The Former Days

by Tom Wacaster

“Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these?  For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this” (Ecc. 7:10).  Is it not interesting that the older we get, and the older our friends get, that we find ourselves reflecting upon “the good ole days”?  Sometimes the stresses and strains of our high-pressured world take their toll and we find ourselves longing for “the good ole days.”   But then, the good ole days were not as “good” as we think, and we tend to remember the “good” in them and forget the hardships and challenges we faced “back then”!   One observer wrote:  “The world is too big for us. Too much going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement.  Try as you will you get behind in the race, in spite of yourself it’s an incessant strain to keep pace and still you lose ground. Science empties discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment.  The political world has news seen so rapidly you’re out of breath trying to keep pace with who’s in and who’s out. Everything is high pressure. Human nature can’t endure much more.”   Those words appeared in an editorial in the Atlantic Journal on June 16, 1883.   Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

The Judds produced a popular hit some years back entitled, “Grandpa, Tell Me About The Good Old Days.”   It reflects a time not all that long ago when the influence of God's word was still having an impact upon our society.   One stanza in that song contained these words:

Grandpa, tell me 'bout the good old days
Sometimes it feels like this world's gone crazy
And Grandpa, take me back to yesterday
When the line between right and wrong
Didn't seem so hazy.

Grandpas don’t fit in today; their way of life was that of a different culture than what we see around us in this new century.  As is often the case with each new generation, the older folks are written off as something a bit less than a nincompoop.   With the changes descending upon us from a politically correct world and morally relevant society, is it any wonder that Grandpas take the time now and then to reminisce?  But is that not what Grandpas are for?  Is not the hoary head filled with wisdom that the younger generation desperately needs to survive in a world that lies in the wicked one?  It is called experience; and experience is not something you get from books, television, movies or computers!   It is something you live.   It is something that comes only with the passing of time, and with age.   We need to be reminded, as one ancient philosopher noted, “Young men for war, old men for counsel.”   The late Richard Black shared the same sentiment when he wrote: “Eddie Rabbit, songwriter, commenting on the death of his son said, ‘I weave the pain and suffering of Timmy’s death through my songs. It’s a price of wisdom, but you pay for wisdom.’”  

You see, it not just the “good” times, but also the “bad” times that help us grow in wisdom.  While developing this particular thought I came across the following that addresses this precise point.  “It’s only against the backdrop of hardship that the greatest beauty can be seen.  When is the blessing of good health appreciated any more than following a bout of illness or injury?  What an avenue is provided for the demonstration of deep devotion and appreciation when a loved one becomes incapacitated and a spouse or child tenderly cares for their needs.  Isn’t it remarkable the outpouring of benevolent care from strangers to stranger following a natural disaster of wind or flood or quake?  The human spirit is not at its best when idle or at ease, but when put to the test and hardship comes.  Ultimately, how would one know of the all surpassing love of God were it not for the cruel circumstances of the death of our Savior?  How much deeper the expression of love in the gift of that life by such brutal means than were He to do what most men would wish—give us what we want.  Thank God for the hard times” (David Deffenbaugh). 

It has been pointed out by social observers that today’s youth is the first generation of Americans that will not be able to reach a higher plateaus of living than their parents.  Economically, the living status has declined to such an extent that the middle class is shrinking and the wealthy and poor are increasing at an alarming rate.   Morally?  Will anyone dare suggest that America has improved in this area over the past 50 years?   And yet, in the midst of all of this insanity that surrounds us, we have the word of God that serves as a light unto our path and a lamp unto our feet (Psalms 119:105). 

Maybe we should reflect upon the values that "Grandpa" practiced, and then remind ourselves that such values of "the good old days" were the fruit of God's word planted in the hearts of men.  If we would ever hope to return to that kind of Godly living, then perhaps we need to be actively preaching and teaching that same gospel that was preached and taught "in the former days." 

Ephesians: Heaven's Gallery of Spiritual Wealth

by Tom Wacaster

When the prophets of old had penned the very words of God, they no doubt laid down the pen of inspiration, and in some instances may have even asked themselves, “What have I just written?”  Peter informs us that those inspired men “sought and searched diligently…of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them” (1 Peter 1:10).  So profound were the words of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos and Daniel (just to mention a few), that even the “angels desired to look into” the message from heaven (1 Peter 1:12). 

This student began a journey through Ephesians that has spanned more than four decades, and have now completed my commentary on this wonderful epistle in this New Year.  No wonder men have marveled at masterpiece from the Holy Spirit!  It is Heaven's Gallery of Spiritual Wealth, deposited in Christ, located in heavenly places, and it rests upon He Who is the foundation of the greatest institution ever to exist upon the face of this earth, being Himself the chief corner stone.  The picture of the church that emerges from a careful study of this epistle is one of holiness and harmony (1:4; 4:4).  If men would put aside their prejudice and preconceived notions concerning the church, and drink deeply from the pen of this inspired apostle, they would walk away with a concept of the church unlike the modern day concept of a divided, denominated, and materialistic church.  In the six chapters of this epistle God unfolds for us the eternal majesty of the church, the beautiful bride of Christ.  We are permitted to look backward into the recesses of eternity and get a small glimpse - just a glimpse - of the majesty and wisdom of our God as He foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ (1:5).  The door is opened into the vault of heaven's wealth, and we are invited to partake of the “riches” of God's grace for men.  We are granted entrance into the library of wisdom and knowledge that surpasses that of the sages of this world, “having the eyes of your heart enlightened” by the “revelation in the knowledge of him” (1:17-18).  We are given a panoramic view of God's grace as He lifted us out of spiritual death, and “raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places” (2:6).  We have been granted citizenship in that heavenly kingdom (2:19), adoption into God's family (3:15), admittance into the “temple in the Lord” (2:21-22), and experienced the wonderful “love of Christ which passeth knowledge (3:19).  But we have also been reminded that with these wonderful privileges comes great obligation and responsibility.  We are to be “holy and without blemish” (1:4), “worthy of the calling wherewith you were called” (4;1), looking “carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise” (5:15).  Clad with heaven's armor (6:13-20), we are encouraged to march forward “to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (6:19). 

If men would study this letter they would learn that the church is not some after-thought in the mind of God; they would learn that you cannot have Christ without the church; they would learn that how we live has a direct bearing upon our salvation; that the forces of evil are real and dangerous, but that God gives us strength in the hour of adversity.  Paul's description of the church as it appears in this letter is a masterpiece of inspired literature.  From the depths of sin, men can be lifted out of their spiritual poverty to participate in the wealth and riches of God's grace.  The power to live holy lives as members of that church is promised to those who would but embrace the truths contained herein. 

Ours is an age of apathy and indifference.  Unfortunately, members of the Lord's church have been lulled to sleep by the steady noise of worldliness and the satanic lies of post-modern relativism.  Perhaps it is time to wipe the dust off our Bibles, and drink deeply from God's inspired description of the church as contained specifically in Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus.   The infidel and skeptic might scoff at God's word; modern day theologians might ridicule the simplicity of heaven's pattern; the weak Christian may not appreciate what he holds in his hands.  But the faithful child of God knows that he has been privileged to walk through heaven's gallery of spiritual wealth.  

Hidden Nuggets in 2 Chronicles

by Tom Wacaster

The books of First and Second Chronicles tend to be neglected, even by the most ardent of Bible students.  Admittedly I have been prone to rush through these two books, due in no little part to the repetitious nature when compared with the books of First and Second Kings.   Over the past three or four years I have made a diligent attempt to read through the Old Testament two times in each year.  Perhaps it is this increased exposure to the Old Testament books that has helped me to see some wonderful truths contained therein; truths that tend to jump off the pages from time to time.

Sometime back I was reading from 2 Chronicles chapter 15, and when I came to verse 3, something caught my attention that, so far as I can remember, had never caused me to stop and take a closer look.   Now, if you have not grabbed your Bible yet to rush and see what it is that might have arrested my attention, let me make some preliminary remarks before you go to the text.   The past few years have been, without doubt, some of the most challenging, anxious, and stressful of any I can remember.  When I was a young boy growing up in Dallas, Texas, our nation faced precarious times in what has come to be better known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.”  For thirteen days in the Fall of 1962 the powers that be on either side of the Atlantic Ocean argued, negotiated, and threatened one another so much so that we came close to nuclear confrontation - the “unimaginable” almost became a “reality.”   I was a freshman in high school, and at least once a day the school had a “nuclear attack drill,” in which the students were either hurried into the hall or under our desks, and told to put our hands over our heads in order to “survive” the explosion of an atom bomb (not too useful for a nuclear attack in my estimation).   Evenings, we were glued to the television as the late John F. Kennedy kept us abreast of Russia's activities in Cuba.  Yes, those days were quite stressful.  

Half a century and two years later our nation is, once again, at odds with Russia.  Although the crisis in Ukraine has not yet reached the magnitude of that which gripped the world in 1962, the potential of this present conflict getting out of hand is real.   While a crisis looms outside our country, there is, however, an even greater threat we face from within.  Our nation is literally locked in a battle for its very survival.  In 1962 the enemy was without - today it is within our borders.   Our nation is sick from the head to the toe.  Our leaders have denied God, and the immorality and ungodliness that dominates the powers that be have filtered down to the man on the street, and are even being taught in the institutions of public education.  There is a concentrated effort on the part of “wickedness in high places” to dismantle, dilute, and destroy the very principles of godliness upon which this nation was established.   Yes, these days are quite stressful.

What has all this to do with 2 Chronicles 15?  Well, here is what the sacred record tells us: “Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law. But when they in their trouble did turn unto the LORD God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them. And in those times there was no peace to him that went out, nor to him that came in, but great vexations were upon all the inhabitants of the countries. And nation was destroyed of nation, and city of city: for God did vex them with all adversity” (2 Chron. 15:3-6).  In four short verses we learn some incredible lessons that are as relevant as if freshly written by the inspired writer of old.

First, there is a difference between true religion and false religion.  “For a long season Israel hath been without the true God.”   Will you permit me to change one word in this passage - not in an attempt to rewrite the passage, but in order to drive home our point?  “For a long season America hath been without the true God.”   The United States of America was established upon the Bible, and the determination of our founding fathers was to grant to every man the freedom and right to seek that God.  Consequently the United States of America became a fertile seed bed wherein a return to the simple teachings of the Bible could be accomplished, and ushered in the longest era of the growth of the Lord's church since the first century.   About the middle of the last century (perhaps even earlier) things began to change, and Americans began to cast off the true God of the Bible for Eastern religions, cults, and New Age spiritualism.   Today it is not uncommon to read of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, all of which are lauded by the “politically correct media,” while Christianity continues to be attacked and ridiculed.  Muslim mosques are being built at a rate that far out paces the construction of church buildings, and the “gods” of unbelievers are replacing the God of the Bible in the minds of men. 

Second, we are rapidly becoming a people “without a teaching priest and without law.”  Since every child of God is a “priest” (1 Pet. 2:9), and every Christian a “teacher” (Heb. 5:12), it stands to reason that when WE (members of the Lord's church) cease to teach others about Christ, then it can be said that America is “without a teaching priest and without law.”   Many buildings still bearing the name “Church of Christ” have ceased teaching the lost world about the true church, the will of the Father, and the plan of salvation. They have become nothing more than a “kitchen open 24/7” for the physical well being of society. 

Third, God's judgment will come upon any nation that forgets its Creator.  Peace will give way to vexations, adversity, and trouble.  A whopping 69% of our country now thinks we are no longer on the right track (news cast, Fox News, 2-26-2014); consumer confidence is at an all time low; contentment is something sought after but which continues to elude us.   Like Israel of old, we stand on shaky ground, and there is little over the horizon that gives us encouragement that we survive as a nation for another decade.

Fourth, the answer - yea, the ONLY answer - is that men turn back to their God: “But when they in their trouble did turn unto the LORD God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them” (verse 4).  The “tea party” movement is not going to save America.  Democrats, Republicans, Independents, nor any other party, has it within their power, programs, or prowess to save America.  Unless we, as a nation, begin the journey home to God, there is no hope!  But, alas, our God has promised, if a nation will seek God, He will be found of them.   God kept His promise to Israel, for verse 15 tells us:  “And all Judah rejoiced at the oath: for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought him with their whole desire; and he was found of them: and the LORD gave them rest round about.” 

Beloved, America is not going to be saved by any health reform, cap-and-trade energy bill, or even a re-distribution of the wealth.  America will only be saved if our leaders begin the journey home to God.  Until that happens, we will continue to see a deterioration of our temporal blessings.   Perhaps you and I, as members of the Lord's church can start a genuine “grass-roots” movement to that end. 

Be Strong And Of Good Courage

By Tom Wacaster

When the children of Israel stood on the eastern banks of the Jordan River, they were facing a task that their forefathers had refused to take advantage of forty years before.  God told Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage.”  God says the same thing to us today.  As we face the task of fighting denominationalism, anti-ism, modernism, relativism, pluralism, indifference, and immorality, the battle calls for courage.  Too many times we have cried, “We are not able,” and as a result we have become like “grasshoppers” in the sight of the enemy and in our own minds.  Courage is not to be confused with daring, which is courage for special occasions.   It does not consist of the absence of fear, but the conquering of it.  Someone has defined courage as “fighting with the handle after the sword has been broken.”  Indeed, “the true hero is the man who rises above the base cowardice of his own nature to do a noble and courageous deed when shaken by dread of its consequences” (Harry Rimmer, The Crucible of Calvary, page 95). I can imagine that Joshua had his fears when he was given the responsibility of leading God’s people into the promised land, but he overcame those fears with courage and faith in God.  Courage is the moral strength to stand for the right at all times, even if you are standing alone.  

History gives us fine examples of courage.  When Napoleon had lost the battle of Marengo, he came to his drummer boy and said, “Beat a retreat.”  The boy replied, “Sir, I can beat a charge.  My master taught me to beat a charge, but not a retreat. I do not know how to beat a retreat.”  Napoleon was so impressed that he said, “Beat a charge.” The boy beat a charge that rallied a defeated army to renew the battle with such courage and determination  that Marengo is numbered among the outstanding victories of Napoleon.  Brethren, Christ has taught us how to beat a “charge,” but He never taught us how to beat a retreat.   Time and space here would fail us were we to attempt a lengthy list of notable characters in history who demonstrated great courage.

Fast forward now to the time of Christ.   When Jesus met with His disciples in the parts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked them, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?”  “Some say John the Baptist; some Elijah; and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” came the reply.   Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” set the tone for what would follow.   “Peter….upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”  It is that promise that has sustained untold thousands, yea millions of Christians over the ages to maintain courage in the face of insurmountable odds.  From the persecution that Nero unleased against the church until this day, the devil has never slackened in his attempt to destroy the church as he goes forth to “make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17).  God’s people did not give in to threats, physical punishment, or verbal abuse.  They stood their ground with great courage.  

How easy it would be to follow in the steps of the ten spies who cowered before the giants that occupied the land of Canaan.  Capitulation is the path of ease, and compromise an easy way to avoid persecution.  But these are not an option for the faithful child of God.   The New Testament is filled with admonitions to the contrary, not the least of which is Paul’s call for standing our ground in the face of the enemy as recorded in Ephesians 6:10 thru 20.   That enemy is described with words that might otherwise frighten and intimidate.   “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).  I am convinced that not all has been revealed as to the might of these principalities and powers herein described by the apostle.   We are fighting with an enemy that we cannot see with the human eye; an enemy that cannot be defeated with human instruments of war.   This enemy consists of mighty hosts of wickedness.  Elsewhere Paul tells us this enemy will appear as minister’s of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15).  Their leader, Satan, will “fashion himself into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).  We are to be watchful for “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  No wonder God calls upon us to take up the whole armor of God, and then having done that to “stand”!   Such calls for courage

Too few demonstrate such courage today.  The absence of courage in the face of wickedness is manifest in a culture of self indulgence, and the absence of leadership from the local level to the national level.   Had you told me forty years ago that our country would be on the very verge of complete implosion in the not too distant future, I would likely have denied any such possibility.  Had you told me forty years ago that the Lord’s church would likewise experience an apostasy the likes of which we are witnessing today, I would have denied it.   How desperately we need men who will lead!   Written more than 35 years ago, the words of Babcock still ring true:

God give us men. The time demands strong minds, great hearts, true faith and willing hands; Men whom the lust of office does not kill; men whom the spoils of office cannot buy; men who possess opinions and a will; men who have honor; men who will not lie; tall men, sun-drowned, who live above the fog in public duty and in private thinking!  For while the rabble with their thumbworn creeds, their large professions and their little deeds mingle in selfish pride; lo, Freedom weeps!  Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps!

The message in our century is the same as in the days of Joshua, Moses, Noah, or any number of great heroes of the past.  When Napoleon’s army was defeated at Waterloo it is reported that the old guard, the loyal and faithful soldiers to the Emperor, were called upon to retreat and surrender.  They replied, “We know how to die, but not to surrender.”   The faithful saints over the centuries, when buffeted by Satan, and threatened by the enemies of the cross, cried out with one voice: “We know how to die, but not to surrender!”   What courage!