God’s Providence And World Evangelism

by Tom Wacaster

In the year 1800 A.D., an outrigger canoe from Rai’atea, near Tahiti, was caught in a storm, blown off course, and then after drifting 750 miles west, landed on the northern shore of Rarotonga. The fishermen were greeted by the ariki chief, Makea Timirau, and the people of the Te-au-o-Tonga tribe. The fishermen shared with the people of Rarotonga news about a new god that had come to their island some two years earlier. That “god” was Jehovah, Who had a son by the name of Jesus Christ. Because of the teaching of the people from Beritini (Britan), many of the people were becoming Christians. The aged chief of the Te-au-o-Tonga tribe asked the fishermen, “Why would you desert the gods of your fathers to serve this Jehovah? What blessing has Jehovah brought to Rai’atea?” The Rai’atean fishermen answered in one word: “Peace!” After the fishermen had left for home, the Rarotongans pondered the significance of the news which they had received. “Peace” was a dream of their entire island. For over a century now they had experienced only anarchy and agnosticism. These people had been looking for such a god who could bring them the peace experienced by their neighboring Rai’ateans. Over the next several years they would dream of the day when this Jehovah would come. In the midst of their search for alternatives came the visits of James Cook and the “Bounty” that renewed these dreams. The Rarotongans wanted the blessings of this new “God,” so chief Makea commanded the people to pray daily that someone would bring Jehovah. He built a temple to Jehovah, and named the next generation “Jesus Christ.” For more than a quarter century the people of that island literally for “priests” of Jehovah to come. In July, 1823, a teacher from the London Missionary Society arrived. Messengers quickly spread the news to others on the island, “Jehovah is come!” Within months hundreds of ancestral figures were burned and almost all of the 8,000 inhabitants of that island were studying the Bible every day.

The amazing providence of God can be seen in this story, for without the storm it is possible that the inhabitants of Rarotonga might well have remained in darkness for yet another century or two. My various mission trips over the past two decades has convinced me even more that God works in a providential way to get His gospel to those longing for the truth. Let me tell you of an incident this past week that reminded me of the wonderful providence of our God. One of the primary cities in which Nehemiah Gootam and I have worked over the years is Palacole. My first work in this city was in 2004. Good hotels were hard to come by; in fact they simply did not exist. One year when we were leaving to head to Palacole, Nehemiah purchased some sheets in Kakinada to carry with us. Upon our arrival in Palacole, we checked into the local hotel, and Nehemiah gave me two sheets to use in the place of those already on the bed. Digny brown is how I would describe the sheets the hotel supplied. The bathrooms were anything but clean, but at least it was a place where we could lay our head for a couple of days.

Three years ago they built a new hotel in Palacole: The Royal Regency. The name of the hotel is a little misleading, but the rooms are descent, and for the most part clean and comfortable. It so happens that a young man took a job with that hotel sometime back. Somehow he and his father had heard of the church of Christ in Palacole but had not come into contact with any of the members. His father preaches for a 150 member denominational church. On our last morning at Palacole, as we were packing to leave, the young man came to my room and began a conversation with Nehemiah. As it turns out it was his night to work the 3rd floor, and had heard us speaking about the church, the school and the Bible. He took advantage of the opportunity, inquired about the school and expressed a desire to learn more. Circumstance? Was all of this an accident in some random chain of events? I don’t think so. There have been too many examples like this in almost every place where I have preached, both in local work and in mission work.  The world may see all such chain of events as mere circumstance. Believing in a God Who oversees the universe, and Who will not allow a sparrow to fall without taking notice, I prefer to see it as God’s providence. God not only requires that we seek Him (Heb. 11:6), but He too is active in seeking lost humanity. 

When Papehia, the Polynesian teacher, landed on Rarotonga in 1823 he was considered an answer to the prayers of the people. His arrival generated great joy, and people were running around the island shouting the news of Jehovah’s arrival. Today there are untold millions who may very well be praying that Jehovah will come. I am thankful that you and I can play some small part in answer to their prayers; and I am thankful that our God, in His wonderful providence, is able to get us in touch with those souls seeking the true and living God.

“I Endure All Things For the Elect’s Sake”

by Tom Wacaster
My first experience at traveling abroad for mission work was in 1988. Ten of us traveled to Port Elizabeth, South Africa for a two week campaign, and three days of R&R at a wild life resort just outside of Johannesburg. That campaign gave me my first taste of mission work, and as one experienced missionary told me then, “Once mission work gets in your blood you will never be the same.” I did not (and could not) have appreciated the full extent of what he told me at that time. As God’s providence would have it, I returned to South Africa following that campaign for almost two years of mission work, living and laboring on foreign soil. I would not suggest that mission work in Africa was a life of ease, but neither would I suggest that it was a difficult field in which to labor in our Lord’s kingdom. The people spoke English, and for the most part, the values of the western world prevailed. Other than having to learn to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, and adjust to the British and Dutch accent of those with whom we communicated, life was pretty much like back home. The largest percentage of the population had at least some basis in the Christian faith, though steeped in the denominational dogma that has blinded the eyes of so many of those professing to be Christians. I like to think that those two years in South Africa would prepare me for other mission opportunities that would come my way.

In 1991 I made my first trip into Russia to preach the gospel. It would be my first of more than three dozen mission trips to Russia and/or Ukraine. In the early years of working in those former Soviet Russia block countries the conditions were anything but favorable. Travel was difficult, learning to speak through an interpreter challenging, and the work quite exhausting. Many of the comforts of home that we took for granted simply did not exist in that country that was, for the first time, getting a taste of freedom. It would be a half dozen or more years before Moscow would upgrade their airports, improve the travel conditions, and offer lodging and food that was more in line with the habits of the European nations with which they were attempting to join themselves. Those trips were anything but a vacation, and it usually took a week or so to recover from the strenuous schedule we endured once we arrived home from one of those missionary journeys. But I continued to make those trips for no other reason than the fact that the doors were open to preach, the souls were receptive, and the fruit of our labors was abundant.

In 1994 I resigned my local work and my wife and I committed ourselves to two years work in Ukraine. Due to visa restrictions, we could only stay in the country for 120 days, at which point we would have to leave, come home, apply for yet another visa, and then make the journey back to Poltava to pick up where we left off. Living in Poltava was challenging. We had to work through an interpreter (again), travel was quite limited, and shopping for basic necessities was a challenge. Our first winter spent in Poltava was from January-April of 1995. It was bitterly cold and our living quarters were heated by steam produced and piped to our apartment from some remote “boiler” outside the apartment complex. There was no thermostat so we had to take what the government sent us through those pipes. Sometimes it was overly warm; sometimes extremely cold. That winter there were no fresh vegetables at the market, the open meat market was appalling, but we survived on cucumbers and bananas for the most part. Had it not been for brethren we would have starved. As it was, we both lost about 25 pounds during that four month mission trip. But we survived, and the work was extremely rewarding.

I returned to local work in 1999, and continued to make at least one mission trip to Russia each year. One year, the time came for my annual mission trip to Syktyvkar, Russia. Following that trip some cantankerous brother decided he did not like the church spending money on what he deemed unimportant. He must have realized that complaining about spending money on mission trips might make him look bad, so he concocted some lame brain excuse to challenge my annual mission trips. “Why should the church pay for our preacher’s vacation to other parts of the world?” When I got wind of the brother’s objection, I made an offer publically to the congregation: “If any of you would like an all expense paid vacation to Syktyvkar, Russia, I will take it out of my own pocket. The only condition is that you follow my itinerary.” I got no takers.

As the years past more doors of opportunity opened for me to travel to other countries: Mexico, Ethiopia, Nepal, India, Russia, and the Philippines. So far as evangelistic outreach is concerned, there is no single part of the world where hearts are more receptive than in India. The work is challenging, and exhausting, and I usually come home worn out physically, drained emotionally, but spiritually uplifted. So, why do I make those trips? Why does anyone endure the discomforts of leaving home, travel to some distant country, put up with the cultural differences, and literally wear himself out? I’ll let the apostle Paul answer that question: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). It is not the luxurious hotels that beckon the missionary to distant lands, for luxurious hotels are few and far between in some of those countries. It is not the cuisine and exotic meals that compels us to travel to ports-of-call.  It is the lost souls who hunger and thirst after righteousness; it is the open doors that allow the gospel have free run; it is the full realization that if we do not go, someone may very well be lost due to our neglect. For those reasons, I, and others like myself, “endure all things for the elect’s sake.”

Lest I leave the impression that only those who actually “go” are helping to fulfill this need, it must be remembered that there are those at home who “endure” the separation from their loved ones, or who pray fervently for the safety and success of these mission trips—all of us working together to answer the Macedonian call so as to take the word of life to the masses lost in sin. Why do we do it? “For the elect’s sake!”

Recapturing The Growth Of The Last Century

by Tom Wacaster

If you were to do a search on the world-wide-web so as to find the largest and/or fastest growing churches in America, you might be surprised at what you find.  I was surprised to learn that the ten fastest growing churches in America do not include a single main-line denomination (Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, etc.). The first mainline church in a list of the 100 fastest growing churches in America appears 27th on the list, beginning with number one and counting down. Here are the names of top ten fastest growing churches in America: “Church of the Highlands” in Birmingham, Alabama; “Elevation Church” in Charlotte, North Carolina; “Triumph Church” in Detroit, Michigan; “Fellowship Bible Church” in Rogers, Arkansas; “The Rock Church” in San Diego, California; “Destiny Metro Worship Church” in Atlanta, Georgia; “Flatirons Community Church” in Lafayette, Colorado; “New Hope Christian Fellowship” in Honolulu, Hawaii; “Mission Ebenezer Family Church” in Carson, California; and “The Austin Stone Community Church” in Austin, Texas. I was surprised that Joel Osteen’s church down in Houston did not make the top ten list. I visited a few of the websites of these denominations. One thing that seemed to stand out on the two or three sites I visited was the emphasis on Bible study, fellowship, and outreach. Those three factors have contributed to the rapid growth (at least in numbers) of each and every one of those denominations. Meanwhile, the so-called “main line” denominations continue their trek away from God and the Bible toward a more liberal and less stringent view of God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. As a result, those main line churches began losing numbers more than 50 years ago, and their shrinking numbers have not abated to this day.

Now let me share with you an observation that the late Paul Harvey, a nationally famous news commentator, made in 1970. Referring to the various denominational churches, Mr. Harvey turned his attention to the Catholic Church and their efforts to attract young people. His observation was that additions decreased, rather than increased. Listen to his words:
“And if a diluted dogma was intended to revitalize the church, it has had the opposite effect. During the past year (1970, TW), the membership gain in the Roman Catholic Church was less than 1 percent; less than the population increase; the least increase in 25 years. Similarly, major Protestant denominations which have tended toward liberalization in doctrine, liturgy and social attitudes are in the most trouble. Lutheran churches in the United States gained only two tenths of 1 percent in membership last year; the least ever. The United Methodist Church, which has perhaps, ‘gone modern’ with the boldest strides, suffered a decline in membership approximating 2 percent. On the other hand, the strictest churches continue to grow fastest. The Assemblies of God, America’s largest Pentecostal body, enjoyed a 9 percent increase in membership last year. The strictly fundamentalist Church of Christ grew about 9 percent. The Mormon Church, which continues to frown on drinking, smoking, dancing, and such, established new congregations last year at a rate of almost one a day. How much the diluted dogma of the major denominations can be blamed for recent rebellion outside the church is impossible to establish.”

I joined the Coast Guard in 1966. During my last few years at home I was blessed to be a part of an active youth group at the old Urbandale congregation in east Dallas. The one thing I remember perhaps more than anything else was the stress that was placed on Bible preaching, strong doctrine, and what it was that made the church “right.” The inspiration of the Bible was upheld, truth was emphasized, and moral living was expected on the part of every single member. If I remember correctly, it was sometime in the mid 1960’s that the Dallas congregations sponsored a huge joint effort to preach the gospel and reach the lost. The Convention center was rented, and for 15 nights, there was an all out effort to reach every household in Dallas with the precious, pure, and powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ. The crowds each night numbered in the 1,000’s, and the last night—Sunday evening—the congregations turned out early in order to gather together at the Convention Center for the finale of that 15 day meeting. The Convention Center was filled to capacity, and by the time I got there, the fire marshal was turning people away. I was blessed to witness first hand the amazing fruit of a unified brotherhood; a brotherhood that loved the truth and preached and practiced the same.

Socially, the 1960’s were a time of cultural upheaval here in America. The sexual revolution, anti-establishment mind set, and affluence in our nation combined so as to turn the attention of the masses away from spiritual matters toward materialism, self indulgence, and moral laxity. Consequently, the growth rate among churches of Christ began to slow. With each passing year the growth rate seemed to slow even more, and brethren were wondering what had happened. 

Sometime in the late 60’s and early 70’s the winds of change began to blow across the brotherhood. In an attempt to be “like the denominations” around her, there were congregations from California to Carolina that began to compromise the truth in an effort to recapture the growth rate of the first half of the century. “What are we doing wrong?” seemed to echo from every corner of the brotherhood. What brethren failed to realize was that we were not doing anything wrong. We were still preaching the truth, and the spirit of liberalism had not yet infected the largest majority of our congregations. The problem was not with “us.” The problem was with the world and it’s sudden disinterest in things spiritual. But the proverb still rings true, “There are none so blind as they who will not see!” The calls for “change” became louder and it was not long until the Lord’s church here in America became enamored with the “programs” of the denominations that, at least at the moment, were producing great growth in numbers. So, like the denominations, some began to abandon strong doctrinal preaching in exchange for a milder, less “offensive” approach to outreach. Meanwhile, the numbers continued to decline, and conversions became almost non-existent in the closing years of the last century. Sadly, too many congregations quit preaching the sound doctrine, compromised on marriage and divorce, and began to question whether or not there were devout, sincere Christians in the denominations. This paved the way for the acceptance of instrumental music, increased fellowship with the denomination churches, and an abandonment of the proclamation of the truth. Gospel meetings have shrunk from two weeks, to one week, to four days, eventually giving way to two day, or even single day meetings.

Perhaps it is time we took a lesson from the late Paul Harvey, and get back to the “strictness” of our doctrine and practice, the proclamation of that uniqueness, and holy living on the part of every member. We cannot control whether or not hearts will be receptive to our message. But just because the world refuses to listen is no excuse on our part to do what we know is important and essential to church growth. Meanwhile, we pray that the hearts of the world will become more receptive. When that happens, we need to be there to give them hope and guide them to the truth. If we fail in that regard now, while the world is not listening, what makes us think we will make a difference when the world eventually does listen?

Two Care-free Days

by Tom Wacaster

Quite often Matthew 6:33 is used by preachers and teachers to stress the importance of dedication, commitment, and priorities. It seems to me that all too often those quoting the passage have missed the full thrust of the passage due, in part, to a failure to see the verse in its context. The immediate context is Matthew 6:19-34.  Jesus was addressing one of the most prominent manifestations of a lack of faith in God: anxiety. Anxiety, i.e worry, finds it’s root in undue concern over material things. Such arises out of an attempt to serve God and mammon, something Jesus tells us simply cannot be done: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). In spite of the warning, multitudes seem to think they can serve both, and their attempt to do so blinds them to the reality that they are actually sinning against God because they do not trust God to keep His promises. In spite of what some might claim, the unanimous testimony of those who have served God faithfully is that God can and should be trusted—completely, whole heartedly, and without any reservation whatsoever. The problem arises when men fail to understand the nature of God’s promises. God has never promised that when we become a Christian that we will be sheltered from pain, sorrow and sickness. Neither has He promised exemption from trials, tribulation, or persecution. I like the way one brother put it: “Christianity’s design is not to make it easier for man to live physically, but to make it possible for him to live spiritually” (Larry Fluitt). God has not promised riches, abundance, a life of ease, or an over-abundance of material wealth. We are promised that we will have enough material provisions to live. Is that not the very essence of the promise in Matthew 6:33? God has promised wisdom to know right from wrong, a way of escape to avoid the pitfalls of temptation, peace when we are troubled, and pardon when we sin. Once I grasp the reality of those promises, and trust in God to be faithful in that regard, the anxiety that grips the world and keeps them in the bonds of misery, having no hope or peace, will not have control over me.

You have heard it before. There are two days in every week about which we should not worry; two carefree days that are guarded and over which I should place a sentinel that will not allow worry and apprehension to enter in. The first of these is yesterday. All of us have had those days we wish we could recall. Our words and/or actions were not only wrong, but harmful to those we love; and we wish we could just go back and undo all the harm done in those moments when we failed to rely on God’s word. Unfortunately, life does not provide us with a reverse gear. Yesterday is gone. Don’t worry about it; seek forgiveness and do what you can to improve yourself and learn from the mistakes you made.

The second day we should not worry about is tomorrow, with all of its hopes, promises and uncertainties. Someone once pointed out that tomorrow is just as far beyond our mastery as is yesterday. No man has the ability to gaze into a crystal ball and tell the future. The palm readers, necromancers, and prognosticators who claim some special window that allows them to see what will unfold in the days, weeks, months or years, are all frauds; con-artists who prey upon the emotions of those who do worry about tomorrow.

This leaves one day! Today! Today God gives us the strength to make it through the day. It is possible to live a godly life—TODAY! To take advantage of the opportunities—TODAY! God promised to Israel of old, “as thy days, so shall thy strength be” (Deut. 33:25). Jesus tells us that it is senseless to worry about tomorrow because “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:34b). Glen Campbell recorded a beautiful song titled, “Today is Mine.”

When the sun came up this morning,
I took the time to watch it rise;
And as its beauty struck the darkness from the sky,
I thought how small and unimportant
All my troubles seem to be
And how lucky another day belongs to me.
And as the sleepy world around me
Woke up to greet the day
All its silent beauties seemed to say:
So what my friend
If all your dreams you have and realized;
Just look around you—you got a whole new day to try!
Today is mine, today is mine, to do with what I will;
Today is mine  - my own special cup to fill;
To die a little that I might learn to live,
To take from life that I might learn to give

Today is mine...

Like most men I cursed the present
To avoid the peace of mind;
And raise my thoughts beyond tomorrow
And vision there more peace of mind.
But as I view this day around me
I can see the fool I've been
For today's the only garden we can tend

Today is mine…

I will be the first to readily admit that my life has not been completely anxious free. But the older I get, the more I realize the futility of worry and the wonderful peace of mind that comes with trusting God, walking by His word, and, as Paul emphasized, “forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before” (Phil. 3:13).

Some years ago (1986 to be precise) I filed this beautiful poem away for later use. It is a fitting close to this week’s column:

Passing Through

“When thou passest thro’ the waters,”
Deep the waves my be, and cold.
But Jehovah is our refuge
And His promise is our hold;
For the Lord Himself hath said it,
He the faithful God and true;
“When thou comest to the waters,
Thou shalt not go down, but thro”

Seas of sorrow, seas of trial,
Bitterest anguish, fiercest pain.
Rolling surges of temptation,
Sweeping over heart and brain.
They shall never overflow us,
For we know His word is true;
All His waves and His billows
He will lead us safely through.

Threatening breakers of destruction,
Doubt’s insidious undertow,
Shall not sink us, shall not drag us
Out to ocean depths of woe.
For His promise shall sustain us,
Praise the Lord, whose word is true!
We shall not go down or under,
He hath said, “Thou passest thro!”
(by Annie Johnson Flint)