On A Hill Far Away

by Tom Wacaster
What is it about the cross of Christ that draws men to Jesus? Surely it is not the fact that it was some instrument of death, for other means of execution remain to this day as symbols of only infamy and disgrace. Who has ever written a song about the electric chair, or what poet has ever glorified the gas chamber or the hangman's noose? But let men erect a cross in their yard, or display it upon a billboard, and immediately the attention of those who see that cross is drawn to one figure in history Who made that cruel instrument famous. Let someone display an electric chair in the front of their yard and the onlooker might wonder why such a display. But his attention would not be drawn to any particular figure in history. But let a man put a cross in his yard and immediately those who pass by think of Christ and Christianity. Even as I write these lines the ACLU in cooperation with liberal judges have succeeded in removing the cross from a Veterans cemetery in the state of California for no other reason than the fact that it is in the shape of a cross. From the fields of Arlington Memorial Cemetery in Washington, D.C., to the beaches of Normandy, and around the world, grave yards have been graced with small crosses at the head of each tomb declaring the hope that men have in a resurrection - a resurrection found only in Christ, and made possible because of His death upon the cross. Oh yes, "On a hill far away, Stood and old rugged cross, The emblem of suffering and shame..." For 2,000 years the cross of Christ has cast its beacon of hope across the tumultuous sea of human misery and sin, and the message of the gospel is so closely associated with that cross that to speak of the one is to bring to mind the other. It has been nine centuries since Abbot Rupert wrote the following tribute to the cross of Christ: "We venerate the cross as a safeguard of faith, as the strengthening of hope and the throne of love. It is the sign of mercy, the proof of forgiveness, the vehicle of grace and the banner of peace. We venerate the cross, because it has broken down our pride, shattered our envy, redeemed our sin and atoned for our punishment. The cross of Christ is the door to heaven, the key to paradise, the downfall of the devil, the uplifting of mankind, the consolation of our imprisonment, the prize for our freedom. The cross was the hope of the patriarchs, the promise of the prophets, the triumph of kings and the ministry of priests. Tyrants are convicted by the cross and the mighty ones defeated, it lifts up the miserable and honors the poor. The cross is the end of darkness, the spreading of light, the flight of death, the ship of life and the kingdom of salvation" (http://www.rc.net/wcc/throne1.htm). Dear friend, that cross, and all that it stands for demands some kind of response. Men can ignore it, ridicule it, mock it, and seek to eliminate its presence, but in so doing they stumble over the One Who Himself said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself" (John 12:32). It has been more than twenty years since Lois Cheney wrote the following lines:

I once saw a cross so big, it was as high as the church inn front of which it stood. It was made of railroad steel, and it was very dramatic, and I was moved, and I was impressed, as I walked by and away from it.

I once saw a cross so lovely. It was a work of art, carved and polished. It was made to look both strong and delicate. And I was moved, and I was impressed, as I walked by and away from it.

There once was a cross not so high; not so lovely. It was not a work of art. Rough, full of splinters, uneven, unsymmetrical. Its simple mystery unfathomable. And I cannot walk by it, and I cannot walk away from it.

Are You Faithful?

 by Bobby Dockery

In his book, Among The Missing, Robert Nash tells the remarkable story of Anna N. Fellows. One day in 1879 her husband came home from a work to discover that she had left him without word. For 20 years there was no trace of Anna. Then one day her husband came home to find her in the kitchen fixing supper, as if she had never been gone. She refused to explain where she had been, and somehow they settled down to try to revive their home life. But after 3 years Anna left again -- this time she never returned. None would ever think of using the word "faithful" to discribe her behavior. Obviously- her husband got far less of her loyalty than he had a right to expect. But this is the way many people treat God! They disappear and reappear in their service to Him whenever it suits them -- They vanish from the worship of the church for weeks on end then come back and sing, "Oh How I Love Jesus, " as if they really meant it! Faithfulness means grvmg our Lord the preeminence, the precedence, the priority in all things! He expects and has a right to expect no less!

The Word Is Not Bound

by Tom Wacaster

Through the centuries skeptics have attempted to destroy or severely restrict the word of God. Jehoiakim took his penknife, cut the pages of God’s word, and cast them into the fire. When Antiochus Epiphanes became ruler in Syria in 175 B.C. he destroyed the temple, sold the people of Israel into slavery, and went about doing all within his power to do away with the sacred writings of the Jews. Emperor Diocletian decreed death for any person who owned a copy of the Bible. After two years he boasted that he had “completely exterminated the Christian writings from the face of the earth.” But when Constantine came to the throne and desired copies of the Bible be brought to him, within twenty-five hours fifty copies of God’s word were offered to the Emperor. Voltaire, the notorious French infidel, boasted that within one hundred years the Bible would be no more. It would not be long before the very press that printed the blasphemous prediction was used to print Bibles and the house in which he lived was later used by the Geneva Bible Society to store and distribute Bibles. Robert Ingersoll, famed American atheist of the 1800’s once held a Bible in his hand and boasted, “In fifteen years I will have this book in the morgue.” Within fifteen years Ingersoll was in the morgue, but the word of God lives on! Even today the atheist community is predicting that before this century comes to a close the Bible will be eradicated from the world.

Paul wrote these words to Timothy: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel: wherein I suffer hardship unto bonds, as a malefactor; but the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim. 2:8-9). Though men have for ages sought to bind the word of God, inspiration tells us that at the time of Paul the word was not bound, and history has attested to the eternal truth of those words. The simple fact is, men will never successfully bind the word of God. They may, from time to time succeed in keeping it out of the public’s sight and/or sound. But it cannot be silenced! I suggest to you the following reasons.

First, the word cannot be bound because you cannot rob it of its power. Paul declared in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” There is power in the word of God that cannot be eradicated, eliminated or expunged. The parable of the sower is recorded in Matthew 13:1-9 and Luke 8:4-8. In making application the Lord said that the “seed is the word of God” (Lk. 8:11). A seed may sit on a shelf or in a package for centuries, but once it is planted, it will produce life. It has been three decades since the Associated Press reported that some archaeologist discovered some remnants of fruits and nuts in their exploration of a Han Dynasty tomb, which dates back to the first century A.D. Seeds discovered in some of the pottery was taken and planted and it produced tomatoes. Such is the power of a seed; and such is the power of the Gospel.

Second, the word cannot be bound because you cannot restrict its preaching. In 1992 I had the opportunity to travel to the former Soviet Union. There were four Americans and one Ukrainian brother who labored for thirteen days in Barnaul. After completing that work we traveled overnight by train to Omsk. Our Ukrainian brother shared the compartment next to myself with a Russian soldier traveling to the same destination. When it came time to turn out the lights and bed down for the night’s journey to Omsk, I could hear brother Kalashnikov preaching to that soldier; I knew he was preaching to him because I could recognize certain words that are similar in both English and Russian. The next morning I asked brother Kalashnikov if he was preaching to his room mate, and he said “yes.” “Did he listen?” I asked. To which brother Kalashnikov replied, “What choice did he have?” Men may make it illegal to preach publically or at some open air meeting; but they cannot control what goes on the privacy of one’s home or with an acquaintance with whom we might have casual conversation. The word of God went forth in the first century with great success in spite of every effort on the part of Rome to stop the preaching. So it was then; so it will be in every generation.

Finally, the word cannot be bound because you cannot retard its progress. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah our Father said long ago: “For as the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Some years ago I came across a very interesting story. A lady of a congregation in Arkansas had sent a copy of a World Bible School lesson to a student in Africa. It was found in the roadway by another person, who then searched for the church of Christ in his village. He was baptized two days later. What makes the story amazing is the fact that the lesson was mailed seven years before it was found. Time did not retard the progress of the word, and it eventually found its way into the presence and then into heart of the precious soul who was desirous of learning the truth. The same point was illustrated in the following true story which was related to me almost forty years ago. Someone was evidently handed a tract about the Lord’s church; but he or she, for some unknown reason, threw the tract into the waste basket and it eventually ended up on the curb waiting for the garbage man to carry it away. When the garbage man picked up the container (that was in the days when such was still done manually) the tract fell out on the ground. The garbage man picked up the tract, put it in his pocket, later read it, and eventually contacted a church of Christ, leading to his obedience to the gospel. The reason I know the story was true is that it was told me by the garbage collector himself. Happenstance? Coincidence? I prefer to attribute it to divine providence. Such is the power of the progress of the Gospel.

When Paul wrote those beautiful words to Timothy he set forth an eternal truth that gives comfort and consolation to those seeking to carry the gospel to a lost and dying world. As you carry that word to others, rest assured that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.


by Tom Wacaster

Ralph Nadar is credited with saying, “I don’t think meals have any business being deductible. I’m for separation of calories and corporations.” In a humorous way Mr. Nadar captured the essence of this word “separation.” Unfortunately, were someone to declare, “I’m separated,” most folks, were the person married, would immediately think of being separated from one’s spouse. It may be that our culture of easy marriage and divorce has contributed to this being the most common use of the word “separated.”

The “on line Bing dictionary” defines “separated” as: “(1) living apart while married: no longer living together as a couple but still legally married; (2) positioned apart: moved apart so as not to be touching or connected, not together, or not in the same place; (3) divided: split into component parts.” It is the second of these definitions that best represents the subject matter of this week’s article. The Bible enjoins upon every child of God the sacred responsibility to “come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17a). That obligation is expressed in a number of ways throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments alike. “Put away,” “put to death,” “repent,” and “be converted” are but a few of the expressions used by inspired writers to communicate this sacred obligation. In addition words such as “holy,” “saint,” “sanctified” all express the state or status of being separated. Using 1 Peter 2 as a backdrop, let me suggest to you some truths relative to our being “separated” from the world.

First, our separation from the world is one of sacred duty. “Put away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speaking” (2:1). Peter does not set forth an exhaustive list of all that is involved in our separation from the world. In much the same way Paul lists the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21. Both of these passages are representative of those things from which we are to separate ourselves. But in both cases, the responsibility lies with the individual. Sin will not be eradicated by some divine infusion of strength and resistance to temptation, but by a self determination to do the will of God.

Second, we enjoy a special status with God. We are “newborn babes” and as such are expected to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. Spiritual growth is the product of time, opportunity, and effort all combined to produce the desired result. While Peter does not address the time aspect here, the writer to the Hebrews did: “For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teacher” (Heb. 5:12). Moses is a good example of groth and maturity over a long span of time. When Moses fled Egypt and came to the land of Midian you recall he encountered some ruffians at the well where the daughters of the priest of Midian had come to draw water. After Moses drove off this gang of shepherds and watered the flocks of the women, the young women told their father that Moses was an “Egyptian” (Ex. 2:19). But forty years later, when Moses returned to Egypt to deliver God’s people he was no longer looked upon as an Egyptian, but a Hebrew.

Third, we feed upon spiritual milk in order to grow thereby. That spiritual milk is “without guile” and provides the means by which we “grow thereby unto salvation.” Paul rebuked the Corinthians for needing to be fed with “milk” and not “meat” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Were Paul and Peter contradicting one another? There is no disagreement between the two apostles. One of the key words throughout the epistles of Peter is that of growth. In the passage before us he was evidently looking at the Christian journey of his audience from the standpoint of the beginning of that journey; as babes, rather than full grown men. Whereas Paul was looking at the church at Corinth as those acting like babes when they should have been mature.

Fourth, we enjoy a solid foundation. The church was built upon the Christ, not men; a rock, not a pebble (Matt. 16:16-18). In 1 Peter 2:4-8 we see the stone described and the stone discarded. The description of our Rock of Ages is set forth in words that exude strength and power. Our Lord is a “living stone,” pointing no doubt to His resurrection and reign. But He is also “precious.” The word “precious” translates the Greek word ‘entimos’ which means “honored” or “prized.” Peter sets forth a contrast between what men might do with Christ, and what God has done through Him. God contradicted man’s verdict, declared Jesus as the Christ by raising Him from the dead and exalting Him. We sometimes say, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” While the world may say there is “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isa. 53:2), our Father pronounced Him as “precious” and “chosen.” The story is told that Michelangelo came across a discarded piece of marble. It had been ruined by some other sculptor and thrown into the scrap heap for some other use. But Michelangelo looked it over, and saw in it his David. He purchased it and turned it into one of his masterpieces.

Fifth, we are a part of a spiritual house. In fact, we are “living stones.” Here Peter identifies the church as something other than the physical edifice which might appear on some street corner. The church is made up of the people. As a house (2 Tim. 3:15), we are the dwelling place of God Himself, and Peter’s words suggest the wonderful fellowship we have with the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Sixth, we are described by special terms. “An elect race,” “royal priesthood,” “holy nation,” and “a people for God’s own possession” all suggest distinction from the world. In this wonderful description of God’s people we catch a glimpse of what we are (vs. 9), what we do (“show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”), and what we receive (“who in times past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy”).

Separation! We are separated from the world, separated unto God, and we look forward to an eternal separation from the physical to the spiritual. That, beloved, will be a wonderful day! There are only twenty seven days left in 2013. The year has literally flown, and I find myself, once again, looking into the new year in anticipation of the subject matter for my sermons. I generally try to do a series of lessons during the Sunday afternoon worship based on some particular theme or passage. When I completed my series on the Beatitudes, a few of you said you would enjoy a series on the Sermon on the Mount. I have no doubt that we could consume a full year of sermons in our evening services on that wonderful sermon delivered by our Lord. A second option is to do a series on the miracles of Jesus wherein we would do a survey of His mighty works and draw important lessons therefrom. A third choice that I am contemplating is a survey of the Old Testament wherein Sunday night’s lessons would be taken from some passage in that portion of the annual reading schedule assigned for that week. For example, if the assignment is in the book of Leviticus, I might do a survey of the book, or take some select or significant passages and develop a lesson on the same. Give me your input and let me know what you think. If no suggestions, I’ll choose which of these three areas I want to focus on in 2014.

The Proliferation of Religion

By Tom Wacaster

When I was growing up I was blessed to sit at the feet of good and godly men who taught our Sunday morning high school class, Wednesday evening class, and an occasional but regular mens' training class.  It was during those six or seven years that I developed a desire to preach, a burning within my soul that would come to fruition immediately following my discharge from military service in 1970.   There were a half dozen young men who attended those classes at the Urbandale church of Christ in Dallas, and  each of us were blessed beyond measure from the training we received that would eventually lead to many of us being active teachers, preachers, and leaders in the Lord’s church.  While this is not the thrust of this week’s article I must pause and remind all of us that the classes at the local congregational level have a great influence upon those who sit at our feet. I doubt that those men who taught our classes at Urbandale had any idea what influence they would have on us  young boys who barely had a handle on life itself.  But I digress, and must get back to the intent of this article.  

I guess it was during those teen years that I began to grasp the magnitude of religious division, both in number and in the degrees of error embraced by the various denominations.  The number of religious divisions within so-called “Christendom” was astonishing.  The common number selected as a total of religious divisions was 250; but even then I suspected there may have been more.  Little did I imagine that within my life time that number would grow; in fact it would multiply many times over.   Investigation by the inquiring individual will reveal that the number of denominations in America now numbers into the thousands, and one figure being bandied about is in excess of 10,000.  How has this come about?   Why is it that people living in a country that has such deep roots in the Bible seem to care less about  such division?  The division in “Christendom” is bad enough.  Lets add to that the infiltration of eastern religions, pantheism, humanism, agnosticism, and dozens of other “isms,” and the religious landscape in our country is more like the idolatrous situation that existed in Athens when Paul arrived into that city than what we might think characterizes a nation that has its roots in Christianity.  Bobbly Liddell made this astute observation: 

One reason that current religions are where they are today is because many of their participants are the product of an educational system that has produced a generation (or two) of graduates who have been heavily influenced by atheistic Humanism and the false ideas of organic evolution, into thinking that there is no God and that truth is only relative, situational, and subjective...Bibles are looked upon as out of date oddities and are dusty and  hidden from view, even in the homes of religious people.  Knowledge of the Bible, that should have been learned at home, is woefully deficient, or entirely absent, and wolves in sheep’s clothing prey upon the biblically ignorant, spiritually weak, and defenseless.  We have jumped off the cultural cliff and are falling headlong into the abyss of immorality.  Yet every day the media assures us that there is a ‘new normal,’ far removed from the antiquated beliefs upon which our country was founded.  Modern America boasts of its tolerance and progressive enlightenment, yet silences God, forbidding mention of His name and His Word and public prayer to Him, and vilifies those who cry out against the sins of a country our President proclaimed is “no longer a Christian nation” (Spiritual Sword, In Times Like These, page 168). 

Some years ago I gave thought to keeping a tablet in my automobile and every time I passed one of those new independent churches that has put some attention getting name on their building, that I would add that to the list.  I never started that list and have on many occasions regretted not having done so.   A quick search on the internet lists an amazing array of churches in our city. Just to name a few of the denominations:  Anglican churches (2); Apostolic churches (7); Bible churches (18); Evangelical churches (11); Pentecostals (20); and Other churches (63).  Other names include, but are not limited to “Calvary Cathedral,” “Morningside Episcopal,” “Celebration Fellowship,” “Gospel Kingdom Church,” “Beautiful Feet Church,” “Victory Outreach,” “Harvest Assembly,” “Journey Church,” “Seeking God First Church,” “Greater Progressive Church,” “Great Prayer Tower Holiness Church,” “Love Sanctuary,” “Pilgrim Rest Church,” “John 316 Temple,” and “Denny’s Friends.”  It is enough to discourage even the most stout hearted in a search for some kind of stability and standard in matters of religion.

Most, if not all of the mainline Protestant denominations grew out of a background of deep seated belief in a particular theological system.  Though wrong in doctrine, those who came to the New World to seek freedom to practice their religious beliefs maintained a strong belief in the Bible and a sincere reverence for things spiritual in general and worship in particular.  But somewhere in the mid to late 1800’s reverence for God and a desire to pay homage to the Almighty began to give way to a self centered religion.  In the mid nineteenth century the frontier “revival” form of worship started to take on a “circus atmosphere,” and the main function of the public assembly shifted from an occasion for worshipping God to a focus on bringing in the “converts” and increasing the numbers.  John McArthur noted that these churches “were not trying to hit at the core of biblical faith; they were simply trying to make Christianity more palatable to a cynical world.”  Even the late and illustrious Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon sounded the warning of a shift away from a Biblical foundation to a “feel good” approach to religion.  His cries went unheeded.  What we are witnessing today in this mass proliferation of religions is the result of that trend which began in the late 1800’s and accelerated toward the end of the 20th century. Today identification with any particular religious body is not based so much on doctrine as it is on what that church can do for the individual.   If a church does not meet the self-centered demands of any particular member, that member simply starts another church, with a different name, and some kind of unique, catchy title, or some bizarre practice (moral or spiritual) that satisfies their immoral penchant or twisted way of thinking.  A good case in point came to my attention last week when I was directed to a web page featuring yet another church called “Beer And Hymns.”  It is a spin off of the First Christian Church in Portland, Oregon.  The author of this little tidbit of information described this new “church” thus:  “With mainline religious congregations dwindling across America, a scattering of churches is trying to attract new members by creating a different sort of Christian community. They are gathering around craft beer.  Some church groups are brewing it themselves, while others bring the Holy Mysteries to a taproom.  The result is not sloshed congregants; rather, it’s an exploratory approach to do church differently.”  The “pastor” of this church, Amy Piatt, believes that church is going to be “something different” and what it is to be “we are still finding out...But it’s lovely, God is still there, and that’s what’s most important.”  

Sensible, Bible loving seekers of truth recognize immediately that the above approach to “do church” is so far removed from the teachings of the Bible that we scratch our heads in utter astonishment.   But the “Beer and Hymns” church is a good example of how pragmatism, humanism, postmodernism, and will worship have contributed to a trend in which every man becomes a law unto himself, and the final outcome can be more proliferation of religion; all in the name of religion.  How sad!

An Astonishing Choice

by Tom Wacaster
"Now at the feast the governor was wont to release unto the multitude one prisoner, whom they would.  And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. When therefore they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matt. 27:15-17).  I don't know where the "custom" originated that allowed the Jews to select some prisoner for release, but likely it had to do with Rome's attempt to appease the Jews by granting liberty to some political prisoner.  After all, Israel was almost at constant odds with Rome politically.  Little did Pilate imagine that this Jewish mob would, when given the choice, prefer a cold-blooded killer over a man Who went about doing good, and against Whom no charge of wrong could be levied.  Oh yes, Barabbas was a "notable" prisoner.  No doubt a seditionist, a zealot who hated Rome and Rome's occupation of the Promised Land.  Somewhere in the recesses of the not-too-distant past this man had taken someone's life.  Arrested, tried, and convicted he was confined to a prison in Jerusalem to await his execution by crucifixion.  Here was a murderer, a seditionist, deserving of the death that awaited him along with the two thieves who would eventually be crucified with Christ.  Little did Barabbas imagine that in the early hours of the very day of his scheduled execution he would be granted not only a stay of execution, but a full release from prison.  In an attempt to appease the angry mob,  Pilate offered the Jews a choice.  Knowing the Jews had delivered up Jesus out of jealousy, he asked, "Who shall I release to you?  Jesus, or Barabbas."   It is rather ironic that the name "Barabbas" means "son of father" ("Bar" meaning "son of," and "abba" meaning "father").  That dark night in Jerusalem, Israel was given the choice between two men as to whom they would accept, and whom they would reject. Jesus was the Son of the Father of all men; Barabbas the son of some unnamed man.  Was Barabbas' earthly father still alive?  Did he live in Jerusalem?  Was he aware of the fate of his son, and the turn of events that would set this man free?  No information is provided.  But this we know about the "father" of each of these men.  The father of one, if alive, or even aware of his son's life, must have hung his head in shame.  The Father of the Other was "well pleased" with the love and obedience demonstrated by His short thirty-three year earthly tenor.   

The governor must have been shocked to hear that the people preferred this vile, wicked murderer to Jesus.   But that is the choice they made.  And their choice echoes through the halls of history revealing the extreme to which men will go when they are determined to rid their lives of Jesus.   The atheist selects Barabbas over Jesus when he rejects the abundant evidence of the existence of God and deity of Jesus.  He plays the fool (Psa. 14:1) and willfully closes his eyes to the abundant "proofs" that declare the glory of God and shows His wonderful handiwork (Psa. 19:1).  In exchange he offers nothing to the world but a bleak outlook on life and an eternity filled with hopeless non existence.  The profligate likewise selects Barabbas over Jesus when he follows in the footsteps of that notorious criminal who had little respect for life and no respect for authority.  The unethical abortionist, unloving mother, and uncaring society select Barabbas over Jesus every time a baby is torn from his mother's womb.  The homosexual selects Barabbas over Jesus for an unholy, perverted life style.  The religious leaders and foolish followers who perpetrate, perpetuate, or participate in religious error have selected Barabbas over Jesus.  The child of God that turns back to the filth of the world has made a bad choice.  Every lukewarm, indifferent, undedicated, uncommitted child of God who allow pleasure to come between them and their God, have selected Barabbas over Jesus.  Cowardly elders who choose to appease rebellious members rather than have the whole counsel of God preached, have likewise selected Barabbas over Jesus. 

Yes, the choice those Jews made on that fateful day has been repeated by untold millions.  When men choose a person, philosophy or policy over Christ, have they not called for the release of Barabbas over the Christ?  "Not this man, but Barabbas!"  Whether in person, principle, or way of life, when men choose to "crucify" Christ afresh they are asking for Barabbas over Christ.   Every time someone rejects the authority of Christ for tradition, family religion, or a moral life style contrary to the teaching of the New Testament, they have asked for Barabbas over Jesus.  When we turn away from Christ and give in to anger, selfishness, envy, jealousy, hatred, evil speaking, we have chosen Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Dear friend, what choice will you make? Barabbas or Jesus?

Our Society's Double Standard

by Tom Wacaster

Those guided by an absolute standard of right and wrong have no problem being consistent when it comes to life's decisions and/or personal convictions.   Sane folks recognize the double standard that is presently in place in our society, whether you call it “political correctness,” “apathy” or “abject indifference.”  We marvel at the ability of politicians to lie through their proverbial “teeth” while looking straight into the camera or leaning ever closer to the microphone and telling us that they are telling the truth.  It has been more than three decades since a former President of the United States was accused, but never convicted, of perjury.  In the heat of that political scandal during the mid 90’s, after it became obvious that the President had lied on that (and a number of other occasions) someone made the following observation:  “We all know the Clintons lie. What bothers me is that they do it with such ease.” Solomon concluded there is “nothing new under the sun,” and two decades later political figures in high places have openly, blatantly, and seemingly without any concern for moral integrity, lied to the American public, all the while denying they have done such.    This past week an effort was made to defend the bold and brazen lying of the man who now sits in the Oval Office and occupies the highest office in our land.  The excuse? “It isn't a lie if you did not intend to keep the promise.”  Reminds me of another President who once said, “Yes, I smoked marijuana but I didn’t inhale!”   Say what?   You mean to tell me that if you make a promise but have no intention of keeping the promise that it is not lying?  What sort of rationale is that?  To put it another way, a person could intentionally tell a lie and it is not a lie.   The same kind of insanity ruled in Israel during the days of Isaiah when good was called evil, and evil good.   There is so much inconsistency in Washington and on the public airways that one wonders if some alien has come to this world and captured and carried logic and reason off to some remote planet!   Let me share with you some tidbits of information from the not-too-distant past that illustrate the inconsistencies of the world in which we live:

First, some years ago front page headlines, editorials, emails and blogs focused their attention on the selection of Sonia Sotomayor by Barack Obama for the Supreme Court nominee.  In a news conference the President stated that the Sotomayor reflects his “philosophy” of the U.S. Constitution.   However, during his campaign for the office of President, when asked what criteria he would use in selecting someone to the bench on the highest court in our land, he assured the voters that he would appoint only those who reflected a “proper judicial understanding” of the U.S. Constitution, and would not under any circumstances appoint judges who would legislate from the bench.   His was an attempt to calm the fears of those “moderates” who might not vote for him had he told the truth about his position on intended selection and appointment of Supreme Court judges.  Well, we now know exactly what his “philosophy” of the Constitution means.  But what bothers me is how he could lie to the American people while “thinking” he was telling the truth. 

Second, in the Dallas morning news of June 1, 2009, a front page article read as follows:  “Abortion doctor is slain at church.” George Tiller, a member of the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, was shot and killed shortly after services had ended the morning before.   Tiller was well known as one of the few doctors who performed abortions late in pregnancy.   I want you to read the closing paragraph as it appeared in that Dallas Morning News article:  “Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the slaying would ‘send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers’ offering abortion to American women” (Dallas Morning News, June 1, 2009, page 9A).   Does this not seem a little inconsistent to you?  Here is a spokeswoman for pro-abortionists who looks upon an abortionist, and particularly Dr. Tillman who was willing to kill babies in the womb, as being a “brave and courageous” person?   Since when is it a “brave” and “courageous” thing to kill babies in the womb?   While we do not condone the murder of George Tillman, it amazes us that pro-abortionists cannot see the double standard here.  

Finally, there is the entire incident surrounding the intended, yet still unaccomplished closing of Guantanamo detention center in the name of human rights.  Our President has expressed his belief that the treatment of terrorist detainees was indeed “torture” and that America will not be involved in torture.  Well excuse me, Mr. President, but did you not, when serving as a Senator, refuse to sign a measure that would have stopped the torture of babies who happened to be fortunate enough to survive the abortion attempt on the part of their unloving mothers and murderous doctors?  In fact, were you not the only Senator who refused to sign that bill?  Did you not affirm that you would be in favor of allowing an infant who happened to live through an abortion attempt to be deprived of food and medical care to save its life?  If that is not “torture” then perhaps I need to go back to school and become enlightened by the same radical and liberal philosophy that you hold toward life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!   Seems to me there is a double standard being used by he who holds the highest office in the land and upheld by the liberal constituents in Washington.

The point of this article is to bear upon the minds of our readers that there is obviously a double standard that guides the thinking of those who have rejected God, the Bible, and everything that is holy and right.  The further a person, or group of people, drifts from God, the worse that double standard becomes.  The glaring inconsistencies of many of our politicians, social reformers, and common man on the street does not surprise us; but it still saddens us.   The wide chasm that exists between the “absolute” and “all-sufficient” standard, i.e. the word of God, and the complete lack of a moral guide by so many in our sin-sick society, whether in Washington or on Main Street USA, ought to be enough to wake us up to the tragedy that awaits us - a tragedy that lurks just around the corner.   Personally, I am glad that I can wake up each morning with the full realization that I have a divine standard that guides me and instructs me in things pertaining to life and godliness.  The absence of such an absolute standard in the life of an individual leaves him no better off than a boat without a compass or rudder, while steaming full speed ahead into the darkness of immorality and the void of a mindless and purposeless existence.  

A Nation Awash In Immorality

by Tom Wacaster

My daily morning routine between about 6:30 and 8:00 includes a walk on the treadmill, precious time in reading God's word, and a quick glance at the Dallas Morning News [at least when I stick with my routine, and not necessarily in that order]. Those three activities provide strength for the physical man, strength for the spiritual man, and mental stimulation for making an occasional comment to our subscribers regarding various challenges we face each day. Occasionally I will tune in to FOX news to get that "fair and balanced" report of the news, or run up the internet and check Yahoo news for what has happened in the world while I was sleeping. I have learned from experience that it is indeed true that "there is nothing new under the sun," and today's news is a rehash of yesterday's news as well as a glimpse at what might very well happen tomorrow. In fact, you can take just about any item that makes the newspaper headlines, evening TV news, or the "world wide web" of news, change the names and places, and predict what will be in the next day's paper or television news report. It has been six years since we moved away from Harris county [home of Houston, Humble, Baytown, Sugarland, et al]. Each year, somewhere around January, Harris county would report the number of homicides for the previous year. In 1997, give or take a year [the memory is not what it used to be], Harris county issued a nine month report on homicides for the simple reason that killings for that year had exceeded all previous year totals for twelve months. By late September homicides had exceeded 750, and it was predicted that before year's end they would surpass 900 [if I remember correctly, the year closed out with a record number of homicides, the number exceeding the 900 count]. That means Harris county averaged more than two homicides PER DAY [or seventeen per week, and seventy five per month].

Having moved to beautiful East Texas the "local" news is not necessarily what might be happening in Talco, or Mt. Pleasant, or even Clarksville or Paris. Cable news stations carry at least one Dallas News station, and one Shreveport, Louisiana station. The local newspaper stands carry the small local papers, containing 90% advertisements, and a few items of news that might be of interest to those who have lived most of their life in these small town communities. Beside the local newspaper vendors one can pick up a copy of the Dallas Morning News. Here are some of the headlines from the front page of that paper [or inside section "A" - that is the section that contains world news, Dallas community news, and some national news]: "Song blamed for shootings"; "DISD credit card theft"; "Doctors accused of intentionally killing Katrina victims"; "Lottery firm under suspicion"; "Dallas Cowboy injured in freeway shooting." Now, what does all that have to do with God, man, salvation, the church, or life in general? It is this - a nation cannot long endure when its citizenry has become so immoral that the nation is characterized by that immorality rather than moral uprightness. The inspired writer put it this way: "Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people" (Pro. 14:34). When this nation was founded it was the intention of our forefathers that this grand Republic maintain allegiance to God first and foremost. They did not envision a "secular" state where God is excluded from the laws and thinking of society. James Madison is credited with these words: "We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for selfgovernment; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God." The fact is, dear reader, that our nation is literally awash in immorality. This past week the headlines in the Dallas Morning News brought those "major stories" to our attention. But what of the hundreds, yea even thousands of "stories" that go untold. They are reflected in statistics regarding child abuse, broken homes, petty theft and embezzlement, dishonesty in the work place, cheating in the classroom, gang initiations, and white collar crime. And what more shall we say, for the time will fail us if w e speak of Hollywood, TV programs, pornography, gambling, homosexuality, and political powers that want to remove God from every vestige of our daily life. Oh yes, our nation is awash in immorality. Tragically, we have become too blind to realize this undeniable truth.

It has been more than half a dozen decades since McGuffey's Reader was a regular textbook in our public school system. William McGuffey was not just an educator; he was a man of integrity and moral uprightness. But he was a man of great wisdom. He once penned these words:

"If you can induce a community to doubt the genuineness and authenticity of the Scriptures, to question the reality and obligations of religion; to hesitate, undeciding, whether there be any such thing as virtue or vice; whether there be an eternal state of retribution beyond the grave; or whether there be any such being as God; you have broken down the barriers of moral virtue, and hoisted the flood gates of immorality and crime. I need not say that when a people have once done this, they can no longer exist as a tranquil and happy people…Avarice, perjury, ambition, and revenge would walk through the land, and render it more like the dwelling of savage beasts than the tranquil abode of civilized and Christianized men" (William McGuffey, quoted in Power Lectures, The Parables of Jesus, page 320).

I fear that we are rapidly becoming this "dwelling of savage beasts." Only history will tell. But the fact it, history is not on our side. General Douglas McArthur wrote:

"History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster." We stand at a cross roads in this decade. Shall we turn the tide, or shall we remain awash in immorality? Only time will tell.

Avoiding Denominational Speech Patterns

 by Hugh Fulford

In order to maintain an undenominational stance in the religious world, members of the body (church) of Christ must avoid the use of denominational language. Surrounded as we are by those who do not use a biblical vocabulary, it is easy to pick up their unbiblical terminology and/or to use biblical terminology in unbiblical ways. Consider the following expressions which we as New Testament Christians should avoid.

"I'm Church of Christ." This reflects a denominational view of the church. We are Christians, disciples of Christ, saints, brethren, members of the church, but we are not "Church of Christ" or "Church of Christ-ers"! A number of years ago a good Christian woman said to me, "I'm Church of Christ all the way!" While I appreciated her spirit of loyalty to the cause of Christ, I was appalled by her sectarian and denominational manner of expression.

Church of Christ preacher, etc. We would not refer to a gospel preacher (the proper and biblical term to use) as a "church of God preacher," a "body of Christ preacher," or a "kingdom of heaven preacher." Yet all of these phrases (and various others) are biblical descriptors of the church, and all of them refer to the same entity. To speak of "Church of Christ" ministers, schools, colleges, papers, etc. is to be guilty of using a biblical descriptor in a sectarian manner. Further, since the church does not determine the doctrine to be taught, it is not "Church of Christ" doctrine or teaching that we are to set forth, but rather the doctrine of Christ and His apostles as revealed in the New Testament. To speak of "Church of Christ" doctrine conveys the notion that we are a denomination, with our own humanly devised doctrine. Still further, since "church" and "congregation" have the same meaning, the height of redundancy is reached when one speaks of "a congregation of the Church of Christ" or "Churches of Christ congregations." It is the same as saying "a church of the Church of Christ" or "Churches of Christ churches"! When Paul had in mind several local churches/congregations, he spoke of them as churches of Christ (Romans 16:16) and churches of God (I Corinthian 11:16), but both expressions referred to the same people. The observant reader of the Scriptures will discover several other descriptors of the redeemed people of God, none of which is ever used in a sectarian sense. The church of the Bible does not have a formal, patented "name," and the effort to give it one is but a move-however unintended-in the direction of denominational status.

Reverend, Pastor. Both are biblical terms, but both are popularly used in non-biblical ways. "Reverend" applies to God, not to man. (See Psalms 111:9). "Pastor" is one of several words used in the New Testament to describe the work of an elder of a local church. In fact, three sets of words are used to describe this function: 1) Elder/Presbyter, 2) Bishop/Overseer, and 3) Pastor/Shepherd. In New Testament times, each church always had a plurality of such men, never a single "pastor." (See Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5). I have served as a minister/evangelist/preacher of a number of congregations, but I have never been a "pastor." By well-meaning people I have been called "Reverend Fulford," but I eschew the title.

"We don't believe in music in the church of Christ." On the contrary, we do believe in music in the worship of the church, but we insist on having only the kind authorized by the New Testament-vocal music, the music that is made by "singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19), the music that is made by "singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16). Loyal churches of Christ leave mechanical instrumental music exactly where God left it-in the Old Testament as a part of the Jewish religion, not in the New Testament as a part of Christian worship!

The above is not an effort to "make a mountain out of a molehill"; rather, it involves a principle that lies at the heart of our effort to be the undenominational church of the New Testament and to use terms in such a way as to convey that biblical position. The apostle Peter exhorted, "If any one speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (I Peter 4:11a). As people committed to the restoration of apostolic Christianity and to being the church that Christ established, let us heed this divine admonition. We can live in the 21st century without having to adopt denominational theology, denominational thought patterns, and denominational speech patterns.

(Note: Even the most casual reader of the New Testament knows that Jesus did not build a denomination (Matthew 16:18). The question, however, that many apparently do not want to deal with is whether people today can be members of what Christ established without being members of any denomination. It should be obvious that if there ever was a time in the past when people could become members of what Christ established without joining any denomination, then such is still possible today. But the progressives among those of us who have done so are embarrassed by the concept, are ashamed of the plea, and want to do everything within their power to move us to denominational status. They shall not pass.)

Hugh Fulford
October 22, 2013

Are There Sincere Christians In Every Denomination?

by Tom Wacaster

The title to this article derives from a statement made by a brother in Christ at a preacher’s forum in 1983.  Since that time our brother (albeit, apostate brother) has widened his circle of fellowship to embrace many of those in error.  Others now parrot this new-found doctrine, and efforts at unity with the denominations finds increasing popularity, leading eventually to participation with them in their vain worship.  All of this is done under the guise of seeking to uphold and maintain the restoration movement.  But the implications of such a position will lead a man to abandon the principle of the restoration movement rather than uphold it.  If I believed for a moment that a man could be a ‘sincere, knowledgeable, devout Christian’ and stay and work within the framework of denominationalism, I would immediately cease to preach and plead for a return to the ancient pattern.  Some have been so bold as to do this, but we think to the detriment of their soul’s salvation.   That it is possible for a man to become a Christian and then somehow become associated with a denomination, I do not deny. But for such a one to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and remain in that denomination, and then claim that somehow he is still in fellowship with God and acceptable in His sight, we deny.   Brother Alan Highers addressed this issue in a most forceful way: 

There are at least two senses in which we might expect to find Christians caught up in the errors of denominationalism. First, one might obey the gospel, become a Christian, and be faithful for a while, then apostatize, forsake the truth, and join a denomination. Second, one might study the scriptures, learn the truth, and obey the gospel, but thereafter become affiliated with denominationalism for lack of understanding about the New Testament church.  In the first case if the individual is knowledgeable about the church, he cannot be sincere in joining a denomination. In the second instance if one is sincere, he cannot be called knowledgeable.  The issue, therefore, is not whether one who is a child of God may sometimes become entangled in denominationalism, but whether he can be sincere, knowledgeable, and devout in so doing. If one is knowledgeable as a Christian, he will know that denominationalism is sin (1 Cor. 1:10). One who is sincere cannot knowingly participate in that which is sinful; therefore his knowledge would preclude his sincerity in becoming affiliated with denominationalism.  On the other hand, if one is sincere as a member of a denomination, it must be because he feels he is doing right. That sentiment, however, would signify a lack of knowledge; therefore, his sincerity in belonging to a denomination would exclude the possibility of his being knowledgeable. Consequently, if one is knowledgeable, he could not be sincere; if he is sincere, he could not be knowledgeable. In this context, the terms are mutually exclusive” (Fifth Annual Spiritual Sword Lectures, page 305).    

Sincerity is essential in one’s faith, but it is not the secret talisman that makes all things right and somehow determines what direction we should go.  The Proverb writer clearly declared, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; But the end thereof are the ways of death” (Pro. 14:12).  Saul of Tarsus was sincere, but he was wrong. 

In an effort to bolster up this new fancied doctrine, we hear of some who claim, “We are Christians only, but we are not the only Christians.”   This is not a new phrase, but we think it has been used in a new way.   It is imperative that we define the word “we.”  If by the word “we” someone is referring to the New Testament church, then one cannot scripturally declare that we are not the only Christians, for all Christians are members of that church and only that church. How could it possibly be otherwise in light of the Scriptures?   It should be clearly understood that the word “we” is being used by some of those infected with liberal tendencies to refer, not to the New Testament church, but to those Christians who have not affiliated themselves with a specific denomination.  Such individuals perceive of the church of Christ as a segment of the church rather than then church as a whole.  Their message is clear, though blatantly false:  “We (Christians who are undenominational) are not the only Christians, but we are Christians only (in the sense that we claim nothing more).    The late N.B. Hardeman declared:

I do not claim, and have never so done, that those who have taken no stand with denominations are the only Christians upon the earth; but here is the contention: Having simply believed and obeyed the gospel, we propose to be Christians only. Now, there is a wonderful difference between saying that we claim to be Christians only and that we claim to be the only Christians.  The Bible clearly predicts that the Lord’s people, some of them, will be engaged in a state of confusion; and the Lord bids his people come out of that state and just stand, if you please, as humble Christians only.  The confusion of the twentieth century is denominationalism.  There is no doubt about that (Tabernacle Sermons, Volume II, page 253).  

Another restorationist pioneer, and one time editor of the Gospel Advocate, brother F.D. Srygley, was once asked if there were Christians in the denominations. He answered: 

When there are Christians - not the best variety of Christians, to be sure, but the same sort that lengthen the lists of members on all ‘our church books’ — in saloons, on the race track, at the theater, in the ballroom, around the gambling tables, in the calaboose, behind the jail doors, in the penitentiary, and on the gallows, it should not create surprise or start a scandal if a few of the meanest specimens of them should occasionally be found temporarily in the most respectable and pious religious denominations of this degenerate age and God forsaken country.  If there are Christians ‘in all denominations,’ or in any denomination, they ought not to be there, and the sooner they get out the better (source lost).  

If it is the case that there are ‘Sincere, Knowledgeable, Devout Christians’ in every denomination, then let us ask how they got there.  They were either baptized into that denomination, in which case they were not baptized into the proper sphere.  Or, having once obeyed the Gospel, they then “joined” that denomination, a step or action that is foreign to the New Testament.   Why can men not be satisfied with the simplicity of God’s word and the beauty of His pattern?  We plead with all men to abandon man made institutions and return to the old paths, and walk therein. 

We Planted, Others Will Water

by Tom Wacaster

In years gone by, when the opportunity afforded itself, I would plant a garden in my back yard.  Between the planting of the seed, and the reaping of the crop there are certain things that I had to do, like tilling the soil, keeping the weeds out along the way, and applying water in the absence of sufficient rain.   When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he too made a distinction between the planting and the watering:  “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6).   With this year’s mission trip to India now complete, we give thanks for the opportunity to have been involved in this great work for our Lord.   It is not  uncommon for the fruits of our labor to continue to grow far beyond the work we do during these two and a half weeks work.    As long as the seed we have planted in India is properly watered by brethren living and working in that area there will continue to be fruit from our labors.  Think  with me about what is involved in spiritual watering. 

First, there is the sheer importance of watering.  God, in His marvelous design, arranged the natural order of things so that a seed planted in the ground must receive water in order to sprout and grow.   Deprive the seed, and/or the plant of water, and it will die.   So it is with God’s spiritual seed, the Word of God (Luke 8:11).   The soil may determine the amount of care required to bring the seed to full fruition.  But without water, there simply can be no growth.

Second, there are the specifics of this spiritual watering.   One important feature that will enhance the growth of the word in a good in honest heart is the example we set before others.  A good example is essential to nurturing the seed.   A good example must be provided by the teacher, as well as those who claim any association to the message of that teacher.  If brother Jones takes the time to teach some lost soul, it is imperative that he set a proper example.  Teaching coupled with action is the golden key that unlocks the vault of influence.  But it is also important that each member live a life that is exemplary to the message and hope to which they have been called.  Hypocrites in a congregation most certainly render a negative influence upon those contemplating attendance or obedience.  Yes, a good example is important.  Then there is the need for additional teaching and instruction once the seed has been planted.  Paul introduced the Corinthians to the Gospel; Apollos did the follow up work.   Seldom does a soul obey the Gospel after just one lesson (though there are exceptions).  Sometimes it takes weeks, months, or even years of encouragement and instruction.  As long as a man is willing to learn, let us provide him with the “sincere milk of the word,” and pray for his obedience. 

Third, let us realize that ‘planters’ and ‘waterers’ share in responsibility and reward.  The planting is of no greater or lesser importance than the watering.   It takes both.  The ‘planter’ may include those who visit and set up studies, conduct cottage classes, teach and preach the word publicly and/or privately.  The ‘waterer’ may follow up with encouragement, a visit or call on the phone, or a prayer in behalf of those who have heard yet not obeyed.  The ‘planters’ do their job well, and the ‘waterers’ contribute to the completion of the work, and both share in the reward.  Let us not forget,  “for as his share is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his share be that tarrieth by the baggage: they shall share alike” (1 Sam. 30:24).

Fourth, it is important that both the ‘planter’ and the ‘waterer’ be versed in the scripture.  A successful gardener must have a knowledge of gardening.  On occasions I have actually pulled out precious flower plants because I thought they were weeds.  Someone might accidentally poison a plant if he is ignorant of what chemicals are good and/or bad for the care of his garden.  And so it is with planting and watering.   In Matthew 5:16, Jesus commanded us, “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  What constitutes a “shining light”?   Is my example beneficial or detrimental to the well being of those who are watching me?  Am I using scripture properly in the exhortation and encouragement that I lend to others?  How can you be certain if you know not God’s word?  

Finally, we must share the bounty with others.    My first local work was in a farming community.  Summer’s harvest, though planted by others, was shared by the many.   It was not uncommon for us to receive so many potatoes, tomatoes, and onions that we simply could not eat it all.  Waste is wrong and one’s bounty was passed along to others.  God’s bountiful harvest is to be shared with others.  The Gospel is for all.  The Great Commission is not the Great Permission.  Those who refuse to share what they enjoy with others are guilty of selfishness.  They are like the lepers who discovered the goods in the abandoned camp of the Syrians:   “Then they said one to another, We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace: if we tarry till the morning light, punishment will overtake us; now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household” (2 Kings 7:9).   Brother, do not horde your blessings.  Give to others that they too might live. 

As we labor together may we recognize the fact that, although some are “planters,” and others are “waterers,” our goal is the salvation of the souls of men to the glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son.   One more observation before I close this article.  Seed often planted will produce a crop through more than one season.  While living in Talco, Texas we planted a garden in the plot of land next to our house.  We reaped the benefits of our labors that season, but due to increasing time away for mission trips I decided not to plant a garden the following year.  As it turned out, some of the seed planted the year before took root, grew, and produced a crop, though somewhat smaller than it might have been had I properly tilled and cared for the garden.   Still, the seed planted a year earlier continued to produce a harvest well beyond what we might have expected.  The point is this.  The seed you plant today will reap a harvest.  The good you do (or even the bad you do) may not produce a crop immediately; but it will produce a crop.  Thus we are reminded by the apostle Paul: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).