The Number Thirteen

by Tom Wacaster

For some unknown reason to this scribe, the number thirteen has come to be associated with bad luck.  In order to avoid the undesirable, superstitious people will go out of their way to circumvent anything that has to do with the number thirteen.  In my travels to various parts of the world I have noticed that some elevators do not have the number 13, and the floor following the twelfth is actually called the fourteenth floor.  Of course just calling something by a different name does not change what it is.  For example, a teacher once asked his class, “If a dog has four legs, and I call one of the legs his tail, how many legs would he have?”  The class responded, “Three legs.”  The teacher answered, “No, he would still have four legs because just calling a leg a tail does not make it so.”  In the same manner, just calling the thirteenth floor the fourteenth floor does not somehow make it the fourteenth floor. It is still the thirteenth floor and all the arguing to the contrary will not change reality.

My passport contains a number of visas [not the credit card, but travel permits to various countries], and if I have calculated correctly this is my thirteenth trip into India, my first being in 2004, with two trips on some of the intervening years.   Were I of a superstitious nature (which I am not) I could provide you with a string of “incidents” that have occurred since late last week that would confirm my belief that the number thirteen is truly synonymous with bad luck.  On Saturday September 13th the pilots in Paris went on strike and international flights on KLM Airlines were being delayed, and eventually cancelled [KLM is the partner with Delta for European connecting flights].   My fight to India on Monday would take me through (you guessed it) Paris.  Late Sunday evening when I got home from services I received a call from Delta informing me that the flight from Paris to Bangalore had been cancelled. I did not want to arrive into Paris and have to live in the terminal for who knows how long.  So I spent a couple of hours Sunday evening scrambling to book a flight on Emirates Airlines to Bangalore.  After I was assured by Delta that the full amount would be credited to my account, I completed the payment for the Emirates tickets.  Yesterday (Saturday) I received an email from Delta showing the full amount of refund, and the difference between Delta and Emirates was a savings of – get this - $13 and some odd cents (actually it was closer to $14, but I’ll use a preacher count here for sake of illustration).  There is that pesky number 13 again.  Was this to be an omen of things to come? 

In preparing for my trip on Monday the 15th, I packed my bags, and without paying attention I locked my wallet with all the travel papers, money, etc. in my check in baggage.  After Robert and Michael Berry dropped me off at the airport, I got in line to check in and when I opened my briefcase I discovered that I did not have my wallet.  Talk about panic!  I borrowed a phone and quickly made a call to Robert and told him to head for my house and I would contact Johnnie Ann.  When I unpacked all my bags in search of my wallet, I discovered my mistake.  Was this another omen that my 13th trip to India would be plagued with bad luck?    Hey, there’s more.  When we arrived in Dubai, my flight from Dubai to Bangalore departed from gate 13 [my boarding pass read gate 11, but as it typical, original gate assignments have a tendency to change just prior to departure; fortunately this was only two gates off], and the boarding time was 1300 hours.  It was uncanny how the number 13 kept cropping up, so when they called for boarding of zone “C” [that how they board now; not by rows, but by zones], I got in line, and counted how many were in front of me.  12!  That makes me number 13!  Well, the omens were piling up.  Maybe I should get out of line and spend a night in Dubai to avoid the inevitable bad luck.   But I pressed on.  The flight to Bangalore took 3 hours and 13 minutes, the baggage claim at Bangalore airport was number 13, and when I got to custom clearance I got the custom agent at booth 13, and the cost of my first meal in India at St. Marks was just over 1300 Rupees!   All of this on my 13th mission trip to India. 

While some might worry about such repeated appearances of the number 13, I’m most happy to know that my life is not controlled by such random incidents that are determined by some string of numbers that may happen to keep popping up.  Instead, my life is guided and directed by a loving God Who providentially cares for me.  All the hoopla over the number 13 is just that – “hoopla.”  Merriam-Webster on line defines hoopla as “talk or writing that is designed to get people excited about and interested in something.”  Unfortunately all the talk about the number 13 gets people unduly and overly excited.  No wonder there is such as absence of peace and serenity in the lives the present generation.  

Oh, by the way.  This 13th trip into India is proving to be just as profitable a harvest of lost souls as any of the twelve previous.  I wouldn’t call that good luck.  It’s not luck at all.  It is, rather, a demonstration of the power of the gospel when planted into the soil of a good and  honest heart.  

What A Wonderful World

by Tom Wacaster

Since the mid 1920’s our nation has been fed a steady diet of humanism, evolution, and atheism.  Every attempt has been made to get Jehovah God “out” of the picture, and put man at the center, and science as the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful “god” that instructs, enlightens, and informs.   The particular point of focus in the battle for the minds of men has been our educational system.  For the past sixty years the liberal, humanistic, anti-God haters have dominated the class rooms of our public education system.  Consequently we are witnessing the collapse of moral integrity and Biblical ethics that were the mainstay of our society for the previous 200 years.  The battle has been waged in the class room as both sides of our present cultural war have sought to get the upper hand and capture the minds of our youth.  There are signs, however, that the pendulum is beginning to swing back toward center.  From one end of our nation to the other, states are taking a closer look at “intelligent design” as a plausible explanation of the origin of our universe and man.  Some States now require that evolution be taught as a “theory” and not scientific fact.  Others, such as Kansas, have introduced “intelligent design” into the classrooms of their public schools.  Of course the media, along with liberal organizations such as the PTA and NEA, are refusing to go down without a fight.  When one watches the main stream media it is rather astonishing that those being interviewed are extremely biased toward anything that has any religious overtones to it, in spite of the fact that evidence abounds for intelligent design and against evolution.  I am fully aware that the politically correct notion is that “anybody who has any intelligence at all” knows that evolution is a fact, and Genesis 1 is nothing more than “myth.”   But for just a moment, let’s forget about being “politically correct,” and lets put on our thinking caps and consider the evidence that points to design as the only logical explanation for this world, the universe, and mankind.  Physicist Paul Davies, in his book God And The New Physics, observed: “It is hard to resist the impression that the present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in numbers, has been rather carefully thought out…The seemingly miraculous concurrence of these numerical values must remain the most compelling evidence for cosmic design.”   Even the most hardened of atheists (such as the late Carl Sagan) have admitted that the conditions on our planet are “just right” to sustain life.  It is an undeniable fact that the balance of the fundamental laws of physics are such that our universe appears to have been “fine tuned” in order to provide a place for life to exist as we know it.  So much so, in fact, that one noted scientist observed that “it appears as if this world was actually created in order to prepare a place for man to dwell.”   Lee Strobel likens it to the following:  “I like to use the analogy of astronauts landing on Mars and finding an enclosed biosphere, sort of like the domed structure that was built in Arizona a few years ago.  At the control panel they find that all the dials for its environment are set just right for life.  The oxygen ratio is perfect; the temperature is seventy degrees; the humidity is fifty percent; there’s a system for replenishing the air; there are systems for producing food, generating energy, and disposing of wastes.  Each dial has a huge range of possible settings, and you can see if you were to adjust one or more of them just a little bit, the environment would go out of whack and life would be impossible.  What conclusion would you draw from that?” 

While science has, to a large degree, been dominated by non-believers, we are seeing a new generation of scientists who are taking a closer look at the evidence.  Over the past three decades scientists have discovered that just about everything about the basic structure of our universe is balanced on what one has called, “a razor’s edge for life to exist.”  Noted atheist turned believer, Fred Hoyle admitted, “Someone has been monkeying with the physics.”  The gravity or our world, the location of the earth in relation to the sun, the moon and other planets, and even the eco-system of this world in which we live all “scream” that some intelligent mind was behind it all.  Let’s borrow one example from Lee Strobel’s book, The Case For A Creator:

The [cosmological] constant, which is a part of Einstein’s equation for General Relativity, could have any value, positive or negative…[A]stronomical observations show that the cosmological constant is quite small, very much smaller than would have been guessed from first principles…The fine tuning has been estimated to be at least one part in a hundred million billion billion billion billion.  That would be a ten followed by fifty-three zeroes.  That’s inconceivably precise.  Put it this way.  Let’s say you were way out in space and were going to throw a dart at random toward Earth. It would be like successfully hitting a bull’s eye that’s one trillionth of a trillioneth of an inch in diameter.  That’s less than the size of one solitary atom.

When we consider the conditions that go into making our world a suitable place for human habitat, we stand amazed at the intelligence that it demonstrates.  We are awed at the God Who could so “fine-tune” our world so as it make it a suitable place for human life.  Indeed, ours is a Wonderful World!  Only the “fool” would say, “There is no God.” He is a fool for the simple reason that he has the same evidence staring him in the face, and still refuses to see God. 

Consider the beauty of our world from another standpoint.  Most of us think in the concrete rather than the abstract.  Consequently something is beautiful, amazing, astonishing or astounding only if we can see it with the eyes.  I read about a group of Geography students who studied the Seven Wonders of the World.  At the end of that section, the students were asked to list what they each considered to be the Seven Wonders of the World.  Though there was some disagreement, the following got the most votes:  Egypts Great Pyramid, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, St. Peters Basilica and Chinas Great Wall. While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student, a quiet girl, hadnt turned in her paper yet.  So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list.  The quiet girl replied, Yes, a little. I couldnt quite make up my mind because there were so many. The teacher said, Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help. The girl hesitated, then read, I think the Seven Wonders of the World are… touch and to taste,  to see and to hear . . .   She hesitated a little, and then to run and to laugh and to love.  The more I thought on her answers the more I came to appreciate the value of those things that we can never touch with our hands.  Perhaps it would do us good, from time to time, to stop and seriously consider the truly great wonders of the world.   Louis Armstrong may have captured the sentiments of this little girl in a song that was written and released in 1967: 

“What A Wonderful World”

I see trees of green, red roses too.
I see them bloom for me and you.
And I think to myself what a wonderful world. 
I see skies of blue and clouds of white.
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by.
I see friends shaking hands
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying “I love you.”
I hear babies crying, I watch them grow;
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know.
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
Yes I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Oh, yeah

I can’t think of a better way to end this week’s article other than the simple two words Mr. Armstrong used to end his song:  “Oh, yeah!”

Dissension and Division

by Tom Wacaster

Shortly before His arrest, our Lord prayed to the Father: “Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee” (John 17:20-21).   In the same breath the Lord indicated why such unity was important:  “That the world may believe that thou didst send me” (vs. 21b).  Dissension among brethren is a detriment to the progress of the gospel.   The more open the dissension, the greater harm to the cause of Christ.   Finger pointing, name calling, and character assassination in the name of doctrinal soundness only exacerbates the problem.   Two wrongs don’t make a right.  Doctrinal accuracy is important; but so is maturity, brotherly love, kindness, and long suffering when it comes to dealing with unsound, unrepentant, unreasonable and ungodly brethren.  It might be necessary to “mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions contrary to the doctrine which ye learned” (Rom. 16:17), but even then it is to be done with deep sorrow for those who have chosen to trod the path of rebellion.  Wisdom dictates that every effort be made to deal with religious dissension in a way that is becoming to those who are supposed to be brethren in Christ.   Rudeness, a rancorous spirit, and raking someone over the coals (the 3 “R’s” of un-Christian conduct) without careful examination of the facts will not do much to unite brethren who are divided.  Those three “R’s” are never an effective means of addressing those who are in error.  I do not read anywhere in God’s word that an unkind spirit is ever acceptable when attempting to recover brethren who have been overtaken in a trespass (Gal. 6:1).  Those who are “spiritual” are to “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1b).   The Lord’s servant is not to “strive, but be gentle toward all” (2 Tim. 2:24).   Take as a case study the church at Corinth.  Talk about a troubled congregation!  Some of the members actually gloried in their fornication. They had a horrible misunderstanding about the resurrection, work of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual gifts, and how to treat a brother in civil disagreements.   Morality took a back burner and maturity was almost non-existent among those who were supposed to be a “temple of the Holy Spirit.”  The Lord’s supper had evidently been turned into a common meal, and even their common meals had become occasions of stumbling because of what they were eating and where they were eating it.   They were divided, deluded, demanding, and destructive to the body of Christ.  Heading the list of their disregard for those things spiritual was a divisive mind set that led to sectarianism, schisms, and sinful conduct one toward another.   What do you do with a congregation like that?  Some would write them off, and others would write them up; but the apostle took the high road and sought to turn them from the error of their way.   Chapter 1:10 thru 4:21 contain a rebuke of their divisive, carnal, and immature disposition; a mind set that threatened the very existence of the church in Corinth.   Here is how Paul addressed the situation.

First, Paul sought common ground upon which he could then build.   The opening verses to this letter (9 verses in my American Standard) contain some wonderful Christian graces that are worthy of imitation.   Paul mentions their common Savior (Jesus Christ, vs. 1), their common Father (God, vs. 1), a common authority (“the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, vs 1), a common blessing (“grace and peace,” vs. 3), and a common calling (“called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord,” vs. 9).  If men can agree on those common aspects of their faith then there is hope for recovery.    Undoubtedly some of our apostate brethren have abandoned some, if not all of those common graces; they may not realize it, and they may not admit it, but they have done it nonetheless.   Departure from sound doctrine is an abandonment of the common authority found only in the “name of Jesus Christ.”  Would any doubt that the brethren at Corinth had abandoned the common authority that would bring unity, moral uprightness, a proper understanding of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection?  Yet the apostle gently reminds them of what they had in common before he addressed their abandonment of what was important.

Second, Paul was thorough in addressing the cause of dissension.   The fact that some were saying, “I am Paul,” and others, “I am of Apollos” or “Cephas” was only the symptom.   What brought these brethren to this point?  What was it that produced such a rancorous spirit that would cause one brother to take another brother to law, or drive brethren to intentionally expel others from the communion service of the Lord?   A careful study of 1:18-4:20 reveals at least three reasons why there was such dissension and division among the brethren.  (1) First, a failure to remember the very nature of the gospel.  The gospel was the wisdom of God revealed to them through the preaching of the gospel.   “The word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God” (1:18).   When someone says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of….” - you fill in the blank—has he not lost sight of nature of the gospel?   Dissension draws a line in the sand over matters inconsequential and demands that men cross that line or else!  The only standard by which men can be united is the wisdom of God, provided by the Holy Spirit and recorded by inspired men, “combining spiritual things with spiritual words” (1:13).   (2) Second, a failure to remember the source of that wisdom of God will produce dissension even among brethren.  Evidently the Corinthians had forgotten the source of that gospel.  Don’t doubt it!  Why would anyone trade the all-authoritative word for the foolishness of men unless they had been deceived into disregarding the divine origin of the gospel.  Give the devil his due!  He has done a masterful job convincing men that the gospel is not inspired; that it did not come from God; that it is of no more value than the words of Shakespeare, Milton, or Twain.  Young men sitting at the feet of professors in some of our so-called “Christian Universities” are imbibing modernism and post modernism at an alarming rate.  They drink from the poison of those so-called professors who deny the very inspiration of the word of God and ridicule those who still believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible.   I see nothing in such ridicule of God’s word that can produce unity of any kind; it is only destined to further divide the Lord’s church.   (3) Third, the Corinthians had failed to properly evaluate the place of leaders, teachers, and preachers within the body.   I find it interesting that Paul emphasizes that he and Apollos were “servants of the Lord” (3:5), “fellow-workers” (3:9), and “stewards of the mysteries of God” (4:1).   While one planted, another watered, but God gave the increase (3:6).  Any movement that elevates a man above the gospel of Christ proves itself to be nothing more than the foolishness of men and at one and the same time drives a wedge between fellow Christians.  We may have successfully avoided using such terms as “pastor,” “Reverend,” or “rabbi,” but are we not just as guilty when we address brethren as “Doctor” so-and-so in our relationship one to another? 

Dissension must be dealt with at its root; but we must be sure to speak the truth in love.   I find it significant that Paul ends this section in 1 Corinthians in the same way he began: “Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?” (4:21).  The question is rhetorical  and strongly suggests that Paul’s approach was with the utmost kindness coupled with a deep love for their souls.  Such is the only way to deal with religious dissension.