and be baptized...for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27). Baptism is the door that gives us access into Christ, into His death, into His body. Since it is the case that God has spoken on this vital issue is it not reasonable to assume that He intended to communicate to us His divine will on the matter? Of course it is. Brother LaGard has fallen victim to our modern age of pluralism wherein it is advocated that truth is not absolute or attainable. We will not judge the motives of our brother in Christ, but we simply must disagree with him that "God only knows" who and who shall not be saved in heaven.

I have another book in my library entitled "The Gospel Plan Of Salvation," by T.W. Brents. Brother Brents lived during the later half of the nineteenth century. He was what we might call one of the pioneer preachers, and an early restorationist of New Testament Christianity. His book has no such "uncertain sounds" as those manifested by some of our present day authors within the church. Listen to one of his comments: "While we continue to believe and practice the genuine doctrine taught in the Bible, we are orthodox; but when we forsake these truths, in order to get the world to call us orthodox, we give evidence that we love the praise of men more than the approbation of God. 'Tis better to show that we have a valid claim to the title, by believing the truth, than to seek to make our faith look like error to induce the world to call us orthodox" (page 144). One of the reasons the church of the preceding generation grew as it did was because of its unwavering stand upon the truth. If the Bible taught the essentiality of baptism, there was no room for a "common law marriage" with the Lord! Since Jesus said, "EXCEPT a man be born of water and the spirit," then there is NO OTHER WAY! And God's preachers and teachers are not being judgmental when we preach and teach HIS word! This attitude that we can somehow skirt around the truth in order to avoid persecution is dangerous. Such handling of the word of God manifests an ever encroaching menace that plagues the Lord's church, and that is the unwillingness to say, "THIS IS TRUTH, AND THIS IS ERROR, AND NEVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET!" It seems that more and more we are turning out preachers who want to get along with the world, avoid controversy, and maintain a sense of respectability among the false teachers who ravage the souls of men without mercy or concern for where their false doctrine might lead. As God is my witness I do not get any pleasure out of controversy. But brethren, be assured, I had far rather be at odds with men, than to seek friendship with the world and make myself an enemy of God. May God give us the courage to be faithful soldiers of the cross, wielding the sword of the Spirit with great boldness, and giving no ground to Satan and his allies!

by Tom Wacaster

A Lamp Unto My Feet

by Tom Wacaster

In 1815 a young lawyer walked through the beautiful fields near Plainfield, Massachusetts.  At that time in  his life he was depressed and uncertain as to whether or not he wanted to practice law.  William Cullen Bryant was a romantic and loved poetry, a characteristic somewhat out of sink with the cold practicality of the legal profession.  As he walked he noticed a solitary waterfowl flying into the crimson New England sunset. It was the time of year the bird should have been migrating with others of its kind, yet it was all alone. Could this bird be lost?  Bryant noticed the bird was unwavering in its flight. It seemed to know its destination. It was alone, but it was not lost.  Some "power," Bryant concluded, was guiding this bird to its destination. The youthful Bryant was so moved that he returned home, picked up his pen, and wrote the beautiful poem, "Ode To A Waterfowl."  The last few lines of that poem go like this:

"He who from zone to zone
Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright."

Men  may abandon us, but not so our God. And though it may be that none go with us, our Lord will never forsake His faithful child.  Yes, there may be times when we are alone, but rest assured that we are not lost. We are simply on our way home.

Is The Church of Christ A Sect?

by Tom Wacaster
The word "sect" is used nine times in the New Testament.  It is translated four times with the English word "sect," and five times with the word "heresies."   W.E. Vine tells us that the word means "a predilection either for a particular truth, or for a perversion of one, generally with the expectation of personal advantage; hence, a division and the formation of a party or sect in contrast to the uniting power of 'the truth,' held in toto; a sect is a division developed and brought to an issue."   When Paul arrived in Rome those who were "the chief of the Jews" met with him and said, "We neither received letters from Judaea concerning thee, nor did any of the brethren come hither and report or speak any harm to thee. But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against" (Acts 28:21-22).  It is important to note that Paul did not regard the church as a sect.  When he stood before Felix, having been charged by the Jews as a trouble maker, Paul said, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the Way which they call a sect, so serve I the God of our fathers" (Acts 24:14). 

The change agents among us would have us believe that the church is a sect, nothing more than a heretical, pompous group of dogmatic knuckleheads incapable of understanding God's love and mercy.   One brother has written, "We are crusading against the tyranny of ecclesiastical professionals within the Christian commonwealth, for we believe the system they espouse is cancerous to the one body of believers."  Another has written, "'Church' is not found in the oldest of Greek manuscripts.  Why did the translators fail to delete 'church'?  Because it became the clergy's sacred cow. This sacred cow gave birth to many calves, some of which are Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Luthern. History confirms that subsequent deliveries were named Church of Christ [emphasis mine, TW], Church of God, and Assembly of God."  Still another writes, "It is true that Churches of Christ, like other sects, have reduced the Christian system to mere proffessional employment and sectarian ecclesiasticalism."   It is manifest by their writings that these brethren "went out from us....that they might be made manifest that they are not of us" (1 John 2:19).   

One of the charges laid at the feet of those who seek a "thus saith the Lord" is the accusation that churches of Christ have been too judgmental in their refusal to fellowship denominations.  This, according to some, makes us 'sectarian.'   Loyalty to the truth of God's word does not make someone sectarian.  If the Bible forbids fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), then compliance to that God-given command is not heretical, nor is it a manifestation of a "sectarian spirit," as some are claiming.  Another charge laid at our feet is that the churches of Christ are too arrogant in their claims of being the the one true church.   If the Bible plainly says there is one body (and it does, Ephesians 4:4-5), am I sectarian because I preach that message?  If the Bible plainly says that all spiritual blessings are in that one body (and it does, Ephesians 1:3), am I sectarian because I practice and teach that truth?  If the Bible plainly says that one must be baptized in order to enter into that one body (and it does, 1 Corinthians 12:13), am I sectarian because I obey and preach that truth?     May I go on record:  If it is "sectarian" to believe there is one body and that the body is the church, that one must conform to God's will in order to be pleasing in His sight, that God authorizes only singing in worship music, and that men and women who promote denominationalism will be lost, then I plead guilty as charged. 

But before one frown on this self-admitted declaration, let him examine the scriptures and see that the Holy Spirit has clearly revealed that each of the afore mentioned "sectarian" beliefs are in compliance with God's will.  Sectarianism is the result of departure from those things, not compliance to them.  Hence, those who maintain loyalty to the truth are not sectarian.   Brother Darrell Conley wrote, "The church for which Jesus died is not a sect. It is the original. Is the whole of God's saved people. Simply because men have invented counterfeit churches, does not make the church of Christ a counterfeit.  The counterfeits are the sects."   The present push by some of our once faithful brethren to align the church with the "Christian community" at large is a tragic mistake.  In the final analysis it will actually turn the church into the very thing which some or our accusers now say we are - a sect.  

The Christian and Persecution

by Tom Wacaster

The real test of Christianity is found in the willingness of the saint to endure persecution, even to the point of death. The persecution of Christians in the early years of the church has been well documented. William Forbush, in Fox’s Book of Martyrs” describes the persecution of Christians under Marcus Aurelius:

The cruelties used in this persecution were such that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were astonished at the intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, etc., upon their points, others were scourged until the sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.

Perhaps the most notable account is that of Polycarp, student of John the apostle. History tells us that he was threatened with being burned at the stake and was given numerous opportunities to deny Christ so that he might live. Even in the face of persecution Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me. How then can I blaspheme my King Who hath saved me?” Will Durant, in his multi-volume survey of World History, noted:

There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fiery tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has ever known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won (Will Durant, A History of Roman Civilization and Christianity, page 652).

These faithful Christians in Smyrna were about to undergo the most severe test of their faith. Admonished to remain faithful, “even unto death,” they were promised that they would receive the crown of life! And faithful they were! I’ll close this little article with an item I placed in my notes more than two decades ago:

The Midnight Hour

That time when feeble eyes cannot penetrate the darkness; when the oil of our Christian lamp is low; or maybe life has almost snuffed it out. Midnight – when we find ourselves chained, bound and beaten - when even death itself would be a welcomed visitor. The lasting beauty of Christianity is not witnessed in the lives of people who have been sheltered from the storms or untouched by the world. The real worth of Christianity is not captured in a Sunday morning worship service with every man in his pew singing “Amazing Grace.” The lasting weight of Christianity is not felt when all is well.  If we would comprehend the real weight and worth and beauty of Christianity we must view it at the midnight hour when tragedy strikes, and triumph is fled; when darkness hangs about us like a burial shroud and the silence of grief is deafening. When oceans of tears have been shed and all of our hopes lie buried in a lonely grave in a garden of memories. When life has dashed our most cherished dreams to the ground. For some of us it is now 11:59 p.m., and midnight approaches.

Choose Life

by Tom Wacaster
One of the most amazing statements in the Old Testament was the exhortation that the Lord offered to Israel on the eve of their marching across Jordan into the promised land.  After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God had Moses pen the following words for the admonition of both Israel and us:  "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil...I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deut. 30:15, 19).  Whether we believe it or not, much of our happiness and success is dependent upon the choices we make in life.   Even when life deals us a lemmon we still have it within our power to choose what we will do with the obstacle that might confront us at any given moment.  Too many have attempted to pass the blame for their lot in life.  Little do they realize that in most cases a person has only himself to blame for the situation in which he may find himself at any given moment.  One South Africa preacher was fond of saying, "Adam blamed the woman; the woman blamed the snake; and the snake didn't have a leg to stand on."  The words of Moses to Israel present an eternal truth that runs through the Bible like a fine thread.  Choice!  You and I have the power to choose what we will do with the opportunities God sends our way.   There are at least three things that emerge from the two verses quoted above.

First, when it comes to things eternal, there are only two choices - life and death; evil and good.  Unlike our modern supermarket wherein the choices are abundant, when it comes to your soul, you can choose to serve God, or the Devil.  Our Lord spoke of precisely the same two roads in Matthew 7:13-14.  God gave Israel the choice as to which way they would choose.  He would not coerce; He would not force them to travel the road to life.  But He would invite!  And His invitation opened the gate that would lead to life, if they would but take the initiative.

Second, the right choice leads to life for he who will follow in the path of wisdom.  Some years ago I was asked to provide a passage that might encourage young people to travel in the right path.  After a few moments of contemplation I opened my Bible and read from 1 Peter 3:10-11, "For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile.  Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it."  There are two promises attached to the command to refrain one's tongue from evil, and speak no guile.  The first promise is that such a one will "love life."  There are too many in our world today who do not love life.  Those seeking escape by suicide is on the rise, and multitudes of others who refuse to take their life find little if any joy in life.  The second promise is that those who choose the right path will "see good days."  While there may be some exceptions to the rule, God has promised us that godly living will bring "good days" to those who walk according to God's commandments.

Finally, the choices we make in this life affect more than us alone.   God admonishes us to choose the way that leads to life for "both thou and thy seed."  While it is true that each individual has the power of choice, it is also true that no man in an island unto himself.  The choices we make in this life often influence others to follow us in the direction we have chosen to travel, whether it be good or bad.

Someone once pointed out that whatever power of choice man has is determined by his own nature as it has been organized under the influences of heredity, environment, and, last but not least, idealism. Every moral being has the power of self-conscious reflection and choice.  So long as this power to choose remains, the spiritual self is alive.   God provides the incentive to lure man onward and upward toward that heavenly city, but each man must choose what he will do with heaven's invitation. 

To every man there openeth
A Way, and Ways, and a Way;
And the High Soul climbs the High Way
And the Low Soul gropes the Low,
And in between on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A High Way and a Low,
And every man decideth
The Way his soul shall go.

Behold, I Thought

by Tom Wacaster

They thought the Titanic was unsinkable! They thought there were sufficient life boats for whatever emergency they might face. They thought the double bottom, sixteen watertight compartments could withstand anything! They thought the ship could float even with some of hits bulkheads filled with water! They thought the three million rivets holding the steel plates together were indestructible! They thought even after the ship had struck an iceberg that there was no cause for alarm - everything would be alright! They thought all was fine and some continued dancing, enjoying the music, and partying! They thought...but they were wrong!

Naaman was the captain of the host of Syria (2 Kings 5:1). The Bible describes him as a "great man....honorable" and "a mighty man in valor." He stood head and shoulders above his peers. But the Bible says he was a "leper." The extent of his leprosy is not known, but it was bad enough that it drove him to seek relief. At the advice of a maid who was of the land of Israel, Naaman searched out the man of God that just might possibly be able to cure him of his leprosy. But when he received the instructions to "Go and wash in Jordan seven times" Naaman became "wroth, and when away in a rage" (5:11). In his anger he manifested an attitude that not only temporarily barred him from healing, but will bar untold millions from heaven's gate. "Behold, I thought"! In his estimation "Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus" were better than the old muddy Jordan. Had it not been for the advice of one of his servants, Naaman would have died a leper.

"Behold I thought"! Three very simple words. No doubt we have heard, and occasionally used these three words ourselves. A motorist stopped by the police may respond, "Behold, I thought..." Poisoned by an accidental overdose the dying victim is heard to say, "Behold, I thought..." A wrong product purchased at the local store, failure to pay taxes, an innocent violation of the law, and when the realization of our error comes to light we are heard to say, "Behold I thought." Unfortunately there are many who, like Naaman, have their mind made up. Preconceived notions can be dangerous, if not deadly. In the spiritual realm preconceived notions are eternally detrimental. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:22-23). Those thus described by our Lord will, no doubt, cry out on the judgment day, "Behold, I thought." It seems to me, in view of what is at stake, that one would want to make doubly sure that he is on the right track when it comes to the spiritual journey upon which he has embarked. Peter stated it well, "Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10). When Jesus comes again, it will be too late. Don't find yourself among so many for whom eternity will echo the words, "Behold, I thought"!