Concerning Church Bulletins

 by Tom Wacaster

I receive a large number of church bulletins each week from neighboring and distant congregations.  Some of these are by email, some by ‘snail mail’ (the United States Post Office for those who may not know the lingo).  Occasionally I will pass along to my readers an item of interest, or a well written article that is worthy of sharing with others.  I realize that a church bulletin is only an expedient means of passing information and news along to its members.  There are no “rules” for what constitutes a scriptural, or even a “good” bulletin.  But at the same time, a church bulletin can be a reflection of where a congregation places its emphasis.  One can get a pretty good picture of where a congregation is going by what appears within the pages of its church bulletin. 

Over the past 25 years I have collected a sizable number of bulletins.  I often file these away because there is some interesting quote, well written article of encouragement, or reference to someone of notable or personal interest.  It seems to me that fewer and fewer bulletins are being used as a teaching tool.  Most of what appears in some of these bulletins has to do with person-to-person activities.  Let me share just a few of the “announcements” that have appeared in some of the bulletins through the years.  “Water balloon fight for Jr. and Sr. high will be held at the home of ____ this coming Friday.”   “Annual ski trip planned for _____.”  A few years ago I received a bulletin announcing a “Spaghetti Dinner and Auction to help our leadership training for Christ students attend the convention.”  The auction was to include “arts and crafts, antiques, and specialty desserts.” Some of our brethren are falling prey to the “bake sale” mentality for raising church funds, something which is without Biblical authority, but has come into use among churches of Christ in increasing number.  Another bulletin had an ad for an upcoming youth activity featuring a “juggling act” to teach spiritual truths to the audience.  Among other events featured in some of these bulletins were the following (I’m quoting from the bulletins):  “Divorce and remarriage seminar” (sort of like closing the gate after the cow has gotten out), “financial planning seminar,” “Cooking made easy,” “Exercise and health seminar,” “craft show,” “concert for Christ,” and “mission trip to Mexico to help repaint community houses.”  One bulletin we receive each week from a local congregation consists of eight pages of “activities,” and not once in my two years at Handley have I received one of their bulletins with some kind of instructional article included.   Then there are those bulletins that contain blatantly false doctrine, announcements of fellowship with some denomination and/or joint participation in a Thanksgiving or Christmas worship service; those, of course, are either rejected outright, tossed into the trash can, or sent a letter asking that my name be taken off their mailing list.  

Admittedly, much of what is advertised in the local bulletin falls into the realm of expediency; in fact the bulletin itself is an expedient.  Being an expedient tool for teaching and informing the congregation about church activities, the sick, shut-ins, prayer lists, et al (though I would be opposed to the “dinner and auction” to raise funds for church work), how a bulletin is used is a matter of opinion and not faith.  Such is essential to good communication from the leadership of the congregation to the members. I suppose the most puzzling thing about all of this is the amount of space that is taken up with such “trivial” and unimportant events, and the relatively little amount of space given to teaching, instruction and encouragement.   I have always sought to provide something to my readers that will inform, encourage, or instruct.  It only makes sense to me that if a congregation is going to spend the amount of money and energy it takes to put together, print and mail a weekly bulletin to folks in distant places, that they would want to have something more to offer their readers than a long list of “church activities,” none of which pertains to some of those who receive their bulletin.  A well written article, whether by the local preacher or fresh from the pen of another, makes any bulletin worth taking the time to read.  There are some bulletins that it takes me less than 10 seconds to look at.  Then there are those bulletins that I look forward to getting each week because I know that more than likely they will have some article that challenges my thinking, or uplifts my spirit in a time of discouragement.  Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Perhaps the same could be said of the written word.  If what appears in the local bulletin is any indication of where the emphasis of a  congregation lies then perhaps it is later than we think.  

The Power And Providence Of God

by Tom Wacaster
The 65th Psalm is a simple but beautiful declaration of the power and providence of God.  Almost every verse draws our attention to the majestic creation about us, and the wonderful care and concern our Creator has for man.   While the thrust of the Psalm is designed to encourage men to give praise to God, there is incredible beauty in the words which the Psalmist uses to motivate men to offer that praise. Note with me some select phrases in verses 5-8 which emphasize God’s power (next week we will look at verses 9-13 that address the providence of God). 

65:5—“By terrible things thou wilt answer us in righteousness” -  The word “terrible” speaks of “awesome” things; things that astound us; things that produce awe and respect.  When God answers prayer it is not always as we might expect.  Spurgeon’s  assessment is probably correct:  “We do not always know what we are asking for when we pray; when the answer comes, the veritable answer, it is possible that we may be terrified by it.  We seek sanctification, and trial will be the reply; we ask for more faith, and more affliction is the result; we pray for the spread of the gospel, and persecution scatters us.  Nevertheless, it is good to ask on, for nothing which the Lord grants in his love can do us any harm.  Terrible things will turn out to be blessed things after all, when they come in answer to prayer” (Spurgeon).

65:6:  “Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains” - This verse alludes to the mighty power of God, such power “as if he handled with ease those vast masses of matter, with their rocks and forests” (Barnes).  The massive Grand Tetons north of Jackson, Wyoming, stand as a mighty manifestation of our God’s creative power.  Their very presence admits to the power of the One Who made it all.   On those occasions when I have visited that part of the world I stand amazed at the majesty of those mountains.  To the west lay the majestic Rocky Mountains.  Mt. Evans stands at 14,900+ feet in altitude.  To the southwest is Mt. Massive at 14,441 feet.  Further to the south is Mt. Elbert at 14,433 feet.  As you cross Freemont pass traveling west you are surrounded by the Mosquito Mountain range with peaks rising 13,000 feet, and the Collegiate Mountain range with Harvard, Princeton, and Penn Mountains, all over 14,000 feet.  All of this stands as a mighty manifestation of our God’s creative power.  Indeed, “nothing provides more evidence of the intelligence and love of God than his arrangement of the great mountain systems upon the five continents.  These mountains actually are God’s instrument for controlling the rainfall of all lands and the drainage system of the earth in its rivers” (Burton Coffman’s comments on this verse).  Only the fool would deny the great and mighty power of God.  As I think upon those majestic mountains, and the power of God manifested in their very existence, I weep when I think that those in control of the institutions of higher learning and public education in our land deny the very One Who made all this, and that the next generation may very well look at these same mountains and declare that it all happened by blind chance, giving the glory, NOT to the God of Heaven, but to the foolishness of man’s anti-God philosophies.  As Charles Spurgeon pointed out, “Philosophers of the forget-God school are too much engrossed with their laws of upheaval to think of the Upheaver.  Their theories of volcanic action and glacier action are frequently used as bolts and bars to shut the Lord out of his own world.  Our poet is of another mind, and sees God’s hand settling the Alps and Andes on their bases, and therefore he sings in his praise.”  May we be of the same mind as the Palmist, objectively observe the handiwork of our Father, and bow in praise and thanksgiving to Him Who made it all.

65:7:  Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people” - From 1966 to 1970 I served in the United States Coast Guard, and was stationed in the Pacific the first two years of my duty.  The ship aboard which I was stationed had occasion to serve on Ocean Station Victor, that body of water between Midway Island and Japan.  It was not uncommon during the winter months to witness ocean swells as high as 35 feet; sometimes even higher.  In 1966 we rode out a typhoon, and I can well remember the threatening of the mighty deep.  Our God has the power to still such a tempest, and consequently calm the fears of those threatened thereby.  “God’s control of the seas is the sole factor that makes life on the earth possible.  For example, if the moon were a hundred miles closer to the earth, the tides would roar over all lands hundreds of feet deep twice a day. Furthermore, if it were not for the great polar ice-caps, it is altogether possible that all inhabitable lands would be submerged (Coffman, 534).  Likewise, Jesus’ calming of the stormy sea of Galilee declared His deity.  But just as effectively does our God still the “tumult of the peoples.”  Unleashed and not kept in check by the Almighty, society would be mere anarchy.  If history has taught us anything it is this: when a nation turns its back on God it opens the door for social upheaval and unrest.  Nations are as difficult to keep in check as the sea, but neither is too powerful for our God to control.  Human society owes its preservation to the governing power of the Almighty.

65:8: “They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens.”  The “tokens” include those things in creation that attest to our God’s power.  They are not few, nor are they confined to any one region.  Evidences of God’s creative power are just as evident in Africa as in America, in Rhodesia as much as in Russia.  This writer has witnessed some of the most beautiful and breath-taking sunsets while doing mission work in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.  I have seen the Grand Tetons, Yosemity, Glacier National Park, Mount Fugi in Japan, and the beauties of the Pacific islands of Midway and Hawaii.  No matter where I travel, God’s marvelous creation serves as a “token” of His creative power and orderliness.

“The outgoings of the morning and evening” undoubtedly refer to the rising and setting of the sun.  Any who have taken the time to watch a beautiful sunrise or sunset will agree, “there is nothing on earth that speaks any more eloquently of the majesty and glory of the Creator than the magnificent wonders of the sunrise” (Coffman, 535-536). 

Pat Boone's Dreadful Demise

by Tom Wacaster

For those of us who are old enough to remember Pat Boone in his younger years, we can recall the example he set in spite of his association with the entertainment industry.  Pat was once a faithful member of the Lord's church, and his life style showed it.    He was well known for his refusal to drink alcoholic beverages, and his denouncement and criticism of the same.  But near the end of the 1950's and on into the early 60's he began his drift away from God.  Some came to Pat's defense with their affirmation that a little doctrinal difference did not amount to a wholesale rejection of God.   Quite the contrary.  A refusal to abide by God's "doctrine" will eventually lead to a refusal to abide by God's moral standard as well.  Pat is a case in point.   In the early 60’s he succumbed to the Pentecostal leanings of his wife and some of their associates.  It would not be long before he fully embraced the belief that miracles still exist today.  That would eventually lead to fellowship with denominations and embracing a wide range of their false ideas and practices.   His trek away from God would not stop there, for the morally pure image he portrayed back in the 60’s would give way to the acceptance of many of those things he once opposed.

Let me side track for just a moment and introduce you to another "entertainer" (and I use that word with limitations).  Unless you keep up with the news in the entertainment world [something that I am not "wont" to do, as they say], you may not be aware that this particular "rap" star and self proclaimed "artist" has produced no little controversy among liberal and conservative thinkers alike.  Eminem (pronounced like the candy, M n' M) is known for his overall violent and immoral "rap" music.  He espouses, among other things, rape, incest and murder. He mocks authority and rails a dignitaries.  In one of his songs he even speaks of raping his own mother so that he can fulfill his sexual drive, father a child, and get a brother along the way.    When criticized, he claims he is sending a "message," and that he is simply expressing himself in what he and others have claimed is "the art of music."  Astonishingly, he gained quite a following and has managed to surpass some of the top stars in sells and popularity.  He has also received a number of the music industry's most coveted awards.  Everything about him from his actions, his life, his music, his lyrics, to his out and out rebellion, reek of someone who is anti-God, anti-family,  and anti-morals.  One would think that we would hear a national outcry. But little is said, and even less is heard.  Unfortunately men like Eminem have those who would come to their defense.  Pat Boone is one such defender. 

A recent item on the world wide web reflected on a ten year old article in the Dallas Morning News in which the editor observed that "rapper Eminem has his share of detractors, but musician Pat Boone is offering some support." This caught my attention.  Here are Pat's exact words: "I don't agree with his lyrics, their content or tone. I'm totally opposed to violence, racism and homophobia, but I vigorously feel that we must respect an individual's right to speak his mind, especially when it comes to all forms of art."  There are a number of things wrong with Mr. Boone's thinking. First, you cannot "totally oppose" violence and lend support to those who espouse it.  You cannot remain neutral when it comes to opposition of that which is wrong. You must actively fight it.  Second, Boone has sided with those who have bought into the lie that opposition to homosexuality is "homophobia."  There is a negative connotation that derives from the use of that word.  Among the gay and lesbian community, as well as the liberal left that is opposed to any criticism of homosexuality, the word "homophobia" has come to refer to anyone who expresses even the slightest degree of opposition to that immoral behavior.  Third, Boone seems to think that an individual's "right" (as he calls it) has no limits when it comes to self expression.  Common sense says there is no such thing as "absolute" freedom. Freedom entails responsibility, in both action and language.  Absolute freedom wherein everyone did exactly what they wanted to do without any limitations whatsoever would produce only chaos and tyranny.  Fourth, our one time colleague in the faith thinks that Eminem's "music" and tirade against all that is good and holy is "art."  Come on folks!  Webster defines art as "an esthetically pleasing and meaningful arrangements of elements, as words, sounds, colors, shapes, etc; any system of rules and principles that facilitates skilled human accomplishment."  Would someone please explain to me what is "esthetically pleasing" about someone who advocates raping one's own mother?  What "skill" is there is trashing things that are good and promoting error?  If Pat Boone thinks Eminem's music is "art" then our brother has sunk further than we had ever thought possible.  As I pointed out when I began this article.  Abandoning the "doctrine" of God is the pre-requisite to abandonment of God's moral code as well.   It is only a matter of time.

There are some important lessons we can learn from this entire incident,  not the least of which is the undeniable truth that any move away from God is not static.  One is either moving “toward” God, or he is moving “away” from God.   Sin, when embraced, leads to more sin, and the end of the journey into ungodliness often takes us where we do not want to go.  The prodigal son is a prime example of this truth.    The words of Alexander Pope serve as an appropriate warning:

Vice is a monster of such frightful mien
That to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

The Backbone Of The Matter

by Tom Wacaster

Like most of us, I struggle from time to time with back problems; nothing serious, just that continual reminder that the body slowly wears out and that we cannot do what we did thirty years ago.   Will Rogers is credited with having said, “Pain is such an uncomfortable feeling that even a tiny amount of it is enough to ruin every enjoyment.”  This is certainly true when it comes to back problems, as many of you are no doubt aware.   I heard somewhere that wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.  If that is true I should have enough wisdom from my experience with back pain to last a life time.   While it is true that wisdom comes from God (Jas. 1:5), I have no doubt that He sometimes uses our physical pain to teach us the wisdom of relying upon Him and doing all we can to prepare for the hereafter.   Well, I tend to deviate from my thoughts here; so let me get back to the matter at hand.

While we were doing mission work in Ukraine, Johnnie Ann and I had the privilege [if you can call it that] of spending two winters in that part of the world.  Texas winters seldom saw the kind of ice and snow we experienced in Poltava, Ukraine.  When you add to this the lack of manpower and machines to clear sidewalks and streets of the ice that accumulates, this adds up to a precarious situation, especially for those who brave the cold to shop, conduct business, or attend worship.  Just prior to our departure from Ukraine I took a couple of pretty good falls on the ice and injured my back, so much so that upon arrival back home I was forced to visit a local chiropractor.  Over the next eighteen months I was exposed to countless charts, diagrams, videos and verbal explanations from the doctors about the workings of the skeletal system.   The more I learned about the skeletal system in general and the backbone specifically, the more fascinated I became.  My chiropractor used such words and "durability" and "intricacy" to describe this thing we call the skeletal system.  

Take the spine for example.  Your “backbone” possesses the firmness and stability to hold up your body while at the same time providing the necessary flexibility to enable you to turn from one side to another, or to bend over and pick something up (though the Dr. may tell you to bend at the knees rather than the spine).  Your backbone has the greatest firmness where there is the least need for movement and the greatest flexibility where there is the greatest need for movement. A hole runs through the spinal column, providing a safe passage for the spinal marrow and a guard for the spinal cord itself.  So that you might bend and move about, there are vertebras, sufficient enough that you do not pinch the spinal column when you bend.  Between each vertebrae there are cartilages, or “disks” (no similarity to computer disks), probably best described as cushions, to allow us to bend in a number of directions without causing one of the vertebrae to “get out of joint.”   Now, how do you suppose this marvelous system came to be?  Evolution?  I think not.  There is simply too much design and orderliness in such a structure to attribute its origin to blind chance.  No, such did not occur by evolution, or blind random chance. Such is the product of creation, and that by He Who made all things.