Church Bulletins

by Tom Wacaster

When I attended Brown Trail Preacher Training School I had the distinct honor of having the late Wendell Winkler as my second year homiletic teacher. Brother Winkler struck me as being very organized, very systematic, and a virtual “pack rat” when it came to collecting material that could later be used for sermon starters, illustrations, quotes, etc. When our second year class on homiletics began that fall of 1971, brother Winkler gathered the students into the large auditorium at Brown Trail, and proceeded to give us a scenario of what to expect in the class. He also gave us an assignment that I thought rather odd: “When we meet for our next class I want you to bring three shoe boxes to class.” Shoe boxes? What in the world does collecting shoe boxes have to do with preaching? I would soon find out. Two days later nineteen of us preacher students came marching down the isle of that auditorium with our shoe boxes in hand (empty of shoes, of course). At the front of the auditorium brother Winkler had laid out stacks of church bulletins and periodicals; enough copies of each one for all of the students to pick up a copy. Over the course of the next ten months he would provide fresh stacks of church bulletins and periodicals every week. During the class he would instruct us on how to read, clip, and file articles, poems, sermon starters, illustrations and quotes that we would find useful in preparing our sermons. Not every bulletin was useful; but brother Winkler knew how to select from among the best bulletins from congregations all over the state of Texas, and even beyond the Lone Star State. Brother Winkler taught us how to set up various subject dividers in those shoe boxes, and then we would clip, snip, read, and file the two or more dozen bulletins we picked up once a week. Before I graduated I had collected hundreds of bulletin articles, all neatly filed away for later use. That was not all he taught us, but it was that little segment of each Wednesday’s class that eventually led to my own system of filing away church bulletins and periodicals for later use.

I still receive a large number of church bulletins. With the advent of the electronic age many of those paper copies of church bulletins and periodicals have given way to digital copies. I receive no less that a dozen church bulletins each week in digital format, and about the same number in paper format. In addition, I get bulletins passed along to me that are actually addressed to the Handley Church of Christ. Occasionally I pass along to our readers an item of interest, or a well written article that is worthy of  sharing with others.  I realize that a church bulletin is only an expedient means of passing information and news along to its members.  There are no “rules” for what constitutes a “scriptural,” or even a “good” bulletin.  But at the same time, a church bulletin is a reflection of where a congregation places its emphasis. One can get a pretty good picture of where a congregation is going by what appears within the pages of its church bulletin.

Over the past 40 years I have collected a sizable number of bulletins; I have also thrown away my fair share bulletins that contain nothing worth keeping. If a bulletin has some interesting quote, illustration, sermon idea or note of personal interest, I take the time to put a number on that bulletin, enter it into my computer database under subject, title and author, and place it in my file cabinet by numerical sequence. The old “shoe box” filing system introduced by brother Winkler has given way to my own personal computer database filing system; but forty years later I am still filing away information that I find useful.

It seems to me that fewer and fewer bulletins are being used as a teaching tool. Most of what appears in some of these bulletins has to do with person-to-person activities. Let me share just a few of the “announcements” that have appeared in some of the bulletins through the years.  “Water balloon fight for Jr. and Sr. high will be held at the home of ____ this coming Friday.”   “Annual ski trip planned for _____.”  A more recent bulletin announced a “Spaghetti Dinner and Auction to help our leadership training for Christ students attend the convention.” The auction was to include “arts and crafts, antiques, and specialty desserts” (some of our brethren are falling prey to the “bake sale” mentality for raising church funds, something which is without Biblical authority, but has come into use among churches of Christ in increasing number). Another bulletin has an ad for an upcoming “youth rally,” featuring a “juggling act” to teach spiritual truths to the audience. I read of “divorce and remarriage seminars,” “health seminars,” “craft shows,” and “concerts.” Admittedly, much of what is advertised in the local bulletin is scriptural, and falls into the realm of expedients (though I would be very suspicious of this dinner and auction to raise funds for church work). I suppose the most puzzling thing about this is the amount of space that is taken up with such “trivial” and unimportant events, and the relatively little amount of space given to teaching, instruction and encouragement.  I have always sought to provide something to our readers that will inform, encourage, or instruct.  It only makes sense to me that if a congregation is going to spend the amount of money and energy it takes to put together, print and mail a weekly bulletin to folks in distant places, that they would want to have something more to offer their readers than a long list of “church activities,” none of which pertains to some of those who receive their bulletin. A well written article, whether by the local preacher or fresh from the pen of another, makes any bulletin worth taking the time to read. There are some bulletins that it takes me less than 10 seconds to look at.  Then there are those bulletins that I look forward to getting each week because I know that more than likely they will have some article that challenges my thinking, or uplifts my spirit in a time of discouragement. Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Perhaps the same could be said of the written word.  If what appears in the local bulletin of many congregations is any indication of where the emphasis of a congregation lies then perhaps it is later than we think.  

Breaking The Alasbaster Cruse

by Tom Wacaster

The beautiful story of Mary and the alabaster cruse is recorded in John 12:1-8. It is, perhaps, one of the more well known incidents in the life of Jesus. I typed “John 12:1-8” into my Mozilla Fire Fox browser and an astonishing 32,700,000 links were provided for my investigation. When I typed in “Matthew 26:6-13,” I received 18,200,000 links. The search on “Mark 14:3-9” produced 1,720,000 links. That is a total of 43,620,000 links to the three parallel passages; far more than I could ever hope to investigate.  In comparison, I typed in “atheism” and received only 7,550,000 links; “evolution,” 16,300,000; “Hollywood,” 19,500,000. The large number of links to various sites that tell of this touching story of Mary and the alabaster cruse attest to the fulfillment of our Lord’s prophecy: “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Matt. 26:13).

Multiple sermons have been preached that focus upon the act of Mary in breaking the alabaster box and pouring the ointment upon the head and feet of Jesus (Matt. 26:6-7; John 12:1-3). John does not mention the cruse itself. For whatever reason, John only mentions the oil; not the container. John wanted us to focus our attention upon that which was “very precious” to Mary. The value of what was in that alabaster cruse was recognized even by the most avarice of heart, such as that of Judas. There is something in that wonderful act of Mary that not only touches the heart, but challenges us to follow in her footsteps; something much deeper than a simple expression of thanksgiving, or an act of sorrowful remorse for what lay down the road for our Lord. Did the cruse have some sentimental value to Mary? Had it been given to her as a gift from someone close to her? Had she sacrificed more than a month’s wages (perhaps even a year’s wages) to purchase this “very precious” ointment, maybe as some kind of hedge against inflation; perhaps even an investment of some kind? These are questions that intrigue the mind, but must wait until eternity for an answer. Here is an act that would live in perpetuity, as declared by our Lord Himself. What is the real lesson behind the breaking of the alabaster cruse? In my estimation it is this: When Mary broke the alabaster cruse she declared in that action the majesty of Jesus! Consider the following:

First, Mary is indicative of multitudes of precious souls who have given their best to the Master. The monetary value of that cruse of “very precious ointment” may never be fully realized. I don’t know if any of you men have ever shopped for “very precious” perfume, but I can tell you, it is not cheap. One source suggests that the 300 denarii it took to purchase this cruse of oil may very well have been the equivalent of a year’s wages. I could not prove that if my life depended on it. All I know is that it was not cheap, for otherwise Judas would not have responded the way he did. The point I am trying to make is this: Mary recognized the majesty of Jesus and she wanted to give Him the best that money could buy!

Second, Mary wanted to express her love for the Lord while there was still time. She must have realized the impending death of our Lord; her actions here prove that to be the case. Perhaps she had heard one of the Lord’s prophetic statements regarding what would happen to Him upon His return to Jerusalem. The point I am making here is this: The mere desire to perform some kind deed and/or expression of love is of no value once a person has died; we must act while the object of our love is still alive. Some years ago the singing group, Mike and the Mechanics recorded ‘In The Living Years.” A couple of stanzas of that song express this exact sentiment:

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him
In the living years.

Mary realized the importance of declaring the magnificence of Jesus while He was yet alive.

Third, Mary’s appreciation for the magnificence of Jesus is seen in the fact that she performed this act in the presence of all. She was not ashamed of what others might say; she was only concerned with expressing her love for, and appreciation of Jesus. Our devotion to God must not be hidden. “Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 3:14-16). The true value of Christianity comes when we break our alabaster cruse and allow the fragrance of Jesus in our lives to influence others. An unknown author observed, “Until our outward man--our soul--is broken, the fragrance of Christ in our inward man cannot come forth.

The story of Mary and her alabaster cruse is set in concrete (so to speak). Where ever the gospel has gone, men have read, and continue to read of Mary’s selfless devotion to the Lord, and the price she was willing to pay to uplift Jesus in the eyes of those who happened to be at that supper in that little insignificant town of Bethany. The extent to which that story has gone into the world is manifest in the tens of millions of websites that now provide a link for us to   read, and re-read the inspired record. How about you, dear reader? Can you not see the magnificence of Jesus expressed in those events that unfolded in that small town of Bethany?  Oh that you would!

Sins Of The Tongue

by Tom Wacaster

The four words that make up the title of this week’s article suggest a topic so broad, so encompassing, that to deal with it in full in any single two and a half page article, is an exercise in futility. Whole books have been written on the sins of the tongue, and no doubt thousands of sermons have been preached on the topic, and yet the tongue remains “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8). Gossip, lying, slander, unkind remarks, euphemisms, cursing, swearing, angry words, misrepresentation—this list is endless. No wonder James tells us, “If any stumbleth not in word, the same is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also” (Jas. 3:2). A few years ago Dan Jenkins observed:

Americans are, by in large, a nation of liars.  According to a report in Parade a few years ago, the average American tells 200 lies every day.  A report from USA Today substantiates this figure.  The report shows that 91% lie routinely.  It further indicates that Americans lie about almost every subject.  Some 81% lie about their feelings;  43% lie about their income; 40% lie about sex; and 36% tell “dark, important lies.”  In addition a full 75% lie to their friends, and 86% of children lie regularly to their parents, and 69% of adults lie to their spouses.   Assuming that brother Jenkins’ report is anywhere near accurate, it implies that ours is a very distrusting society.  If the truth were known, the high percentage of lying is not confined to what we might call the “non-religious.”  There are a host of misinformed preachers who lie to their audience on a regular basis.  To be sure, not everyone of them realize they are telling a non-truth, but likely there are more out there than we might suspect who KNOW that what they are telling is a lie, but who pass it off as religious truth worth of being embraced and practiced.  All this goes to impress upon us the great importance of testing and proving all that we hear (article sent by email, 2011).

I’ll not address any of the better known sins of the tongue right here; though a good series  of articles might be beneficial. Instead let me make a couple of points that have, in themselves, a wide range of application.

First, we should be cautious—yea overly cautious—as to what we read and then pass along on the internet. Much of what I receive in my email box that has been forwarded by others simply cannot be trusted as factual. The internet has become an endless cycle of rumors, innuendoes, and flat out lies. Have you ever received one of those emails that starts out: “This is true; I checked it out on Snopes!” Turns out that not only is the person passing along false information, he lied about telling his audience, “I checked it out on Snopes!” because he did not check it out! What often follows the opening declaration is nothing short of slander and/or character assassination. Beloved, I implore you—if you feel compelled to pass something along to your friends and brethren, make sure it is legitimate and factual!  There are some good websites where you can obtain the results of the research others have done;,, to name just a couple.

Second, don’t let your tongue destroy your brother for whom the Lord died. I’ve reached back into my archives for these thoughts, but certainly they bear repeating. One of the first video game consoles to hit the market was “Intellivision.”  It was released by Mattel in 1979, and more than 3 million of the units were sold during the height of its popularity. In addition to the console, there were eventually more than 125 games that were sold which could be played on the console, including such game titles as Dungeons and Dragons, Atlantis, and Night Stalker. One of our favorite games was Buzz Bombers in which the player flew bombing raids over enemy territory. He would have to dodge anti-aircraft fire as he was repeatedly warned, “Watch out for flak.”   When the player attempted to drop a bomb on a target, but actually missed the target, hitting instead an allied jeep or troop carrier, the computer voice would tell him, “That was not a target!” Of course, the computer generated voice sounded nothing like a real human voice, and we would get tickled, so much so that we would intentionally bomb allied forces just to hear the computer speak to us. Over the course of several years my son would remind me on occasions of how those words might apply in different situations in life. I recall one of my futile attempts to repair a mechanical problem on one of our old automobiles. My hand slipped and my knuckles hit a bolt, digging deep into my skin. My son was always ready on such occasions to remind me, “Dad, THAT was not a target!” In similar fashion, military maneuvers have been known on occasions to strike the wrong target. During the Viet Nam war there were more than 8,000 incidents of what is commonly known as “friendly fire.” Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one’s own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, resulting in injury or death.   Sometimes friendly fire in any given war zone is the result of negligence, ignorance, carelessness, or a combination of all three. Unfortunately, once a rocket or missile has been fired, there is little that one can do to stop it; all that remains is for someone to repeat the words, “That was not a target!” Lest we be too hard on our military leaders for the horrible fruit of “friendly fire,” perhaps we should give due consideration to the possibility that each one of us might fall prey to the same kind of carelessness and neglect. How often have we found ourselves in a situation where words were spoken in anger, and after careful reflection, we wish we could take them back? Too late, we learn that the target of our verbal missiles was not deserving of our caustic attack, and deep inside we are reminded, “That was not a target!”  As one author put it: “Perhaps we have been guilty of speaking against someone and have not realized how it may have hurt them. Then when someone speaks against us, we suddenly realize how deeply such words hurt, and we become sensitive to what we have done” (Theodore Epp). Spiritual “friendly fire” comes in all forms and in the most unexpected circumstances.   “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts” (Pro. 18:8). Parents often fire their misguided barbs at their own children, only to learn too late, “That was not a target!” Husbands and wives bicker and argue over some of the most insignificant matters, feelings are hurt, and a wedge is driven into the heart of the one whom we love and cherish. No, “That was not a target!” Many a congregation has been torn apart because of verbal attacks upon one another, and when the damage has been done we find bleeding and wounded soldiers of the cross who have thrown down the sword and shield because of “friendly fire” from someone whom they thought was on their side.   

Sins of the tongue! They are deadly, whether from the tongue or the pen. Let us use caution in these matters lest we sin against our brethren!