Apparel Does Say Something

by Tom Wacaster

There was a most interesting editorial in the Dallas Morning News on May 2, 2001.  It was entitled "You're right to be wary of gangsta chic," by Leonard Pitts.  I must admit that there were two words that caught my attention, mainly because I was unfamiliar with the meaning.  "Gangsta" is slang for "gangster" (the "r" has migrated to who knows where), and "chic" means "style or urban fashion in clothing."   The gist of the article was avoidance of certain contact with strangers who "dress" in a style that classifies them with a specific element in society; in this case, youth gangs.   He writes, "Kids always have outfitted themselves according to ever shifting ideas of what constitutes cool. But gangsta chic is about more than cool. The universal perception and frequent reality is that it also is about sending an implicit threat."   And then he makes this most astute observation:

"I often hear kids insist that dress is neutral and how dare you stereotype them based on what they wear. Fine. It is the argument you would expect them to make. But it is an abrogation of responsibility for adults to encourage them in that delusion. Better to explain to them that what you show the world, how you allow yourself to be perceived, will have profound implications for the way people treat you."

The world judges us by the way we dress. If a woman dresses like a harlot she is going to be propositioned.  If a young person dresses like a 'gangsta,' he or she should not be surprised if otherwise cautious folks avoid any contact or association with them.  Now, lets apply this rather obvious truth to some other areas beside 'gangsta chic.'  

First, the principle is true with regard to "modest apparel."  Scanty clothing says something to those who see us. It is a "come on" to the opposite sex.   Some of you may remember the hijacking of T.W.A. Flight 847 back in July of 1985.  The Houston Chronicle carried this interesting bit of news about that event. One lady passenger was being molested by one of the hijackers. Fortunately, for her, he was restrained by his leader.  The leader, after restraining his fellow hijacker explained to her that the short pants she was wearing was inappropriate and had conveyed to the terrorist that such advances might be welcomed by her.  A few minutes later he brought her a blanket and told her to wrap it around her waist.  In spite of the 100 degree temperature in the airplane, she kept the blanket on the rest of the ordeal.  But I can hear someone say, "Well, this is a free society, and I can dress the way I want."  Evidently some think that what is lawful in the eyes of society is automatically acceptable to God.  Evidence suggests that some of our sisters in Christ have bought into this lie.  The Bible still says that we are to dress in "modest apparel."  Meanwhile, let a man gaze after a scantly clad woman, and she will be the first to cry "foul" should she become aware of his gazes [or worse].

But I must address another area that concerns me no little.  There is an increasing trend toward sheer sloppiness in what we wear to worship.  It used to be that we had our "Sunday-go-to-meeting" clothes and the first day of week was one of those rare occasions when you could tell that a person was going to church by the way he dressed.    Neatness tells us that we respect ourselves and others, but sloppiness says we just don't care.   While there may be some who cannot afford a nice dress shirt and tie, or a nice dress, this is the exception rather than the rule in our affluent society.  I have attended high school graduation exercises, and Baccalaureate services where young people were dressed in decent, neat, and respectful clothing, only to see them appear the following Sunday morning in rags, blue jeans, and baggy and sloppy dress as they come to worship God.   We are witnessing young ladies wearing shorts, loose blouses, and skin tight jeans as they gather to worship their God; and that with the parents consent [or at least without any voice of opposition from mom or dad].  Mr. Pitts was right on target when he pointed out that it is "an abrogation of responsibility for adults to encourage them in that delusion." Unfortunately parents are often derelict in this area as well.  When we come before God in worship we are to have a contrite spirit (Isa. 66:2).    That spirit is reflected in the way we dress and conduct ourselves in our worship, as well as our every day behavior.  Brother Mack Lyons hit the nail right on the head:

"No! God does not have a dress-code for worship and work! Of course He does not.  He assumes the humble, worshipping heart will dictate proper attire and behavior. A true spirit of awe, reverence, and worship dictates dignity and propriety in dress and demeanor. God does not command us to kneel or stand or bow our heads when we pray, but doing so manifests a humility of heart that honors and respects the sovereign God whom we praise and petition. So does proper dress." 

Before you dismiss this as so much "preacher talk," why not stop and think seriously and soberly about it. 

Statistics: Symptoms Of A Deeper Problem

"Statistics: Symptoms Of A Deeper Problem"
Tom Wacaster

Statistics are a means by which we measure certain trends. Our government can guess the direction the economy is going by examining the "leading economic indicators." These are nothing more than statistics from retail sales, national gross product, etc., gathered and studied by "experts" (the definition of which is still under question). But you see, statistics are but symptoms of some CAUSE. Retail sales are NOT the cause of economic trends, but are the EFFECT of some trend as it is reflected in the purchase power and practice of the people. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul describes a morally degenerate gentile world. Verses 24-32 catalogue the sins of a godless society. But the sins were only symptoms of a deeper problem. These people knew God, but chose not to have God in their knowledge (Vs 21-23). They willfully and purposefully turned their back on the Creator. The CAUSE, rejection of God, led to the SYMPTOM, moral degeneration. As it was in the first century, so it is now. Now, let us bring this matter closer to home. Beginning in the 1850's and extending into the early 1900's there was a division in the body of Christ of major proportions. The mechanical instrument of music and the missionary society drove a wedge between brethren, splintering the church of our Lord. The CAUSE in this unfortunate circumstance was statistically manifested in the introduction of innovations, divided churches, etc., but these were only symptoms of a deeper problem, mainly a lack of respect for authority of the scriptures. It would seem that the "cycle" has run full circle and once again we are facing the issue of authority, manifested in varying symptoms. Instrumental music, institutionalism, and unauthorized innovations are rearing their ugly heads once again; some old, some new. But these are only SYMPTOMS of the age old issue of establishing Biblical authority. Either some do not know HOW to determine authority for some action, or they do not care. The end result, if allowed to go unchecked, will lead to unauthorized actions, vain worship, and tragic division. "And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus...." (Colossians 3:17). There is another danger closely attached to the subject under consideration. That danger is the willingness to compromise a principle for the sake of unity. It is, in essence, a willingness to forego a stand for truth in order to avoid confrontation. The late David Lipscomb once noted:

"Those most hurtful in drawing evil into the churches, that divide and weaken and destroy the innocent, are the noncommittal that agree with all and oppose none. The most effective worker to bring in evil is one who does not favor it, but can work with it. He is so liberal and generous that he does not desire it, but sees no harm in the evil...The man who does not vigorously and actively oppose an evil really favors it"

Once such a state is reached wherein one can conscientiously work with error it will not be long before he not only tolerates that error, but becomes a participant therein. This is why godly elders, preachers, teachers, and faithful members will oppose error at its early stages of development. It is not that we are cantankerous. It is, rather, that we realize that early symptoms, if properly treated, will keep the body pure and healthy. We realize that to be true when it comes to treating physical illness. Why is it that we so often fail to realize this simple truth when it comes to the spiritual body of Christ, the church? Think about it.

Dog Ears

by Tom Wacaster

This may seem like a strange title for this week’s article.  Before I get to the point I want to make, let me tell you something about my little five pound poodle.  Millie is eleven years old, and stands about eight inches tall.  Although she occasionally barks at strangers, her bark is worse than her bite.  I really think she is begging for attention.   Millie loves to have her ears scratched.  Occasionally she will climb up in the chair next to me, and position herself in such a way that my hand naturally lands across the top of her head.  The natural inclination is to scratch her head and behind her ears.   In response she will raise her head a notch or two in order to get the full effect of my hand scratching.  Should I quit, she’ll either lift her head another notch or two, or turn and look at me as if to ask, “Why did you quit?”    I came across this little observation relative to my personal experience:

Have you ever seen a dog that loved to have his ear's scratched?  There are dogs that just love to have their ears scratched. They don't care who does it, as long as it is being done.  This kind of dog will go up to anyone, just hoping that the person will reach down and scratch his ears. It doesn't matter if the person is his owner. It doesn't matter if the person is a complete stranger. This dog will just sit and let the person scratch his ears. If the person scratching stops, the dog will put his nose up to the person's hand indicating that he wants the person to continue scratching. If the person gets up and walks away, the dog will follow the person. The dog will continue to follow the person until the person finally decides to scratch again; unless, the dog can find someone else to scratch his ears.  You see, the dog is not loyal to the first scratcher. He is just loyal to whoever will scratch his ears. He is not choosy about the kind of person scratching his ears. He only wants his ears scratched (author unknown)

The apostle Paul stressed the importance of preaching the word, whether in season or out of season: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;  and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables”  (2 Tim. 4:3-4).  Spiritually speaking, such individuals might be said to have “dog ears.”   There are some observations that beg closer consideration.

First, those who have spiritual “dog ears” will not endure the truth.  Their love for truth vanished long before their abandonment of the same.  Because of their distaste for the spiritual milk that is without guile (1 Peter 2:2), they run recklessly after anyone who will scratch their spiritual ears.  Tragically, such individuals bring upon themselves a spiritual hardening that blinds them to the truth and prepares them for the wiles of the devil.  “And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:11) simply because they “received not a love for the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10).

Second, there is no loyalty to the Master, but a heaping up of false teachers who will bow to their increasing demand of having someone scratch their spiritual “dog ears.”    It matters not whether the truth is spoken – in fact there is an ever increasing abhorrence toward truth eventually leading to a willful exchange of the truth for a lie (Rom. 1:21-25).  Heaping to themselves such false teachers, “they will accumulate a hand-picked little conglomerate of ‘clergy’ that will play any ‘fiddle tune’ that is requested” (Wayne Jackson). 

Third, the motivation for such foolishness lies in their selfish desire to have their “ears scratched.”  I have watched my dog, and other dogs for that matter, attack an “itch” with such vigor and vitality that one would think the ear might fall off.  Humans are like that – occasionally I get an itch in a spot that I cannot reach with my arm or hand, and I search for some way to alleviate the discomfort.   The desire to have one’s spiritual “dog ears” scratched in the manner here described by the apostle derives not out of a longing for the truth, but rather to fulfill one’s own desires and lusts (James 1:14). 

Finally, spiritual “dog ears” that long to be scratched by whatever means available will lead a person to ruin.  Things will go from bad to worse, and the end result is that the individual will find himself turning unto fables to satisfy the itch within.  The Greek word here translated “fables” is ‘muthous’ and means “that which lacks the substance of reality.”  I never cease to be amazed at the sophisticated silliness that men will embrace when once they have abandoned truth.  In an effort to fill the “void” within they will believe almost anything – and the more bizarre, the greater the number who seem to follow such nonsense.  No wonder that men have so widely embraced the foolish notion that a frog or tadpole can, given enough time, evolve into a man.  Such tickles their ears and satisfies their inner stupidity!

It comes down to this: Each one of us has within our hearts a strong love for the truth, with ears attuned to the word of God, and motivated by no other desire than to please God.  Or like the proverbial pooch that will follow anyone so long as they scratch their itch, they can only be described as those who have spiritual dog ears!  

What Happened to Efficiency

by Tom Wacaster

“Postage by Mail!”  That was the banner on the mass mail out by the United States Post Office a few years ago.  Imagine the convenience; avoiding long lines at the post office; you could conduct all your business through the mail using the little order form that was attached.   You could even purchase your 1st class stamps by filling out the form indicating how many books you wanted and then multiply it by the 41 cent cost of each stamp. The only problem was, the cost of 1st class stamps had gone up to 44 cents by the time we received the offer with its enclosed form.  It reminds me of the time the Postal Service wanted to conduct a workshop somewhere in the upper mid-west in order to explain to Mr. Average Joe some of the problems within the Post Office and get some input from the man on the street on how to improve efficiency.  The only problem was the announcements on the workshop were not sent out until four days AFTER the deadline for participants to sign up.  Efficiency!  What has happened to efficiency?  No doubt you have heard someone moan, “The service here is just not what it used to be!”   We have more products on the market than ever before.  But things wear out faster than ever before, too. 

Now, before you criticize the Postal Service, or your local merchant, let's ask ourselves if WE are as efficient and punctual, and “quality-minded” as we ought to be.  Someone noted, “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”  The late Vince Lombardi wrote, “The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”   Quality in our service to the Lord demands the same degree of intensity and dedication as is demanded in any other walk of life.  The difference is that our eternal destination will be determined to a large degree by our willingness to put forth the effort to achieve such lofty heights.  The apostle Paul expressed the depth of our soul’s devotion with these words:  “And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us...let us give ourselves to our ministry…he that giveth, let him do it with liberality; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:6-8).  And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment; so that ye may approve the things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ” (Phil 1:9-10).   The effectiveness of this congregation, or any congregation of God’s people, will be in direct proportion to the total number of members who are determined to provide the highest quality of service to the Lord.   A fellow preacher shared this most fitting illustration:  While on a trip to Switzerland, an American businessman was watching a Swiss clockmaker carving the case of an ornate cuckoo clock.  As the businessman watched the clockmaker carve out the case, he was astounded at his slow rate of progress.  The business man finally said, “My good man, you’ll never make much money that way.”  The clockmaker replied, “Sir, I’m not making money, I’m making cuckoo clocks.”

Perhaps the quality of our devotion to the Lord would improve if each of us gave greater consideration to exactly what it is we are to do as God’s children.   Solomon admonished his readers: “Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might” (Ecc. 9:10).   It is unfortunate that this Biblical ethic has been lost in what we sometimes call “progress” and/or “development.”  Too many are satisfied with “good enough.”  How many of us give our best in every situation?  Oh, perhaps in our service unto others we attempt to couple quality and service together.  On the job we are quite proficient; some are even perfectionists.  But let’s take a look at another area of our lives, and consider this question.  Do you give your best to God?   Do I give my best to God in my attendance with the saints?  Am I diligent in putting forth an effort to “forsake not the assembly,” or do I allow first one thing and another to interfere with that important obligation?  When I habitually miss services can I honestly say that the quality of faithfulness is what it ought to be?   When I am called upon to help in a public way, do I make every effort to be there?  What about my Bible study? Am I really giving my best to grow in the grace and knowledge of my Lord?   And what shall I say about my appearance on Sunday morning?  Is my dress such that it reflects an effort put forth to make myself presentable to God?  Or do I just throw on some casual clothes, careless about my appearance before God and my example before others?   You see, my friend, when we become careless in our service to God, and become satisfied with “good enough,” we contribute to the demise of efficiency.   I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that once my quality of service to God begins to decline, it is not long before service to my fellow man suffers as well.  For if we are not careful with regard to the more important matters of eternity, what makes us think we will be concerned about the temporal matters that have no lasting value?  Take a close look at yourself in the “mirror” of God’s word (Jas. 1:24) and ask again, “What has happened to efficiency?”  Think about it!

Climate For Church Growth

by Tom Wacaster

Were I to ask a business man if he had a successful year last year, likely he would gage success on “numbers.”   That is to be expected; for who in his right mind would even suggest that his business was a success had said company lost inventory, or even worse, dollars?  To a car dealer, successes is measured in the number of cars sold; to a financier, success is measured in interest earned, or stocks bought and sold.   But you cannot measure church growth in numbers.  Genuine church growth falls outside the realm of the tangible.  Admittedly there are tangible indications of church growth – but the tangible signs of growth can be misleading.  Jesus warned the church at Sardis, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou are dead” (Rev. 3:1).   What is it that gave Sardis a “name that thou livest”?   Was it the attendance figures for the year?  Perhaps it was the number of baptisms; or the many mission endeavors in which she was involved.    Perhaps the congregation had appeared in one of the brotherhood periodicals of the first century as being among the “fastest growing congregations in the brotherhood.”   But the numbers were deceiving, were they not?  Keep this in mind, beloved:  Our Lord does not measure true success by tangible numbers!  In all the letters to the seven churches of Asia, not a single one is commended for numbers, neither are any condemned for the lack thereof!   Do not misunderstand, beloved – we cannot avoid increase in numbers when the church is growing – but numbers for numbers sake are not an accurate barometer of true church growth.  

 If we focus on numbers we will not develop a climate conducive to the kind of growth God desires.    To illustrate, let us suppose an eldership has a desire to increase the attendance by 20% over the next twelve months.   Simple math would demand that a present attendance of 100 would need to be at 120 by year’s end.  So, the goal is set, and every effort is put into achieving that end.   Suppose that by year’s end there has been an increase of only 1-2%, or even worse, no increase at all.   The temptation would be to examine the methods being used to achieve the desired increase, and conclude, “We must be doing something wrong!”   Along with the temptation to re-evaluate the “method” would be the danger of minimizing those things that are truly important (and scriptural) and focus even more on the increase in numbers.    Why not, instead, focus our attention on those things that the Bible teaches us will provide for spiritual growth, and trust in God to give the increase?  Has our Lord not promised that if we will sow and water that He will give the increase?  “So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Cor. 3:7).  Paul was not minimizing the work of the evangelists, but was emphasizing the importance of focusing our attention on the source of genuine increase – increase, we might add, that can be measured in tangible figures.   Notice that it was the preaching of the gospel to which Paul focused our attention:  “I planted…Apollos watered” (vs. 6).  With these things in mind, we humbly suggest the following spiritual truths that will help us maintain and develop a climate for church growth. 

First, the leaders of a congregation must give attention to developing a positive atmosphere for church growth.   As the spiritual climate about us continues to deteriorate we find ourselves saying (if only among ourselves), “Nobody will listen to the gospel anymore.”  Or, “People are just not interested.”  A steady diet of such negative thinking will erode and rob any congregation of its zeal to seek and save the lost.  Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that Romans 1:16 (“the gospel…is the power”) and Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things in Christ”) are still in the Bible.  

Second, leaders must give attention to developing an attitude of trust among members.  Fault finding, constant criticism, and internal strife will ruin the growth of a congregation.   A good diet of spiritual milk combined with instruction in areas such as congregational cooperation, brotherly love, and trust in God will go a long way to a healthy climate for spiritual growth.

Third, leaders must give attention to old fashioned evangelism.   If a farmer wants a larger crop, he gives attention to planting more seed.  Neglect in this area will result in a small harvest and/or a discouraged and disappointed farmer.  While elders have a great responsibility to address the spiritual needs of the flock, undue attention to the “felt-needs” of the members will result in a small harvest of souls if for no other reason than the fact that it draws our attention away from that which can and will provide growth.  Let us not neglect the great commission (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15).

Fourth, leaders must strive for excellence among themselves and the congregation.  Mediocrity does not attract people – it repels them.   We seek for excellence in the products we buy, and the service we expect from those in the secular realm.   It is our duty to give the very best to God.  “And having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, whether to … ministry, let us give ourselves to our ministry; or he that teacheth, to his teaching; or he that exhorteth, to his exhorting; he that giveth, let him do it with liberality” (Rom. 12:6-9).  Our desire for excellence should be apparent in our worship, our teaching, the building and grounds, etc.  Anything less falls short of the right climate for church growth.

Fifth, leaders must be flexible while remaining steadfast and unmovable.  There are some areas that must not change.  The word of God has been “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) and any attempt to deviate from the God-given standard will be disastrous (Gal. 1:8-9; Rev. 22:18-19).  Thus we encourage one another, “Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).  But when it comes to the method for growth, we must be flexible, willing to adapt to the changing times.   God has given us the amazing world-wide-web (better known as, mobile phones, Ipods, Ipads and email to help us reach the billions of lost souls around us – we would be foolish to ignore these wonderful tools because we are locked in mind set that says, “Well, we never did it that way before.” 

Finally, leaders must lead the way in demonstrating a serving spirit while expecting the congregation to follow in their train.   Adapting the words of the late John F. Kennedy, “Don’t ask what the church can do for you; ask rather what you can do for the church.”  I feel sorry for those anxious souls who give no consideration to working with a small congregation that cannot provide this program or that program and choose instead to place membership with a large congregation that has activities that meets their selfish, and in many instances, their fleshly desires.   When a congregation focuses their attention on programs that appeal to whims and wishes of its members rather than the desires of God, they are well on the way to producing a climate contrary to church growth. 

These suggestions are not exhaustive.  But the wisdom that is from above attests to these important truths.  May God help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord (2 Pet. 3:18) and do all within our power to develop and maintain a climate for growth where we labor and work in the Lord’s kingdom.