The Power of Encouragement

by Tom Wacaster

Solomon said, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).   An encouraging word can bring victory out of the jaws of defeat.   Legion are those who, exhausted and defeated, have rebounded to great heights because of one little word of encouragement.  I was reminded of the power of encouragement this week when I came across this little story in the archives of my file system:

It was the day for field trials at the grade school.  Various of the young boys were competing with each other to excel in the various sports.  The event at hand was chinning or 'pull-ups.' The first boy strolled up to the bars and pulled himself up ten times, rather confident he would win.  His opponent, Kenneth, came with less certainty.  And when he had chinned the eighth time, he thought he was beaten.  Finally with much pain, he managed to slowly drag his chin above the bars for the ninth time.  And with a child's sense of tragedy, he thought he could not even tie the other boy. But from somewhere down in the depths of a child's courage, he pulled himself up one more time to tie his opponent.  As pain racked the entire upper half of his body, he lowered himself to quit.  Then a little girl's voice from the crowd, an admirer - perhaps his best girl - said with tearful eyes and urgent throbbing voice above the shouts of the other children, 'One more time, Kenneth!'  Her voice was like an electric shock across his face. From somewhere deep within his being there was a call as old as humanity.  Reserves of strength poured through his body.  And with the determined frown of a grown man he dragged himself up for the final and winning pull-up and then collapsed happily on the ground.

Someone once said, "We live by encouragement, and we die without it - slowly, sadly, and angrily."   A simple word of encouragement may very well make the difference between defeat and victory, between failure and success.   Parents who constantly belittle their children, or preachers who habitually berate the congregation seem to have lost sight of the power of a word of encouragement now and then.  Perhaps it would do all of us a world of good to capture the sentiments of this poet:

Your Ear, A Smile, and A Happy Word

If you see somebody having a rough day,
If you see somebody struggling on the way,
If you see somebody with a broken heart,
If you see somebody whose world's come apart,
If you see somebody who's tossed to and fro,
If you see somebody whose back is bent low,
Give him your ear, a smile, and a happy word,
And bid him put his trust in the Blessed Lord.

If you see somebody who's fighting with sin,
If you see somebody despised by all men,
If you see somebody who has lost his way,
If you see somebody with too much to pay,
If you see somebody who's wandering about,
If you see somebody who's struggling with doubt,
Give him your ear, a smile, and a happy word,
And bid him put his trust in the Blessed Lord.

If you see somebody downtrodden and sad,
If you see somebody that the world counts mad',
If you see somebody confused and distraught,
If you see somebody who's suffering for naught,
If you see somebody whom life's left behind,

If you see somebody with a troubled mind,
Give him your ear, a smile, and a happy word,
And bid him put his trust in the Blessed Lord.

If you see somebody who's doing all right,
If you see somebody whose burden is light,
If you see somebody with no pain or care,
If you see somebody who's loved everywhere,
If you see somebody not troubled with sin,
If you see somebody who's loved by all men,
Give him your ear, a smile, and a happy word,
And bid him put his trust in the Blessed Lord.

                                                              H. L. Gradowith

No Crocodiles in Heaven

by Tom Wacaster

This week’s “pen” has been some time in developing, as you might conclude from the title and gist of the article.  It has been more than a year since the famous "Crocodile Hunter," Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray during a diving expedition off the coast of Australia.  Though I was no big fan of Mr. Irwin, I did have an occasion to watch his program from time to time, or to catch an interview by some well known celebrity.  With his trademark khaki shorts, chirpy manner and an obvious love of wildlife, Steve Irwin was known to television viewers around the world simply as "the crocodile hunter."  As with the death of any well known celebrity, the world mourned the loss and sought to speak well of the deceased.  Mr. Irwin has been called "a genuine conservationist," "a lover of animals," and the "champion of animal rights" in Australia, and around the world.  One news commentator made the remark that the "Crocodile Hunter" has gone to that great "Crocodile reserve in the sky."  Of course we are all aware that there is no such place as some "Crocodile reserve in the sky," or "happy hunting land" where "seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day."

But the Bible does speak of a place called "heaven," "Abraham's bossom," and the "New Jerusalem."  It is a place of "no death," "no tears," and "no sorrow."  Absent will be “the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murders, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolators, and all liars.”  That wonderful home of the soul will never be tainted by the temptations from the evil one, nor will it be invaded by death’s dark shadow.   It is a prepared place for a prepared people, whose priorities were focused upon the eternal rather than the temporal.   It is a city four-square, whose walls are made of jasper, and the city itself like unto pure glass.  Twelve gates will usher the saints of every generation into that celestial city, accompanied by angels, and welcomed by the Father.  In the midst of the city we will find the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits – adequate provisions for those who have hungered after righteousness.  A river will flow from the throne of God, quenching our spiritual thirst.  That river will not be muddy, nor will it be polluted by the ravages of time and the filth of sin.  Instead it will be bright as crystal, with a purity beyond our wildest imagination.   In the midst of the city we will find our Father, sitting upon the throne.  At His side will be the Lord, in all His glory and majesty – and we will be permitted to look upon the face of the Lamb who redeemed us, and the Father who loves us.   John’s description of that heavenly Jerusalem tickles our imagination and stirs our hearts.   Oh, how beautiful heaven must be!    No wonder Paul encouraged us to endure the trials and tribulations that might come our way: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward…Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (Rom. 8:18, 2 Cor. 4:16-17).   I do not know who wrote this poem, but it expresses the same sentiment as the inspired apostle:

The Tapestry of Life

Tis said that old Time is a shuttle,
Swift weaving the web of our days;
In and out fly the fast speeding moments
Thro' the warp and the wool of earth's maze.

At times all the colors seem sombre,
Again there are dashes of bright;
Anon all life's threads knot and tangle,
And only defects meet our sight.

Full often we stand and in wonder
We gaze at the unresting loom,
Which hides the design of the fabric
Until we have reached the dark tomb.

Only this do we know that the groundwork,
Thro' which the bright colors are twined,
Is woven of charity's fibers,
Which serve the threads closely to bind.

And when the last thread has been broken,
And the loom is forever at rest,
We shall see that our life's great Designer
Knew what for His children  was best.
--author unknown

If all a person can envision in that final abode of the soul is some “Crocodile reserve in the sky,” his concept of heaven is warped, to say the least.   Whether it be the Muslim who envisions some harem with sensual pleasures for all eternity, or the Mormons with their eternal celestial marriages, the simple truth is, there will be none of that in heaven.   And no Virginia - there are no Crocodiles in Heaven!

Truth Or Consequences

by Tom Wacaster

The title of this week’s “pen” might conjure up a variety of thoughts, depending upon the individual.  Most of us would think of the popular quiz show that aired from the early 50’s until the early 80’s.  Guests on the show had to answer some crazy question (give the “truth” of the matter) and if answered wrong or not in time, the contestant would have to suffer the “consequences” of their mistake; hence the title of the program.   One popular feature of the program was the emotional reunion of the contestant with some long-lost relative, or a son or daughter who was returning from military duty overseas, at that time Viet Nam.  Perhaps that one item endeared the program to the millions of Americans who tuned in each week to enjoy the program.

On the other hand, a person living in New Mexico might immediately think of the city, “Truth or Consequences.”  Originally named “Hot Springs,” the city changed its name in 1950 as the result of a challenge from Ralph Edwards who hosted the popular show by the same title.  Edwards had promised to air the popular radio program from the first town that renamed itself after the show; Hot Springs, NM won the honor. 

Occasionally I remember that old TV program and the enjoyment derived from watching the zany antics of host and contestant like.  Like other programs on television, “Truth or Consequences” was designed to entertain, not mold the thinking of its audience.  All such programs are now but a fading memory of an era in our nation when the “baby boomers” were growing up, and when life itself was simple and religion was a basic part of our nation’s fabric.  Today, much of the programming on television is designed to change the thinking and behavior of its audience, and most of it not for the better.   Since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s the subject matter of television (and movies) has gradually denigrated to the point where little is fit to watch, and most programs should be stringently avoided by the child of God.   Were it not for syndication, few would have any idea of what television was like in the 1950’s and early 60’s.  Programs such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “The Lone Ranger,” to name but a few, have, like Randolph Scott and Gene Autry, ridden off into the sunset of a bygone era.   This brings me to my last observation.

“Truth or Consequences” would make a great sermon title for a lesson (or a series of lessons) on responsibility.  Unfortunately, “Truth” is viewed by this generation as an elusive dream, non-existent, and incapable of being truly known.   Politicians seem incapable of distinguishing between truth and error.  But the child of God knows that it is truth that sets us free, and that such truth is both absolute and attainable (John 8:32).   At the same time, the “consequences” associated with that truth are eternal, and will affect each and every man, woman and child, regardless of whether or not they lived in, or even knew about that small city in New Mexico. 

When time gives way to eternity, and this world is burned to a cinder, it will be of no consequence whether or not you lived in the city of Truth Or Consequence, or whether or not you ever had the opportunity to enjoy the antics of the television program.  The only thing that will matter then is whether or not you loved and obeyed the truth.   If that truth be ignored, neglected, or rejected, all that will remain to haunt the lost soul throughout eternity will be the consequences of that neglect and indifference -  and that, my friend, is a sobering thought indeed!

Beginning Again

by Tom Wacaster

In a musical production of Dickens’  “A Christmas Carol,” Albert Finney plays the part of Ebenezer Scrooge.  The move is a delightful reproduction of the classic Charles Dickens novel wherein Mr. Scrooge, after being visited by three angels, comes to repent of his past life, and determine that he is, from that point forward, going to live a life that denies self and seeks to bless others.   Of particular interest in the musical to which I referred is the point in the story where Scrooge comes to realize the great blessings he has in life and his determination to “begin again,” putting his past behind him, and focusing instead on making the “new man” he so desperately wants to be.  The idea of “beginning again” has intrigued mankind throughout the centuries.  The search for the proverbial “fountain of youth” has been the focus of myths, music, and movies.  In an attempt to ward off the “angel of death,” scientists have searched for some magical potion, some hidden gene, or some special dietary program that might allow them to recapture their youth and extend their life. 

Jesus once confronted a Pharisee who had come to our Lord “by night,” and presented to him the distinct possibility of “beginning again.”  “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Nicodemus immediately envisioned some kind of a physical rebirth wherein one might “enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born again” (John 3:4).  But our Lord assured him that this new birth, this “beginning again,” was not something physical, but spiritual. It is a birth of “water and the Spirit.”   From a further study of the Scriptures we soon learn that this new birth allows man to start over; to put his past behind him, and begin again with a clean slate, a renewed hope, and a purpose in life.  He is provided forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), entrance into the body of Christ (Rom. 6:3), and is clothed with a new set of spiritual garments unstained by the darkness of sin (Col. 3:12-14).   Guilt and shame are shed like some old garment, and the youth of spiritual strength allows the individual to “mount up with wings as eagles… [to] run and  not be weary; and…walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31). 

The search for that hidden gene that will somehow reverse aging is an exercise in futility.  Medical science might be able to make you look younger, feel better, and even extend your life by a few years.  But deep inside, within the soul of man, there remains that empty feeling that our past still haunts us.  Friend, the only way to truly begin again is to experience the new birth through simple obedience to our Lord.  Hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17), believing (Heb. 11:3), repenting (Luke 13:3), making the good confession (Acts 8:36-37), and being baptized into Christ are the necessary steps for this new birth.   Yes, there is a land of beginning again.  I’ll close with the following item I filed away more than three decades ago:

The Land of Beginning Again
Author Unknown

"I wish that there were some wonderful place
            Called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
            And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
            And never be put on again.
For what had been hardest we'd know had been best,
            And, what had seemed lost would be gain:
For there isn't a sting that will not take wing
            When we've faced it and laughed it away.
And I think that the laughter is most what we're after
            In the Land of Beginning Again!