They Just Keep Coming

by Tom Wacaster

You know the scenario. Someone knocks on the church door. Their story is typical of so many that you have heard before: “Can you spare a dime?” That was the plea during the days of the Great Depression, and with the impact of six decades of inflation, a dime does not go very far. Today it is, “Can you spare a dollar or two?” “How about some money for my bus ticket?” “Do you help pay electric bills?” Or how about this one—really! “Can you help me buy a lottery ticket for a chance to win some money?” They just keep coming! It is Tuesday morning. Locked in my office, isolated from the world, I think, “Maybe today I can get some serious study time in!” Then comes the phone call: “I need to talk to the Pastor.” I can already tell where this conversation is going. I could immediately tell by the tone of the voice that this would be another plea for help. I listened. The life history of the caller seemed to be important, so I listened until my patience had worn thin, and finally asked, “Can you explain to me what it is you want?” Bottom line? Husband out of work; has been for more than two years. Food stamps don’t cover all they need. Can we help pay their electric bill now two months delinquent and about to be cut off by the electric company. I did my best to inform this woman on the other end of the line that the church is not a benevolent organization established for the purpose of helping people meet their financial needs. It is a spiritual body intended to addresses the needs of the sin-sick soul. Now her patient plea immediately went south, and she began to blaspheme the very God to whom she was appealing for help. As I hung up the phone I thought, “What an incredible waste of ten minutes.” I barely got the phone back on the receiver when two people were ringing the bell. I’ll not explain why I had to be the one to answer the door, but it was my lot to go to the door. Who knows what Fed-Ex or UPS might be bringing. It was not Fed-Ex, UPS, the mail man, or Jack Frost with an bucket full of money. You guessed it. Two—not one, but two – requests standing outside my door. Both had umbrellas to protect themselves from the rain; both were wanting to catch the bus at the stop adjacent to the building. Both were lacking in necessary funds to purchase a ticket. “Are you the Pastor?” I could honestly say, “No; I’m one of the preachers.” “Well, can we come inside and talk to you?” “No, its not a convenient time. Please come when the secretary can talk to you.” “Oh, we have to catch a bus, and we need some money to get us to town.” I tried to explain that we don’t hand out money, but I could see they were determined. Their stories were the same old excuses for lack of money that I had heard dozens of times. I wanted to ask them, “If you don’t have the money for bus fare, why in the world did you get out in the rain in the first place?” Instead, I could feel that my time for study and other responsibilities was quickly getting away from me. I had two $5 bills in my pocket, and against my better judgment I simply emptied my wallet into their hands and told them to catch their bus.

Yes, they just keep coming. I don’t expect that my generosity [if I could call it that at the moment] would do much to stop the continual flow of those who, for one reason or another seem to make it a practice to ask others for assistance in meeting their obligations. I know God’s word teaches me that I am to labor “with my hands the thing that is good” in order that I might “have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Eph. 4:28). But they keep coming! Yes, I know that Jesus told us, “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matt. 5:42). But they keep coming! Not just seven, but seventy times seven! May I share with you some advice that might help you keep your sanity when you are having a day like the one I am having?

First, the irresponsible citizens of this society (or any society for that matter) will never go away. This is one of the prices we have to pay for freedom and affluence. Churches are not the only ones inundated with requests for help. No doubt some of you have been asked for help by some dubious character walking down the sidewalk or approaching you at Walmart or the local self-serve gasoline station.

Second, Jesus told us, “For the poor ye always have with you” (Matt. 26:11). The challenge is distinguishing between those who are genuinely poor and those who are poor because they brought it upon themselves, or even worse because they are just plain lazy. It is the truly needy  for which God has compassion; it is the lazy and indolent that receives God’s scorn.

Third, it is never wrong to give unto others. God has promised that He will repay those who are willing to share what they have with others (cf. Matt. 10:42). The Macedonians gave out of their “deep poverty” (2 Cor. 8:2), and I have no doubt they were blessed by God. So, on those occasions when you do give to others, find comfort in knowing God will reward you.

Fourth, tis better to be ‘takin in’ by a con artist than to miss just one opportunity to do some good unto others. I’m not saying to give to every person who asks, just to avoid missing an opportunity. Take time to ask some simple questions and pray that God will give you wisdom to properly analyze whether it is a genuine need or not.

Fifth, exercise stewardship with regard to what God has given  you (1 Cor. 4:1-2). I do not think God intends us to squander what we have in order to meet the selfish demands of those who refuse to work and labor for their daily food.

Sixth, if a man will not work, neither should he eat (2 Thess. 3:10). Keep in mind that Paul did not say those who COULD not work, but those who WILL not work; there is a difference. Too bad our government can’t learn this simple lesson.

Seventh, maintain a sense of civility even in the presence of those who are not civil. I am amazed at the sheer number of those who seek assistance from churches yet have no church affiliation whatsoever. They have never given to God, but for some odd reason they now think that God should give to them.  Quite often those who we turn away become so angry that their tongues manifest what is really in their heart; and it is not good.

Eighth, behind every phone call, or every knock on the door, there is a potential opportunity to introduce someone to the gospel. I’m not saying everyone who calls or visits us is good soil, or that they will respond to our invitation to study; in fact, most do not. My sad experience is that 99.999% never darken the doorway of the church once you have helped them; even after you have helped them more than once.

Finally, be thankful for interruptions; they sometimes provide you with material for discussion, or, in my case, material for yet another “Tom’s Pen.” Well, there goes the phone again.  They just keep coming!

"Makin' The Best Of A Bad Situation"

By Tom Wacaster

Dick Feller wrote the lyrics to a rather popular country and western song by the same title as this week’s article.  There are three stanzas in the song, each depicting a hypothetical situation, and the reaction of those who found themselves in, well, a “bad situation.” The second stanza depicts a man who is an alligator wrestler. On one occasion he had an alligator in a “full Nelson,” when this other alligator sneaks up and bites his ear plumb off. The man did not complain in the least; just crawled off and went to sleep (the man, not the alligator). Shortly thereafter someone commented: “Sure too bad about that little accident that you had, ‘cause now your hat’s gonna fall down over your eyes, and you can’t ever be a gypsy ‘cause you don’t have no place to wear a gold earring.” The alligator wrestler just looked him in the eye and said, “Huh?”  [you’ll have to think about that a while to get the point]. The third stanza presents a situation where a lady had a husband who had worked so hard that he snapped; he thought he was a chicken! “That’s right; one of those cackling Colonel Sanders’ types. He roosts in the bush by the side of the house.” Well, one day someone asked, “Have you ever thought about findin’ him a doctor who could make him well?” To which the lady responded: “Well, I have now and then, but then again, he don’t eat much; just chicken feed. And all that peckin’ in the ground don’t hurt nothing’ and besides, we can use the eggs!” At the end of each scenario the chorus sings: “I guess he’s/she’s makin’ the best of a bad situation, don’t wanna make waves, can’t you see! Reckon I’d do the same if it was me.”

The daily news reminds us that life is filled with “bad situations.” In many cases there is simply nothing a sane or sensible person can do. This year is another election year. Unfortunately, like any election year, it is also a leap year, so we get a full twenty-four extra hours to put up with the political ads and media nonsense that come around every four years. Had you asked me twenty years ago to predict what election year 2016 might look like, I could never have imagined anything close to what we are seeing play out on the full sized screen called life’s realities! In one party we have a full blown, card-carrying, bombastic socialist who is winning the hearts and minds of his fellow democrats. Just ten years ago this man was considered the fringe edge of politics. In the other party, that “grand-0ld-party” as it is sometimes called, we have a bombastic, vulgar mouthed, mogul real estate wheeler and dealer who, prior to this point in time, has never held an office or engaged himself in any kind of conservative political crusade. Should both of these candidates win their party’s nomination, I think I can safely say, we have a “bad situation” that can, and probably will, only get worse.

On February 13th one of the conservative judges on the United States Supreme Court, Anonin Scalia, died of natural causes. With a liberal President, whose nominations up to this point in his Presidency have been nothing but liberal, we can expect the next appointee to be of the same cut and mold as the others, and along with it a dramatic shift in the nature of the highest court in the land. Should that happen, abortion will become permanently enshrined in our nation’s fabric, and any hope of overturning the inexcusable decision regarding homosexual marriages by the Supreme Court will fly out the window. The high court of our nation has already demonstrated, on repeated occasions, that it has no regard for God’s word or will in social matters. It is a bad situation that will only get worse.

We could multiply examples that indicate a continual downward spiral of this nation, morally, politically, and socially. The question each of us needs to entertain is how we are going to react to all of this? Will we give up, throw in the proverbial towel, and simply go along in order to get along? Or will we exercise what rights we still have left to change the bad situations that might come our way? And even if in the process of attempting to correct the wrong, should we fail, at least we will have failed doing all within our power to correct the wrongs that confront us.

The time may very well have come for God’s judgment to reign down upon this nation. It may have already started. As God’s children we can rest assured that, come what may, God will protect us, comfort us, and deliver us through it all. The danger (and challenge) that faces us as God’s children is whether or not we will remain faithful to our calling. The choice is yours and mine. Will we capitulate to the temptations the devil throws at us to give up? Or will we, like all the faithful of bygone generations, make the best of a bad situation and remain faithful to our God in the face of adversity?

 Robert Ingersol, renowned atheist of the 19th century, gave the skeptic’s answer to the grave at his brother’s graveside. President Garfield, one of the pallbearers was present, and said that Ingersol broke down and cried like a baby in the delivery of that speech. Among other things, here is what the atheist said: “Whether in mid-ocean, or amidst the breakers of the farther shore, a wreck must mark the end of each and all. Though every hour is rich with love, and every moment is jeweled with a joy, it will at its close be a tragedy as deep and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death. Life is a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities; we strive in vain to look beyond the heights; we cry aloud, and the only answer is our wailing cry. From the voiceless lips of the unreplying dead there comes no word.” What despair! I am grateful that Jesus has “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10b). How much better it is to be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only but to all them that have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). What an amazing contrast between the philosophies of men and the Grand Book, the Bible!

I am glad that we have the Bible, the “lamp unto our feet and light unto our path” (Psa. 119:105). The Bible is, without doubt, the greatest book ever written. Consisting of 66 books, it stands as a monumental representation of heaven’s love for mankind. From the moment that God’s word has gone forth to man, Satan has scrutinized, criticized, de-emphasized and sought to minimize the Holy word.  Critics have assailed its “contradictions” and “inconsistencies.”  But the honest seeker knows that all such attempts to find fault with Scripture are mere subterfuge, and a whistling in the wind.  The Bible has survived the onslaught of critics, and the more scrutiny and examination the Bible receives, the more it shines.  A few years ago brother Cates wrote the following:  “No book has ever been scrutinized so closely or vigorously, and, I might say, viciously.  The microscope and the telescope of man have been applied to ‘the Book of books,’ but the more close the investigation and the more detailed the study, the more beautiful its fabric. The productions of men undergo but a mere fraction of a fraction of such investigation; they are examined, riffled through, and somewhat rigorously tested at the mercy of mankind; and such results in their complete exhaustion and abandonment. Man moves on to other thoughts, other pursuits, and other works. Now, why does the Bible multiply in its beauty and complexity [as a snowflake or a butterfly wing under a microscope] as its innermost thoughts, precepts and principles are dissected and scrutinized?  That, my friend, is he difference between the meager and fallible works of finite man and the inexhaustible and vibrant revelation of the infinite Creator” (Curtis Cates).

Against All Odds

By Tom Wacaster

It is the underdog for whom men cheer. Perhaps this is why  the pundits and prognosticators are, “on any given Sunday” (as the late Dandy Don used to say) wrong in their predictions. The outcome of the match up between North Carolina and Denver proved, once again, that statistical odds are not always accurate and things don’t always turn out as they seem.  In 1992 in an article in the Gospel Advocate, the late Guy N. Woods reminded us that “among the many miracles with which the Holy Spirit confirmed and corroborated the message of life and salvation, there is none more convincing and conclusive than Christianity itself” (Gospel Advocate, September 92, page 10). Brother Woods then quoted at length from John E. House, author of the book, Can It Be False. For this week’s article I want to follow brother Wood’s lead and provide our readers with those encouraging words of John House; words that, no doubt, will lift our spirits and strengthen our faith in a resurrected Savior. I’ll conclude with some comments of my own at the end of the quote:

Not before nor since has there been a movement begun more inauspiciously, or with less likelihood to claim and to maintain the interest and support of the people it would enlist. Its Founder was a penniless peasant born amid humble surroundings and reared in great obscurity. The movement was without money, influence, or fame. Its standard bearers were men without reputation, for the most part uneducated and with few of the characteristics that dominant leadership demands. Its supporters were often the lame, the blind, the lowly, the poor and the penniless who had been blessed by their contact with the Man of Nazareth.

How ridiculous must this effort have appeared to the worldly wise of that ancient day! How contemptible must it have seemed to those who were impressed by pomp and power and whose concept of strength was limited to that which is physical and material. Had these people been told that it was the aim of its Leader to establish a reign destined to embrace the entire world and to claim the allegiance of millions over all the earth, they would have treated such an announcement with scorn and profound contempt.

From worldly sources He received not one penny of aid, nor did such supply Him with any word of encouragement. In the outset of His work, He was regarded by those of reputation with mild amusement and considerable curiosity, and, as the movement reached its zenith, with antagonism and suspicion. Eventually, He was seized, rushed through mock trials and executed as a criminal on the cross. But for the single, impetuous act of the impulsive Peter in the shadows of Gethsemane, no sword was unsheathed in His defense. Even this slight intervention in His behalf the Savior rejected, and, the disciples, baffled and bewildered by this turn of events, forsook Him and fled.

In the somber hours that followed, He bore uncomplainingly the bitter scorn of His enemies and the crown of thorns with which His tormentors, as a final insulting gesture, bestowed upon Him. Into His quivering flesh, the cold, sharp nails were driven, the cross was raised, and the prince of the powers of darkness reigned supremely. When, hours later, death mercifully came to terminate the intolerable torment of those lonely hours, His abused and mutilated body was taken down and thrust into a borrowed tomb.

If His movement, from a worldly view, began with such little promise of ultimate success, what were the prospects now? Its leader had been executed; its chief supporters had forsaken Him; its miserable adherents were scattered as sheep without a shepherd; and the hearts of the faithful were broken. Surely, if ever a cause appeared hopeless and its destiny forevermore deposited in the tomb of its defeated director, it was this.

Whom, among those who were attracted to His standards, would likely be able to continue the work of its Founder? Who of those would be disposed to brave the might of the Roman powers, of the vicious and depraved efforts of the Jewish authorities? The apostles who forsook Him in His hour of greatest need? Peter, who with oaths, denied that He even knew the Lord? A leper cleansed? A former cripple? A penniless man to whom He had restored sight? Surely, none of these would have been regarded as possessed of the requisites essential to the establishment and maintenance of a kingdom whose announced purpose was to fill the earth and to dominate the affairs of multitudes of men. Yet, it was just such people as these who were to rear its structure from the ashes of its seeming destruction, and proud and imperious Rome ultimately would acknowledge its power and see its borders embrace the whole world.

What enabled them to effect such a marvelous transformation of character and, as in the case of Peter and John, to defy the authorities whom they had formerly so greatly feared? The historian of the early church informs us that when the rulers of the Jews “saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4: 13). Men do not ordinarily subject themselves to certain and severe punishment by the espousal of a cause they no longer respect. We must then assume that these men were in possession of information they did not have when they forsook the Lord some weeks before. What was it? Something, indeed, had operated to change their attitude from defeat to victory and to encourage them to rally to the defense of that which they had earlier regarded as doomed.  What was it that had lifted the banner of Christ from the dust of the ages and prompted His erstwhile followers to seize it and start on its grand processional march through the centuries down to us? His Resurrection from the tomb!

Jesus affirmed His representatives: “They spake the word of God with boldness ... and with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:31,33). It is not to be wondered at that Paul, in his epistle to the church in Rome, should assert that Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). It was, indeed, this glorious event that turned the sorrow of the disciples into joy, their unbelief into triumphant faith, their fear into courage, and their despair into hope.

It is, therefore, to this glorious and unique event — the resurrection of Jesus — that we are obligated for the fact that Christianity was destined to live when Rome decreed that it should die and that its wondrous message persists until our day. And, how grateful we should be that the fact of His resurrection serves as a pledge and proof of our own and that one day we, too, shall emerge from the shadows of the grave to die no more. [end quote from House]

I have had the opportunity on a number of occasions to be on the receiving end of those who would ridicule Christianity as a superstitious, unenlightened, radical right movement embraced and promoted by a group of people who simply do not know any better. Quite the contrary! It is those who ridicule Christianity that have not investigated, or if they have, they willfully reject the evidence. The honest soul in search of truth will, when confronted with the evidence of the resurrection, fall upon his face and give glory to the God of heaven for His wonderful scheme of redemption. Human reasoning may have viewed Christianity as destined to fail, but it succeeded nonetheless, and that against all odds. For that I am thankful!

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).