Good News

Good News
By Tom Wacaster

It has been a little more than 20 years since the following statistical information was released. You would have to adjust the figures for inflation as well as an obvious increase in traffic from such places as the internet and the world wide web. Nevertheless I found the figures somewhat astonishing: NBC News reported that in one single year they reviewed more than 9,800 hours of news clippings. That is more than thirteen and a half months of viewing if you were to project that from one projector continuously. They shot more than 4,000 miles of raw film, costing into the millions. They sent its staff of foreign correspondents numbering into the 1,000’s into 74 countries, with expenses totaling more than $9 million. What is amazing about all of these figures is the fact that, for the most part, the news reported to the public was bad. For some inexplicable reason, bad news draws a larger audience than good news. Disasters, assassinations, political scandals, and bad financial news take front and center in the daily newspapers and on the evening news. Good news is usually pushed to the back page, or at best it takes second place to headline news items that focus our attention on catastrophic events. People seem to be drawn to sensationalism. Even the weather channel focuses on gloom and doom. If Chicken Little were alive today I think he would be one of the most popular TV and movie figures around; perhaps a mascot at one of the main-stream media outlets. You can take many of the headlines in the thirty-eight pages of the Star Telegram on any given day, and the following day you could run the same story by just changing the names and places. Do any of you remember the TV series, “Dragnet.” If so, you may recall one of the popular lead-in disclaimers: “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Perhaps the editors of any major newspaper in the country could place a disclaimer on the front page to that effect: “The news in today’s paper is the same as yesterday. Only the names have been changed to provide you with today’s news.” The common refrain could easily be summed up with Chicken Little’s plaintiff cry: “The sky is falling; the sky is falling!”

This is where the gospel plays such an important part in world affairs. It has often been pointed out that our English word “gospel” means “good news,” or “glad tidings.” That seems to be an appropriate definition in view of the fact that the gospel is, indeed, good news to those long for release from sin, guilt, and death. Seeing that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), who in his right mind would consider the gospel “bad news”? It is unfortunate that this generation, like Israel of old, seems to have turned things upside down; right is considered wrong, and wrong is glorified as being right. The lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life sum up all that is in the world (1 John 2:15-17). The devil appealed to Eve’s mind through each one of those avenues of sin. Everything he told her was sensational. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Let’s think about good news for a moment. Reader’s Digest used to be known for their articles that focused on good news. That may be why the magazine was such a success for so many years. All of us like to hear, and read about good news. What makes us think that we are any different than our neighbors and loved ones when it comes to hearing good news? Human nature is touched by good news. It is natural to rejoice with others when they experience good fortune. In fact, Christians are told to “rejoice with them that rejoice” (Rom. 12:15). While it is important that we also “weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15b), I find it interesting that Paul put the rejoicing ahead of weeping. Good news is to be preferred above that which is bad.

Thankfully bad news is not the only news. Almost two thousand years ago 3,000 souls listened to the good news preached on the day of Pentecost. It changed their lives for the better, and undoubtedly affected their eternal destination as well. That is the power of the gospel—the “good news” that all men need, but few are willing to receive.

I am writing this week’s column from Southhaven, Mississippi, where I am attending the Power Lectures. Such occasions give me the opportunity to shut out the world, focus on things spiritual, and receive encouragement from those of like minded faith. This year’s theme for the Lecture series, Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort, comes from Paul’s words to Timothy: “Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). Even when the speakers address those topics that “reprove and rebuke,” the message is still “good news” to those of who love the Lord and long to be with Him in heaven.

Good news! Oh, how our world desperately needs good news! Here are some things that, truly, are good news!

There is a God in heaven! That is good news. As long as I know God exists (Heb. 11:6), that He exercises control over the universe, and that He constantly watches over His creation, I can rest assured that all is well in the universe, regardless of the madness that surrounds us. I can take the bad news in stride because I know the good news that there is a God in heaven.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God! That, too, is good news. If Jesus were only a man, there would be nothing good about His life or death, for the good news believed by the multitude would really be nothing more than a lie, men deceived in their minds and hearts, and of all men, to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:19). For those men suffering under the bondage of sin, there is good news: “Jesus Christ came to save sinners!”

The Bible is the inspired word of God! That, too, is good news. The critic may tell you that the Bible is nothing more than ink dried upon some page; that its message is not superior to any other religious books; that it is, in fact inferior to those other books. But I am here to tell you with every ounce of my being that the evidence proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this book we call the Holy Bible, consisting of 66 books, has God as its author, salvation as its theme, and holds forth a home in heaven for those who read, believe, and keep the words contained therein. That, my friend, is good news!

The church of which I am a member is the one I read about in the pages of the New Testament. I do not say that arrogantly, but assuredly. There once was a time when my faith was an inherited faith, passed on to me by my parents and grandparents. The fact that I was raised with such a rich background does not lessen the reality of my faith in any way. Having studied the Bible for myself now for well over five decades, I can assure you that the church I read about in the New Testament is exactly what I was taught in my younger years. When Andrew told his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah,” that must have been good news in the ears of Peter. If I were lost in sin, following some man made doctrine, and a part of some denominational church, and someone said to me, “We have found the church you can read about in the New Testament,” that would be good news!

Forgiveness, redemption, propitiation, grace, salvation, the blood of Jesus—these are all terms that speak of the same spiritual blessing, and each one individually, and all of them collectively, are good news! The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). The good news is that you don’t have to die!

Finally, the simplicity of how one goes about claiming those spiritual blessings is so straight forward, so easy to understand, that it takes six years in a seminary to mess it up. The twisted, convoluted, mish-mash of nonsense that portrays itself as the “plan of salvation” as presented by man made churches is anything but good news! More often than not it leaves the hearers confused as to what they must do to be saved. Let men hear the gospel in the same form in which it is presented in God’s word, and the hearer will find himself listening to good news. It is good news because of its saving power; and it is good news because it is so easy to understand. “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall die in your sins” (Luke 13:3). “Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16a). Can any news be more important than that? Can any news be easier to understand that that? I think not. No wonder the Bible calls it “good news!”

The Greedy And The Gracious

by Tom Wacaster

Other than Jesus Christ, Solomon was the wisest man ever to live. This was due to God’s gracious gift granted to the young king who sought not money, or power, but divine guidance. Too bad he did not follow his own advice. In fact, there are dozen’s of passages in the Proverbs that are ‘out of character’ with Solomon’s overall life. This is why I think Solomon wrote these Proverbs in the early years of his life; before time and treasures had time to corrupt his thinking and corrode his trust in God. There are two verses in the eleventh chapter of Proverbs that captured my attention this morning; two verses that set forth a contrast between those who are greedy and those who are gracious.

11:24: “There is that scattereth, and increaseth yet more; And there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth only to want.
11:25: “The liberal soul shall be made fat; And he that watereth shall be watered also himself.

If I were to give a subtitle to this article it would have to be, “How NOT to make more money!” The subtitle might well capture the attention faster than the contrasting words, “greedy” and “gracious.” If you are expecting to find the secret of how to become a millionaire in these two verses you likely will be disappointed. But if you are seeking wise advice as to how to best use your money, you will not be disappointed in the advice Solomon gives. Consider the wise advice of Solomon contained in these two verses:

My first preaching work was in a small farming and ranching community in south-central Oklahoma. Several of the men in that congregation were farmers, and they understood the need to invest money in seed in order to generate a great harvest come fall. The farmer who is stingy at the time of sowing will have a meager harvest at the time of reaping; but the farmer who invests the time and energy to scatter the seed far and wide will be more likely to reap a great harvest, and profit thereby. The same is true in the business arena. “Those who have the money are the ones who make the money” is a well known proverbial saying, is it not? I don’t think Solomon was all that concerned about teaching his son about the principles of farming, or even business for that matter; though there is sage advice throughout the Proverbs addressing both of those areas. Solomon wanted his readers to understand an important truth regarding how we should use our material blessings. The New Testament clearly teaches that we are to be generous with what God has given us. “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Eph. 4:28). Solomon was well aware that generosity is essential to pleasing God: “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, When it is in the power of thy hand to do it” (Pro. 3:27).  If I choose to be greedy rather than gracious, I face a real danger of losing what I have in this life, and losing my soul in eternity. Jesus once spoke a parable to this effect, as recorded in Luke 12:13-21. In the mid to late 1800’s a man by the name of George Muller decided he wanted to do what he could to help the orphans in Bristol, England. The amazing thing about Mr. Muller is that he never really had a lot of money. When he launched out in his endeavor to help orphans all he had was some small change. Nor did he own much with regard to material possessions. With what meager resources he had, he sought to feed, house, and cloth as many needy orphans as possible. He began his endeavor with one small house, and within twenty years he had built five building, housing a total of 1,722 orphans. Through all this, Müller never made requests for financial support, nor did he go into debt, even though the five homes cost over £100,000 to build. Many times, he received unsolicited food donations only hours before they were needed to feed the children, further strengthening his faith in God. For example, on one well-documented occasion, they gave thanks for breakfast when all the children were sitting at the table, even though there was nothing to eat in the house. As they finished praying, the baker knocked on the door with sufficient fresh bread to feed everyone, and the milkman gave them plenty of fresh milk because his cart broke down in front of the orphanage. Truly, the story of George Muller is an example of the Proverb from Solomon: “There is that scattereth, and increaseth yet more.” 

Now let us look at the greedy; those who “withholdeth more than is meet.” I don’t think Solomon was discouraging the wisdom in setting aside a little for that inevitable “rainy day” that comes our way from time to time.  Return to the parable Jesus told of the covetous rich man, as contained in Luke 12:16-21: “And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:  and he reasoned within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have not where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry. But God said unto him, Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Here was a man who “withholdeth more than is meet.” This imaginary (and no doubt true to life) man had what one preacher called “I Trouble.” His use of the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” speak volumes about the man’s heart. Literally, he withholds more than “what is right” (NKJV). He had taken that portion that should have rightfully been used to help others, and he hoarded it in order to build greater barns in which to gather his increase. God will not bless such a man, and such a one tends to find that the abundance that God gave to him ends up being squandered in reckless living. In the end, the man in the parable found himself losing what he sought so desperately to hold on to. Albert Barnes wrote: “Much that pertains to dress, to accomplishment, to living, to employment, to amusement, to conversation, will appear, when we come to die, to have been like the playthings of ‘children;’ and we shall feel that the immortal mind has been employed, and the time wasted, and the strength exhausted in that which was foolish and puerile” (Barnes, Commentary under 1 Cor. 14:20). I think that is a fitting summary of what Solomon wanted to convey to his readers.

"It Is Finished"

by Tom Wacaster

No doubt you’ll recognize the title of this week’s article as one of seven phrases Jesus spoke while dying on the cross. The story of Jesus’ death will, when studied carefully and prayerfully, strike the cords of a man’s heart unlike any other. Who among us is not encouraged when he reads the thrilling story of some hero; especially if that hero gives his life in some sacrificial way?  “It is finished.” Here the Lord speaks as our Redeemer. Though the resurrection and ascension remained in the not-too-distant future, all things had been accomplished which the Father gave Jesus to do. The price for sin was now paid; the atonement for sin was completed. These three words carry profound implications. For one thing, the Old Law could now be taken out of the way. The Jewish leaders could no more harass or blaspheme the Lord. The terrible suffering is at last completed, the shame now past. The Lord had come to this world, suffered, and endured temptation. All that remained was the simple act of conquering death by His resurrection, to be followed by His ascension to the right hand of the Father. When our Lord spoke these words, He was fully aware that all things had either been completed or adequately put into motion so as to make this statement true in every respect. So far as His earthly sojourn and mission was concerned, it was indeed, “finished.” William Barclay provided this beautiful observation regarding these words of Jesus:

When we compare the four gospels we find a most illuminating thing. The other three do not tell us that Jesus said, “It is finished.” But they do tell us that he died with a great shout upon his lips (Matt. 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46). On the other hand, John does not speak of the great cry, but does say that Jesus’ last words were, “It is finished.” The explanation is that the great shout and the words, “It is finished,” are one and the same thing. “It is finished” is one word in Greek, and Jesus died with a shout of triumph on his lips. He did not say, “It is finished,” in weary defeat; he said it as one who shouts for joy because the victory is won. He seemed to be broken on the Cross, but he knew that his victory was won (Barclay, ESword Module).

Someone once said, “Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives.” The truly great life is not one that is lived in selfish pursuits, but in service to others. The Christian realizes that at least one key to true happiness is bound up in the words of Paul: “Doing nothing through faction or through vain glory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself” (Phil. 2:3). The greatness of a man’s life is not measured by his material possessions he might leave behind at the time of his death. It is, rather, how a man lives that makes his death a momentous event in the overall evaluation of his life upon this earth. So it is with our Savior. In His death He demonstrated the magnificence of His very character. “It is finished.” With those three words our Lord closed the books on thirty-three years of a selfless and sinless life. When the incarnate Immanuel came into this world it was said He was “laid in a manger” (Luke 2:7); after slightly more than three decades it was recorded that he was “laid in a tomb” (Mark 15:46). Those two bookmarks define the life lived in service to the Father. “It is finished” declared the success of all that Jesus accomplished during that short span of time. His enemies sought to bring upon Him the ultimate shame and disgrace by having Him crucified. They nailed His hands and feet, holding Him forever (so they thought) in that attitude of shame and disgrace. They offered Him wine, mingled with myrrh, but He refused it. No narcotic, no anesthetic, would be allowed to cloud His mind. In His death He would satisfy justice, not evoke pity! He came to conquer Death, not compromise with death’s agony. In His dying moments He breathed a prayer, not for Himself, but for His torturers, that they might be pardoned. “Father, forgive them” was the first of seven saying He would utter from the cross. In His death, as in His life, He demonstrated the undeniable truth that He was, and is, the Word of God to man, teaching forgiveness to others, providing guidance to His mother, granting salvation to the dying thief, and acknowledging God’s righteousness by His complete submission to the death on the cross. He Who was forsaken maintained unwavering trust in the Father Who never forsakes us. In the final moments upon that cross He cried, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” We may never fully understand the import of those words, but as one noted, those words were “the utterance of a Son, innocent Himself, yet disowned.” With His last breath our Lord would declare, “It is finished.” He Who did nothing by halves, paid the debt to the uttermost! Now He could render His spirit to God, which was His to give up; and while the thieves lived on, He hung there dead.

On the cross the magnificence of Jesus is displayed for the world to see. It is there that the sinless Savior died for sinful man. His innocent hands were pierced with nails intended only for the most horrible of offenders. His Holy Name was mocked and ridiculed. And yet, He willingly gave Himself as a sacrifice for the very ones who sought to do Him harm. Behind His sacrifice was God’s love for man, the Savior’s love for the Father, and heaven’s love for lost humanity. Our Lord’s death may seem a paradox to those who do not appreciate things spiritual, but for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, heaven’s gate is opened into Paradise. How can anyone look at our Lord on the cross and not be deeply touched by His magnificence? I am grateful that Jesus could declare with His dying breath, “It is finished!”

Fort Morgan is located on the southern tip of Alabama, just across the bay from Mobile. On the wall of the museum located on the premises there is a bronze plaque containing the following words: “Soldiers of Fort Morgan, your country has given this trust of honor in your charge. Will you make them proud of you and fulfill their expectations? Then have the determined will and strong resolution that you will not be overcome; contemplate no possibility of failure, and with the blessings of God we will withstand the enemy to the last.” Those words were written by General R.L. Page of the Confederate Army. His words were immortalized on that plague because he encouraged his men to believe in the achievable, in spite of the odds that they were facing. I think Paul had the same mind set when he wrote that beautiful passage in Philippians 3:13-14: “Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The late Bobby Duncan once commented: “If we make our faithfulness dependent on certain conditions then we are contemplating the possibility of failure.”  I enjoy watching “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, if only for the notable quotes that come from those three movies. One of my favorite was made by Aragorn as he and his men were about to engage the enemy: “Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of woes and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” May God help each one of us to have the same mind and the same determination of will as that encouraged by General Page. “And having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13).