The Former Days

by Tom Wacaster

“Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these?  For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this” (Ecc. 7:10).  Is it not interesting that the older we get, and the older our friends get, that we find ourselves reflecting upon “the good ole days”?  Sometimes the stresses and strains of our high-pressured world take their toll and we find ourselves longing for “the good ole days.”   But then, the good ole days were not as “good” as we think, and we tend to remember the “good” in them and forget the hardships and challenges we faced “back then”!   One observer wrote:  “The world is too big for us. Too much going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement.  Try as you will you get behind in the race, in spite of yourself it’s an incessant strain to keep pace and still you lose ground. Science empties discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment.  The political world has news seen so rapidly you’re out of breath trying to keep pace with who’s in and who’s out. Everything is high pressure. Human nature can’t endure much more.”   Those words appeared in an editorial in the Atlantic Journal on June 16, 1883.   Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

The Judds produced a popular hit some years back entitled, “Grandpa, Tell Me About The Good Old Days.”   It reflects a time not all that long ago when the influence of God's word was still having an impact upon our society.   One stanza in that song contained these words:

Grandpa, tell me 'bout the good old days
Sometimes it feels like this world's gone crazy
And Grandpa, take me back to yesterday
When the line between right and wrong
Didn't seem so hazy.

Grandpas don’t fit in today; their way of life was that of a different culture than what we see around us in this new century.  As is often the case with each new generation, the older folks are written off as something a bit less than a nincompoop.   With the changes descending upon us from a politically correct world and morally relevant society, is it any wonder that Grandpas take the time now and then to reminisce?  But is that not what Grandpas are for?  Is not the hoary head filled with wisdom that the younger generation desperately needs to survive in a world that lies in the wicked one?  It is called experience; and experience is not something you get from books, television, movies or computers!   It is something you live.   It is something that comes only with the passing of time, and with age.   We need to be reminded, as one ancient philosopher noted, “Young men for war, old men for counsel.”   The late Richard Black shared the same sentiment when he wrote: “Eddie Rabbit, songwriter, commenting on the death of his son said, ‘I weave the pain and suffering of Timmy’s death through my songs. It’s a price of wisdom, but you pay for wisdom.’”  

You see, it not just the “good” times, but also the “bad” times that help us grow in wisdom.  While developing this particular thought I came across the following that addresses this precise point.  “It’s only against the backdrop of hardship that the greatest beauty can be seen.  When is the blessing of good health appreciated any more than following a bout of illness or injury?  What an avenue is provided for the demonstration of deep devotion and appreciation when a loved one becomes incapacitated and a spouse or child tenderly cares for their needs.  Isn’t it remarkable the outpouring of benevolent care from strangers to stranger following a natural disaster of wind or flood or quake?  The human spirit is not at its best when idle or at ease, but when put to the test and hardship comes.  Ultimately, how would one know of the all surpassing love of God were it not for the cruel circumstances of the death of our Savior?  How much deeper the expression of love in the gift of that life by such brutal means than were He to do what most men would wish—give us what we want.  Thank God for the hard times” (David Deffenbaugh). 

It has been pointed out by social observers that today’s youth is the first generation of Americans that will not be able to reach a higher plateaus of living than their parents.  Economically, the living status has declined to such an extent that the middle class is shrinking and the wealthy and poor are increasing at an alarming rate.   Morally?  Will anyone dare suggest that America has improved in this area over the past 50 years?   And yet, in the midst of all of this insanity that surrounds us, we have the word of God that serves as a light unto our path and a lamp unto our feet (Psalms 119:105). 

Maybe we should reflect upon the values that "Grandpa" practiced, and then remind ourselves that such values of "the good old days" were the fruit of God's word planted in the hearts of men.  If we would ever hope to return to that kind of Godly living, then perhaps we need to be actively preaching and teaching that same gospel that was preached and taught "in the former days." 

Ephesians: Heaven's Gallery of Spiritual Wealth

by Tom Wacaster

When the prophets of old had penned the very words of God, they no doubt laid down the pen of inspiration, and in some instances may have even asked themselves, “What have I just written?”  Peter informs us that those inspired men “sought and searched diligently…of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them” (1 Peter 1:10).  So profound were the words of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos and Daniel (just to mention a few), that even the “angels desired to look into” the message from heaven (1 Peter 1:12). 

This student began a journey through Ephesians that has spanned more than four decades, and have now completed my commentary on this wonderful epistle in this New Year.  No wonder men have marveled at masterpiece from the Holy Spirit!  It is Heaven's Gallery of Spiritual Wealth, deposited in Christ, located in heavenly places, and it rests upon He Who is the foundation of the greatest institution ever to exist upon the face of this earth, being Himself the chief corner stone.  The picture of the church that emerges from a careful study of this epistle is one of holiness and harmony (1:4; 4:4).  If men would put aside their prejudice and preconceived notions concerning the church, and drink deeply from the pen of this inspired apostle, they would walk away with a concept of the church unlike the modern day concept of a divided, denominated, and materialistic church.  In the six chapters of this epistle God unfolds for us the eternal majesty of the church, the beautiful bride of Christ.  We are permitted to look backward into the recesses of eternity and get a small glimpse - just a glimpse - of the majesty and wisdom of our God as He foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ (1:5).  The door is opened into the vault of heaven's wealth, and we are invited to partake of the “riches” of God's grace for men.  We are granted entrance into the library of wisdom and knowledge that surpasses that of the sages of this world, “having the eyes of your heart enlightened” by the “revelation in the knowledge of him” (1:17-18).  We are given a panoramic view of God's grace as He lifted us out of spiritual death, and “raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places” (2:6).  We have been granted citizenship in that heavenly kingdom (2:19), adoption into God's family (3:15), admittance into the “temple in the Lord” (2:21-22), and experienced the wonderful “love of Christ which passeth knowledge (3:19).  But we have also been reminded that with these wonderful privileges comes great obligation and responsibility.  We are to be “holy and without blemish” (1:4), “worthy of the calling wherewith you were called” (4;1), looking “carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise” (5:15).  Clad with heaven's armor (6:13-20), we are encouraged to march forward “to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (6:19). 

If men would study this letter they would learn that the church is not some after-thought in the mind of God; they would learn that you cannot have Christ without the church; they would learn that how we live has a direct bearing upon our salvation; that the forces of evil are real and dangerous, but that God gives us strength in the hour of adversity.  Paul's description of the church as it appears in this letter is a masterpiece of inspired literature.  From the depths of sin, men can be lifted out of their spiritual poverty to participate in the wealth and riches of God's grace.  The power to live holy lives as members of that church is promised to those who would but embrace the truths contained herein. 

Ours is an age of apathy and indifference.  Unfortunately, members of the Lord's church have been lulled to sleep by the steady noise of worldliness and the satanic lies of post-modern relativism.  Perhaps it is time to wipe the dust off our Bibles, and drink deeply from God's inspired description of the church as contained specifically in Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus.   The infidel and skeptic might scoff at God's word; modern day theologians might ridicule the simplicity of heaven's pattern; the weak Christian may not appreciate what he holds in his hands.  But the faithful child of God knows that he has been privileged to walk through heaven's gallery of spiritual wealth.  

Hidden Nuggets in 2 Chronicles

by Tom Wacaster

The books of First and Second Chronicles tend to be neglected, even by the most ardent of Bible students.  Admittedly I have been prone to rush through these two books, due in no little part to the repetitious nature when compared with the books of First and Second Kings.   Over the past three or four years I have made a diligent attempt to read through the Old Testament two times in each year.  Perhaps it is this increased exposure to the Old Testament books that has helped me to see some wonderful truths contained therein; truths that tend to jump off the pages from time to time.

Sometime back I was reading from 2 Chronicles chapter 15, and when I came to verse 3, something caught my attention that, so far as I can remember, had never caused me to stop and take a closer look.   Now, if you have not grabbed your Bible yet to rush and see what it is that might have arrested my attention, let me make some preliminary remarks before you go to the text.   The past few years have been, without doubt, some of the most challenging, anxious, and stressful of any I can remember.  When I was a young boy growing up in Dallas, Texas, our nation faced precarious times in what has come to be better known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.”  For thirteen days in the Fall of 1962 the powers that be on either side of the Atlantic Ocean argued, negotiated, and threatened one another so much so that we came close to nuclear confrontation - the “unimaginable” almost became a “reality.”   I was a freshman in high school, and at least once a day the school had a “nuclear attack drill,” in which the students were either hurried into the hall or under our desks, and told to put our hands over our heads in order to “survive” the explosion of an atom bomb (not too useful for a nuclear attack in my estimation).   Evenings, we were glued to the television as the late John F. Kennedy kept us abreast of Russia's activities in Cuba.  Yes, those days were quite stressful.  

Half a century and two years later our nation is, once again, at odds with Russia.  Although the crisis in Ukraine has not yet reached the magnitude of that which gripped the world in 1962, the potential of this present conflict getting out of hand is real.   While a crisis looms outside our country, there is, however, an even greater threat we face from within.  Our nation is literally locked in a battle for its very survival.  In 1962 the enemy was without - today it is within our borders.   Our nation is sick from the head to the toe.  Our leaders have denied God, and the immorality and ungodliness that dominates the powers that be have filtered down to the man on the street, and are even being taught in the institutions of public education.  There is a concentrated effort on the part of “wickedness in high places” to dismantle, dilute, and destroy the very principles of godliness upon which this nation was established.   Yes, these days are quite stressful.

What has all this to do with 2 Chronicles 15?  Well, here is what the sacred record tells us: “Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law. But when they in their trouble did turn unto the LORD God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them. And in those times there was no peace to him that went out, nor to him that came in, but great vexations were upon all the inhabitants of the countries. And nation was destroyed of nation, and city of city: for God did vex them with all adversity” (2 Chron. 15:3-6).  In four short verses we learn some incredible lessons that are as relevant as if freshly written by the inspired writer of old.

First, there is a difference between true religion and false religion.  “For a long season Israel hath been without the true God.”   Will you permit me to change one word in this passage - not in an attempt to rewrite the passage, but in order to drive home our point?  “For a long season America hath been without the true God.”   The United States of America was established upon the Bible, and the determination of our founding fathers was to grant to every man the freedom and right to seek that God.  Consequently the United States of America became a fertile seed bed wherein a return to the simple teachings of the Bible could be accomplished, and ushered in the longest era of the growth of the Lord's church since the first century.   About the middle of the last century (perhaps even earlier) things began to change, and Americans began to cast off the true God of the Bible for Eastern religions, cults, and New Age spiritualism.   Today it is not uncommon to read of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, all of which are lauded by the “politically correct media,” while Christianity continues to be attacked and ridiculed.  Muslim mosques are being built at a rate that far out paces the construction of church buildings, and the “gods” of unbelievers are replacing the God of the Bible in the minds of men. 

Second, we are rapidly becoming a people “without a teaching priest and without law.”  Since every child of God is a “priest” (1 Pet. 2:9), and every Christian a “teacher” (Heb. 5:12), it stands to reason that when WE (members of the Lord's church) cease to teach others about Christ, then it can be said that America is “without a teaching priest and without law.”   Many buildings still bearing the name “Church of Christ” have ceased teaching the lost world about the true church, the will of the Father, and the plan of salvation. They have become nothing more than a “kitchen open 24/7” for the physical well being of society. 

Third, God's judgment will come upon any nation that forgets its Creator.  Peace will give way to vexations, adversity, and trouble.  A whopping 69% of our country now thinks we are no longer on the right track (news cast, Fox News, 2-26-2014); consumer confidence is at an all time low; contentment is something sought after but which continues to elude us.   Like Israel of old, we stand on shaky ground, and there is little over the horizon that gives us encouragement that we survive as a nation for another decade.

Fourth, the answer - yea, the ONLY answer - is that men turn back to their God: “But when they in their trouble did turn unto the LORD God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them” (verse 4).  The “tea party” movement is not going to save America.  Democrats, Republicans, Independents, nor any other party, has it within their power, programs, or prowess to save America.  Unless we, as a nation, begin the journey home to God, there is no hope!  But, alas, our God has promised, if a nation will seek God, He will be found of them.   God kept His promise to Israel, for verse 15 tells us:  “And all Judah rejoiced at the oath: for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought him with their whole desire; and he was found of them: and the LORD gave them rest round about.” 

Beloved, America is not going to be saved by any health reform, cap-and-trade energy bill, or even a re-distribution of the wealth.  America will only be saved if our leaders begin the journey home to God.  Until that happens, we will continue to see a deterioration of our temporal blessings.   Perhaps you and I, as members of the Lord's church can start a genuine “grass-roots” movement to that end. 

Living With Self

by Tom Wacaster

Someone once said, “It is not the difficult passages that give the most problems.  It is, rather, those passages that I do understand, and which challenge me to make necessary changes in my life.”  One of those “simple” passages that is easy to understand but difficult to keep contains less than two dozen words:  “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).  I fear that most of us have not yet learned the force of this demand upon our lives.  The late B.C. Goodpasture commented on this very passage:

“Of all the precepts relative to self, this is one of the most difficult to obey. A man does not deny himself when he merely gives that which he does not need or miss; a man does not deny himself when he refrains from doing that which he really does not care to do. One denies himself when he, like the poor widow, gives that which he needs and will miss; a man denies himself when he, like Moses, turns his back upon that which he likes to do, and that which he finds pleasurable and profitable in the doing. As clear and crisp as a gunshot on a still day, the words of the greatest of all teachers fall upon the ear: 'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me'“ (Gospel Advocate, July 19, 1973, page 459).

It would seem that just about the time you think you have control of self, the monster sticks its head out of the box and you have to struggle with that inner man so as to master your emotions and overcome the temptations that come your way.  It seems to me that, Biblically speaking, there are four principles that are taught with regard to one's self.  Consider each of these.

First, you must know yourself:  your weaknesses, your strengths; your good points and your bad points.  Knowing our weaknesses we are in a better position to conquer them.  Knowing our strengths enables us to march forward with courage and determination.

Second, you must value yourself.  You are created in the image of God.  Quit feeling sorry for yourself.  That “Woe is me” attitude will never find the joy God intended you to have.  We are not suggesting an arrogant, haughty attitude toward self where God is excluded and human wisdom exalted.  We are created in the image of God.  Regardless of the agenda of the liberal left, the environmentalists, and the humanists, there is something unique about man.  Half a century of indoctrination in evolution and humanism has accomplished nothing more than the degrading of man and the disintegration of his morals.  

Third, it is essential that you deny yourself.  Learn to say “No” once in a while.  As much as that merchant would seek to convince you, “Go ahead! You deserve it!” there comes a point in the mad rush for things that the child of God has to step out of the race.  Jesus told us that a “man’s life  consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15b).   Jesus was not speaking of “the things” that are inherently wrong, but those things that, in and of themselves, were right, and even necessary.   It is not “things” that are wrong, but the love of things, and the attempt to amass those things that constitutes the danger.  Paul wrote, “But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9).   It has been said, “The most important thing in life is knowing the most important things in life.” 

Finally, we must consecrate our self.  This is something our society knows little about.   Webster defines this word ‘consecrate’:  “To make or declare to be sacred, by certain ceremonies or rites; to appropriate to sacred uses; to set apart, dedicate, or devote, to the service and worship of God.”  It is precisely because our affluent age has sought to amass wealth, and to surround themselves with things, that they have failed to consecrate themselves to a higher and nobler purpose.  I challenge you:  “Give yourself to a higher purpose than self.”  The ultimate consecration is, of course, dedication and commitment to God and His will in your life.  Some years ago I came across this little quote that addresses this precise point:

Most of the things we think create happiness, don’t.  We get caught in a spiral and life suddenly becomes a race to be won instead of a game to be played and enjoyed. Our focus on ‘success’ as society calls it, blurs our more important intangibles of life–our relationships and experiences.  The fear (and sad reality for many) is that we wake up 30 years from now, stressed, unhealthy and unfulfilled, wondering what on earth happened to those wonderful dreams we once dared to dream.  I’ll tell you what happened. We fell into the trap of being what others felt we should be as opposed to who we were meant to be. Other’s dreams became ours, only to realize they never mattered to us in the first place. We adopted the world’s definition of success instead of understanding and pursing our own” (Source and author lost).

So, friends, the battle is joined.  We have been given the armor.  The one great enemy we face is ourselves.  Once we have slain self, God will be exalted in our life, and the outcome will an eternal home with the Father.  I don't know who wrote the following, but it is certainly thought provoking, and with it I will close this week’s article:

(author unknown)

I sought from Socrates the sage,
Whose thoughts will live through every age,
A motto to direct my life,
A hero make me in my strife;
And Socrates said, 'Know Thyself.'

To know myself did not suffice,
To make me useful, pure and wise;
I sought Aurelius, good and great,
Wise ruler of the Roman state;
And Aurelius said, 'Control Thyself.'

O, Nazarene, Thou who didst give
Thy life that man might live,
What message dost thou leave for me,
That I may truly follow Thee?
The Savior said, 'Deny Thyself.'


The Value Of A Good Lectureship

by Tom Wacaster

As I write this article I consider myself blessed beyond measure, and that for a number of reasons.   Each one of us would do good to occasionally stop and count our blessings.  No doubt a careful examination of our blessings, both spiritual and physical (but especially spiritual) would go a long way to overcoming any sense of dissatisfaction that may occasionally enter into our thinking.   A careful inventory of what we do have will make what we do not have pale in comparison.    But I deviate, so back to my original thoughts.  

As I write this week’s article for the bulletin, I am attending the Memphis School of Preaching Lectureship.   This is only one among dozens of such lecture series I have had the opportunity to attend.   I have been blessed now, for well beyond 40 years, with the opportunity to attend a large number of good lectureships conducted by the brethren.   I first became aware of such wonderful study opportunities in the late 60’s.  Back then Abilene Christian College (long before it became ACU) conducted an annual series of lectures on vital and important themes facing the brotherhood.  I attended my first one in 1969, shortly after Johnnie Ann and I were married.   The next few years would provide me with opportunities to attend Bible lectures in Lubbock (Texas), Henderson(Tennessee), and a return trip to ACC (though that would be my last to what has sadly become nothing more than a platform for false teachers).  Sometime in the early 70’s some strong congregations in the Lord’s church began conducting lectureships:  Brown Trail, Getwell in Memphis, The Power Lectures in Southaven, Mississippi, and the Annual Denton Lectures conducted in that city, and later moved to Schertz, Texas, to name just a few.  Many of these congregations went through the expense and effort to publish a lectureship book containing full length manuscripts of the lectures that the speakers would then present orally.   I would not even venture a guess as to how many of those lectureship books I have purchased over the years, but I think I can safely say that a large portion of my library consists of just such lectureship books.  Just to give you an idea, I have purchased, read, and filed 43 volumes of lectures from Brown Trail, 31 lecture series from the Spiritual Sword Lectures, 22 volumes from the Power Lectures, 35 from the Freed Hardeman Lectures, 13 from the Lubbock Lectures, 33 from the Denton/Schertz series, and at least another three dozen from various and sundry lectureship series such as Southwest in Austin, East Tennessee School of Preaching, and the Truth in Love out of Pulaski, Tennessee.   I have had the distinct honor of speaking on more than 40 different occasions, and attended too many lectureship sessions to even remember.  The point I want to make right here is that the brotherhood has provided a remarkable amount of printed and recorded material addressing a wide range of subject matter.   Perhaps you can appreciate why I feel so blessed in this regard.  I have no doubt that these sound lectures have produced more material for study and good spiritual food for the soul in one week of lectures than perhaps an entire year of 30 minute sermons on Sunday morning.   I am not discounting the value or importance of the proclamation of God’s word on Sunday morning.  Such is not only important, it is essential to fulfilling God’s pattern in worship.  But the amount of spiritual feeding a soul gets in five or six days of concentrated Bible study is simply beyond description.

I have said all this to make a point that needs to be repeated from time to time.  The lack of Bible knowledge in our society, and sadly among many in the Lord’s church, is not due to the unavailability of opportunities to hear, or absence of printed material.   The “famine of the word of God” (to use the words of the prophet of old) comes from the choices people have made.   Consider this:  The Harry Potter series of books have sold more than 450 million copies, making it the best selling series of books in history.  They have been translated into 67 languages, and the last four in the series set records for the fastest selling books in history.  That series of books contain more than 4,100 total pages.  The Bible, on the other hand, using the same size font and page sizes (approximately), contains 960 pages, with only 223 pages of New Testament text.    The point?  In the time it takes you to read the Harry Potter series, one could have read the entire Bible at least four times, and the New Testament a staggering 18 times.    Can you imagine the impact the word of God would have made had the 450 million readers of Harry Potter read the Bible only one time?

What it boils down to is this:  Each one of us choses how we shall spend our  time.  It is sad that so many spend their precious waking hours pursuing trivial things, without so much as a care or concern for the spiritual man.  While the physical man is fed with great gusto and zeal, the spiritual man is starving.  I am not suggesting that one has to attend a series of Bible lectures or purchase and read lectureship books in order to go to heaven.  But I do know that only those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled, and only those who spend time feeding the spiritual man will experience the spiritual growth essential for “the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).  And therein is the value of a good lectureship.