Is No The Only Word In Your Vocabulary?

by Tom Wacaster

In 1994 our pet poodle died of a stroke.  My recollections of that dog are fond ones, particularly when it comes to how well disciplined she was.   After several months of rigorous training, verbal commands, coupled with punishment and/or reward, that little 12 pound canine turned out to be a decent, well behaved, and without doubt, a loving companion for the family.  It would be six years before we sought out and purchased another dog. Having had our present poodle now for that same length of time, we recall with fondness the "puppy" stage that has given way to a well trained, more mature, and sometimes lazy, canine.  We learned some lessons during the trying time that it took to produce the finished product, but it has been worth the effort.

When she was barely twelve weeks old, and still in that "puppy" mode where her jaws were constantly moving and biting, the vet assured us that this was her way of getting acquainted with unfamiliar things.  It seems that every time that little three pound ball of fluff turned around we were saying, "No Mille" (Mille is short for Millennium Cream, her registered name; she was born five minutes after midnight, January 1, 2000).   A diligent effort to house break her eventually payed off, but in the process she heard "No Mille" so many times that she may have been tempted to think that was her name.  She would chew on the carpet, our clothing, bare feet and fingers.  Likely, were she able to talk, she would have responded: "Is 'No' the only word in your vocabulary?"   I am confident that some of our more liberal thinking brethren might have somewhat to say about our tactics in raising dogs.  "Your constant, 'No this,' and 'no that,' will produce a dog with little self esteem."  Another would point out that dogs raised in such a conservative atmosphere tend to be "un-controllable."  Still another might suggest that we should "praise the dog more and criticize her less."  Well, so much for "suggestions," none of which, in this dog-trainers humble opinion, are worth more than the space used to pass this little tid-bit along to our readers.  For the most part, our fellow dog-owners realize the need for loving discipline, especially during the early years of a dog's life. 

Now, before I say anything about application, let me assure you that I am, by no means, suggesting that we ought to treat one another like "dogs." But there is a remarkable lesson to learn from my simple, but limited, experience as a dog trainer.  To the Greeks, a horse that was considered "meek," was one that had its spirit brought under control.  It was now useful to its master.  Seeing that one of the beatitudes reads, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5), it would seem that each one of us would earnestly desire to obtain meekness, i.e. self control of the spirit within and restraint of the tendency to rebellion that so often characterizes man.   What is it about man that calls for constant reminders that there are some things that we simply cannot do?  When the elders say, "We cannot do this," or the preacher says, "No, that's far enough," they are simply trying to remind us that a specific act, habit, or thought is, for lack of a better word, "a no-no" in the sight of God.  The more immature the child of God (whether because he is a new "babe" in Christ and has not had time to grow, or an uninformed older Christian), the more he will hear the words, "No, brother so-and-so, you cannot go that direction."  Unfortunately, some react in a negative way: "Your constant 'no this, or no that' is 'negative preaching,' and we will not be inundated with such 'negative preaching.'"  Others will believe the lie that discipline somehow warps character and stunts self image.   Were some to speak their mind they might ask the elders or preacher, "Is 'No' the only word in your vocabulary?"   Is there any way we can convince you that all such 'negative preaching' (as some are wont to say) is really for your benefit? 

My constant refrain of "No Mille," was an attempt to bring a little animal in line with the demands of a master who loves her and wants, in the final analysis, to provide her with a contented and happy "dog's life."  That will only be achieved through persistent discipline and a stern reminder to her that some things simply will not be tolerated.  God has communicated the same thing to you and me.  His desire is that we bring our will in submission to His so that, when the period of training and preparation has passed, we enjoy that home prepared for the saints of every age. Meanwhile, we will have to go on hearing, "No brother/sister," and realize that though we may hear those words often, they are NOT the only words in God's vocabulary.  By His demands on our life He is really saying, "I love you; will you love me in return?"

Roots Or Reliability

by Tom Wacaster

A search of your ancestral tree will reveal that you may have had ancestors that hung by the neck, but never by the tail.    Multitudes are feverishly involved in searching their “roots”; for exactly what reason depends upon the one doing the searching.  Mormons search genealogies in hopes that they might find someone for whom they can be baptized; unfortunately proxy baptism is not taught in the Bible, and it is futile to search your family tree in such vain hope.  No doubt some (perhaps most) spend an amazing amount of time for no other purpose than satisfying the curiosity to know where we came from.   There is much to learn from history, and therein might lay the value of searching one’s roots.  

To some, historical “roots” are very important in selecting a religious organization with which to be identified.  Identification and participation are based upon how far back one can “trace” the beginning of that church.  Is the church a “late comer,” or does it have a long standing reputation of honesty, integrity and spiritual benefit? 

Permit me to be a little bold right here and declare that the “tracing” of some denomination's history is of no value whatsoever.  For one thing, even if you COULD find some sort of line back several hundred years, it would in no way guarantee the purity of that group's religious practice.  The past does not secure the future.  The apostle Paul foretold of a “falling away” (1 Tim. 4:1-4).  One living in the time of the “apostate” church might easily trace his roots to the time of the apostles, but so what?  The question is not “roots,” but “reliability.” 

Second, undue emphasis upon historical roots is really caused by a failure to understand the lesson of the parable of the sower. In Luke 8:4-8 Jesus told of the sower who went forth to sow. In the explanation of that parable our Lord pointed out that the seed is the word of God. If one plants a seed, any seed, he will get a crop exactly like that from which the seed was extracted.  The “history” of that seed will have no bearing upon what comes forth.  The application?  If we plant the “seed of God's word” the crop will be exactly like that from which it came!  Nothing more; nothing less.  Plant the word in an honest heart and the result will be a Christian.  My faith is the product of being born of the incorruptible seed.  I repeat, it is not a matter of “roots” but “reliability.”

In Search of a Home

by Tom Wacaster

Home!  There is something about that word.  Take those four letters and attempt to form all the English words possible and I think I can safely say that this word – “home” – is all you will get.  I did not take Webster’s Dictionary and search it out, but I think a little effort on the part of any individual will prove it true!  Those fortunate enough to have been raised in a God-fearing family understand the value of that kind of home.   Keep in mind there is a difference between a house and a home! One author captured the essence of what we say:

Home is where the heart is,
In dwellings great or small;
And there is many a stately mansion
That isn’t a home at all;
And a cottage lighted with love light
Is the dearest home of all.

Ask your neighbor where “home” is and he will likely recall the days of his childhood when life was a little slower, peace was the order of the day, and safety and protection were taken for granted.   Whisper the word “home,” and see if that does not conjure up warm feeling within your own breast. 

In 1961 the late Brook Benton released his version of “The Ballad of the Boll Weevil.”  The first stanza and chorus went like this:

Well, the boll weevil is a little black bug
Come from Mexico they say
Well he come all the way to Texas
He was lookin for a place to stay
Just lookin' for a home,
He was lookin' for a home

He was lookin' for a home,
Lookin' for a home.
He was lookin' for a home,
Well, lookin' for a home.

Since accepting the work at Handley I must admit I feel much like that boll weevil.  Temporary quarters in a two bed-room apartment are not quite like having your own house.   We knew from the time we signed the lease on the apartment that we would eventually find a more permanent place to live; and so the “search” began.   Hopefully the search will end soon, and we can set about making arrangements to make the move into more permanent quarters.   Having been through this process a number of times over the last 40 years, I continue to be impressed with the similarity of searching and securing a physical “house” with that of searching and securing that eternal mansion that awaits the faithful.  Let me explain.

First, moving from one location to another impresses upon one’s mind the temporary nature of material things.  I must admit that God has richly blessed us with comfortable houses in which to live during our 42 years of marriage.  Some of those houses have been extremely small (ask our son whose bedroom once consisted of an enclosed back porch where he shared his room with the washer and dryer, and wall to wall carpet was a “Welcome” mat.  He often said that flies had to file a flight plan to come into his bedroom).   Some of those houses in which we have lived would be considered a “mansion” by those living in other countries.   But all of those houses have one thing in common: they were only temporary dwellings which the Wacaster family occupied on their sojourn through life.  Each and every one of them were subject to fire, termites, and deterioration. 

Second, the only “house” that can bring true peace and happiness is the “mansion” that Jesus has promised the faithful.  Notice that I did not say “home”!  Peace and happiness is abundant in a home where God and Christ are more than occasional guests.  But a brick mansion without God is nothing more than that – a brick house!

Third, it takes a diligent effort to search out and secure that heavenly home promised to the children of God.  Like the boll weevil we must be about “lookin’ for a home.”  Our Lord promised that if we will “seek…ye shall fine” (Matt. 7:7a).  This is not to be a casual investigation, but a diligent effort put forth so as to acquire the desired end. 

Right now we are “searching” for a house in which to live, with the full expectation that God will provide.  But more importantly, it is our aim to continue to seek that heavenly home, “which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).  When our Lord returns to gather all the faithful and take them to heaven, the “mansion” promised will become our eternal “home,” and never again will we be in search of a home, for faith will become sight, and hope will become a reality!  Won’t that be a great day?

Giving Thanks In Every Situation

by Tom Wacaster

Once again we are approaching that one day in the year which our government leaders of a bygone era set aside in order to emphasize thanksgiving to our Creator for His abundant blessings.  As God’s children, we realize that the giving of thanks is not an annual, but a daily part of our lives.   Perhaps it would be good this Thanksgiving Day to include the following petition in our prayer before sitting down to eat:  “God, please grant us one more blessing…a thankful heart.” 

Permit me to share with you two stories that have been in my files for more than 25 years.  The first of these tells about a circuit-riding preacher of a hundred years ago who was asked to ride miles out of his way to hold services in a church known for being tightfisted.  His text was 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” The minister preached an eloquent sermon on gratitude and stressed the need of finding a sense of thanksgiving in every situation of life.  At the close of the service, the minister passed his wide-brimmed hat for the collection. It came back empty. He turned it upside down, and then shook it, but nothing came out. As the preacher began his benediction, the congregation wondered what he could give thanks for. “Father in Heaven,” the minister prayed good naturedly, “I thank thee for many things, but especially for getting my hat back.”

Our second story comes out of the life of Matthew Henry, the well known Bible commentator.  Mr. Henry was a cheerful man, and reportedly of easy temperament. Once, when he discovered a thief had stolen his purse, he turned to his diary and entered this observation: “Let me be thankful first, because he never robbed be before; second, because although he took my purse he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

It is often difficult to find a blessing in trials and tribulation.  The problem that we face in our affluent society is that we often mistake our luxuries for necessities, and mere inconveniences as severe trials.  There is a therapeutic value to gratitude. Being grateful for the beauty of life in any and every circumstance will help us bear the burden of the moment and lift us up to face our tomorrows with a deeper appreciation for what we DO have, rather than fret over what we may have lost. 

Of course it is much easier to give thanks in times of peace and prosperity.  But at the same time there is a greater danger in affluent times to forget to give thanks.  Though given as a warning to Old Testament Israel, the truth contained in Deuteronomy 8:10-11 is fitting: “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day.”

Should our Lord return in our life time may we be of such a frame of mind that He will find us giving thanks in any and every situation.  We hope you have an enjoyable Thanksgiving Day!

New Numbers

by Tom Wacaster

This past October 16th my wife and I celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary.   In those four plus decades we have moved a total of 26 times.  We are presently engaged in yet another move, this time to the Forth Worth, Texas area.  This move will make number 27 (if we have counted correctly).  Some of those moves have been just “around the corner,” some across town, some out of state, and at least two times from one country to another.   None of those moves has been “easy,” and some of them have been what Peter might classify as a “fiery trial.”  In each of those moves we have had to take care of those pesky “new numbers” that come into our lives:  address, zip codes, area codes, phone numbers, bank account numbers; the list seems almost endless.  It is amazing how many numbers we still remember – burned into our memory as with a “hot iron”:  1312 South Cherry, 722 West 22nd, 501 Southgate, to name but a few.   Each location has provided us with memories to last a life time. It makes no difference whether we lived there for a few months, or for a few years; we can still remember those experiences that come with raising a family, or working with God’s family in the congregation with which I was associated at the time.   Oh, the memories! 

Once again our numbers are changing.  We are acquiring a new address, new phone numbers (house, office and cell), and a new zip code that goes with the P.O. Box as well as the street address.   The change in numbers symbolizes a change in the road we travel through life’s sojourn toward that heavenly home.   Each of those new numbers reminds us of the uncertainly of life and the ever changing circumstances we experience over the years.  No doubt these new numbers will only be temporary and it will not be long ere we once gain find ourselves acquiring yet more numbers to take up space in our mind and provide our friends with information of our whereabouts. 

 The uncertainty of life reflected in those changing numbers stands in stark contrast to the permanence of our God.  He is “the same yesterday and today, yea and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  The Proverb writer noted, “There are many devices in a man's heart; But the counsel of Jehovah, that shall stand” (Pro. 19:21).  It is this realization of the sovereignty of our God that gives us hope in times of despair, patience in the face of adversity, and a firm foundation when everything around us seems to be crumbling at our feet.  No doubt W. Williams had this very thought in mind when he wrote the words to that well known hymn:

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I a weak but Thou art mighty,
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Bear me through the swelling current,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.

Let life’s fleeting changes come and go; the saint will hold fast to the hand of his God, never losing sight of that heavenly mansion that has been prepared for the faithful.  The time will come when we lay aside this “tabernacle” for a “house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).   It may be my lot to move another dozen times before my Lord calls me to that heavenly home. But when it comes my time to depart the walks of life I will rejoice knowing that my heavenly home will be a place where there will be no “new numbers” to memorize or mail to my loved ones.   

Back In The Saddle

by Tom Wacaster

Some of you country and western fans might remember a popular song with the above title.  “Back in the Saddle Again” was the signature song of American cowboy entertainer Gene Autry. It was co-written by Autry with Ray Whitley and first released in1939. The song was associated with Autry throughout his career and was used as the name of Autry's autobiography in 1976.  The song struck a cord (no pun intended) with country and western fans, and has remained a popular musical hit reaching beyond the world of country and western music into pop and easy listening circles as well.  There is only one stanza, followed by a chorus, and a repeat of the one stanza.  Here are the words:

I'm back in the saddle again
Out where a friend is a friend
Where the longhorn cattle feed
On the lowly gypsum weed
Back in the saddle again

Ridin' the range once more
Totin' my old .44
Where you sleep out every night
And the only law is right
Back in the saddle again

It has been a little over seven years since I left local work to engage in mission efforts around the world. I have truly enjoyed the work, and I must confess that in all my labors to date in the Lord’s kingdom, these seven years have been among the most rewarding.  The receptivity of souls in Russia, India, Ethiopia, Nepal, and Mexico reminds us of a bygone era in America when men’s souls hungered and thirsted for the truth.  This growth of the church numerically in India reminds me of something I have read in history books about the Lord’s church and experienced only briefly in the early years of my youth.   In my seven campaigns to India we have baptized more than 2,000 souls, established more than four dozen new congregations, converted whole denominational churches, and helped in benevolent cases that have opened the doors into areas where the gospel was previously not allowed to go.  

On November 1st I officially re-entered local work.  Of course I was in Russia at the time, but my mind was turning toward what awaited me upon my arrival home on the 4th.  Sunday morning the 7th I preached my first sermon as the pulpit minister for the Handley congregation.  I will still be involved in two mission endeavors making one trip to Russia and one trip to India each year.   I have, as Gene Autry was wont to say, climbed “back in the saddle again.”  No, I have no intention of mounting a steed, but Mr. Autry has captured the sentiments of all those who, for one reason or another, have found themselves returning to something of which they are familiar, and in which they find great pleasure.  To that extent I guess you could say, I’m “back in the saddle again.”  What I love most about local work is the opportunity to preach – and to do so in one’s own language, without having to go through an interpreter.  I am not so na├»ve as to think that we will get the kind of responses I have seen in India; but I also believe that if we plant enough seed, we will reap an abundant harvest for this is something the Lord has promised.  To that end we will focus our attention, and to that end we will engage our labors.

One more thought before I close this week’s “Tom’s Pen.”  There are many once-faithful saints who, for one reason or another, have allowed the devil to delude, deceive, and destroy their faith in God.  Perhaps a weak brother or sister will read this article, and realize that with God’s great grace and His wonderful love for their soul, they will be willing to repent of their sins, and join me in repeating the refrain of that old Gene Autry song, “I’m back in the saddle again.”