Here We Go Again

 by Tom Wacaster

Maybe its my age, or perhaps the sensation that time passes so quickly, and the older we get the faster it seems to fly by. It seems to me that I wrote on this subject just last week. Has it been four years since we elected (or re-elected) our President? Has it actually been that long? Last week we officially entered into the season of political ads, presidential and vice-presidential debates, and volatile discussions at the local coffee shop, peppered no doubt by the distortions of the media so as to present their favorite candidate as far superior to the one who might have won the other party’s nomination. My dad has pointed out that the goals of a politician are two-fold: (1) Get elected, and (2) get re-elected. Everything else is subservient to these two self imposed goals. I must confess that this year’s primary races for both parties has been unique (if I can use such a mild term). Some of you might find yourselves thinking with me, “Here we go again!” Having almost completed the three score and ten years referred to by Moses (Psalms 90:10), I have come to appreciate even more the sentiments of that great prophet as he stretches the 70 years to a full eight decades and concludes, “Yet is their pride but labor and sorrow; For it is soon gone, and we fly away.” I have lived through the Presidency of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (George H.W.), Clinton, Bush (George W), and Obama, though I scarce remember the policies, practices, or popularity of the first two. Good Presidents have come and gone, and bad Presidents have been endured by the people who anxiously look forward to that time when their voice can be heard in the voting booth once again. I have had the privilege of voting in every Presidential election since Lyndon Johnson. If my calculations are correct, I have, in my fifty some years as a part of the electorate of this country, been exposed to more than 4,000 political ads over the years, and pulled the lever to cast my vote, some twelve times.   So, I feel that what I am about to say is at least worthy of some consideration by those of us who will be voting in this year’s upcoming election as we select yet another man (or woman, as the case may be) to serve in the capacity of President of these United States.  May I suggest that you take into consideration the following thoughts as you walk into that booth and cast your vote for who will fill the most important office in our troubled world. We have only three months in which to educate ourselves as to the character of the person and what we can expect if he/she is elected to the office. 

First, the Christian takes into that voting booth something that others simply do not possess: the principles of truth and righteousness set forth in the Bible.  The Psalmist said that the word of God is his “light” and “lamp” (Psa. 119:105).  When the child of God steps into that voting booth, he uses that light to roll back the curtain that might otherwise hide the truth about the candidate’s policies and promises that are so often overlooked on the campaign trail.  Every promise that each candidate made, every policy to which he holds, is to be measured in the light of God’s word; not the emotions of the heart. 

Second, when the child of God enters that booth he takes with him the realization that he will answer to God as to the choice he makes. Since the time we were small children we have been reminded again and again that every single American plays a vital role in governmental affairs. This is a government of the people. Hence, every American has an influence on who sits behind that desk in the Oval Office. Since our vote plays a part in who fills the office of President, then it behooves us to vote with the realization that God is watching over our shoulder when we pull that lever or punch that card. Were Christ to stand beside you as you cast your vote this coming November, how would YOU vote? If we are instrumental in putting an ungodly man and/or woman into office, then we will answer to God for the part we played in the process. 

Third, each party and candidate should be measured in the light of what God’s word teaches. For a moment, let us simply ignore party names. Instead let us simply call them party “a” and party “b.” It is an undeniable truth supported by public proclamation, and party dogma, that one of these parties supports homosexuality as a way of life, abortion on demand, and has supported such liberal and immoral organizations as the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the National Gay and Lesbian organization. The other party opposes abortion (at least for now), believes in the Biblical design for the home and the sanctity of marriage, and seeks to maintain  the moral and ethical values of the founders of this country.  When you step into that booth, the child of God will not in any way, form or fashion, pull that lever in favor of a candidate or party that opposes all that is holy and godly. 

Finally, it is becoming increasingly evident that we may very well have to chose between the lesser of two evils, so far as the Presidential candidate is concerned. Personally speaking, I cannot recall an election season in which both candidates from the two leading parties have such a negative favorable rating among the electorate.  The latest statistic I read indicates that almost 70% of the American voters do not like either candidate, and, if given a viable choice, would break with the two party system and elect an independent.

The late Clarence Darrow once said, “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.” If the unholy and ungodly element in our society manages to take control of the major branches of our government, then the words of Clarence Darrow take on a whole new meaning.  As you consider the “pool” of Presidential possibilities, keep these thoughts in mind.  Keep in mind that this year’s election is a crucial point in our history as a nation.  Please, don’t approach this year’s election with the ho-hum attitude of, “Here we go again.”

Fruits Of Repentance

By Tom Wacaster

When John came baptizing in the wilderness, there were Pharisees and Sadducees who came desiring to be baptized. John called them an “offspring of vipers” (Matt. 3:7), due no doubt to their reputation of hypocrisy and wickedness. It makes no difference how John could so discern their spiritual state; he just did. I want to focus on John’s instructions to these hypocritical religious leaders of the day: “Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:9). It was not enough for these leaders to simply “respond to the invitation,” and then go on living in the same manner as before. In fact, it would appear that John refused to baptize them until they produced such fruits of repentance. There is much to be learned from this incident.

Some years ago I had preached a sermon on repentance, and made the point that repentance involves restitution as far as is humanly possible. Specifically I pointed out that if a man stole a horse from his neighbor, he was required to return that horse. After the sermon one of the members approached me and said that restitution is not essential. He was arguing that if a man repents and prays for forgiveness, then all is forgiven. He used a typical (but flimsy) argument that goes something like this: “Well, if you kill a man, you can’t restore him to life? Or what if you stole the horse and the horse dies? Or what if the owner dies? You can’t restore it to the original owner.” Surprisingly there are a growing number of brethren who have bought into Satan’s lies and are making the same arguments on various issues facing the brotherhood in the last twenty years or so. One area is which this unsound reasoning is being used is in dealing with the issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The argument, in my estimation, is weak at best, and strained in its application. The Biblical teaching seems clear to me: if a man has stolen a horse he must return it; if he has been living in adultery in an unscriptural marriage, he must quit it! Why is that so difficult to understand? Proponents of divorce and remarriage for any cause often advocate that when a person, or persons that have previously been married and divorced come to learn and obey the gospel, that they can, with God’s blessings, remain in the marriage relationship in which they now find themselves. They base their misguided conclusion on a failure to understand the nature of repentance and all that is involved in bringing forth “fruits of repentance.” The Greek word for repentance is not just a call for sorrow. In fact it is “godly sorrow” that produces repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). One of the best definitions of repentance that I have come across was that of Johannes Behm in Kittle Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. I share a portion of what he wrote on the subject. He wrote that repentance is “final and unconditional decision…radical conversion, a transformation of nature...a turning to God in total obedience...It embraces the whole walk of man.” In view of the very meaning of repentance, how can anyone believe that they can simply express sorrow without making a radical change in their life?

What, then, did John mean when he demanded of the Pharisees and Sadducees that they bring forth “fruit worthy of repentance”? Once a person grasps the meaning of repentance, it becomes much easier to identify the “fruit” of the sorrow and change of action associated with repentance. If a person is a thief, “let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Eph. 4:28). Here is a clear example of what it means to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance. Obviously, there is sorrow. This is implied in Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians and inherent in the process of repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). Second, there is cessation of sin: “steal no more.” Third, there is the replacement of evil with that which is good: “but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good.” Right here is one aspect of bringing forth fruit that is worthy of repentance that so many miss. If we genuinely repent we will do all within our power to replace the evil action with something that is good. Is this not the point the Lord makes in the parable of the “unclean spirit” that returns to the house that he had vacated? (Matt. 12:43-45). Failure to replace our sinful past with the new godly man will produce a void that will seek to be filled in some other way. Jesus told His audience that the “evil spirit” would return and the later state would be worse than the first. Fourth, the fruit will be worthy of repentance. The fruit that follows will bear testimony to a man’s changed heart and changed life.

One more note before I close this week’s article. Changing attitudes regarding divorce and remarriage are only one area in which the problem regarding repentance manifests itself. While I would not dare attempt to read a person’s heart, it seems to me that the fruit of repentance is lacking on so many occasions when a person responds to the invitation but manifests no change in life after the ink has dried on the response form and the prayers have been offered. The scenario is common: someone comes forward asking for forgiveness for neglect in attendance, and then they don’t even return on Sunday evening or Wednesday. If they happen to attend the following Sunday morning, and perhaps two or three Sunday mornings that might follow, their gathering with the saints slowly tapers off, until they no longer are found among the assembly of God’s children. After several months they might attend once again, respond to the invitation, and repeat the same scenario. Where are the fruits worthy of repentance?

Why can we not just be saved like the thief on the cross? The command of God which men seek to circumvent when appealing to the salvation of the thief is that of baptism. The theory goes something like this: The thief was saved without baptism, therefore I can be saved without baptism. Other examples are used, such as that of the man with the palsy where Jesus said, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee, without any reference to baptism. There is a universal truth that must not be forgotten when considering the thief on the cross. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth (Heb. 9:16-17). I have never received an inheritance from some rich uncle. But I have received a number of gifts from some of my uncles who are still alive. But after an uncle, aunt, grandparent, or friend dies, the ONLY THING that I will receive from them is that which is written in the last will and testament, and that based upon any conditions that are set forth in that will. So long as Jesus was alive He could grant forgiveness to anyone He wanted, and upon whatever conditions He desired. But once our Lord died, the inheritance that is ours to enjoy will be bestowed only upon those stipulated in His last will and testament. And who are they? Those who have entered Christ by obedience to His will in the watery grave of baptism. I find it disturbing that some of our brethren are now advocating that God has it within His power to save anyone He wants to save and who are we to suggest that He cannot, on the judgment day, allow whomsoever He desires, to enter into heaven; even those who have never been baptized for remission of sins. Such is a failure to recognize that God has already told us who will be saved, and no man has the right to change that last will and testament of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a matter of what God can do, but what He has promised He will do.

Meditating On God's Word

by Tom Wacaster

The first chapter in the Psalms is a wonderful description of the “blessed” man in contrast with the pitiful plight of the ungodly. In the first verse the Psalmist tells us that the righteous man is careful in his daily walk. He refuses to listen to the counsel of the ungodly. If he finds himself being inundated with unholy advice, he refuses to stand in the way of the sinner who gives such advice. In addition he will not sit with the scornful, knowing that fellowship with such individuals is forbidden by God’s word. 

On the positive side of the ledger, the Psalmist tells us this regarding the righteous man:  “But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psa. 1:2). There are some wonderful lessons to be drawn from this short verse.  Consider the following.

First, the righteous man has a single delight that far exceeds all other joys in his life.  There are many things we delight in. Some delight in golf; others in fishing; some in their jobs or their families. And while these things certainly can bring joy and cause us to delight, there is one thing in which we should delight that excels the pleasures of these mundane things. The Psalmist’s delight was bound up, not in the counsel of the wicked, but the law of the Lord.

Second, it should be noted that the Psalmist uses a term to refer to God’s word that most people today find repulsive. It is the word “law.” The political correctness and pluralism that has infected the thinking of many disdains any reference to law. The word suggests an absolute standard. It suggests that there are some things that are “negative” insofar as our responsibility to God is concerned. Unfortunately too many people turn a deaf ear to any command of God that even hints at law. Consequently our generation is, to a large degree, antinomian (against law). But not all “law” is bad. What would society be like if we did not have laws?  Chaos would rule supreme.  Society would, in fact, be “lawless.”  We should be grateful that our nation is a nation of laws. We should be even more grateful that our God has, in His Divine wisdom, chosen to give us laws that protect us and guide us in our daily life.

Third, it is said with regard to that law that the Psalmist does “meditate night and day.”  There are three words in the Bible that convey the thought process and its involvement with the word of God. The first word is “read.” Paul told Timothy, “Till I come, give heed to reading, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). Reading is the assimilation of facts.  As sergeant Joe Friday used to say, “Just the facts, sir; just the facts.” The second word we find is “study.”  Paul also wrote to Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God” (2 Tim 2:15). Study is much more than reading. Study calls for investigation, determination of the meaning of words, and careful harmonization of the words to determine the meaning. Study is hard work. The third word we find is this word “meditate.” It is the word that a Jewish farmer might use to describe a cow that chews its cud. Once one has read, and carefully studied to determine the meaning of the words thus read, he then meditates upon that word to determine how this applies to his life. 

Now please consider this. Very few in our generation ever get around to reading the Bible.  I read this week that only 1% of adult Americans read the Bible more than once a day, and less than 15% read the Bible on a regular and consistent basis. Of those who do read, fewer still ever take the time to seriously study. They are satisfied with looking at the facts, with little concern about the meaning of what they are reading. Of those who may happen to read and study, fewer still take the time to meditate on how that word applies to their life. Take a look at any congregation of the Lord’s body and you may find those who are very strict in their doctrinal stand but whose lives are in shambles, morally speaking.  

Until one takes the time to read, and study, and meditate upon God’s word, he will not profit from the message of God’s word as he otherwise might. Let me present a challenge to each of us. Keep up your daily reading of God’s word. Then, in addition, select one passage a week (say a chapter), and seriously study that chapter. Spend some time researching dictionaries, commentaries, and reference books to help you get a good understanding of what that passage really teaches. Then at week’s end, spend the same amount of time you spent each day in research simply meditating on what you have studied. If you studied on the passage for fifteen minutes each day, take fifteen minutes to meditate on what you have learned. It may surprise you how your life will change and how much more you will enjoy the riches of God’s word. 
I make a concentrated effort each morning to spend about an hour in the reading of God’s word, personal prayer, and meditation. These private moments provide me with strength for the day, and serve as a reminder that the day granted to me, and which now lies before me, is given by God. A few days ago it was my opportunity to read and meditate on the 46th Psalm. It is a Psalm of peace and tranquility. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth do change, and though the mountains be shaken into the heart of the seas” (Psa. 46:2). While that verse is certainly comforting, there is another one that particularly caught my attention: “Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psa. 46:10). Someone once suggested that one of the chief hindrances to really knowing God is the rush of modern life. We are so busy doing something we don’t see what God is doing.

When I was in the Coast Guard I served two years on board a weather cutter. I enjoyed taking a blanket and pillow from my bunk and lay out on the fan tail at night (that is seaman talk for the deck on the back of the ship), and gaze up at the stars. It not only reminded me of the power of God and His constant watch-care over me, but it gave me opportunity to meditate on many of the spiritual truths that I had learned in my youth. It is an undeniable fact that our world is changing, and not for the better. It would be easy to be anxious, to fret and fear over what shall become of our culture and our nation. If you are tempted to do so, go back to the 46th Psalm and read verse 7: “Jehovah of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” In fact, go back and read and meditate on the whole of this Psalm. Then follow God’s advice: “Be still, and know that I am God!”
On the lighter side: Pancho was a well-known outlaw to Texans. A lesser-known story involves his demise in a Mexican bar. A tough Texas Ranger had trailed him through the desert and caught up with Pancho in a small village. With both guns drawn, the ranger approached the criminal and ordered him to turn over the one million dollars he had recently robbed from a train. From the other side of the bar a small man said, “SeƱor, Pancho does not speak English. I am his translator.” The ranger growled, “Tell Pancho I came to get the million dollars he robbed from the train. If he doesn’t hand over the money, I’ll fill him full of holes.” The man translated. Frightened, Pancho told the interpreter the money was two miles outside of town buried thirty paces east of an old abandoned well. The translator turned to the armed ranger and said, “Pancho says, ‘I’m not telling—go ahead and shoot.’” “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine…” —Prov. 17:22

On A More Personal Note

by Tom Wacaster

In 1982, after I had been preaching for ten years, I submitted an article to the Gospel Advocate for consideration under the title, “What I Have Learned After Ten Years of Preaching.” I did not attempt to present some scholarly research on the experience of preaching for a full decade; nor was it packed with an over abundance of scripture. It was, as this week’s title reflects, “on a more personal note.” Guy N. Woods was the editor of the GA at that time, and prior to the publication of that article he wrote me a kind letter expressing his sentiments regarding that article. It was not his policy to publish personal articles, i.e. articles that were more of a personal interest in nature. He then added these kind words (I am paraphrasing since I misplaced that letter many years ago): “After reading your article I felt that it had something in it that might benefit younger preachers like yourself. Not only was it instructive, but it was very warm and personal.” The article was published in the following month’s issue of the GA. His encouraging words to this young preacher no doubt played an important role in my desire to develop my writing skills. The simple fact that one of my articles was accepted for publication was uplifting; but that kind letter from brother Woods simply made my day!

So, what does a person mean when he says, “On a more personal note”? One online quote source had this: “Is it okay to use this phrase like the example below in changing the tone of an interview, for example, from work-related to something personal. As in: ‘On a more personal note, I enjoy reading books and traveling.’” (Author unknown). 

I have, for many years, viewed the church bulletin as an instrument for instruction as well as news of the local congregation. In fact, writing a weekly article is simply an extension of my work as a preacher. So when I came to Handley I was thrilled that I actually got two and a half pages of space in which to write a weekly article. I have now written more than 250 articles in this bulletin since coming on board at Handley. You may not realize it but the number of words in those 250 plus articles are the equivalent of two full size novels. On a few occasions I have dug out an older article that I wrote in previous years, reworked it, and then shared it with my readers in hopes that I might stimulate their thinking on some particular subject. Having said all that, let me deviate from my typical “instructive” style of writing, and share with you some things “on a more personal note.”

First, on a more personal note, consider the loud calls for “change” in our society today. “Change” seems to be the battle cry for this modern age. Eight years ago it was “hope and change.” Today it is “any kind of change is better!” We might be tempted to associate the word with the trumpet call of the political liberals, environmentalists, and community organizers. But the religious world has not escaped this clamor for change. Even among our so-called brethren of the liberal mindset, change has become the battle cry of those who are determined to restructure the Lord’s church into just one more religious group in a sea of confusion and diversity. To be sure, not all change is bad. But the kind of change we address here is change that will diametrically altar the Lord’s church as we know it. Compromise is not the answer, nor is a radical restructure the panacea to our problems. A few years back brother Steve Higginbotham shared this interesting quote from Dr. Wayne Dehoney, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention: “A closer look at the churches of Christ would hardly reveal that their brand of religion is on the downgrade! This fast-growing group is one of the most potent missionary and evangelistic forces in the country. Their congregations are flourishing, and new churches are continually being established. A profile of faith and practice contradicts practically every ‘solid conclusion’ by the authorities of the main-line denominational establishments about the renewal the church must experience to ‘survive.’  The churches of Christ are anti-ecumenical in their relationships; conservative in their theology; autonomous and democratic in their congregational structure; they make rigid moral and ethical demands on their members in such matters as social drinking; they are not ‘social action’ oriented; they have a ‘messianic complex’ of being the true people of God and the true church!  All of these factors combine to give them a high motivation, an unquenchable zeal, and an inescapable compulsion to win the world to an acceptance of their convictions and beliefs. And they are growing rapidly.”  I might argue with Dr. Dehoney as to exactly how rapidly we are growing when compared to forty years ago, but with regard to the overall description of our zeal and motivation, and especially our distinctiveness, he is right on target. What I find curious about the cries for change within the brotherhood is the fact that the kind of change some are demanding will actually destroy our distinctiveness, the very characteristic that has brought growth to the Lord’s church through the years. Why is it that some of our “learned” brethren want to compromise the truth, soften our positions on doctrinal matters, and apologize for our exclusiveness? Paul told us that he was “not ashamed of the Gospel; for it is the power unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). Is it possible that some of our brethren are ashamed of that Gospel, and who now want to change the face of the church so as not to offend others?

Second, on a more personal note, I have learned in the last year or so the value of the greatest “support group” in the world. I speak, of course, of the Lord’s church. I do not consider myself old, a term that is, no doubt, relative in many respects. Some of you are much older than myself; some much younger. I have my aches and pains; but compared to so many others my aches and pains are insignificant. Your encouragement to me and Johnnie Ann over the last twelve months has been a strength and a joy that words simply cannot express in a way that would convey what lies deep within our hearts. Johnnie Ann is still not “out of the woods” so to speak, and this past week’s appointment with her doctor was not all that encouraging. Uncertain of what is still in store, we continue to lean upon the brethren for strength, and take refuge in our God Who can do far beyond what we ask of think.

Third, on a more personal note, I never cease to be amazed at the wonderful providence of God. Johnnie Ann has a wonderful young counselor who comes once or twice a week for therapy sessions with her. Over the last couple of months we have had opportunity to discuss the Bible. I have given her passages that reveal a stark contrast between the religion of her fathers and that which appears in the pages of inspired writ. I think her eyes have been opened to some degree. But the point right here is this: had Johnnie Ann never developed hydrocephalus, this young lady might never have come in contact with the truth. We are both praying that she will have a good heart and be obedient to the will of God.

Fourth, on a more personal note, I have learned that the older I get the harder it is to pack boxes, juggle schedules, and go through the enormous amount of paper work it takes to sell one’s house and purchase another. Having put the house on the market, and now having made an offer on another house, we find ourselves scrambling to find a place to lay our heads and store our “stuff” during the interim between closing on one house (May 6th) and finalizing the sale on the second (May 14th). We consider this another “adventure” in the roller coaster ride of life.

Finally, on a more personal note, our sincere thanks to all of the members of the Handley congregation for your longsuffering for this aging preacher, your encouragement when Johnnie Ann and I get down, and your compliments on my sermons, even when I feel I could have done better.  It is great to be a member here at Handley; it is even greater to be privileged to stand in the pulpit from week to week and share with you the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Effective Communication

By Tom Wacaster

In an attempt to combine last week’s “Tom’s Pen” with an update on Johnnie Ann’s health, I decided to send them both out in one email message, and included the following in the subject line of the email: “Gathered To His People” and update on Johnnie Ann. Nehemiah Gootam wrote back and said prior to the reading of entire email he thought the update on Johnnie Ann was that she had been “gathered to her people.” Talk about mis-communication!

Webster’s online dictionary defines ‘communication’ as “the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else.” The late Guy N. Woods pointed out: “We communicate when we are understood, and we are understood only when our presentation is such that the listener or reader is able to grasp and to apprehend the words which clothe the thoughts we present.” Sometimes the failure to properly communicate can be disastrous. For example, a couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, and his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator, in a calm soothing voice says, “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says, “OK, now what?”  Of course this story is fictitious, but I think it illustrates the point.

Effective communication, on the other hand, can convey ideas that can comfort, encourage, enlighten, and motivate. There is power in properly framed words and sentences. Men have been motivated to action, and brought to tears by effective communication. The power of communication can be seen in the effect the Bible has had upon mankind from the point in time when inspiration penned the first words of God’s communication to man. Some are now saying that man cannot understand the Bible; that a divine, holy Being of the nature of God has His “God-Talk” and man has “man-talk,” and thus it is impossible for communication to be effective between the Creator and the created. Those who espouse such a belief demonstrate their complete ignorance of the nature of God’s communication to man. Regarding such divine communication, consider the following.

First, the divine communication to man is SIMPLE. Shakespeare is credited with having said that “brevity is the soul of wit.” Effective communication is not determined by the size of the words one might use, or the number of words contained in a sentence. Most of the Bible contains simple sentences, short in length and basic in its grammar. Consider a few examples: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:38). “Except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). Such examples could be multiplied. Scribbled on the wall of a theological institution many years ago were these words: “And Jesus said unto them, ‘Who do you say I am?’ and they replied, ‘You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationship.’ ‘And Jesus, with a quizzical look on his face, answered and said, ‘What?’”

Second, the divine communication to man is SOUND. By this I mean it is trustworthy. Solomon observed, “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecc. 12:12). Much of what is housed in the Library of Congress, or what you find on the book shelves at Barnes and Noble or Half-Priced Books is anything but sound. A casual perusal of the massive amount of religious material available on the internet reveals material that should be labeled, “Hazardous to your spiritual health!” Not so with the Bible. Evidence supports the absolute trustworthiness of God’s word. Hence the need to hold fast to sound doctrine (cf. 1 Tim. 1:10, 6:3, Titus 1:9, 2:1). Jesus declared that the word of God is “truth” (John 17:17). The Psalmist declared, “For all thy commandments are righteousness” (Psa. 119:172). A young man (or anyone for that matter) can cleanse his ways by “taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psa. 119:9). It serves as the only safe guide for a “lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psa. 119:105).

Third, the divine communication to man is STRAIGHTFORWARD. The word of God plays no favorites and shows no partiality. The sins of David are listed side by side with his strengths. The word of God is not politically correct, nor does it adapt itself to the changing times. It holds forth the hope of heaven, but as clearly and forcefully describes the horrors of hell. God is fair and impartial in giving us one book, one church, one Savior, and one plan of salvation. In His communication with man God has set forth the terms of salvation in a clear and concise manner, always straightforward and to the point.

Fourth, the divine communication to man is STABLE. It does not change or adapt its message to fit various situations. While it is true that the word of God is “living, and active” (Heb. 4:12b), it is not, as some would suggest, some kind of living document that is intended to adapt and change according to the whims of a society or the wishes of the sinful. This particular trait of God’s communication to man stands in stark contrast to the doctrine of continued and modern day revelations. If I believed in on-going revelation I could never be certain of my salvation, for what is true today might be outdated by tomorrow.

Finally, the divine communication to man is IN-SIGHTFUL. Where else can man learn of his origin? How can he possibly know where he came from, why he is here, or where he is going separate and apart from divine revelation? Without the divine communication to man each one of us would remain in darkness with regard to our spiritual being, the value of the soul, or the eternal habitations that await all men. How could we know what lies beyond the grave, were it not for the divine communication to man as contained in the Bible? Indeed, we could not. David stated it so well in the 19th Psalm: “The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether” (Psa. 19:7-9). Paul prayed that the Ephesian brethren might be blessed by “having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of h is calling, what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might” (Eph. 1:18-19). This can only be accomplished through the word.

Some years ago there was a popular sign that warned: “I know you think you understand what you think I am trying to say; but I don’t think you understand that what you thought I said is what I really meant.” I’m glad that cannot be said about the Bible.

“All time is insignificant in comparison with eternity. Time with all its rolling ages is scarcely a tiny bubble rocked upon the bosom of the sighing sea of eternity. Of course there may be many reasons why God has not furnished us in the Bible an illustration that would perfectly explain eternity. One reason - one that should be sufficient to satisfy us perfectly - is that we could never comprehend such an illustration. It is beyond the power of finite minds to  understand it. All the mental power of earth could not comprehend an illustration that would fitly portray eternity” (T.B. Larimore).

Genuine Needs

by Tom Wacaster

The scenario is a common one. A family or individual is on their way to Anytown, USA, and for some reason they began the journey with inadequate funds, making the arduous journey in a broken down jalopy that couldn’t make it across town, much less across the country. I have never understood how someone traveling from point A to point B could end up in some of the small towns where I have done local work when in fact their destination was far removed from either point A or point B. But it happens time and again.  In fact, it has become so common place that one begins to question whether or not the “need” is genuine, or just another shyster taking advantage of those who are supposed to be compassionate of heart and generous with the Lord’s money. The same scenario is not limited to small towns; we have the same problem here in Fort Worth, and according to some of the preachers I visit with from time to time, it happens in Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, and even in remote Alaska, just to name a few of the locations where brethren experience the same situation. I must confess that I have mixed emotions every time we get such a request. It may be that I have seen the Lord’s church give, and give until it can no longer give, only to learn that in many cases that the need was NOT genuine. Volumes could be written on the promises such “needy cases” make: “I’ll visit your church services this Sunday!” “I’ll pay the money back as soon as I get a job and get settled in!” Like so many cookies, the promises are quickly made and easily broken. I have learned to take such promises with a grain of salt and a touch of skepticism.

Still, there are undoubtedly those occasions when someone expresses a truly genuine need. While it is true that none of us want to be “taken” by some shyster or con-man, neither would we want to neglect those cases when someone is genuinely in need of assistance; and that truly haunts me. It has been several years since Alan Smith addressed this same topic in a most enlightening way with the following story:

Robert De Vincenzo, the great Argentine golfer, once won a tournament and, after receiving the check and smiling for the cameras, he went to the clubhouse and prepared to leave.  Some time later, he walked alone to his car in the parking lot and was approached by a young woman. She congratulated him on his victory and then told him that her child was seriously ill and near death. She did not know how she could pay the doctor’s bills and hospital expenses. De Vincenzo was touched by her story, and he took out a  pen and endorsed his winning check for payment to the woman.  “Make some good days for the baby,” he said as he pressed the check into her hand. The next week he was having lunch in a country club when a Professional Golf Association official came to his table. “Some of the boys in the parking lot last week told me you met a young woman there after you won that tournament.”  De Vincenzo nodded.  “Well,” said the official, “I have news for you. She’s a phony. She has no sick baby. She’s not even married. She fleeced you, my friend.”  “You mean there is no baby who is dying?” said De Vincenzo.  “That’s right,” said the official. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all week,” De Vincenzo said. 

Brother Smith then commented on the story, and his comments are as good as the story itself:   “De Vincenzo’s attitude is reminiscent of the spirit that God has shown toward us. Despite mankind taking God’s goodness for granted, despite our repeated failures, God was willing to give not just a token amount, but the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. He did so, not reluctantly or with resentment, but willingly and gladly, knowing that while most would only show disdain for his gift, some would respond in obedience motivated by faith and love. ‘For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:6-8).”  

We would not suggest for a moment that we should carelessly squander the Lord’s money. That would be poor stewardship.  But if there is one precious soul that could be classified as a “genuine need,” and we miss it, we may very well pass up an opportunity to do good unto someone who is worthy of our help. And even if we are “taken” from time to time, at least we can rejoice in knowing that there really wasn’t a need after all. 


by Tom Wacaster

I never did like to take tests. Even in college, preparation for and the taking of tests was stressful, and I suppose college students (or for that matter, any student) feel the same today. I never enjoyed having to memorize numbers, names, and words. Like every student, I often found myself “cramming” for an important test. The study I had neglected often came back to haunt me, and the grade on my test paper would reflect the degree to which I had prepared (or neglected to prepare) the night before. I managed to get through elementary and high school with fair grades, though looking back I now realize I could have probably done a lot better; but who among us does not feel that way? While young I imagined that someday I would no longer need to memorize numbers, names and words. I have been preaching for nearly half a century and I can attest to the undeniable truth that a preacher’s life is one of—well, memorizing names, numbers and words. Little did I know that during my school years I was developing habits that would contribute to my work as a preacher of God’s word. It was in school that I learned good study habits, the value of good books, and how to relate with fellow students and professors. In retrospect, I have come to appreciate the things I learned in school, and I can also appreciate the tests I had to take from time to time.

It is interesting how much emphasis the New Testament writers place on things “written.” Consider just a few examples. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). As John was drawing his gospel to a close he told us: “Many other signs did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Paul reminded the church at Ephesus that he had received the mystery by divine revelation, “as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:3-4). We are warned not to “go beyond the things that are written” (1 Cor. 4:6), not to “add to” or “take away from” the things that have been “written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19), and, as did our Lord, to answer every dart hurled at us by the devil with the words, “It is written” (Matt. 4:4, 7, and 10). Let us never underestimate the power of the written word.

I find it intriguing that the same apostle who closed his biography of Christ with a reference to the massive amount of material that might have been written about our Lord, also includes in his first epistle reasons for which he wrote that short letter.

First, John tells us he wrote these things “that our joy may be made full” (1 John 1:4). John attested to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection in no uncertain terms. “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we behold, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1). The Gnostics of John’s day questioned the reality of a bodily resurrection; spirit perhaps, or even an illusion, but not a bodily, physical resurrection. John denies that false doctrine of “no resurrection,” the reason being that he, and the other apostles saw, heard and touched the Lord. The Gnostic doctrine offered no  hope, provided no joy, and if there was any scintilla of these things, it certainly was not “full.” Jesus came to give us a full and abundant life (John 10:10). Such can be found only through the written word of God.

Second, John tells us, “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin” (1 John 2:1). The preventative to sin is not an overpowering, direct operation by the Holy Spirit or any other member of the Godhead. David acknowledged this truth when he wrote, “Thy word have I laid up in my heard that I might not sin against thee” (Psa. 119:11). Our Lord and Master appealed to the “written” word for His defense against Satan. Let the wise take note that the fruit of a godless society is the result of ignorance of the word of God. Over the last half century or so educators, politicians, and the entertainment industry have expunged God from our lives, and then they wring their hands in despair and bewilderment as to why our nation is coming apart at the seams.

Third, John tells he had “written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray” (1 John 2:26). The “antichrists” had already come, and that in great number (1 John 2:18). They were ravening wolves, destroying the church from within (Matt. 7:15). John was not afraid to pinpoint the cause of apostasy, and he did so in writing so that every generation that would follow would have the means to identify and properly deal with false teachers. Too bad some of our brethren are not reading what John and the other apostles wrote regarding these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15).

Finally, John tells us, “These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 4:13). Assurance is a much wanted commodity in an age of such uncertainty!  If you want to know for sure whether or not you are in a saved condition, compare your life with the examples of those who are said to have been pleasing and righteous in God’s sight (Heb. 11 is a good place to start). Walk in the steps of Jesus, follow the lead of Paul, and sit at the feet of those men who laid out, in detail, what it takes to become a child of God, and what it takes to remain saved; you will be blessed for having done so.

Having examined the different ways in which John addresses what is written, we turn our attention to the “tests” contained in the epistle that can be used to determine if we are, indeed, begotten of God and living according to God’s will. There are three of these.

Test #1 is the test of obedience. The Gnostics prided themselves on their knowledge, but they were lacking in love and the practical application of the word to their lives. So John tells us, “hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). Prior to that John told us that we must “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 John 1:6). A person’s claims that he is a child of God are vain and empty if the claims are not accompanied by obedience. Do you pass the test?

Test #2 is the test of love. “He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him” (1 John 2:9-10). Genuine love—’agape’ love is the kind of love that seeks the best for a brother in Christ. This implies (and requires) interaction with fellow Christians. No man can be an island unto himself, isolated from fellow Christians, and expect to pass this test of genuine Christianity.

Test #3 is the test of believing Jesus Christ came in the flesh. Who would deny that? The Gnostics did. Here is a fundamental truth that was ignored on the part of the self-proclaimed elite. We are speaking of doctrine—divinely revealed truth that must be accepted for one to remain in fellowship with the Father and the Son. Don’t forget, one must walk in the “light” - i.e., the revealed word of God. Failure to abide in the doctrine of Christ will result in the severance of fellowship from the Father and the Son (2 John 9). There are not “big” doctrines and “little” doctrines. All doctrine is important, and the rejection of the clear teaching of God’s word manifests an attitude of disrespect toward divine authority. It bears repeating, “There is no such thing as a little false doctrine!”

By the way, the tests we take are not printed exams, nor can they be taken “on-line” in some digital classroom. These tests are live, on going, and whether or not we pass will have eternal consequences.