I Am The New Year

by Tom Wacaster

I am the new year; three hundred and sixty five days of unspotted, unspoiled, and unused time.  I am a clean slate of opportunity, a reflection of what MIGHT BE rather than what HAS BEEN.  I am the youth of an ageless tomorrow bidding farewell to the hoary head of the fond memory of yesterday. I am the fresh breeze of opportunity that blows across the fields of yesterday's broken and forgotten promises. 

To some I will be nothing more than a fleeting resolution that will blaze across the pale sky of self determination and fade into the midnight of lost hopes and forgotten dreams.   To others I will usher in a new day of optimism, hope, and genuine change.   My diary contains unlimited resolutions, once made in earnest and then broken in haste.  My features are a mystery, for no one can tell what is in store for tomorrow. Each day brings new insight as to what I will be after I have completed my journey.   I am the opportunity to achieve those things which for some reason or another were left undone in the previous year. 

To the financier I am interest accumulated at a fixed percentage rate. To the student I am that one step closer to graduation.  To the small child I am another summer camp, Thanksgiving holiday, or Christmas wish.  To every parent I contain the joy of watching a child grow and mature for another fifty two weeks. To the young I am dreams and hopes dressed in daily determination.  To the child anxious to open another present under the tree, I come too slowly; to the aged, I come too often.

For some, this year will bring unparalleled opportunities. For others it will bring disaster and ruin. To all, it will bring us twelve months closer to eternity.

Calvary, Not Bethlehem

by Tom Wacaster

It happened almost 2,000 years ago; but the residual effect is still with us today.  Every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper we are reminded of that moment in history when the sins of mankind were laid upon the back of our Savior and the Son of God bled and suffered on Calvary that you and I might live.   But for some reason men have a desire to celebrate the birth of Christ rather than His death.  We decorate our houses with glittering lights, wrap our presents in pretty paper, and sing holiday songs for approximately 28 days, and then go on our merry way wishing each other a Happy New Year until the next “black Friday” when the latest gadgets and electronic marvels hit the shelves of Best Buy and Walmart.   While the birth of Jesus is most certainly a significant historical event, it was not God’s wish that we celebrate the birth of Jesus once a year, but that we remember His death once a week.  Every time we break the bread and drink the cup we are reminded of Calvary!  The late Johnny Ramsey so eloquently captured the idea:

On a hill far away that old rugged Cross beckons lost mankind to a nobler pursuit of life. Out of the depths of despair and ruin untold comes a clarion call from heaven that provides salvation for wayfaring men estranged from God to come back home to the Father who runs to meet the prodigals once enveloped in the pig-pen of iniquity.  The compelling love of the One who died for all (2 Cor. 5:14) draws us to a richer, fuller and purpose filled life that responds to the suffering Savior in obedience, gratitude and loyalty (The Words of Truth, April 25, 1997).

The real impact of Christianity is not found in a manger one cold December morning.  In fact, evidence suggests that our Lord was born in the early to mid Spring rather than the dead of winter.   The heralding angels, the shepherds, and the wise men all played a part in ushering the Lord and Savior into this world.    We cannot, yea would not diminish the importance of that moment when Mary gave birth to the incarnate Son of God.  Without His birth there would have been no life; and without His sinless life there would have been no value in His death beyond that of ordinary mortal men.  However, it was not His birth, but His death that provides hope. It was His death that unleashed the power of heaven to save men from their sins.  It was Calvary, not Bethlehem, to which the eyes of lost humanity must turn for hope.   It was Calvary, not Bethlehem where the price was paid for the sins of humanity.  It was Calvary, not Bethlehem, where God’s law was fulfilled, divine wrath was satisfied, and the fountain of life was opened and from whence has poured forth the cleansing blood of our Lord for almost 20 centuries.   Yes, all this happened at Calvary, not Bethlehem!

More On Miracles (part 3)

by Tom Wacaster

[If you have not read the first two parts in this series, let me encourage you to obtain a copy from the office and take a look. Let’s continue our thoughts in this week’s column].

In order to appreciate 1 Corinthians chapter 13 the Bible student must consider the overall context in which it is written. To divorce this chapter from the immediate context of spiritual gifts will cause the student to miss the main point the Holy Spirit is trying to make. As I mentioned in my last article, each gift served a particular purpose.  Together, the nine gifts would serve to mature a congregation as they grew in the grace and knowledge of God’s word. In 12:12-30 Paul likens the church to a body. All the several parts of a physical body work in unison in order to provide for the functioning of the body as a whole. Since the church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), each member was expected to use whatever miraculous endowment he had received to help the spiritual body function as it grew unto maturity. As valuable as those spiritual gifts were, Paul closes chapter twelve with this observation: “But desire earnestly the greater gifts. And moreover a most excellent way show I unto you” (1 Cor. 12:31). That more excellent way is the way of love. Chapter thirteen will serve three purposes: (1) it provides a brief discussion on the essentiality of love; (2) it provides a discussion on the essence of love; and (3) it closes with a wonderful discussion on the endurance of love in comparison with the spiritual gifts. Each of these three points begs further consideration. 

The Essentiality of Love: There is no doubt that the church at Corinth had a serious problem regarding the gift of tongues. I get the impression they were proud, puffed up, and pugnacious with regard to their possession and use of the gift of tongues. What they were missing was genuine love. Having set forth a description of the spiritual gifts in the previous chapter, the apostle Paul now seeks to impress upon their minds the superiority of love over the gifts. The church could well function without a single spiritual gift; but without love, they were empty, vain, and nothing more than clanging brass or a tinkling cymbal. Pay close attention to 1 Corinthians 13:2. “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing.” I have intentionally italicized three words to point out that Paul focuses our attention on three of the nine gifts as representative of all nine of the gifts. Love far excels any and all of the spiritual gifts. Without love, the exercise of the spiritual gifts is vain and void.

The Essence of Love: Each of these character traits of love deserve a much closer look than what I can give in this article. The list of character traits of love is both beautiful and practical. These are the things that make agape love what it is - the deepest degree of love possible. Many years ago I heard a preacher make the practical application of these character traits and challenged each person in the audience to insert his name where the word “love” appears, and then read the passage carefully and soberly in order to see how he or she might measure up to this heavenly admonition.

The Endurance of Love: It is this third part of chapter thirteen that is the focus of this and the two previous articles. I am seeking to answer the question as to whether or not the spiritual gifts, and consequently the age of miracles, has passed, or if we still possess the same gifts and the same ability to perform miracles as did the first century church. This chapter, and especially verses 8-13, have a direct bearing on the answer to that question.

“Love never fails.” Why would the apostle even write these words unless it be to contrast the permanent nature of love with the temporal nature of the spiritual gifts? Paul is seeking to impress upon the Corinthians that love is absolutely permanent! Love will NEVER FAIL!

Before proceeding let us notice three words in this verse.  They are prophecies,” “tongues,” and “knoweldge.”  Notice also that the “never faileth” stands in contrast to “shall be done away,” “shall cease” and “shall be done away.” But in the context, what do the “tongues,” “prophecies” and “knowledge” refer to? Without doubt, they refer to the spiritual gifts set forth in the previous chapter. Whatever else we might conclude from this verse, there is the obvious and undeniable truth that the spiritual gifts were going to cease. It is only a matter of determining when that would happen.

Paul then writes, “For we know in part, and we prophecy in part.” The words are used in connection with at least two of the nine spiritual gifts. The gift of “knowledge” was only “in part.” It was limited! It was fragmented, a part here; a part there! Likewise with prophecy, tongues, discernment, and all of the other spiritual gifts. Verse 10 serves to pinpoint the precise time when the “in part” [i.e., the spiritual gifts] would cease.  “When that which is perfect is come, that which is impart shall be done away.” The question remains, therefore, as to  precisely what this “perfect thing” is. Some seem to think that the “perfect thing” refers to Christ, and conclude that “when that which is perfect is come” is a reference to the second coming. The major hurdle in this position is the neuter gender of the “perfect thing.” Were Paul speaking of Christ and His coming, he would have used the masculine gender. I think there is a very simple way to determine what the “perfect thing” is. When “that which is perfect is come,” there will no longer be a need for the spiritual gifts of “knowledge,” “tongues,” and “prophecy.” The “perfect thing” will take the place of those gifts insofar as the purpose of the gifts are concerned. Seeing that the spiritual gifts were designed to provide the content, communication, and confirmation of the message of God, it seems natural to expect the “perfect thing” to do the same thing. The only “perfect thing” that accomplishes that purpose is the fully revealed word of God. James refers to the word of God as the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). 2 Timothy 3:16-17 helps us here: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Pay close attention to the 17th verse. The word of God provides all that is necessary to completely equip us unto every good word. This includes the content of God’s message to man, the communication of that message, and the confirmation of that message. Now let’s return to 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen.

Paul immediately follows his prophecy of the “perfect thing” with two illustrations of the point he is trying to make. The first of these is that of a child who has grown into maturity. When the church was in its infant stage it needed the spiritual gifts to bring it unto maturity. This is precisely the truth taught in Ephesians 4:8-15, a passage than deserve more attention that I have space in this article to give. So I’ll come back to that later. 

The second illustration Paul gives to the Corinthians is contained in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known.” When all that men had were the spiritual gifts it was like standing before a glass “darkly.” The full clear image could not be seen. Once again, James helps us here: “For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was” (Jas. 1:23-24). When the perfect thing is come, I will be able to see myself fully! That is exactly what a person sees when he gazes into a mirror: himself! James tells us that the “perfect law of liberty” is that which enables a person to see himself as he really is, spiritually speaking.

Paul closes 1 Corinthians 13 with beautiful words, “But now abideth faith, hope love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” That is because, as Solomon wrote long ago,  “Many waters cannot quench love, Neither can floods drown it: If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, He would utterly be contemned” (Song of Solomon 8:7).

More On Miracles (part 2)

by Tom Wacaster

If you have not read part one in this series, let me encourage you to obtain a copy from the office and take a look. Let’s continue our thoughts in this week’s column.

It seems that the religious world has turned Bible teaching on its head when it comes to a reasonable and rational discussion of the spiritual gifts. This is due in no little part to the sheer emotionalism that dominates the discussion of the topic of miracles and the work of the Holy Spirit. There is a reason why God provided us with a detailed discussion of the spiritual gifts, and any good Bible student will put forth the effort to carefully study those passages that address the subject. Paramount in a proper understanding of miracles is a study of 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 where we find not only a list of the spiritual gifts, but an explanation of their purpose and duration. Chapter twelve lists the miraculous gifts available to the first century Christians (see 12:8-10). Notice there were nine spiritual gifts, given here in the order in which they appear: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. It is also notable that these nine gifts can be divided into three groups, with each group consisting of three of the spiritual gifts. Before addressing these groups and their corresponding gifts, let me remind you that the overall purpose of the age of the miraculous was to confirm the word of God (cf. Mark 16:20, Hebrews 2:2-4). Do not lose sight of that fact for in so doing you will forever be lost in a proper analysis of these spiritual gifts and the purpose for which they were given.

The first three spiritual gifts—wisdom, knowledge, and faith—all relate to the content of divine revelation.  The early church did not have the printed New Testament like today. The message was “in the man” (as some are fond of saying). Inspired apostles, and evidently inspired prophets and teachers, were granted the ability to convey the message to others by utilizing one, or all, of these spiritual gifts. The word “faith” here is not personal trust and belief in God; it is more properly “the faith,” i.e. the gospel system. Jude likewise refers to “the faith” as a body of belief (Jude 3).  “Knowledge” was given to these inspired teachers in a miraculous way. Today preachers and teachers have to dig the truth out of the treasures of God’s word. Though some may claim direct knowledge from God, they are sadly mistaken, as we shall see from our study of these chapters in 1 Corinthians.

The next three spiritual gifts—healings, miracles, and prophecy—all relate to the confirmation of divine revelation. How would the apostles authenticate the message they were taking into all the world? They would do this by the use of healings, miracles and prophecy. Here the word “prophecy” is used to indicate “fore-telling” more than “forth-telling,” though prophecy included both. The miracles performed by the apostles are sometimes referred to as “signs and wonders” because of the purpose and effect of those miracles. These miraculous acts on the part of the apostles would cause the people to “wonder,” or to be “amazed” at what they were witnessing, and thereby pay closer attention to the message itself.

The third group of spiritual gifts—discernment, tongues, and interpretation of tongues—all relate to the communication of divine revelation. How, for example, would a preacher communicate with a multitude whose language he did not speak? Today I have to use an interpreter when I go to India or Russia. When the apostle Thomas went to India (as tradition suggests), he did not know Teligu, or Hindi, or any other of the dozens of languages and dialects they speak. Thus the need for tongues.  If someone in the listening audience, whose language the speaker did not know, were to ask a question or make a comment, the teachers and evangelists would have a need for someone to interpret. Discernment was the miraculous ability to determine whether or not an imposter had infiltrated the local congregation.

Each gift, then, served a particular purpose.  Together, the nine gifts would serve to mature a congregation as they grow in the grace and knowledge of God’s word. In 12:12-30 Paul likens the church to a body. All the several parts of a physical body work in unison in order to provide for the functioning of the body as a whole. Since the church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), each member was expected to use whatever miraculous endowment he had received to help the spiritual body function as it grows unto maturity. As valuable as those spiritual gifts were, Paul closes chapter twelve with this observation: “But desire earnestly the greater gifts. And moreover a most excellent way show I unto you” (1 Cor. 12:31). That more excellent way is the way of love. Chapter thirteen will serve three purposes: (1) it provides a brief discussion on the essentiality of love; (2) it provides a discussion on the essence of love; and (3) it closes with a wonderful discussion on the endurance of love in comparison with the spiritual gifts. Each of these three points begs further consideration, which I will take up in subsequent articles.

Miracles and Modern Maladies

by Tom Wacaster

Webster gives a number of definitions for miracle, including: a phenomenon of science; a wonderful thing; an event in the physical world deviating from the known laws of nature.  The first two that I listed are really questionable insofar as true, genuine, Biblical miracles are concerned. Something may be a phenomenon of science, or even a wonderful thing, but these are most certainly not miracles. I may find a parking space at Walmart that is close to the door, but that is not a miracle.  In fact, our age has so MISUSED the word miracle, that the extraordinary nature of a miracle is no longer considered when one contemplates whether or not something is truly a miracle.  Today there are hundreds (yea, even thousands) who claim miraculous abilities, but who, at least to my knowledge, have yet to perform genuine miracles of the same magnitude as those recorded in the New Testament.  I have NOT seen nor heard of a man who, after four days in the grave, was raised to life. I have NOT seen a man have his ear cut off and restored to completeness with the touch of a hand. I have NOT seen a man born blind, and then after some thirty years be restored in an instant.  So why the apparent absence of such miracles? What was God's purpose for having miracles performed in the first place?  Was there a time limit with regard to miracles imposed by God and defined in His word?  These are questions that deserve an open, honest, and most importantly, a Biblical answer.

Think with me, for just a moment, about the purpose of miracles. When Jesus came to this earth, lived that sinless life, and died and ascended back to the right hand of God, He selected a few men through whom he would accomplish the task of sending the Gospel throughout the world. He gave them the ability to authenticate that message as having come from His throne by endowing them with miraculous powers.  While it is true that Jesus had compassion on the sick, and fed the multitudes, the primary purpose of His mighty deeds was NOT to lift man to a socially higher platform, but prove that His preaching and teaching were Divinely authorized. Reflect for a moment upon the Old Testament. Moses was given unique powers to confirm the message unto Pharaoh. There is a link between the revelation and the confirmation of that message to others. In Mark 2, Jesus would forgive the lame man. When questioned as to what authority Jesus had to forgive this man, Jesus responded with these words: But that ye may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins, I say unto thee, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house (Mark 2:10). When the apostles marched forth with the royal orders, how would they authenticate their message? The answer can be found in Mark 16:20. And they went forth, and preached everywhere...confirming the message by the signs that followed.Once a thing is confirmed, it forever stands. The truth being established, the miracle has accomplished its purpose.  

With the purpose in mind, it seems that the next point to be considered is exactly how the ability to perform miracles was passed along to another. Not everyone in the early church had the ability to perform miracles.  So how was this ability to perform miracles passed along to others?  One important passage to study in this connection is Acts 8:14-20. Philip (the evangelist; not apostle) had gone to Samaria to preach the word of God. One of those converts was Simon the sorcerer. In order to strengthen the church, it was necessary that this new congregation of babes in Christ be endowed with at least some of the spiritual gifts.  In order to pass along the gifts similar to those which Philip possessed, Peter and John (both apostles) were called from Jerusalem.  They  laid their hands upon a certain number of the brethren there, and at least some of them received the miraculous endowment of the Holy Spirit (verse 17). When considering this bestowal of the miraculous some questions come to mind. Why did Philip have to call down apostles from Jerusalem? What is meant by the laying on of the apostles hands? A careful investigation of these verses forces us to conclude the following: (1) Philip did NOT have the power to bestow the ability to perform miracles upon these new believers himself; (2) the particular manifestation of the working of the Holy Spirit under consideration is that of the miraculous element which existed in the church; (3) this miraculous element was passed along by the laying on of the apostles hands; (4) no indication is given that the particular ability to pass along the miraculous powers was available to any beside the apostles; (5) the death of the apostles would, of necessity, bring a cessation of the miraculous powers so prevalent in the early church.  Can we substantiate our conclusion with other passages?

Once asked, Do you believe in miracles? I responded with, Depends on what you mean by do you believe in…’” Do I believe God has performed miracles? Yes!  Did Jesus and the Apostles work miracles? Again, yes! But what we want to address right here is the question of whether or not miracles have ceased. We shall let the Bible speak. Emotions do not establish truth. Claims to have witnessed some miracle will not suffice either. If it is the case that the word of God teaches that miracles have ceased, all claims to the contrary do not make the Bible ‘not-so.’ I may not be able to explain what you saw, or what you may have experienced, but if it contradicts the plain teaching of the Bible, then at least I can tell you what you did NOT see or experience. Another important item that begs consideration is the obvious absence of miracles comparable to those recorded in the New Testament. The very absence of these powers among virtually every group claiming such is evidence enough that they have no such power.  The proof is in the pudding is applicable to more than just a confectionary delight. Claims need to be substantiated by proof. We shall share with our readers what the Bible says regarding the cessation of miracles and led them decide.  Due to the amount of space necessary to conclude this article I will resume my thoughts in next week’s bulletin. Or, as the old TV serials were fond of saying, “Join  us next week for the thrilling conclusion!”