Traversing The Potholes of Life

by Tom Wacaster

The core of this article was written a few years ago while on a mission trip in India.  Travel on the back roads of Andre Pradesh (the state in which we did most of our work) is quite a challenge.  I have learned over the years that everyday situations often contain great lessons about life, and even illustrations about spiritual truths.  I cannot remember when, or where I first came across Paul Harvey’s essay on “Dirt Roads.” It will serve as a good lead in to my comments on the “potholes” of life:

by Paul Harvey

What's mainly wrong with society today is that too many Dirt Roads have been paved. There's not a problem in America today, crime, drugs, education, divorce, delinquency that wouldn't be remedied, if we just had more Dirt Roads, because Dirt Roads give character.  People that live at the end of Dirt Roads learn early on that life is a bumpy ride. That it can jar you right down to your teeth sometimes, but it's worth it, if at the end is home...a loving spouse, happy kids and a dog.  We wouldn't have near the trouble with our educational system if our kids got their exercise walking a Dirt Road with other kids, from whom they learn how to get along. There was less crime in our streets before they were paved.  Criminals didn't walk two dusty miles to rob or rape, if they knew they'd be welcomed by 5 barking dogs and a double barrel shotgun. And there were no drive by shootings. Our values were better when our roads were worse!  People did not worship their cars more than their kids, and motorists were more courteous, they didn't tailgate by riding the bumper or the guy in front would choke you with dust & bust your windshield with rocks. Dirt Roads taught patience.  Dirt Roads were environmentally friendly, you didn't hop in your car for a quart of milk you walked to the barn for your milk. For your mail, you walked to the mail box.  What if it rained and the Dirt Road got washed out? That was the best part, then you stayed home and had some family time, roasted marshmallows and popped popcorn and pony rode on Daddy's shoulders and learned how to make prettier quilts than anybody. At the end of Dirt Roads, you soon learned that bad words tasted like soap.  Most paved roads lead to trouble, Dirt Roads more likely lead to a fishing creek or a swimming hole. At the end of a Dirt Road, the only time we even locked our car was in August, because if we didn't some neighbor would fill it with too much zucchini.  At the end of a Dirt Road, there was always extra springtime income, from when city dudes would get stuck, you'd have to hitch up a team and pull them out. Usually you got a dollar...always you got a new the end of a Dirt Road!   ~ ~ (Paul Harvey; original source no known)

The roads in India are much like those “dirt roads” Paul Harvey spoke of.  We in America often take the condition of our roads for granted, and assume that most roads in the world are as good as, or perhaps even better than the worst of our bad roads.  I can assure you that even our country roads are far superior to some of the major highways in India.   This is not to say that there are no good roads in India whatsoever, for their government has been actively involved in improving road conditions nationally by building what we here at home might call "Interstate Highways."  In India they are known as "National Highways."   Between Kakinada in the state of Andre Pradesh and the nearest National Highway is a distance of about 50 kilometers (give or take a dozen kilometers).   Portions of the highways leading out of Kakinada have been resurfaced in the last couple of years; but there remain some sections where the potholes are large enough to swallow a "laurie" (i.e. 18 wheeler semi).   I usually ride in the back of Nehemiah's Toyota and when we hit some of the worst of the potholes I get quite a "bounce."   I often find myself thinking, "If it had not been for that Tata (Indian made economy car) falling into the pothole ahead of us, the jolt would have been much worse.   Our driver does his best to avoid the potholes, weaving here and there, and slamming on the brakes when a hole is so large that it is simply unavoidable.    Oh yes, traversing the potholes in India is quite a challenge; I'm just glad that I'm not the one doing the driving.

Every life has "potholes" that come along from time to time.   One minute you might find yourself cruising down life's highway, without a care in the world.  All of a sudden here comes a "pothole" that you simply cannot avoid.  You weave here and there, trying your best to avoid it; but to no avail.  Sometimes those "potholes" of life slap us in the face without so much as a simple warning.  Financial loss, betrayal by a close friend or brother in Christ, or even the unexpected and sudden death of a loved one are among these unexpected challenges of life.  All of these can devastate our lives and more often than not, they come upon us unawares.   Try as we may, we simply cannot avoid those things that are bigger than life itself, and that stare us in the face without any way to escape.  Some years back someone sent me the following quote from a well known denominational preacher.  While I do not recommend much of what he writes, I think you will appreciate his sentiments in this quote.  Here a few select remarks:

"Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one, or you're getting ready to go into another one.   The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort; God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy.   We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that's not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness…Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it's kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life…No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on.   And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for. You can focus on your purposes, or you can focus on your problems:   If you focus on your problems, you're going into self-centeredness, which is my problem, my issues, my pain.' But one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto God and others" (Rick Warren).   

If you want to be happy why not try Paul's inspired advice:  "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:8-9).  You cannot control the circumstances that come along in life any more than you can fill or dodge the potholes in the roads upon which you travel.  How you react to those circumstances is what is important.  And with God's help, faith in His promises, and a determination to do His will, you can successfully traverse the potholes of life.  

It Is Inevitable

by Tom Wacaster

Since the death of Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former heads of terrorist operations in Iraq and elsewhere, there have been a series of suicide bombings in other parts of the world.  The most recent concern among those “in the know” is that Al Quieda may have been weakened in Iraq, but seems to be gaining power in Africa.  Recent bombings in Libya would appear to support that conclusion.  Such bombings around the world have killed dozens and left hundreds, if not thousands, wounded and suffering.  We read of the insane acts of those who would strap explosives to their body, or hide them in their shoes, and walk into a crowded restaurant or climb onto a bus, and blow themselves up along with as many as might be within their immediate proximity. The repeated, almost daily barrage of suicide bombers in Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya, seem so far away.  It is as if we are isolated from such insane acts.  But the consensus among politicians and public leaders is that it is inevitable that we, too, will experience such violence in our country.  Former FBI director Robert Mueller has gone on record (5-21-02) as stating that suicide bombers are inevitable.  Here are his words: "It is inevitable that suicide bombers like those who have attacked Israeli restaurants and buses will strike the United States [and] we will not be able to stop it."  Such language, to say the least, is a little unsettling.  With the exception of the Civil War, American citizens, since the founding of this nation, have been exempt from war on our home soil.  Unlike Europe, Africa, Japan, China, and other nations, we have not experienced an invasion of the enemy, occupation by another nation, or the threat of physical harm as a result of warfare on our homeland.  Those sentiments are no longer true.  Dan Rather, shortly after the attack on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001 observed that the words in the fourth stanza of "America, The Beautiful" read thus:

O Beautiful for patriot dream,
That sees beyond the years.
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America, America! God shed His grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From sea to shining sea.

The words “undimmed by human tears” were the focus of Rather’s comments.  In tears he pointed out that now our cities have been dimmed by human tears. We have experienced first hand the invasion of an enemy.  And we are afraid! That fear is heightened by the uncertainty of time and place.  As former FBI Director Robert Mueller noted, "I believe it is going to come...Now, is it going to happen today, to morrow or two years?  We're not certain."  Meanwhile we have our own form of terrorism here in the United States.   Unbalanced and unhinged (and I might add, unlawful) individuals seem to think that taking innocent lives in order to make some kind of “statement,” or gain some twisted form of notoriety, take it upon themselves to enter a movie house, or post office, or former place of work, and gun down innocent bystanders.   Will it happen again?  Probably!  Will we get any warning? Probably not!   This was precisely Muller’s point.  Of course Mueller can only "guess" at what lies down the road.  We need not become unsettled because of one man's opinion, nor should we live in fear that some mad man is going to walk into the local Walmart and "pull the string."  Now to the point of this article.  Why is it that folks can become so unsettled over something that may or may not ever happen, yet totally ignore the warnings of something that really is inevitable?  Let me explain.

There is an event, the precise date unknown to men, to the angels in heaven, and even the Son of God Himself, that awaits the whole of mankind.  Of course you know of what I speak.  "Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29).   "For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).  "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh the judgment" (Heb. 9:27).  "But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only" (Matt. 24:36). 

Why is it that our reaction to the announcement of an 'inevitable' threat to our physical well being has such a profound effect on our emotions, while we give so little thought to another 'inevitable' promise that faces all mankind, past present and future generations?   Comparing the two events, consider the following:

First, there is the possibility factor.  Even with all the input from some of the top government agencies at his disposal, Mr. Mueller can only make an educated guess.  It may turn out that he is right, and that indeed suicide bombers ARE inevitable. But neither he, nor his constituents have the ability to look into the future. On the other hand, our God is omniscient. He has proven His power in this area by predictive prophecy that has come true 100% of the time.  As to the possibility of the judgment, you can rest assured, that day will occur.

Second, there is the time factor.   The FBI director admits, "We're not certain."  All available information is brought to bear, and still, "We're not certain."  Who knows the mind of a terrorist, what time frame that might constrain him, or events and circumstances that may bring about the opportunity for his intended actions.  Who among men can predict that some madman will walk into his workplace and shoot innocent victims?  As for the judgment, "no man knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son."  Why is it, then, that men think they see the "signs" of the Lord's return in judgment?  The precise moment of the judgment cannot be determined, and men manifest their arrogance and foolishness when they attempt to pre guess or circumvent God. 

Third, there is the purpose factor. Why does the FBI, CIA and other intelligent agencies think it important to provide advance notice of an "inevitable" attack by terrorists?  The answer is obvious.  So that we can be alert, prepared and ready for such an event and thereby minimize the loss of life.   God has warned us of the judgment. He has even told us that He is not willing that ANY should perish (2 Peter 3:9).  Additionally, He has provided a "way of escape" (1 Cor. 10:13).  He has promised to see us through if we will but trust and obey.   How grateful we are that God has warned us of that 'inevitable' event.

I am puzzled, however, that so few give serious consideration to the Divine warnings concerning that coming day of Judgment.   The only conclusion I can come to is that they must not really believe that the Judgment day is 'inevitable.' 

Coming Home

by Tom Wacaster

Returning from  a mission trip brings its challenges, not the least of which is the physical adjustment to a time zone that is almost eleven hours behind the place you just left.  Sometimes I really struggle with adjusting my biological clock to the clock on the wall, and the reality that, while your body tells you it should be six o’clock in the morning, the sky outside tells you it is nigh unto dusk.   When I woke up in Bangaluru Thursday morning it was 6:00 A.M. there, but it was 7:30 P.M. Wednesday night here at home.  It would be  almost 40 hours before I would be able to lay my body down for a decent rest.   Going that far, that fast, does not seem to be a part of what God intended for our physical bodies.  Of course, the “slow boat to China” may be easier on the body, but it really chews up a lot of time.    So, until my body adjusts to the Central Time Zone, I’ll take advantage of those wee hours of the morning when I can’t sleep to get some reading, study and meditation under my belt.   I figure that just about the time I am used to getting up at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning instead of 2:00 or 3:00  that it will be time for Daylight Savings to kick in, and I’ll have to roll back the clock and find myself getting up yet one more hour earlier.
But there are other challenges that I face when I come  home.  For one thing there is the readjustment to a daily schedule that is disrupted when I make a mission trip to Russia or India.   At home there are those constant reminders that there is a sense of “permanence” here that is not present when travelling over seas.   Medical appointments, mowing the lawn, paying bills, and weekly shopping, to name but a few.   When I leave all this behind and immerse myself in preaching and teaching, I tend to forget those things that await me when I come home.   For several days after my arrival home I am busy catching up with bills, correspondence, writing, and reading.; and the longer I have been gone, the more there is to catch up with.  Sometimes it is simply overwhelming.  

Another challenge is readjusting my emotional barometer (if I may call it that).   The opportunities for preaching and teaching the gospel in some places are abundant;  and in some  cases simply astonishing.   Take for example my  recent work in India.   Brother J.C. Bailey first went to India to present the pure message of Christ to a people steeped in idolatry.  The response was so astonishing that brethren back home simply did not believe there were so many being baptized.   The response was in the 100’s, and in some cases in the 1,000’s.   Churches of Christ were being established throughout India, especially in the south eastern part of that country.   After  fifty years the rate of growth does not seem to have abated.   The receptivity of the gospel continues to this day.  Large audiences, open hearts, and precious souls responding  give a visiting missionary a spiritual “high” that lifts his spirit and gives him a deeper appreciation for the work of those who have “beautiful feet” [see Romans 10:15).   When I come home there is a return to the reality that the soil for planting the seed of God’s word that exists in India on a wide scale is not present in much of the Western world.   Wealth, prosperity, humanism, atheism, self indulgence—pick what you want; these are the things that have hardened the hearts of so many in our country so much so that trying to  find the good and honest heart is like the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack.   I realize that work in this “mission field” we call the United States is difficult, disheartening and often discouraging.; but we rest on the promise that we shall reap if we faint not.  

Finally, there is a challenge of readjustment to a society that is literally saturated with sin and ungodliness.  From the head to the foot (to borrow the words of Isaiah) the moral climate in America is in the cesspool.    I am not suggesting that India is a sinless society, but it seems that here in America sin is flaunted openly and without any shame on the part of the people and the politicians.   America wears her pride on her sleeve.  Humility is an endangered species.  Right or wrong, my perception is that in India there is a sense of moral responsibility and humility of heart that makes the preaching of the gospel such a success. 

I can adjust my biological clock fairly quick;  I can adjust to my daily routine here at home.  But I find it much more difficult to face a world that seems bent on slapping God in the face.  Therein is the great challenge of coming home.

Excuses and Explanations

by Tom Wacaster

A "theory" is defined by Webster as  "a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation."   A number of years ago I came across a book entitled, "Official Explanations."  It was a "tongue-in-cheek" look at the uncanny ability of the human race to "explain" acts of irresponsibility and irrationality.  For example, one explanation for the Three-Mile Island nuclear accident was, "Into every one's life a little fall-out must rain."   I have, through the years, collected a number of excuses and explanations of everyday phenomenon which have, at least to date, eluded adequate explanation.  For example, most of us are aware that yawning is contagious.  Why?  Explanation:   You yawn to equalize the pressure on your eardrums.  This pressure change outside your eardrums unbalances the pressure in the ear of others, so they yawn to equalize the pressure in their ears."  Makes sense!  Here is one for linguistic experts:  "The quantity of consonants in the English language is constant.  If omitted in one place, they turn up in another.  When a Bostonian 'pahks his cah,' the lost R's migrate southwest, causing a Texan to 'warsh' his car and invest in 'erl' wells."  One of my favorite was an extended “reason” as to why fire trucks are red:  “First, fire trucks have four wheels and eight men, and four and eight make twelve. There are twelve inches in a foot.  A foot is a ruler. Queen Elizabeth is a ruler, and the Queen Elizabeth is the largest ship on the seven seas. Seas have fish, fish have fins, and the Finns fought the Russians.  The Russians are red.  Fire trucks are always rushin’ and therefore fire trucks are always red.”    I thought, as I read these theories, that we should come up with some 'theories' of our own to explain some not-so-rare behavior of brethren. 

In the area of church attendance:  Attendance is the combination of two foreign words (the precise language hereto date not known).  The first word, 'atten' is a system of rating.  We might rate the preacher's sermon well done and extremely entertaining as 'atten.'   The second part of our word, 'dance' derives from the same root word as our English word 'dance," which Webster defines as "to move quickly."  Since attendance restricts my movement, such does not rate 'atten,' and hence my absence from the same. 

In the area of personal Bible study:  It has been said that your brain has a left side, and a right side. If you are left handed, your right side of the brain is the predominant portion of your brain.  Right-handed people operate out of the left portion of the brain.  With that axiom well established, it only makes sense that since most folks are right-handed, then most folks operate out of the left side of their brain. And since Bible study is the "right" thing to do, this robs most folks of the ability to study the Bible on a regular basis.  Silly you say?  Sure. But then, so are all attempts to excuse oneself from such basic Christian responsibilities as attendance and Bible study.  The sad aspect of all this is the undeniable truth that God never accepted excuses for our misbehavior and irresponsibility, no mater how "official" the explanation may seem to mortal men.

Of course excuse making is as old as mankind.  The response of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is a case in point.  When placed in the garden they were given a law that forbad them from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  They ate the forbidden fruit, and when God demanded of Adam an answer he passed the proverbial buck with only 19 words: “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:12).  Following the lead of her husband, Eve likewise offered an excuse: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”   The devil was smart enough not to argue with God and may very well have sleeked off the scene having done his damage.  As one South African brother once said, "Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and the snake didn't have a leg to stand on." 

Aaron was in the excuse making business with one of the most pitiful, if not comical responses for a grave sin committed while Moses was in Mt. Sinai receiving the Law.   Having made a golden idol, he was confronted by Moses: “What did this people unto thee that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?”   Aaron’s answer?  “Thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us...And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf” (Exo. 32:21-24).   We might say, “Well, we threw in the gold and out popped a golden calf!”   What a pitiful excuse for his sin!

King Saul, after refusing to destroy the Amalekites, blamed the people (1 Sam. 15:21).  The would-be followers of the Lord attempted to shirk their duty with appeals to the land, oxen, and of all things, their family!  (Luke 9:57-62).  Even Moses attempted to excuse himself from God’s call to confront Pharaoh.   His immediate response upon hearing the mission for which he would be sent was, “Whom am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:10).  God seeks to reassure Moses, but the evasion of his God-given task continues.   “But, behold, they will  not believe me, nor harken unto my voice” (Ex. 4:1).   One would think that by turning Moses’ staff into a serpent this humble man would have been convinced not only of God’s power, but of the foolishness on his part to evade the inevitable.    One more excuse is now offered by Moses:  “O my Lord, I am not eloquent… but I am slow of speech” (Ex. 4:10).  You have to love God’s response, for therein Moses is reminded, “Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind?” (Ex. 4:11).   In one last ditch effort, Moses stops making excuses and directly requests of God, “O, my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou will send” (Ex. 4:11).   “Not me, God!  Send someone else whom you, in your wisdom, might send my way!”  Aaron would be appointed to go with Moses; he would be Moses’ spokesman.  But the bottom line was Moses would still stand before Pharaoh and deliver God’s message, “Let my people go.” 

Someone once said that an excuse is “A devil’s lie dressed in fine clothing.”  Or as Billy Sunday was fond of saying, “An excuse is a skin of reason stuffed with a lie.”  Another has said, “Excuses are nails used to build a house of failure.”  No one has ever “excused” his way to success.  On the other hand, “The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own.  No apologies or excuses.  No one to lean on, rely on, or blame.  The gift is yours - it is an amazing journey - and you alone are responsible for the quality of it.  This is the day your life really begins (Bob Moawad). 

Maybe the better part of valor and courage is to simply speak the truth at all times, or at best keep silent.  When it comes to sin, repent rather than seeking to justify your action.  When it comes to our duties as Christians, we may be able to fool some folks with an “excuse” that sounds good to them.  But never forget, God knows the heart, and what ever excuse we might offer for our neglect of Christian duty will be seen for what it is on the Judgment Day!

One more observation is in order before I close this week’s column.  The movie massacre in Aurora, Colorado, along with an ever increasing display of violence in society, has been blamed on everything except the real root cause.  Some blame the far right; others the far left.  Excuses abound, and the true cause is ignored.  For more than five decades our political and religious leaders have sought to expunge America of her religious roots. In short, we have produced a society out of which comes the representatives of a mind set that disrespects life in general and practices the kind of violence depicted in the things upon which they feed their minds every day.   The more we cast God out, the deeper will become our blindness and the more horrible   our behavior as a nation.   The late James Bales summed it up like this: “Deeper blindness is the price one has to pay for the refusal to let facts shatter his illusions.”

Can The Christian Drink Alcohol?

by Tom Wacaster

Determining right and wrong is not always set out in what we might call "direct statements" (i.e., "thou shalt, thou shalt not").  This is where discernment comes in.  We are to use wisdom to discern right and wrong (Heb. 5:12), and "prove all things" (1 Thess. 5:21-22).  Principles learned from a careful study of God's word are then applied to the decision making process.   This is particularly true when it comes to partaking of alcoholic drink.  The world's attitude can be summed up with five words: "Nobody thinks anything about it."   But how do you know that?   And what if it could be proven that nobody thinks anything about drinking alcohol - what people think is not our standard.   A careful study of the Bible leaves the distinct impression that the child of God is to stay as far away from the things of the world rather than seeing how close he can get to it without sinning!  Paul told Timothy "flee these things," which in the context suggests abstinence from anything and everything that would war against the soul. May I suggest to you some reasons why the child of God should abstain from alcoholic beverages?

First, because of the fruit associated with the drinking of alcohol.  Physically, alcohol does irreparable harm to the body that God has given us.   The leading cause of death among alcoholics is due to the effects that alcohol has on the cardiovascular system. Brooke Allen made the following observation: "Many of the body's physiological functions can be affected by the use of alcohol. Recent evidence proves that a variety of diseases are brought about by a substance  that coats the body's red blood cells causing them to stick together in clumps. These clumps are called 'sludge,' and are created by the ingestion of alcohol."  It has been proven beyond dispute that when ingested, alcohol destroys brain cells, and brain cells are the only cells in the body that do not regenerate.  When brain cells die, they can never be replaced.   But physical harm is not the only damage that imbibing alcohol produces.  There is also the social harm. Clayton Pepper [deceased] served as family counselor for many years.  Here is what he had to say:

I know of no other factor that contributes more than drinking to family problems, divorce, juvenile delinquency and to the degrading of man. It breaks my heart to see the fruits of alcohol. I see children naked and hungry, whose mothers and fathers waste their earnings on alcohol.  A four-year-old child was brought into court for being drunk on the street.  A teen-age girl whose mother is dead spent the night on the porch because she was afraid of being molested by her drunken father. A boy, after his drunken father ran him away from home, stole money to buy food. A mother had a baby which weighed less at three months of age than when it was born. She took money given to her to buy milk and bought alcoholic beverages instead. Twelve teen-agers were arrested at a disorderly Halloween party where beer was served. I have seen as many as six children taken away from a drunken mother. A Nashville newspaper carried the story of the slaying of a 14 year old girl by a 17 year old boy whose 17 year old wife was expecting a child soon. The boy was quoted as saying that all this would not have happened if he hadn't been allowed to go to a club and drink. He shouted from his cell: "They ought to padlock that place and burn it to the ground."

In his book, Broken Homes and Handicapped Children , V.E. Howard documented the fruits of alcohol socially more than three decades ago and it has not gotten any better since then.   My friends there is so much wrong with the fruit of beverage alcohol that it would be impossible to put it into the limited space we have in this bulletin.   The question we might ask is, "What good has it ever done?" It's fruit, both ancient and modern, is entirely on the wrong side of the ledger.  Why in the world would any Christian seek to defend this vicious killer which has created more false hopes and generated more social ills than any one thing? 

Second, drinking alcohol is wrong because of what it does to the soul.  Peter wrote, "Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul" (1 Pet. 2:11).  Ask yourself, "Does drinking of alcohol contribute to or lessen any of the following?"  Does it give one a greater degree of love for the Bible and increase his study  habits?  Is one who drinks alcohol more prone to pray or meditate on things that are good and  holy?  Can the drinking of alcohol provide spiritual growth and development of Christian character?  To ask is to answer!  Put in the form of a simple syllogism:  Major Premise: All things which war against the soul are things from which the Christian is commanded to abstain.   Minor Premise: The drinking of intoxicants is a thing which wars against the soul.  Conclusion: Therefore, the drinking of intoxicants is a thing from which the Christian is commanded to abstain.

Third, drinking of alcohol is wrong because of what it does to your influence and Christian example. Hear the word of the Lord:  "Walk in wisdom (or circumspectly) toward them that are without, redeeming the time" (Col 4:5). "Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works" (Matt. 5:16).  "Let no man despise thy youth but be thou an example toward them that believe in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4:12).   "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity" (Matt. 13:41).  "Give no occasion of stumbling to Jew or Gentile" (1 Cor. 10:32).  Can a person really expect to bring a lost soul to Christ while holding a Bible in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other?  I think not!

Finally, drinking alcohol is wrong because all of the so-called "defenses" for social drinking are nothing more than a grasping at straws in the wind.  Space will not allow us a close examination of the arguments presented by those who might imbibe strong drink.  My observation over the years has been that every single argument in defense of social drinking is an appeal to subjectivism, feelings, "I think," or "I feel," rather than a carefully thought out and logical examination of the subject.  Jesus never did turn water into intoxicating wine, all the sophisticated foolishness to the contrary.   Any degree of drunkenness is still drunkenness, and one drink of alcohol still begins the process of drunkenness .  The biggest problem with these so-called defenses is that they are never based on a thus saith the Lord; and therein is the problem at it's roots!

Capital Punishment

by Tom Wacaster

On May 13, 1981, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Bobby Grant Lambert was walking out of a Safeway supermarket in Houston, Texas. An assailant approached Lambert and put his hand into Lambert’s rear pocket. When Lambert resisted, the assailant pulled out a pistol and held it to Lambert’s head. Lambert dropped his groceries and the assailant shot him in the chest. As the assailant fled, Lambert stumbled back into the grocery store, where he died. The robber got away with the change from a $100 bill, although police later found $6000 in $100 bills on the victim’s body.  Graham was arrested, convicted and sentenced to be executed.  Hollywood elites took interest in Graham’s case, and along with various “rights” advocates, every attempt was made to stop the execution of Graham.  Consequently it gook almost 20 years before Graham would be executed by lethal injection.  

On the evening of July 19, 1976, Gary Gilmore robbed and murdered Max Jensen, a Sinclair gas station employee at 168 East and 800 North in Orem, Utah. The next evening, he robbed and murdered Bennie Bushnell, a motel manager at City Center Inn at 150 West and 300 South in Provo. He murdered these people even though they complied with his demands. As he disposed of the .22 caliber pistol used in both killings, he accidentally shot himself in the hand, leaving a trail of blood from the gun all the way to the service garage where he had left his truck to be repaired shortly before the murder of Bushnell. Michael Simpson witnessed Gilmore hiding the gun in the bushes, seeing the blood and hearing on a police scanner of the shooting at the nearby motel, wrote down Gilmore's license number and called the police. Gilmore was charged with the murders of Bushnell and Jensen, although the latter case never went to trial, apparently because there were no eyewitnesses.  Gilmore was tried and convicted, and executed on January 17, 1977 at 8:07 a.m. by firing squad at Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. 

Karla Faye Tucker, after having spent the weekend of May 12, 1983 doing drugs with her boyfriend Danny Garret, burglarized the home of Jerry Dean, and in the process played a part in the gruesome murder of Dean.  Both Tucker and Garret were tried and sentenced to death in September of that year.  The interesting thing about Tucker’s imprisonment was her conversion to “Christianity” and her subsequent marriage to her prison minister.  She was executed on February 3, 1998.  She was the first woman to be executed in Texas since the Civil War. 

The list of “notable” and “not-so-notable” executions could go on, enough to fill dozens, if not hundreds of bulletin pages this size.  Every time an execution takes place those opposed to the punishment lift their voices in horror suggesting that “capital punishment does not work.”   Of course it would depend upon the motive behind capital punishment as to whether or not it “works.”   Capital punishment advocates suggest that it is a deterrent, and that the very existence of capital punishment has served as a successful element in reducing crime.  It has long been acknowledged that the absence or uncertainty of punishment is an encouragement to do evil.  The wise man Solomon tells us that "because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11).  Those who oppose capital punishment argue that it does not serve as a deterrent. Among the most outspoken are those on death row who scream at the “unfair” and “cruel” judicial system for the situation in which they now find themselves. To this I would make three observations: First, convicted criminals would not be in favor of capital punishment for obvious reasons.  Second, the proof of a death penalty deterrent will be found in the many who actually refrained from such violence due to the fear of death.  Finally, the death penalty has lost much of its designed force due to the failure of, or capricious manner in its application and administration.  Those who oppose capital punishment will often pick up on a case of wrongful conviction to which the death penalty was the attached punishment, and will plead that it is unjust because it takes the life of an innocent person.  Of course there are those who plead “cruel and unusual punishment.”   The one element that so many fail to realize (or choose to forget) is that capital punishment is just that  -  “punishment.”  It is the penalty one pays for taking the life of another.  The late and lamented Margaret Thatcher correctly pointed out, “People who go out prepared to take the lives of other people forfeit their own right to live. I believe that the death penalty should be used only very rarely, but I believe that no-one should go out certain that no matter how cruel, how vicious, how hideous their murder, they themselves will not suffer the death penalty.”  Whether or not it serves as a successful deterrent is not the issue when it comes to determining the right and wrong of the practice.  Even if it could be proven that it has no effect in deterring crime, it should still be administered as punishment to those who take the life of another!

Capital punishment was first authorized by God in the days of Noah in Genesis 9:5-6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: For in the image of God made he man.”  In Exodus 21:12 it is stated, “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.”   If one responds that these are Old Testament passages and thus not applicable in this situation we would point out that the sacredness of life and capital punishment are clearly taught in the New Testament as well.  “Thou shalt not kill” is found five times in the New Testament (Matt. 5:21, 27; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Rom. 13:9; James 2:11).  By using the familiar commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” in New Testament application it is obvious that some sort of punishment is to be meted out to those who take the life of another.  What is that punishment?  Paul tells us something about the authority of government in these matters in Romans 13:4:   “For he is the minister of god to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”  The sword was an instrument of death.  If one is going to argue Biblically as to the divine authority for capital punishment he must give careful and serious consideration to these words by Paul.

I’ll close with this astute quote from Theodore Roosevelt:  As regards capital cases, the trouble is that emotional men and women always see only the individual whose fate is up at the moment, and neither his victim nor the many millions of unknown individuals who would in the long run be harmed by what they ask.” 

Be Calm In Thy Soul

by Tom Wacaster

Bobby Key once wrote the following:  “Most of us visualize our days surrounded by a tight circle of problems, annoyances, and responsibilities which are fast closing in upon us.  Each day finds us with a dozen problems to solve, a dozen appointments to keep, and a dozen decisions to make. This is not a true picture of our lives. No matter how busy our days or how crowded our schedule, we live our lives one moment at a time.  We solve our problems one at a time. Our appointments are kept one at a time.  It is only when we view them all at one time that we feel emotionally drained" (Bobby Key, Four State Gospel News, 6-93, page 2).  I can relate to that, can’t you?  Most of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves pressed from various sides, our schedules full, and our days literally crammed with so much activity that we scarcely have time to turn around.   As hard as we try to avoid it, we find ourselves anxious about a number of things, and peace of mind and heart allude us.  Or, as one author put it:

I have joined the new ‘Don’t Worry’ Club
And now I hold my breath!
I’m so afraid that I will worry,
That I’m worried almost to death!

We long for escape from our anxieties, do we not?   We long for calmness of soul, heart and mind.   There are some who seem to radiate serenity.  Their lives manifest an attitude which we all long to possess.  It seems like they seldom have any problems at all, and when they do face an occasional crisis, it flows past them like water over a duck's back.  Well, at least that what it looks like from  our perspective.   But sometimes appearances can be deceiving.   Asaph tells us (Psalms 73) that even the wicked may appear to possess peace of mind.  “When I saw the prosperity of the wicked...there are no bands in their death...they are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men….Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish” (Psa 73: vss. 3-5). 

Then, there are those who fit the profile described by another Psalmist:  "They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.  They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end" (Psalms 107:26-27).   I have come across individuals who are so “tied up in knots” that they make me nervous just to be around them.   We used to call such folks “worry warts”; though I admit I do not know where the term comes from.  Worry is what Mac Layton calls “sadness with pessimism.”  Layton then makes this observation:

It is thinking that things will persist and not get better. It is rooted in a behavioral choice that says the world is bad, defeat is certain, and the future is hopeless.  Anxiety borrows trouble; depression withdraws; it constantly maximizes the bad and minimizes the good.

Some years ago I came across a Peanuts Cartoon. Lucy, the eternal optimist, told Charlie Brown, “I have a cure for anything for just one nickel.”   Charlie Brown, the eternal pessimist says, “Do you mean you can cure deep down, black bottom of the well, no hope in the world loneliness?”  And Lucy replies, “For one nickel!”  

Does Charlie Brown’s diagnosis describe you?   Fortunately we don’t have to endure such negativity!   Since Jesus told the disciples that worry is actually a byproduct of a lack of faith, it seems obvious that anxiety is a consequence of poor choices and negative thinking.  

Now lets flip the proverbial coin to the other side.   Do you long for the peace that passeth all understanding?   It is a fact that our God promised us peace, such that the world has never known, nor will it ever know.  In fact, the whole of God's word points to a life that is "life indeed."    Some years ago I filed the following comment away for later use: "The lake must be calm if the heavens are to be reflected on its surface."   Our purpose in this life is to "reflect" the glory of Christ (cf. Matthew 5:16, 2 Corinthians 3:18).  If we are not letting the image of our Lord shine in our lives, perhaps there is a need for a calming of the troubled soul within.  With these thoughts before us, may we suggest the following:    

First, begin every morning with some quiet time with the Lord and His word.  I try to arrive at the office early enough to spend some time reading from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.   I look for something in those passages that might help me to have a better day;  to help me face the temptations that might come my way.  

Second, follow the Biblical admonition to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  When things go sour at work , or during the early morning traffic rush, pause for a word with God.  It does not have to be long; only earnest; and you don’t have to close your eyes or prostrate yourself to be heard.  In fact, if you are driving I would hope you would not attempt to do either; it might only tend to increase your worries!

Third, cut down on your television, video games, and browsing the internet.  You might also try cutting back on the nightly news and the daily talk radio programs.    I am not suggesting that any of these things are bad; they just tend to turn your thinking to things negative and pessimistic.  Instead, take time to fill your mind with things that are "pure, lovely, of good report"  (Philippians 4:8).  There is entirely too much pessimism and "crisis" level information that comes through the public media. 

Fourth, count your blessings.  After spending some 18 months in South Africa, and working for the same amount of time traveling back and forth to Ukraine, I can assure you that we are a blessed people, materially speaking.   After a half dozen years traveling to Ethiopia, India, Nepal and Russia, my conclusion has only been strengthened.  Putting that aside, most of us would admit that beyond the physical, we have eternal "riches" in Christ.  The physical things with which we surround ourselves are nothing compared to those spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ.  Brethren, the child of God is on his way to heaven.  Let us rejoice in that truth, and allow it to calm our minds and our hearts in the here and now.   Let me close with the words of the Psalmist.  "Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distress.  He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still"  (Psalms 107:28-29).