Parachute Mentality

by Tom Wacaster

Having never worn a parachute, and fortunately never having needed one, I don't know if I can appreciate what a paratrooper goes through in the exercise of his basic skills as a skydiver.  While serving in the Coast Guard in Corpus Christi, it was my privilege to work in the field of aviation search and rescue.  Those of us who went on search and rescue missions were never issued a parachute, never trained in the use of them, and seldom had one on board when we went out on search and rescue missions.  I was told on one occasion that there were always a couple on board, but they were stored under the seats of the pilot and co-pilot (hmmm).  I once asked one of my fellow workers if he felt a little uncomfortable flying several hundred miles out into the Gulf of Mexico not having a parachute.  He answered in the negative, and then explained that the parachute was bulky, uncomfortable to wear, and interfered with movement around the plane.  And, since it was not required that crew members wear the parachute seldom if ever would you find someone with one strapped to his back.  I once read (some years after my discharge from the military) of a sign that hung over the door of a parachute preparation room which read, "If you ever need it, and don't have it, you ain't ever goanna need it again."  In time of need it might be great to have one close by, but, hey, who needs it now?  Until and unless an emergency arises, we'll just leave it stored under the seat.  That, my friends, is what I mean by "parachute mentality."    Do you suppose some members of the Lord's church have a "parachute mentality"?  Think with me on this.

In every congregation there are a small number of Christians who are barely hanging on.  There is little, if any, involvement in the work of the church.  To them, AM worship is all that is required, and that only if something else does not interfere.   Sunday morning Bible classes, Sunday evening worship, and Wednesday night are purely optional, and that only for the fanatical, right-wing fringe (which they want to avoid at all costs).  Asked if Jesus were important they would answer in the affirmative.   But if the truth were known, their definition of "important" is quite different than what God considers "important."   The faithful, humble, serving child of God realizes that when he was baptized into Christ he "put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).  But that child of God with a "parachute mentality" perceives of Christ as bulky, uncomfortable to wear, and an interference to his free-moving life style that places a premium on business, pleasure, and self gratification.  Jesus is stored under the pew at the local church building, ready to grab and strap to the back in time of emergency.  But to wear it on a daily basis?  Forget it!    Sometimes I think we ought to hang a sign over the exit door on our buildings similar to the one referred to above.  That sign might read something like this:  "If you ever need Him, and don't have Him, you ain't never goanna need Him again."  The Christian with the "parachute mentality" makes at least two fatal blunders. First, he thinks that Jesus is something you put on and off depending on your need.  But you know as well as I do that Christianity is a daily walk.  I read somewhere that Jesus said, "take up your cross daily...."   Second, he thinks that God can be ignored and spurned when things are going well, and then immediately come to the rescue when things turn sour.  If I read my Bible clearly it does not work that way.  Dearly beloved, God wants your humble obedience and submission every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day of the year.  It isn't that He needs you; it is that YOU need HIM!  To think otherwise is to possess a "parachute mentality."    

The Trumpet, Harp, Timbrel, Stringed Instruments and Loud Cymbals


by Tom Wacaster

Those who advocate the use of instruments of music in worship to God often appeal to Psalms 150:3-5 for support of such a practice. But does the chapter lend support for instruments of music? Should we take a passage that is quite obviously Hebrew poetry, interpret it as prose, and use it for authority to bring a piano, organ, stringed instruments, or cymbals into the worship of the church? We think not; and hence the subject for our study in this week’s “Tom’s Pen.”

Praise him with trumpet sound: Praise him with psaltery and harp.
Praise him with timbrel and dance: Praise him with stringed instruments and pipe.
Praise him with loud cymbals: Praise him with high sounding cymbals.

These verses emphasize the depth of praise. Although we are not authorized to use instrumental music in our worship and praise to God, it is significant that there is a wide array of items used in praise unto God as noted by the Psalmist. These include (1) trumpet sound, (2) psaltery, (3) harp, (4) timbrel, (5) dance, (6) stringed instrument, (7) pipe, (8) cymbals, and (9) high sounding cymbals. The question we must entertain is whether or not these methods were intended to be perpetual. Were these instruments intended to find a place in worship in the New Testament? I suggest not, for the following reasons:

1) These things were introduced by David, and adapted by Israel; there is no indication that God ever authorized these things Himself, but that He simply ALLOWED them to be brought into the worship, much like He allowed Israel to have a KING;
2) There is not even so much as a hint that these things were used in the first century church. Neither scripture nor history gives any indication that they were used as acceptable means of worship. Instead, the New Testament authorized new methods, designed to emphasize the spiritual rather than the physical (i.e. prayer, Lord's supper, preaching, singing of spiritual songs, giving).

What, then, is the living message of this portion of the Psalm? It is poetic language; and each part of this ensemble of instruments is designed to teach us some important truth regarding our worship to God. May we suggest the following regarding the mention of each of these “instruments.”

“Praise him with the trumpet of sound” – The Hebrew word ('shophar') spoke of the curved ram's horn used by the watchman to warn of impending danger as well as the call to come to worship. The Psalmist was suggesting that the sleeper must be aroused from his sleep. The sound of the trumpet would awaken his thoughts so that he would become focused upon the obligation at hand – that of praising Jehovah. Away with sloth and indifference! Praise to God deserves and demands a sober mind focused upon the occasion of the moment. It is unfortunate that many a deluded soul enters the auditorium for worship, and sits down to pass the time, often amusing himself with activities other than worship, and on occasions drifting off into sleep. Such need to be awakened with the trumpet call to worship.

“praise him with psaltery and harp” – The “psaltery” ('nabla') was a hollow stringed instrument; perhaps like the guitar or mandolin. The “harp” ('kinnor') was another stringed instrument, but consisted of a somewhat deeper sound than the psaltery. In order to compose and play music on these instruments the worshipper would have to train and prepare himself intensely and with great determination. The point to be emphasized here is the undeniable truth that acceptable worship demands proper preparation prior to our coming into the presence of God. We should take the time to fine tune the “skill” (if I may be permitted to use that word) of worship.

“timbrel and dance” – The “timbrel” ('toph') would have been similar to our tambourine. The Psalmist links the timbrel with dance. The idea seems to be that the use of the timbrel naturally flowed down to the beat of the feet in dance. Notice that the music thus involved both the hands and feet, i.e. the whole of the worshipper. When David danced before the ark on its journey back to the Temple he did so because of the depth of his love for God. Only the best would do, and the intensity of involvement was implied on that occasion as it is clearly taught here.

“stringed instruments and pipes” – The “stringed instruments” ('men') and the “pipes” ('ugab') the Psalmist focuses the various chords and sounds that could be produced by the strings and wind instruments. The deep melody of the heart is the focus of the Psalmist. When the worshipper reaches deep into his soul and plucks the strings of his heart in worship to his Creator he has captured the focus of this verse.

“loud cymbals…high sounding cymbals” – The trumpets are sounding, the stringed instruments adding the warm and deep chords of melodic music, and the wind instruments are piped. All that remains is the crescendo that comes with the sounding of the cymbals. The point emphasized is the full and rich climax of true worship.

The full orchestra is now in place. With the mention of these instruments the Psalmist would draw the worshipper's attention to the expertise involved in worship. It is not necessary for the saint to understand the advanced techniques of music, but it behooves each and every child of God to at least put forth the effort to develop and use his ability in singing to the best degree possible. It is astonishing how indifferent we sometimes appear to be when it comes to singing a song properly. No, we are not suggesting that God measures our worship by whether or not we are “on key” or in perfect harmony with those in the assembly. But the very fact that we are singing praises unto our God should motivate us to do our best; and our best will be better if we take the time to study at least the basics of music and put forth every effort to make our singing the best possible. We must caution, however, lest the worshipper focus upon his own abilities and his pride render his worship vain. Our worship begins with the trumpet – God's word calling us to worship in “spirit and in truth” (Joh 4:24). Our hearts are poured out, the strings of our heart plucked with our love and devotion for God. As we sing our hearts swell with gratitude and appreciation for the God Who has saved us. From the depth of our hearts the “cymbals” crash as our praise to God is poured out to He Who sits on the throne!

The student who sees nothing more in these three verses than instruments of music has missed the true meaning of David’s call for praise with “the trumpet, harp, timbrel, stringed instruments, and loud cymbals.”

Mission of Mercy

by Tom Wacaster

A couple of years ago one of the major television networks produced a made-for-television movie based on the true story of two pilots who attempted to fly two, single-engine crop dusters from the West Coast to Australia.  As the story developed, one of the planes never got airborne from the lay over in Hawaii, and the second pilot, at the encouragement of the first, continued the journey alone.   Due to the combination of unforeseen circumstances, malfunction in equipment, and pilot error, our lone pilot became lost over the Pacific somewhere northeast of Aukland, New Zealand, now without the necessary navigational equipment to get him safely to  his destination.  As he radioed for help, a commercial jetliner, enroute to New Zealand, heard of the pilot's predicament, and agreed to do what he could to locate the small plane that was, by best estimates, somewhere in the vicinity.

It was like looking for the proverbial "needle in a haystack."  But with the consent of the proper authorities, the passengers on board, and the jetliner's crew, the search and rescue effort began. It called for descent in altitude, deviation from the scheduled flight pattern, and a certain amount of  increased "risk" with every passing minute.  In addition, it would delay the scheduled arrival of the flight, and present no little inconvenience to the passengers on board.  Accordingly, the movie was entitled "Flight 511:  Mission of Mercy."   As I watched, I was touched by the concern that so many had for this lost pilot, and all that went  into this most unusual search and rescue effort.

When our God created man, along with heaven's crowning achievement He began a mission of mercy that had been planned from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  Somewhere in the immense universe, the world and its two lonely inhabitants sped on toward eternity, both lost, without hope, separated from the Creator as a result of sin (Isa. 59:1-2).  But God in His infinite and eternal wisdom, began the journey toward the cross  (Eph. 3:10-11).  God was not obligated to save man; but because of His longsuffering, "not wishing that any should perish" (2 Pet. 3:9), He "struck out for Pentecost."  Even while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), God in His immense love, began to enact His wonderful plan, that paradise might be restored and that all men might be reconciled to Him (2 Cor. 5:20).  Was it a mission of mercy?  Indeed!  Only His eternal love made Him act in our behalf.  For approximately 4,000 years that plan unfolded.  In types and shadows of the good things to come (Heb. 10:1), through the prophets, "in divers portions and in divers manners" (Heb 1:1), God unfolded and enacted His wonderful mission. Then in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), stage two of heaven's mission of mercy began.

In His great love, our Lord surrendered the riches of heaven that were His to enjoy, and He took upon Himself "the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of man" (Phil 2:5-8).  Nestled in the womb of Mary, our Lord's human body developed and grew, until that moment when heaven's angels announced to the shepherds that indeed "there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).  In time, "Jesus advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52), until the moment when He fulfilled all righteousness in submitting to John's baptism, and the voice out of the heavens announced, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17).  For three and one half years, Immanuel, "God with us" (Matt. 1:23), trod the face of His own creation, speaking with all authority, and manifesting the wonderful compassion of heaven's Godhead Three with miracles of healing, and the promise of life eternal.  Aware of the ultimate price that would have to be paid, our Lord maintained steadfastness, and was "faithful to him that appointed him" (Heb 3:2).  The crucial moment in heaven's mission of mercy came in the night when our Saviour entered the garden to seek strength that the mission might not be aborted. If there was any other way, He desired that the "cup" might pass from Him (Matt. 26:39).  So earnest were His cries to the Father that "his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:44).  Were the mission to succeed, the Son of David would have to taste of death for every man (Heb. 2:9).  But the Son of God would not simply die; He would not close His eyes in peaceful sleep, for the death which He would face would be the "death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).  Yes, the mission of mercy had a price. If lost humanity was to be redeemed, it would not be with "silver and gold...but with the precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ" (1 Pet. 1:18-19).  And so, because of His great love for you and me, our Lord went to the cross.  Nailed between two thieves, He suffered excruciating pain for six long hours.  Look at the Savior, beloved, and whisper again those words: "mission of mercy."  Now the price was paid!  God's wrath could be satisfied.  The mission was almost complete. With His dying breath, our Lord could truly say, so far as His part was concerned, "It is finished"   (John 19:30). 

There was yet more to be accomplished before the mission could be complete.  Yea, much more.  To the consternation of Satan, and in answer to the angels who in wonder and amazement had desired to "look into" these things (1 Pet. 1:12), Jesus burst the bonds of death, and was "declared to be the Son of God with power...by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:4).   Enthroned at the right hand of God, our King reigns in righteousness.  In fulfillment of His promise, step three of the mission of mercy could now be initiated.  The Holy Spirit, in faithful obedience to the eternal plan, could now be sent forth from heaven to "guide the apostles into all the truth" (John 16:13).  This He did, and the words of the mystery were "written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name" (John 20:31). Floundering in the sea of sin, lost humanity now has a "lamp" and "light" to show the way (Psa. 119:105).  How grateful we should be that God, in His wonderful wisdom, and in His eternal plan, saw fit to record these things that we might be able to read and come to understand the mystery of man's redemption (Eph 3:3-5). 

For almost 2,000 years the lighthouse of the Gospel has cast its beam across the treacherous sea of life's perilous journey, pointing the way for lost humanity unto the shores of safety.  The torch has been passed to this generation, and we must not, we cannot let the flame be extinguished.  Heaven's mission of mercy is depending on you and me to "Go...into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation" (Mark 16:15).  Let us go forth with the life saving Gospel, and continue with zeal and determination, heaven's mission of mercy.

Passing By Graceland

by Tom Wacaster

Highway 51 once served as the major thoroughfare from Memphis, Tennessee to the quite community of Southaven, Mississippi.  Prior to the building of the massive Interstate Highway system, that little country road leading from Memphis into Mississippi was occupied by small town travelers, truckers, and farmers taking their goods to market in Memphis.  In the late 1950's that little highway gained a considerable degree of notoriety when Elvis Presley bought and occupied Graceland, where he lived until his death on August 16, 1977.  I am not an Elvis fan, nor have I ever had the desire to visit Graceland.  But this past week I had the opportunity to drive past Graceland Mansion on my way to Southaven, Mississippi to attend the Power Lectures.  Rather than take I-55 loop around the south side of Memphis, and on south into Mississippi, I exited at Highway 51 and made the turn south that would take me past Graceland. 

In one more week Memphis will celebrate "Elvis Week," but loyal fans have already started to gather, and the sidewalks in front of Graceland Mansion were literally filled with tourists and sight seers.   Off in the distance I could see the "Lisa Marie," Elvis' private jet. The rooftop of the Mansion was visible, and here and there you could catch a glimpse of the well manicured lawn.  There was a convertible pink Cadillac on display near the highway.  Motels displayed their never-ending loyalty on their curb side marquee: "The King still lives," and "Forever dedicated to his memory."  Placards were displayed by loyal fans, "I love Elvis"; "Elvis still lives"; "Elvis, we will always love you."  Not too far distant from Graceland estate one can check into "Heart Break Hotel," or browse the souvenir shops that are found on what is now known as Elvis Presley Boulevard. 

Fans and fanatics can be seen perusing the shops, or standing in line to purchase a ticket to Graceland.  Elvis-look-alikes wander up and down the sidewalks, seeking to imitate "the King," not only in their dress, but in their hair style and mannerisms - seeking to walk as he walked, and no doubt to talk as he talked.   I managed to maneuver the traffic, and eventually cross the state line into Mississippi for the short two or three mile drive to the church building in Southaven.  That may very well be the closest I ever come to Graceland.  But passing by Graceland I was made to think.

First, Elvis Presley would trade all that was on display at Graceland for one more opportunity to hear and obey God's word.  Though "the king" occasionally paid lip service to the King of kings, the life of the rich and famous rock star was not a life of the righteous, and his neglected opportunities finally caught up with him on that summer day in 1977.  At his death his private jet served him no purpose as he made his flight into eternity.  His millions of fans could not go with him through the valley of the shadow of death.  His cash and costumes were all left behind, and never again would he walk the halls of Graceland Mansion. It is comforting to know that when it comes my time to walk the path of all men that I will have a Shepherd Who will go with me through the valley of the shadow of death (Psa 23:4).  I am confident that when it comes time for me to pass to that hadean realm that I will have no regrets for how I have lived my life; no desire for another chance.  There are untold millions who have passed beyond the boundary of life and, like the rich man in torments, wish they could go back and live life again.  I suspect "the king" will be among that number.    

Second, greatness is not measured in terms of the earthly.  Someone pointed out that Elvis Presley is the typical American success story.  In a few brief years he rose from poverty to riches; from obscurity to fame; from a life of simplicity to a life of stardom.  By human standards, Mr. Presley was truly successful.  But success cannot be measured in dollars and cents.  Personally, I have no desire to give up my peace of mind for popularity and the pressing crowds seeking to get a glimpse at your face, or a piece of your clothing.   What I saw of Graceland Mansion was impressive, and the gold platinum records and rewards that fill the late Elvis Presley's trophy room would likely draw rapt attention from those who tour the grounds of Graceland Mansion.   Many folks desire the same kind of "greatness" that Elvis acquired in his lifetime; far less ever attain unto it.  The saint, on the other hand, aspires for greatness in the sight of God. Their one desire is to hear their Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21).  That will be true greatness.

Third, it is utterly amazing the degree to which some of Elvis fans will go to pay tribute to their "king."  One web site pointed out that an annual procession through the estate and past Elvis' grave is held on the anniversary of his death each year. The largest gathering assembled on the 25th anniversary in 2002. One estimate was that 40,000 people were in attendance, despite the heavy rain.  But the extent of fanatical fan loyalty is captured in those handfuls of men (and even women) who seek to imitate the man's every action.  Elvis-look-alikes attempt to dress like Elvis dressed, to speak with the same accent and pronunciation of words.  To all such fans, the essence of life is summed up in the one goal in life - to be as much like Elvis Presley as is humanly possible.  I have no desire to imitate "the king" of rock and roll.  But I do have a burning desire to imitate my Lord, to "have this mind that was in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5 ff), to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:21), to love as He loved, think as He thought, and act as He acted.

Finally, as I watched Graceland fade from view in my rear view mirror I thought, "How different is MY King!"  They serve an earthly king; I serve a heavenly.  They serve a man; I serve God.   They serve someone whose life was dedicated to sensual pleasure; I serve a King whose life was dedicated to brining men redemption and salvation.  They serve a dead king; I serve a Living King. Someday every tongue shall confess and every knee shall bow - not to Elvis - but to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world.

Graceland Mansion may very well be worth taking the time to visit - but I for one will look forward to that time when I don't just visit the Mansion of my dreams, but pack up and move into that Mansion my Lord has prepared for me and for all those who have loved His appearing.   Meanwhile, I think I'll be content to pass by Graceland on my way to my heavenly home.

Good Works And Our Purpose

by Tom Wacaster

Paul told Titus, "And let our people also learn to maintain good works for necessary purposes, that they be not unfruitful" (Titus 3:14), "in all things showing thyself an ensample of good works" (2:6).   Christ, our example, "went about doing good....and healing all that were oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10:38).  While good works are both "necessary" and beneficial it is important that our good works be kept in proper perspective.  Luke informed us that Jesus "came to seek and save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).  Our Lord never lost sight of that purpose.  His miracles of compassion in which He provided bread to the multitudes, restored sight to the blind, and gave physical health to the infirm, were never isolated from the purpose for which He came.  His was a ministry of reconciliation; not social reformation.  He did not come to clean up the slums, but to cleanse our soul from sin. 

This is not to say that social benefits will not derive from a wide scale application of godly principles to the whole of any civilization. Where the gospel has gone, been embraced and applied by the majority of any people, the standard of living has generally improved.  In view of the fact that the church is the body of Christ, it is only reasonable that our purpose is closely identified with His purpose.  In fact Paul informs us that God has given unto us "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18).   The charge to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) is a commission, not simply permission.   Here is the purpose, the end, the reason if you will, for our very existence as the church of Jesus Christ.  Lose sight of this truth, and we start down the road that leads to eventual self destruction. 

Let history teach us a lesson here.  The 18th and 19th century witnessed a dramatic impact on the western world with the advent of the "great awakening."  Spiritual revival swept our own nation as a wild fire from the east coast to the west.  But with the beginning of the 20th century, the liberal Protestant churches began to turn away from the proclamation of the gospel (however limited their concept may have been of that gospel), and turned their attention instead to finding a solution to the social ills of society.  Instead of preaching the spiritual truths of the Bible they turned their attention to meeting the material needs of physical man.  Thus the birth of the "social emphasis" in religious circles.  With this new ideology the human race would enter a new era, and this earth (so they claimed) would become a utopia.  A century has demonstrated the utter failure of such emphasis.   Those denominations who accepted this new emphasis upon the physical to the neglect of the spiritual, had the very life choked out of them. They ceased to be evangelistic.  Any awareness of lost souls about them gradually disappeared, missionaries were brought home, and the physical took precedence over the spiritual.  As a result, worship became ritualistic and attendance declined in many of the main line denominations. 

All the while these "churches" were doing great works.  Some of those main line denominations have learned the lesson, and are retracing their steps.  Unfortunately,  some of our brethren have yet to learn the lessons of history and holy writ.  It disturbs me when we hear of brethren having some sort of a public program to wash windows, or mow lawns of their neighbors.  The cry goes forth that there should be some sort of a joint effort among the area congregations to have a "house painting" campaign, and reach out to our needy neighbors and scrape and paint their old worn out, neglected houses.   Rather than glory in the cross, we glory in our good works.  One congregation bragged about their sponsorship of a young man on a campaign to some foreign country.  When the young man returned did he tell of souls baptized into Christ?  Was another congregation started in some remote part of the world?  Nothing was said with regard to the spiritual success of that "missionary journey." Instead we hear how this young man taught a bunch of would-be sport stars how to play basketball.  We hear of bread lines, soup kitchens, and "impact" churches marching forward with those things necessary to improve the physical and temporal lot of man while here on the earth.   Now, before you brand me as radical, hard-hearted, cruel and unloving, please hear me out.  

Good works are "necessary," as Paul commanded Titus.  But beloved, we could wash every window in town, mow all the yards of every shut in, and provide taxi service for the elderly and impoverished, feed the needy, and yet eventually see every single one of them lost in eternity, unless the gospel is preached to their starving soul.  When I was growing up, congregations emphasized Bible study, personal work, cottage classes, and gospel meetings.  When we would visit a sister congregation, we would find tracts in the foyer, and hear of souls baptized.  The emphasis was most definitely on the spiritual man.  And when some good work was done, it was usually done in secret, as a gesture of love and kindness from one who has learned to love his fellow man. Our generation has seen a gradual abandonment of gospel meetings for specialized "workshops" that deal with marriage relationships, child rearing, and/or other personal needs.  All of these are good, and admittedly they are needed, but they must not become the focus of our work, as if they accomplish the purpose for which we have been called into the body of Christ.  The appeal to the physical by "entertainment oriented" programs has gained popularity. We are not here to entertain, we are here to bring men to their knees, to prick the hearts of men, and bring about a reform of the inner man so that men will bow at the feet of Jesus and cry out, "What must we do to be saved?"   This is our sole purpose while sojourning in this wilderness.  Those who have cast their lot toward "Sodom" where the physical is emphasized will, like Lot, find themselves living with the wicked and reaping the consequences.  May we never fail to hold forth the word of light to a lost and dying world.  This is the ONLY POWER that will successfully draw men to the cross of Christ.