If Stones Could Talk

by Tom Wacaster

Archaeologists have long recognized the value of ancient remains.  The spade and shovel can unearth relics from the past, and with some study and examination we can learn about the customs, dress, and history of a nation that has long sense been relegated to the dust bins of history.  The stones cry out from the ground and the astute student will hear the more subtle and eternal truths that archaeologists often fail to hear. 

It has been more than half a dozen years since I was privileged to travel to the ancient city of Warangal, India while doing mission work in that area.  We in America are not accustomed to cities that date back more than two or three centuries.  But in that part of the world there are truly some "ancient" sites that date back more than ten centuries.   In Warangal there once stood an ancient walled castle, portions of which remain today. The ruins of the Kakathiya Kingdom and the rule of Queen Rudrama Devi stand as a reminder of those days long before the British colonization of India.  For almost a dozen centuries the walls of this castle have looked down upon the city of Warangal.  Its massive stones still form the archway into the castle area, as well as the protective bulwark for the kings and queens that lived within its walls during that era.  Near the center of the more than one hundred acres of castle grounds stand the remains of the palace where Queen Rudrama Devi once lived.  Though most of the walls of her palace have long deteriorated there remains enough to know that she must have lived in luxury.  The elaborate carvings speak of attention that was given to exquisite and decorative living.  No longer do kings and queens live within the walls of that castle.  It is now occupied by the common man, and a few official government structures.   On this particular occasion, as brother Gootam and I drove through that castle area on our way to the next preaching appointment, I made the comment, "If stones could speak!"  Here is what these massive stones of this castle might tell us, if indeed they could speak to us today.

First, they would tell us that kingdoms of men rise and fall.  How many dynasties have ruled India in the ten centuries since that castle was first erected?  How many governments have taken their turn, only to fade into history as did the Kakathiya Kingdom?  The prophet Daniel reminds all of us that kings are placed on the throne of power, and removed from their position of rule by He Who rules in heaven.  History is replete with its Hitlers, Hussains, and henchmen who thought they could beat the odds.  If those walls could speak they would tell us that God is in control of His world, and He blesses those kingdoms that submit to His rule, and removes those who rebel.

Second, if those stones could speak they would tell us that wealth and power is not the way to happiness.  The elaborate castle that Queen Rudrama Devi inhabited appears to have been one of the best that men and money could have built.  What little contentment she may have acquired from her power and prestige was limited and temporary.  Our Lord still speaks to us through His word and reminds us that a "man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things he might possess."  Could those stones speak there is no doubt that they would tell us that the elaborate castle occupied by Queen Rudrama Devi did not bring lasting happiness.   

Third, if those stones could speak they would tell us that those nations that forget God bring upon themselves swift destruction.  History tells us that, until recently, India has not been very receptive to the gospel of Christ.  From the early martyrdom of Thomas, down through the centuries, Hinduism has ruled over the hearts and minds of men and women in this country.  Idolatry has darkened their minds so that the light of the gospel could not shine in their hearts.  If stones could speak, they would tell us that "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."

Fourth, if stones could speak, they would remind us of the brevity of life.  Compared to the average life span of 60 or 70 years, ten centuries may seem like a long time.  But in the overall scheme of things, ten centuries is but a passing vapor.  If men would be wise they would look at things through the hour glass of eternity, where time is meaningless and where one's life is but a short time given to man to prove himself to his Creator. 

Fifth, if those stones could speak they would sound a warning to our country. No doubt they would tell us that the present course we are now traveling is wrought with failure and ultimate destruction.   They would sound the alarm that the God of heaven, Whom we once revered, and to Whom we offered our thanksgiving and adoration, must not be forgotten.   They would remind us that material abundance, military power, and educational acclaim are not the means of establishing a firm and stable foundation upon which to build a society.   And, those walls would warn us that we are running out of time to reverse the course upon which we have now embarked.  

Oh yes, if stones could talk, they could teach us some great lessons.  But those same truths that cry out from the stones of the ground are clearly set forth in God's holy book, the Bible.  Perhaps if men would listen more closely they might hear the message those stones send forth; not because the stones speak, but because God speaks to us through His word and reminds us of the important truths that those stones might tell us if indeed "stones could talk." 

The Road To By and By

by Tom Wacaster
 
The last 100 years has seen the introduction of hundreds, if not thousands, of “labor saving devices.”   The time a person spends doing the laundry is a fraction of the time our great-great grandparents spent at the local creek or bent over a rusty old bucket of water and lye soap.   Modern kitchen appliances, microwave ovens and dishwashers have likewise cut the time it takes to prepare a meal and clean up afterwards.   Power mowers, weed-eaters,  trimmers and power blowers have made yard care a bearable chore.   Office computers, printers, smart phones, I-pads and I-pods help us keep in touch with the world, generate and produce printed reports, and access the world wide web for information that previously was accessible only at the local library (and that only if you happened to live in a city that was large enough to provide such).   Our  jet liners and automobiles get us there faster, our cell phones connect us faster, our office equipment helps us get the work done faster, and  all of those little conveniences around the house  and at business make it possible to get life’s chores completed in a flash, with time to spare.   Then we can sit down at the TV with DVD player and spend our leisure time in relaxation, or we can get on the computer and wile away the minutes and hours playing some “silly computer game.”  The labor saving devices  that have been invented in our life time and that of our grandparents has provided us with so much “leisure time” that we often find ourselves bored with life, and seeking to fill those moments of inactivity with trivial things rather than something that is productive and useful.  In 2008 the American Heart Association reported the following statistics:  While most teenagers (60 percent) spend on average 20 hours per week in front of television and computer screens, a third spend closer to 40 hours per week, and about 7 percent are exposed to more than 50 hours of 'screen-time' per week.”   Doctors have warned that we are raising a generation of computer addicts who are so tied to their technological devices that they neglect other responsibilities.   From a Biblical perspective, Paul warned, “But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God;  holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof: from these also turn away” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, emphasis mine, TW).     Paul’s warning is not a prohibition of pleasure but an admonition to keep our priorities in check.    Like many other innocent activities, it is not the action itself that is wrong, but the amount of time one might spend in that activity that becomes a danger.   It is what a person is not doing with the rest of his/her time.  

No doubt you have heard the adage that serves as the title of this week’s column: “The road of by and by leads to the house of never.”  Neglect is the culprit that will cause a lot of otherwise faithful Christians to be lost.   The Hebrews writer asked, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).   Intentions are no substitute for faithful obedience.  It has been almost thirty years since I came across the following observation:  “Neglect has never been guilty of wrong action but  has been responsible for many lives being lost, trains being wrecked, ships having gone down at sea, cities being burned, battles being lost, and governments having failed.  Neglect has never struck a blow nor spoken an unkind word, but has caused many homes to break up, friendships to grow cold, wives to shed bitter tears, and father s and mothers to go broken-hearted to their graves.”  

While doing local work in Oklahoma I would often hear the supposedly true story of an Indian chief who lived near Tulsa, and, along with other members of the Osage tribe, became very wealthy with oil money.  He bought a Cadillac, a black tuxedo, and a high silk hat.  He admired stories about Abraham Lincoln and would go about town seeking to imitate the late President’s habit of  talking to anybody that would listen.  He was always alone in his Cadillac, even though he never learned to drive.  You see, it was pulled by two black horses!     The point of the story is this.  Many have at their disposal amazing opportunities to do good to others, to increase their knowledge or to serve the Master in some profitable way.    Failing to use what God has placed in their hands, they neglect the opportunities and wile away the minutes and hours on things that are so insignificant.   The judgment day scene depicted in Matthew 25 teaches  us that multitudes will be lost, not because of some evil or wicked act thus committed, but because of their neglect of the good they could have done.   Even more pointed is the warning our Master gave to the church at Laodicea: “I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So because thou art lukewarm, and neither  hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of  my mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16).   Neglect! Pure and simple!   I’ll close with the words of an unknown poet:

PUT-OFF TOWN

Did you ever go to Put-Off town,
Where the houses are old and tumble-down,
And everything tarries and everything drags,
With dirty streets and people in rags?

On the street of Slow lives Old Man Wait,
And his two little boys named Linger and Late ;
With unclean hands and tousled hair,
And a naughty little sister named I Don t Care.

Grandmother Growl lives in this town,
With her two little daughters called Fret and Frown ;
And Old Man Lazy lives all alone
Around the corner on Street Postpone.

Did you ever go to Put-Off town
To play with the little girls, Fret and Frown,
Or to the home of Old Man Wait,
And whistle for his boys to come to the gate?

To play all day on Tarry Street,
Leaving your errands for other feet ?
To stop or shirk, or linger, or frown,
Is the nearest way to this old town.

Educated Beyond Capacity

by Tom Wacaster

“The mind is a terrible thing to waste.”  It has been four decades since the United Negro College Fund used this catchy little phrase to help emphasize the need to educate men and women of all races.  The famous quote remained unchanged for more than thirty years and has come to be a part of the American vernacular used by lay persons and educators alike to drive home the point of the necessity of education.  Over the  years other phrases and quotes have  drawn our attention to the power, and even the danger, of a good education.   “The more you learn, the less you know.”  “A little learning is a dangerous thing.”     It has been more than four decades since the advent of the personal computer.   We used to think those “geeks” who hid themselves in their back rooms and closets had become “educated beyond their capacity.”  Little did we know that their much learning would lead to the technological advancements we have experienced since those early days of computers. 

Luke records the arrest and interrogation of Paul in Acts chapters 21-28.  Having been arrested on false charges by his fellow Jews, he was interrogated by a chief captain, the Jewish council, Festus, Felix, King Agrippa, and even the high court of Rome, Caesar himself.    Of particular interest was Paul’s encounter with Festus.  Having made his defense before Festus, and following Paul’s closing appeal to the resurrection of the dead, the governor responded, “Paul, Thou art mad; thy much learning is turning thee made” (Acts 26:24).  In other words, “Paul, you have been educated beyond your capacity.” 

Knowledge can be a dangerous thing.   Terrorist groups have some obviously intelligent personal in their organization.  I read just last week that such organizations have now produced a liquid explosive.  According to the report, clothes are dipped in the liquid, hung out to dry, and presto, you have an explosive that you wear.  Light a match, and you literally become a living Roman candle.  

The proper use of knowledge, however, can be a wonderful blessing, as is evidenced by all the good that has been accomplished in the last two or three centuries.  Scientists, medical doctors, astrophysicists, et al. have contributed vastly to the betterment of mankind.  But a good working knowledge of God’s word far exceeds all the knowledge that man might acquire through much learning in human institutions.   I am not criticizing secular education; I am simply saying it must be kept in proper perspective. All the education in the world without a knowledge of God’s word leaves one illiterate and uneducated in matters of importance. But a good knowledge of the Bible with only a first grade education  will produce wisdom that far exceeds that of the ancient philosophers of Greece or Rome. 

With these things in mind, let us ask, “How should the Christian use his knowledge of things holy and divine?”   Here are some suggestions. 

First, we should be humbled by this knowledge.  Knowledge tends to puff up (1 Cor. 8:1).  This does not mean it has to; it just means that it has a propensity to do so.  All of us have known the educated fool who thinks he is much better than others simply because he has a degree from some prestigious college or university.   A brother in Christ once told me that when I arrived at his level of education I would understand better why he believed  a particular (and obviously false) doctrine which he had embraced.   We dare not allow our knowledge to produce contempt in our hearts for the less fortunate, those less educated, or even those who have been deceived by false teachers. 

Second, knowledge should compel us to be more considerate of the less informed.  Paul wrote, “But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9).   To the Galatians this same apostle penned these words: “For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another” (Gal. 5:13).   Knowledge in and of itself, is of no value when it comes to eternal values.   If our knowledge of God and His will in our lives does not compel us to share that knowledge with others, then we have missed one of the greatest responsibilities of this God-given gift to man.  

Third, knowledge will give certainty to our faith.  It is tragic that some allow their knowledge to destroy their faith.  A good case in point is the increasing number of young people who  go off to college only to have the professors destroy their faith in God.  One brother observed, “One of the sad casualties of higher education—even for preachers—is loss of faith.”   Learning, coupled with  solid faith in the word of God, is a good thing.   A study of archaeology, science, languages, and history will enhance our faith provided we have a healthy attitude toward the scriptures. 

Fourth,  knowledge should produce a willingness to sacrifice some of our personal liberty for the greater good of Christ and His church.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Wherefore, if meat causeth my brother to stumble, I will eat no flesh for evermore, that I cause not my brother to stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13).   Paul was not talking about giving in to every cantankerous troublemaker.  He was talking about foregoing our rights for a brother who did not  have the knowledge to make reasonable and sound conclusions.  It is with such immature, but growing brethren that we forego some of those liberties God has given us in Christ.   Guy N. Woods touched on this very point with these words: “This is an example of waiving one’s own liberty for the sake of another’s conscience—waived,  not surrendered!  Paul deferred to a weak brother, because he was weak, to keep him from stumbling.” 

Fifth, knowledge should make us grateful.   I sometimes wonder why God has blessed me with the wonderful opportunities I have had to study His word.  I’m not talking about a casual reading, but the time and circumstances to drink deeply from His word.   Words cannot express my appreciation to the Father, and to the brethren, for the support given, and the time provided that are necessary to do what I do.   To whatever degree you have time and circumstances to read and study, in all things give thanks to the Father.  

Finally, knowledge should never be kept to oneself.  God never intended for His people to be educated in His word for the sole purpose of knowledge.  The Great Commission is evidence of the divine intention.  In addition, Paul wrote: “And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). 

The founder of Investor’s Business Daily, William J. O’Neil, is credited with saying, “People who hope to influence what goes on around them develop the habit of reading great books.”   I would add one element to that observation:  “People who desire that their influence extend beyond this life into eternity, for both themselves and others, make it a habit to read and study the Bible.”   Only within the pages of the inspired book can be found the knowledge that, once acquired, will educate us, but not educate us beyond capacity!

The Amazing Success of Christianity

by Tom Wacaster

No movement in the history of the world has been as rapid or made as significant an impact as has the growth of the church in the first centuries of her existence. The exact count at the end of that first century is not available, but some have estimated that half a million or more.  Evidence suggests that the churches in Antioch, Ephesus, and Corinth were strong enough to bear the strain of controversy and division into parties.  With the exception of these few larger congregations, most of the local churches were small, and perhaps consisted of only a small handful of poor people.  Christian converts came mostly from the middle and lower classes of society, such as fishermen, peasants and slaves.  This is why Paul wrote: “Not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble were called, but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea, and the things that are not, that he might bring to naught the things that are: that no flesh should glory before God” (1 Cor 1:26-29).  Yet who would deny that these poor and illiterate churches had received the greatest blessings imaginable and thus attain to the highest thoughts which could possibly challenge the attention of mortal mind? 

By the time of Constantine in the beginning of the fourth century the number of Christians has been estimated to have reached between ten and twelve million, or about one tenth of the total population of the Roman Empire. Some have even estimated it higher. This rapid growth of Christianity in the face of overwhelming opposition is not only surprising, but is its own best evidence of the Supernatural power that lay behind this movement.  It was accomplished in the face of an indifferent and hostile world, and by purely spiritual and moral means, without shedding a drop of blood except that of its own innocent martyrs.  

Gibbon, in the famous fifteenth chapter of his “History,” attributes the rapid spread to five causes, namely: (1) the intolerant but enlarged religious zeal of the Christians inherited from the Jews; (2) the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, concerning which the ancient philosophers had but vague and dreamy ideas; (3) the miraculous powers attributed to the primitive church; (4) the purer but austere morality of the first Christians; and (5) the unity and discipline of the church, which gradually formed a growing commonwealth in the heart of the empire.

It must have been grand to live in that first century and witness the rapid growth of the church in a world of skepticism and unbelief.  But before we become cynical and disillusioned let us not forget that the same power that brought ancient Rome to her knees and ushered in the growth of the Lord’s church at unprecedented rates is the same word that we have in our possession today.  Cheer up brethren!  Be busy planting the seed, and our God will give the harvest!