Was Paul Deceived?

by Tom Wacaster

A number of attempts have been made by critics to explain the conversion of Paul, apart from the fact that Christ miraculously appeared to him on the road to Damascus. If the conversion of Paul could be explained by purely natural means it would rob Christianity of one of its major arguments in favor of the resurrection of Christ, the apostleship of Paul, and the authenticity of the Christian religion. Not surprisingly, every attempt to discredit the Biblical account has been examined and thoroughly refuted. Some have attempted to attribute Paul’s dramatic change to fraud on the part of Paul himself. It is claimed that Paul was of heathen parents, that he fell in love with the daughter of the high priest in Jerusalem, and became a proselyte and submitted to circumcision in order to secure her hand. When he failed in his plans, he took revenge and attacked the circumcision, and sought to overthrow the whole Mosaic system. Of course this argument fails on a number of points. For one thing, Paul claimed to be “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” The whole life of Paul demonstrates that he did not have one selfish bone in his body. 
Others attribute the conversion of Paul to physical causes. It is argued that Paul encountered some kind of violent storm and was suffering from a burning Syrian fever and took the lightning and thunder as some kind of heavenly vision. But who ever heard of thunder speaking in the Hebrew language? Then there is the “vision-hypothesis” in which it is claimed that the conversion of Paul can be explained by an honest self delusion. It assumes that Paul was suffering from some mental disease and this resulted in an entire change of conduct. That being the case, the “vision” he had was nothing more than a mythical and symbolical presence of Jesus in the mind of the apostle. This vision theory turns the appearance of Christ into nothing more than Paul’s subjective imagination. But this falls on at least two points. First, there were those who accompanied Paul on his trip to Damascus; men who saw the light, and heard some audible sound, as did Paul. Second, it ignores the fact that Paul relates the entire event as an objective fact. As one author noted, “It is incredible that a man of sound, clear, and keen mind as that of Paul undoubtedly was, should have made such a radical and far reaching blunder as to confound subjective reflections with an objective appearance of Jesus whom he persecuted, and to ascribe solely to an act of divine mercy what he must have known to be the result of his own thoughts, if he thought at all.” Indeed! It should be noted that Paul ties the appearance of Christ to his own apostleship. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul set forth evidence for the resurrection of Christ. He places great importance upon the various appearances of Christ to the apostles and disciples. When Paul says, “Last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also” (1 Cor. 15:8), he draws a clear line of distinction between the personal appearances of Christ and his own later visions, and closes the former with the one vouchsafed to him at his conversion. The importance of this cannot be over emphasized. As Philip Schaff pointed out: “Once, and once only, he claims to have seen the Lord in visible form and to have heard his voice; last, indeed, and out of due time, yet as truly and really as the older apostles. The only difference is that they saw the risen Saviour still abiding on earth, while he saw the ascended Saviour coming down from heaven, as we may expect him to appear to all men on the last day. It is the greatness of that vision which leads him to dwell on his personal unworthiness as ‘the least of the apostles and not worthy to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the church of God.’ He uses the realness of Christ’s resurrection as the basis for his wonderful discussion of the future resurrection of believers, which would lose all its force if Christ had not actually been raised from the dead” (Schaff, History of the Christian Church).
It should be pointed out that if the appearance of Christ to Paul was a delusion, then so was his apostleship. In contrast, the whole life of Paul, from his conversion to his eventual martyrdom in Rome, is the best argument for the authenticity of his conversion and the reality of the vision itself. If Paul’s conversion was a fabrication and the vision a hoax, then the inspired words of our Lord, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” is proven false. Could an illusion change history and effect a change on Paul and those who heard and accepted his gospel message? My friends, the conversion of Paul, his vision on the road to Damascus, and his life are as genuine as any fact of history, worthy of serious and sobering reflection. I’ll close this little essay with this interesting observation from the pen of Wayne Jackson:
Lord George Lyttelton (1708-1773) was an Oxford educated scholar who also served with great distinction in the British Parliament. Initially he was highly skeptical of Christianity. He determined he would do a critical examination and expose’ of Luke’s record of Paul’s “conversion experience.” He believed he could establish that Paul’s radical transformation was grounded in base motives of self-interest. He knew there had to be some rational justification for such a major alteration of Saul’s life. After carefully researching the matter in a thoroughly scholarly fashion, he reversed his skeptical view, having concluded that Paul’s conversion was genuine. There was no reasonable explanation for the radical turnaround, other than the fact that Paul actually had seen the resurrected Christ on the Damascus road. The Christian movement was founded, he therefore concluded, upon the truth that Jesus of Nazareth in fact was raised bodily from the dead (Christian Courier Website).

The Beatitudes

by Tom Wacaster

“And he opened his mouth and taught them saying…” Jesus was the Master Teacher; of that there can be no doubt. When compared with the writings of some men, the number of words from the lips of our Lord and contained in the gospels may seem insignificant. It is not the number of words our Lord spoke (and that were recorded), but the intensity and depth of meaning contained in those words that astound us. The sheer beauty of the beatitudes contained in Matthew 5:3-12 surpasses the writings of Tennyson, Shakespeare and Browning combined. Our English words, “and he opened his mouth and taught them saying,” translates a Greek phrase that was used of a solemn, grave and dignified utterance. I once read of a preacher who said he would, on the following Sunday, present the best sermon that any man had, or would ever, hear. On the given occasion, the preacher simply stood, and read the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety, and then sat down. The Beatitudes contain a sampling of the majesty and beauty of the words of Jesus Christ. These few verses that make up what we call the beatitudes’ contain the distinctive character traits which mark the lives of God’s true servants. That is what God wants - servants - men and women who will serve Him and their fellowman. This is a beautiful section of scripture, rich in spiritual truths, and is deserving of our time and study. What must it have been like to actually sit at the feet of Jesus and hear these words for the first time? The inflection in our Lord’s voice, His gestures as He sought to emphasize a certain point, and the tone of voice with which He spoke must have dazzled those who listened. Consider some things about these beatitudes:
First, each one starts with the word ‘blessed,’ which in turn translates the Greek word ‘makarios.’  The word was used to describe a state of deep contentment that is derived from a knowledge and application of the word of God to one’s life. It is more than mere happiness, for men often find happiness in any given moment, only to watch it flee away when the circumstances of life change. The late Foy E. Wallace commented on this word ‘makarios’: “The word beatify means to make happy, and Beatitude means consummate bliss or blessedness. The eight codified declarations which introduce the discourse of Christ, which have been named the Beatitudes, describe realm of the kingdom of heaven as a state of spiritual blessedness which produces the highest happiness of the soul. (Foy E. Wallace, The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State).
Second, the joy and happiness that comes from the incorporation of these things into one’s life is something that is beyond human description, and which in turn produces a joy that cannot be taken from us (John 16:22). Think of Paul in the closing years of his life. No doubt he discovered, and “learned” the secret of being happy (Phil. 4:4), so much so that he could express confidence in the eternal home that awaited him, even while staring death square in the face. One author expressed it this way: “The Beatitudes speak of a joy which comes in spite of sickness, pain, sorrow, loss of a loved one, or grief” (David Padfield). Jesus is telling His audience, “I want to give you a happiness that is so deep, so lasting, so complete, that you will be a truly blessed person” (Charles Allen). In view of the fact that our Lord wants us to be a genuinely happy people, it becomes apparent that a truly meaningful life does come by possessing something, or even doing something, but in being something.
Third, most of the Beatitudes are paradoxical—they express the exact opposite of the world’s view regarding life and happiness. Consider, as an example, the third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Try to convince the worldly, materialistic minded individual of the truth of those words. In the eyes of the godless the only way to make any kind of headway in this world is to do it unto others before they do it unto you. Every single one of these beatitudes run against the grain to the thinking of modern man. Yet those who have diligently sought to acquire these character traits have learned from practical experience that Jesus spoke the truth, regardless of how contrary to human thinking they might seem to be.
Fourth, there is an interesting order to the Beatitudes, of which I have no doubt that it was intentional on the part of Jesus. Seeing that so many (if not all) of the beatitudes focus on one’s attitude, we note the following. There are attitudes necessary for becoming a Christian: Submission (“poor in spirit”), Contrition (“they that mourn”), Subjection (“the meek”). Then, there are attitudes essential to growing stronger as a Christian: Instruction (“hunger and thirst after righteousness”), Compassion (“merciful”), Sanctification (“pure in heart”), and Cooperation (“peacemakers”). Finally, there is one attitude necessary for remaining in the faith, namely Conviction (“when men shall persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely”). A close examination of the order suggests that the beatitudes set forth a man who is coming to God and then doing all he can possibly do to maintain that close walk with his Creator. 
Fifth, the structure of each of the beatitudes follows a similar grammatical pattern, containing three parts: an initial pronouncement of blessing (“Blessed are....”), a descriptive term of the character under consideration (“Pure in heart,” “poor in spirit”, etc.), and reward associated with each (starting with the statements “for they shall” or “for theirs is”).
I’ll close this week’s article with a quote from William Barclay regarding the beatitudes: “The world can win its joys, and the world can equally well lose its joys. A change in fortune, a collapse in health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather, can take away the fickle joy the world can give. But the Christian has the serene and untouchable joy which comes from walking for ever in the company and in the presence of Jesus Christ” (Daily Bible Studies, Matthew, ESword Module).
(In subsequent articles we will take a closer look at each of the beatitudes given by our Lord. TW)

The Sermon On The Mount

by Tom Wacaster
Matthew chapter five begins the longest single recorded discourse of our Lord.  Multiple tributes have been paid to this wonderful sermon, but any attempt to add to the beauty or grandeur of the words of our Lord would be like holding a burning candle next to the sun. R.L. Whiteside had this note regarding the Sermon on the Mount: “It seems certain that no other speech ever delivered has so influenced man as has this sermon on the mount. Its contents, so superior to any production of man, proved the Deity of its author. Its teaching is out of harmony with any school of religion or philosophy of that day; hence, their brightest lights could not have produced it.   Its teaching is distinct, revolutionary, challenging every school of religious thought of the times, both Jewish and heathen. It is not a product of the times, but of Deity.” (R. L. Whiteside, Bible Studies, Vol. 4, p. 117). Eldred Stevens quoted John T. Fisher’s beautiful tribute concerning the Sermon On The Mount:
If you were to take the sum total of all the authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene - if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount. And it would suffer immeasurably by comparison” (Stevens, The Sermon On The Mount, page 1).
This sermon has been called the “Manifesto of the King,” “The Constitution of the Kingdom,” and “The Magna Charta of Christianity.” It has been described as a “forecast and an epitome of the entire oral ministry of Christ.” It is, indeed, “the masterpiece of the Master Preacher.” There is perhaps no other selection in the New Testament that, as a block of teaching, reaches so deeply into the human heart and holds up the mirror to show a man what he is when compared to the Christ Who spoke these words. As we bring this year to a close, and begin a new year, I think it would be profitable to spend some time examining some select portions of these three chapters. No, it won’t be an exhaustive study, for how could it be in the short space allotted in this bulletin? I will, however, provide you with some seeds for thought, and challenges from the words of our Lord that will enrich your soul.
It might be good first to think about our approach to a study of the Sermon on the Mount. First, why should we study the Sermon on the Mount? There are a number of good reasons why we should spend time drinking deeply from these chapters. (1) First, the Sermon on the Mount can be regarded as a summary of what it means to live the Christian life. In it we see (1) The PERSONS of the kingdom, 5:1-16, (2) The POWER of the kingdom, 5:17-20, (3) The PRINCIPLES of the kingdom, 5:21-48, and (4) The PRECEPTS of the kingdom, 6:1-7:27. (2) Second, we should study this sermon because of the superficiality of Christianity in the lives of so many people, both IN the church and OUT of the church. Again from the pen of the late Eldred Stevens: 
How we have thrilled at reading of ages when the Lord and the church of the Lord meant everything to disciples: of ages when Christians were burning with a passion to share their faith with others - to convert others to Christ;  of ages when saints of God would rather die at a stake than compromise one truth of God’s revelation, or allow their lives to be tarnished with worldliness;  of ages when the line between the church and the world was clearly and firmly drawn; of ages when Christians would not give the snap of their fingers for extra dollars, for luxuries, for titillating sensual pleasures. This is not the case now (Stevens, S9.1-2).
(3) Third, we should study these chapters carefully because they provide us with the answers for today’s spiritual deficiencies and present day superficiality. Herein are some of the most pointed and poignant words ever spoken and/or written. Those who love the light will come to the light that their lives may be conducted in the paths of righteousness. Will we bow at the feet of Jesus and learn, and then having learned will we apply these things to our lives? If not, then we will never learn the answer to life’s questions, nor will we ever experience growth as God would have it.
Second, for what PURPOSE was this sermon spoken and recorded? First, it was NOT an elaboration upon the Jewish law. There are things contained within the Sermon on the Mount that do not appear in the Law of Moses. But beyond that, the various “contrasts” that appear suggest that what Jesus was giving was to supersede that old Law. Second, these are not admonitions for some premillennial kingdom that will appear at the end of the Christian dispensation. You will note as we proceed through these chapters that these precepts and principles address the spiritual man. The Kingdom of Christ is “not of this world.” Third, we cannot turn this wonderful sermon into a modern version of the Ten Commandments. Though many of the principles of the Old Law are apparent in this sermon, our Lord goes far beyond that Old Law and presses a deeper application of those truths that will truly make men holy in the sight of God. The Sermon On The Mount provides us with rich spiritual truths that will improve the inner man. For certain those internal changes will be reflected in the outward man. An application of these things to one’s life will provide spiritual growth and maturity. 
Third, Why should we apply these things to our lives?  First, because our Lord promised that those who practiced the things listed herein would be “blessed.” Second, because the Sermon on the Mount provides us with the key to evangelism. If we would live, truly live, the truths contained herein, people would see our lives, observe our “light” and be moved to embrace the things exemplified in our lives. 
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the social and historical background of the Sermon on the Mount. David Padfield provides us with the following information:
The land of Judea was filled with many problems. The country was occupied by a tyrannical military government. It was a world of absolute rulers, the very antithesis of democracy; all power was in one man’s hands. It was a world of persecution. Taxes consumed a third of one’s income. Racial prejudice was prevalent (Luke 10:25-36). Slavery was rampant - approximately three slaves to every free man. The zealots, the terrorists of their day, said, ‘Don’t worry about your inner life. Our holy hope is military might.’ The Sadducees said, ‘Survive by compromise. Make personal gain and the best bargain you can negotiate.’ The Pharisees saw things differently and said, ‘Live a clean, pure life and trust in God and He will do the rest.’  The Pharisees became very strict and relied upon human tradition to put a ‘hedge’ around the Torrah. It has been said that the Sadducees bargained with Rome, while the Pharisees bargained with God (Padfield, The Beautitudes, page 1). 
A study of the Sermon On The Mount will change the lives of those who are  willing to study it with the determination of applying the principles therein to their lives. I’ll close this week’s article with the words of R.C. Foster:
In this sermon Jesus offered the clearest and most powerful declaration the world has ever heard concerning the problem of human conduct. The advance over the revelation offered in the Old Testament is most startling. The range of man’s responsibility is immeasurably extended by the profound emphasis upon the thought-life as the active source of speech and action. The full gospel was not proclaimed by Jesus on this occasion, because this gospel was to be based upon His death, burial, and resurrection, and hence could not be set forth until Pentecost. But the Sermon on the Mount carries the most complete analysis of human conduct — its sources, its motives, its qualities, and results. All the combined wisdom of the centuries has not been able to add anything to the fundamental principles laid down in this sermon. Individual problems have changed with the changing scenery of the generations that have come and gone, but these problems still must be taken to the feet of Jesus for their proper solution on the basis of the principles of life He enunciated (R.C.Foster, Studies In The Life of Christ, 424).

Catching Up

by Tom Wacaster

Three weeks out of the office has left me so far behind that I doubt I shall ever catch up. Actually, it is very seldom that I feel as if I have caught up with the demands on my time, seeing I have this bad habit of biting off more than I can chew. I have sermons I want, and need, to preach. I have a backlog of books waiting to be read; and just about the time I start whittling down the stack of unread books, I buy some more that I think might be useful “someday.” I have people I need to go see, chores around the house that need to be finished, and books and articles I want to write.

In the early years of my mission work in Russia I was often astonished at the lack of efficiency of various aspects of life in that former Communist nation. On one occasion I was informed by my contact that the local post office had a solution to the large backlog of mail that frequently overwhelmed them. They were understaffed, poorly trained to do the job, and with the economy the way it was during the transition from a communist to a free-market system, the workers were putting in a lot of overtime without a fair compensation in wages. In order to handle the backlog, they would simply take several bags of mail out to the incinerator and toss what they deemed unimportant mail into the fire. One might ask, “How did they know if the mail was ‘unimportant’ if they didn’t take the time to open the mail?” Good question, but one that did not seem to slow down the process of ‘catching up.’ I don’t recommend using the Russian post office as an example of how to get caught up with what lags behind in your life; though at times I have been tempted.

When I read of Paul’s heavy schedule that was filled with mission travels, defense of the faith, and then add to this the time it took to pen (by inspiration) the largest portion of the New Testament, I sometimes wonder if he, too, ever played catch up. He made at least three mission trips, four if he ever made it to Spain like he intended. When I read of his activities on those various trips I wonder where he ever found the time to “make tents.” He wrote of his busy schedule with these words: “For we are not bold to number or compare ourselves with certain of them that commend themselves: but they themselves, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves with themselves, are without understanding. But we will not glory beyond our measure, but according to the measure of the province which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves overmuch, as though we reached not unto you: for we came even as far as unto you in the gospel of Christ: not glorying beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labors; but having hope that, as your faith groweth, we shall be magnified in you according to our province unto further abundance, so as to preach the gospel even unto the parts beyond you, and not to glory in another's province in regard of things ready to our hand” (2 Cor. 10:12-16). Paul was so determined to preach the gospel to all who would listen that he would “most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15). The literal rendering of that verse has Paul saying he would be willing to be “spent and spent out” for their souls. When I compare my life with the life of Christ, and my labors with those of Paul, I come to the realization that I fall far short of doing all that can be done for the cause of Christ. Perhaps my frantic rush to “catch up” is only an allusion, and what I really need to do is slow down and prioritize those things in my life that demand my attention. Think about it!


By the time this bulletin goes to print we will be less than four days away from the beginning of our fall gospel meeting. We continue to pray for open doors, interested souls, and heaven’s blessings in all our efforts toward this end.  With next week’s bulletin we will bring the meeting to a close, with only one night’s session still remaining. Between the publication of these two bulletins some of the most significant events will take place. Your invitations extended to others may very well change the course of history; the sermons they hear during the meeting can be life-altering. There is nothing like the preaching of the gospel as far as the effect it can, and will have upon the souls of men. It is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). All the military might combined, all the natural disasters put together, cannot affect the lives of men as does the preaching of the gospel. While the former events might temporarily disrupt one’s life, those too shall pass. But with the preaching of the gospel, not only is a life changed, but the eternal destiny of a soul is forever altered. I don’t know how that strikes you, but every time I think about it, it reminds me of exactly how important and significant is the work that I do as a gospel preacher, and the work of this congregation (and hundreds and thousands of congregations around the word). And it reminds me of the wonderful opportunity God has given the church here at Handley to unleash the power that can save men’s soul. That, my friends, is a significant thing to think about.

Taking The Whole of Scripture

by Tom Wacaster

“Hermeneutics” is the science of interpretation. The word is derived from the Greek mythological character, “Hermes,” the messenger of the ‘gods’ and the interpreter of Jupiter. Through the years there have been a number of Bible scholars who have taken the time and effort to set forth, in writing, a systematic approach to the study and interpretation of the scriptures.  The most notable works are D.R. Dungan's Hermeneutics, and Clinton Lockhart's Principles of Interpretation. Both of these books are still in print, and I recommend them for your consideration. Also, brother Terry Hightower has edited and published an excellent two volume set of lectures entitled, Rightly Dividing the Word, in which the various speakers deal with the principals involved in proper hermeneutical approach to the scriptures. If men would put aside their bias and human opinions, and make an honest effort to study and apply some of the fundamental principles of interpretation, much of the division could be resolved. Unfortunately, false teaching will always exist, and error will continue to take its toll upon the religious world. Peter has warned us, “But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). Jesus warned us to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Such errorists will always exist. Hence the ever increasing need to not only study, but to “handle aright” the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). The American Standard Version of 1901 has this interesting foot note on this passage.  It reads, “holding a straight course in the word of truth.”

The Psalmist wrote, “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God!  How great is the sum of them” (Psalms 139:18). A fundamental principle involved in the interpretation of the Scriptures is the need to take the whole of God's word into consideration in our search for truth. It is the “sum” of God's word which must be obeyed, not just a portion thereof. Call it what you will, whether a “balance” of scripture, or as Paul put it, the “whole council of God” (Acts 20:27), the end result is that we cannot pick and choose from scripture as we would food from a cafeteria line. A couple of illustrations might help us here. Look at Philippians 2:12, where it is recorded, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  A great number of my brethren have labored over this passage and have suffered frustration in their efforts to live up to God's expectations in their attempt to “work out” their salvation. But look at the very next verse in this passage. “For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.” Again, Paul warned us, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). The danger of apostasy is real. Pride could easily get even the best of us. But look at the next verse in that passage: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it” (verse 13).  Though we must make the effort to escape sin, we are assured that God will provide the way. Too often we simply fail to look for, and then take, the route of escape to safety.

God's plan for man's salvation is not to be found in any single passage of Scripture, but rather the “sum” of all of those passages which address the matter of man's obligation to the Almighty. To take any single passage to the neglect of others will certainly spell doom for the sincere but misled soul. The late William Cline once wrote, “The Bible does not lend itself to false doctrine for it is balanced in its content, complete in its message, and perfect in every way.”  I could not have said it any better.

While in India I would encourage the preachers with whom we work to put aside a sufficient amount of time to study the word of God. Study goes beyond the simple reading of a passage from time to time. It even goes beyond the completion of some annual Bible Reading Schedule. Study is hard work; but it is necessary work if we are to take the “whole” of Scripture and benefit thereby. Think about it.

God's Providence and World Evangelism

by Tom Wacaster

In the year 1800 A.D., an outrigger canoe from Rai’atea, near Tahiti, was caught in a storm, blown off course, and then after drifting 750 miles west, landed on the northern shore of Rarotonga. The fishermen were greeted by the ariki chief, Makea Timirau, and the people of the Te-au-o-Tonga tribe. The fishermen shared with the people of Rarotonga news about a new god that had come to their island some two years earlier. That “god” was Jehovah, Who had a son by the name of Jesus Christ. Because of the teaching of the people from Beritini (Britan), many of the people were becoming Christians. The aged chief of the Te-au-o-Tonga tribe asked the fishermen, “Why would you desert the gods of your fathers to serve this Jehovah? What blessing has Jehovah brought to Rai’atea?” The Rai’atean fishermen answered in one word: “Peace!” After the fishermen had left for home, the Rarotongans pondered the significance of the news which they had received. “Peace” was a dream of their entire island. For over a century now they had experienced only anarchy and agnosticism. These people had been looking for such a god who could bring them the peace experienced by their neighboring Rai’ateans. Over the next several years they would dream of the day when this Jehovah would come. In the midst of their search for alternatives came the visits of James Cook and the “Bounty” that renewed these dreams. The Rarotongans wanted the blessings of this new “God,” so chief Makea commanded the people to pray daily that someone would bring Jehovah. He built a temple to Jehovah, and named the next generation “Jesus Christ.” For more than a quarter century the people of that island literally for “priests” of Jehovah to come. In July, 1823, a teacher from the London Missionary Society arrived. Messengers quickly spread the news to others on the island, “Jehovah is come!” Within months hundreds of ancestral figures were burned and almost all of the 8,000 inhabitants of that island were studying the Bible every day.

The amazing providence of God can be seen in this story, for without the storm it is possible that the inhabitants of Rarotonga might well have remained in darkness for yet another century or two. My various mission trips over the past two decades has convinced me even more that God works in a providential way to get His gospel to those longing for the truth. Let me tell you of an incident this past week that reminded me of the wonderful providence of our God. One of the primary cities in which Nehemiah Gootam and I have worked over the years is Palacole. My first work in this city was in 2004. Good hotels were hard to come by; in fact they simply did not exist. One year when we were leaving to head to Palacole, Nehemiah purchased some sheets in Kakinada to carry with us. Upon our arrival in Palacole, we checked into the local hotel, and Nehemiah gave me two sheets to use in the place of those already on the bed. Digny brown is how I would describe the sheets the hotel supplied. The bathrooms were anything but clean, but at least it was a place where we could lay our head for a couple of days.

Three years ago they built a new hotel in Palacole: The Royal Regency. The name of the hotel is a little misleading, but the rooms are descent, and for the most part clean and comfortable. It so happens that a young man took a job with that hotel sometime back. Somehow he and his father had heard of the church of Christ in Palacole but had not come into contact with any of the members. His father preaches for a 150 member denominational church. On our last morning at Palacole, as we were packing to leave, the young man came to my room and began a conversation with Nehemiah. As it turns out it was his night to work the 3rd floor, and had heard us speaking about the church, the school and the Bible. He took advantage of the opportunity, inquired about the school and expressed a desire to learn more. Circumstance? Was all of this an accident in some random chain of events? I don’t think so. There have been too many examples like this in almost every place where I have preached, both in local work and in mission work.  The world may see all such chain of events as mere circumstance. Believing in a God Who oversees the universe, and Who will not allow a sparrow to fall without taking notice, I prefer to see it as God’s providence. God not only requires that we seek Him (Heb. 11:6), but He too is active in seeking lost humanity. 

When Papehia, the Polynesian teacher, landed on Rarotonga in 1823 he was considered an answer to the prayers of the people. His arrival generated great joy, and people were running around the island shouting the news of Jehovah’s arrival. Today there are untold millions who may very well be praying that Jehovah will come. I am thankful that you and I can play some small part in answer to their prayers; and I am thankful that our God, in His wonderful providence, is able to get us in touch with those souls seeking the true and living God.



by Tom Wacaster

September is the month for the three week Hindu festival. Since my annual trip to India is usually in September, I always manage to catch at least a part of the foolishness that is associated with the worship to the false gods of Hindusim, and I keep telling myself that one of these days I plan to bypass September, and schedule my trip to this country on another date. So far that has only been an unfulfilled intention. It is hard to describe the devotion that multitudes pay to their idols. Parades during the Hindu festival are common, along with the drum beating, dancing in the street, and loud music that goes along with these parades. For the most part the roads in India are very narrow, and if you happen to come upon one of these parades it is a challenge to pass the various wagons that are being used to carry their god to yet another destination while calling out for the people to come bow down to their god. The people dancing in the street seem to have no concern for the traffic, and will almost dare our driver to get close to them. So much more could be said about the parades, merriment, and false worship that goes along with the celebration during the Hindu festival, but I will move on to the subject at hand.

Every city, town, hamlet and village has its Hindu temple; and in many cases they have multiple temples, some large, some small. No expense is spared to give their “god” the worship they seem to think it is worthy of receiving (I say “it” for the simple reason that is what it is; an  “it” and not a “he”). The idol is usually placed toward the back wall of the temple, with lights illuminating the small room in which it sits, surrounded by flowers, ornaments draping the grotesque figure that has been placed there. Meanwhile the worshippers bow before their “god” in the vain hope that some blessing might be granted from this lifeless piece ceramic or stone carving. It is a sad scene to behold, and one that would, no doubt, provoke Paul’s spirit as did the idols in Athens upon his arrival to that city. Since the Hindus evidently enjoy taking their idol out of the “box” from time to time and parade it up and down the streets, occasionally I will see a temple that has had the idol temporarily removed, evidently placed on some wagon and paraded up and down the streets.

It was very late Friday night and Nehemiah Gootam and I were returning to Kakinada after preaching in Modekurru and Uppalaguptam. I was surprised at how many of the idol worshippers were still in the streets, dancing in the presence of their god (now sitting on some wagon for all to see) and encouraging others to participate in the merrymaking. Our driver managed to navigate the van through the masses of people, past the wagon blaring with music, past the Hindu god that sat on the wagon, and past the parade and resume our journey on toward Kakinada. About two blocks away we passed the “temple” where the idol appeared to have once sat, for I did not see an idol inside. The gates were closed and padlocked; not with one lock, but with at least three. As we passed the padlocked temple I thought, “Why would anyone want to worship a god that could be padlocked inside this little house, or locked out once it had been removed from the temple and placed on the wagon?”

The Bible has numerous examples where locks were used to confine people, but never is it said that anyone was ever able to lock God  in or out! Saul of Tarsus used locks to incarcerate the Christians, but would himself one day serve time in a Roman prison cell for his faith in Jesus. Herod killed James and then arrested Peter and put him in jail for safe keeping until  the evil potentate could take the life of yet another apostle, all in an attempt to placate the Jewish authorities who stopped their ears to the preaching of God’s word. Herod would soon learn that locks and bars could not hold God’s chosen people unless it was within the divine purpose to do so. The apostles were arrested in Jerusalem and charged by the Sanhedrin not to preach in the name of Jesus Christ. Daniel was arrested and thrown into the lion’s den, Jeremiah placed in dark damp well, and some of the prophets had to hide in caves to escape the wrath of king Ahab and his wife Jezebel. But never do I read of anyone incarcerating God. The thought is almost laughable. Yet men have attempted to lock God out of their lives, and my even be able to successfully do so for a limited period of time, but in the final analysis it is they who have become the prisoners to their own sin, being in bondage to that which they serve. The atheists, modernists, liberals, God-haters and God-deniers would, were it within their power to do so, lock up every Christian and throw away the key, thinking that in the process they have stopped the gospel, and somehow incarcerated God. But they will not succeed.

As we passed that parade I looked back at the locked Hindu temple, and the crowd in the distance as they marched off into the dark night. How said that on judgment day they will learn that you might be able to padlock the door at the temple of some Hindu god, but our God will not, and cannot, be padlocked; and to Him shall all men eventually bow the knee and confess the name of Jesus Christ.

I Endure All Things

by Tom Wacaster

My first experience at traveling abroad for mission work was in 1988. Ten of us traveled to Port Elizabeth, South Africa for a two week campaign, and three days of R&R at a wild life resort just outside of Johannesburg. That campaign gave me my first taste of mission work, and as one experienced missionary told me then, “Once mission work gets in your blood you will never be the same.” I did not (and could not) have appreciated the full extent of what he told me at that time. As God’s providence would have it, I returned to South Africa following that campaign for almost two years of mission work, living and laboring on foreign soil. I would not suggest that mission work in Africa was a life of ease, but neither would I suggest that it was a difficult field in which to labor in our Lord’s kingdom. The people spoke English, and for the most part, the values of the western world prevailed. Other than having to learn to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, and adjust to the British and Dutch accent of those with whom we communicated, life was pretty much like back home. The largest percentage of the population had at least some basis in the Christian faith, though steeped in the denominational dogma that has blinded the eyes of so many of those professing to be Christians. I like to think that those two years in South Africa would prepare me for other mission opportunities that would come my way.

In 1991 I made my first trip into Russia to preach the gospel. It would be my first of more than three dozen mission trips to Russia and/or Ukraine. In the early years of working in those former Soviet Russia block countries the conditions were anything but favorable. Travel was difficult, learning to speak through an interpreter challenging, and the work quite exhausting. Many of the comforts of home that we took for granted simply did not exist in that country that was, for the first time, getting a taste of freedom. It would be a half dozen or more years before Moscow would upgrade their airports, improve the travel conditions, and offer lodging and food that was more in line with the habits of the European nations with which they were attempting to join themselves. Those trips were anything but a vacation, and it usually took a week or so to recover from the strenuous schedule we endured once we arrived home from one of those missionary journeys. But I continued to make those trips for no other reason than the fact that the doors were open to preach, the souls were receptive, and the fruit of our labors was abundant.

In 1994 I resigned my local work and my wife and I committed ourselves to two years work in Ukraine. Due to visa restrictions, we could only stay in the country for 120 days, at which point we would have to leave, come home, apply for yet another visa, and then make the journey back to Poltava to pick up where we left off. Living in Poltava was challenging. We had to work through an interpreter (again), travel was quite limited, and shopping for basic necessities was a challenge. Our first winter spent in Poltava was from January-April of 1995. It was bitterly cold and our living quarters were heated by steam produced and piped to our apartment from some remote “boiler” outside the apartment complex. There was no thermostat so we had to take what the government sent us through those pipes. Sometimes it was overly warm; sometimes extremely cold. That winter there were no fresh vegetables at the market, the open meat market was appalling, but we survived on cucumbers and bananas for the most part. Had it not been for brethren we would have starved. As it was, we both lost about 25 pounds during that four month mission trip. But we survived, and the work was extremely rewarding.

I returned to local work in 1999, and continued to make at least one mission trip to Russia each year. One year, the time came for my annual mission trip to Syktyvkar, Russia. Following that trip some cantankerous brother decided he did not like the church spending money on what he deemed unimportant. He must have realized that complaining about spending money on mission trips might make him look bad, so he concocted some lame brain excuse to challenge my annual mission trips. “Why should the church pay for our preacher’s vacation to other parts of the world?” When I got wind of the brother’s objection, I made an offer publically to the congregation: “If any of you would like an all expense paid vacation to Syktyvkar, Russia, I will take it out of my own pocket. The only condition is that you follow my itinerary.” I got no takers.

As the years past more doors of opportunity opened for me to travel to other countries: Mexico, Ethiopia, Nepal, India, Russia, and the Philippines. So far as evangelistic outreach is concerned, there is no single part of the world where hearts are more receptive than in India. The work is challenging, and exhausting, and I usually come home worn out physically, drained emotionally, but spiritually uplifted. So, why do I make those trips? Why does anyone endure the discomforts of leaving home, travel to some distant country, put up with the cultural differences, and literally wear himself out? I’ll let the apostle Paul answer that question: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). It is not the luxurious hotels that beckon the missionary to distant lands, for luxurious hotels are few and far between in some of those countries. It is not the cuisine and exotic meals that compels us to travel to ports-of-call.  It is the lost souls who hunger and thirst after righteousness; it is the open doors that allow the gospel have free run; it is the full realization that if we do not go, someone may very well be lost due to our neglect. For those reasons, I, and others like myself, “endure all things for the elect’s sake.”

Lest I leave the impression that only those who actually “go” are helping to fulfill this need, it must be remembered that there are those at home who “endure” the separation from their loved ones, or who pray fervently for the safety and success of these mission trips—all of us working together to answer the Macedonian call so as to take the word of life to the masses lost in sin. Why do we do it? “For the elect’s sake!”

Recapturing The Growth of the Last Century

by Tom Wacaster

If you were to do a search on the world-wide-web so as to find the largest and/or fastest growing churches in America, you might be surprised at what you find.  I was surprised to learn that the ten fastest growing churches in America do not include a single main-line denomination (Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, etc.). The first mainline church in a list of the 100 fastest growing churches in America appears 27th on the list, beginning with number one and counting down. Here are the names of top ten fastest growing churches in America: “Church of the Highlands” in Birmingham, Alabama; “Elevation Church” in Charlotte, North Carolina; “Triumph Church” in Detroit, Michigan; “Fellowship Bible Church” in Rogers, Arkansas; “The Rock Church” in San Diego, California; “Destiny Metro Worship Church” in Atlanta, Georgia; “Flatirons Community Church” in Lafayette, Colorado; “New Hope Christian Fellowship” in Honolulu, Hawaii; “Mission Ebenezer Family Church” in Carson, California; and “The Austin Stone Community Church” in Austin, Texas. I was surprised that Joel Osteen’s church down in Houston did not make the top ten list. I visited a few of the websites of these denominations. One thing that seemed to stand out on the two or three sites I visited was the emphasis on Bible study, fellowship, and outreach. Those three factors have contributed to the rapid growth (at least in numbers) of each and every one of those denominations. Meanwhile, the so-called “main line” denominations continue their trek away from God and the Bible toward a more liberal and less stringent view of God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. As a result, those main line churches began losing numbers more than 50 years ago, and their shrinking numbers have not abated to this day.

Now let me share with you an observation that the late Paul Harvey, a nationally famous news commentator, made in 1970. Referring to the various denominational churches, Mr. Harvey turned his attention to the Catholic Church and their efforts to attract young people. His observation was that additions decreased, rather than increased. Listen to his words:

“And if a diluted dogma was intended to revitalize the church, it has had the opposite effect. During the past year (1970, TW), the membership gain in the Roman Catholic Church was less than 1 percent; less than the population increase; the least increase in 25 years. Similarly, major Protestant denominations which have tended toward liberalization in doctrine, liturgy and social attitudes are in the most trouble. Lutheran churches in the United States gained only two tenths of 1 percent in membership last year; the least ever. The United Methodist Church, which has perhaps, ‘gone modern’ with the boldest strides, suffered a decline in membership approximating 2 percent. On the other hand, the strictest churches continue to grow fastest. The Assemblies of God, America’s largest Pentecostal body, enjoyed a 9 percent increase in membership last year. The strictly fundamentalist Church of Christ grew about 9 percent. The Mormon Church, which continues to frown on drinking, smoking, dancing, and such, established new congregations last year at a rate of almost one a day. How much the diluted dogma of the major denominations can be blamed for recent rebellion outside the church is impossible to establish.”

I joined the Coast Guard in 1966. During my last few years at home I was blessed to be a part of an active youth group at the old Urbandale congregation in east Dallas. The one thing I remember perhaps more than anything else was the stress that was placed on Bible preaching, strong doctrine, and what it was that made the church “right.” The inspiration of the Bible was upheld, truth was emphasized, and moral living was expected on the part of every single member. If I remember correctly, it was sometime in the mid 1960’s that the Dallas congregations sponsored a huge joint effort to preach the gospel and reach the lost. The Convention center was rented, and for 15 nights, there was an all out effort to reach every household in Dallas with the precious, pure, and powerful Gospel of Jesus Christ. The crowds each night numbered in the 1,000’s, and the last night—Sunday evening—the congregations turned out early in order to gather together at the Convention Center for the finale of that 15 day meeting. The Convention Center was filled to capacity, and by the time I got there, the fire marshal was turning people away. I was blessed to witness first hand the amazing fruit of a unified brotherhood; a brotherhood that loved the truth and preached and practiced the same.

Socially, the 1960’s were a time of cultural upheaval here in America. The sexual revolution, anti-establishment mind set, and affluence in our nation combined so as to turn the attention of the masses away from spiritual matters toward materialism, self indulgence, and moral laxity. Consequently, the growth rate among churches of Christ began to slow. With each passing year the growth rate seemed to slow even more, and brethren were wondering what had happened.  Sometime in the late 60’s and early 70’s the winds of change began to blow across the brotherhood. In an attempt to be “like the denominations” around her, there were congregations from California to Carolina that began to compromise the truth in an effort to recapture the growth rate of the first half of the century. “What are we doing wrong?” seemed to echo from every corner of the brotherhood. What brethren failed to realize was that we were not doing anything wrong. We were still preaching the truth, and the spirit of liberalism had not yet infected the largest majority of our congregations. The problem was not with “us.” The problem was with the world and it’s sudden disinterest in things spiritual. But the proverb still rings true, “There are none so blind as they who will not see!” The calls for “change” became louder and it was not long until the Lord’s church here in America became enamored with the “programs” of the denominations that, at least at the moment, were producing great growth in numbers. So, like the denominations, some began to abandon strong doctrinal preaching in exchange for a milder, less “offensive” approach to outreach. Meanwhile, the numbers continued to decline, and conversions became almost non-existent in the closing years of the last century.

Sadly, too many congregations quit preaching the sound doctrine, compromised on marriage and divorce, and began to question whether or not there were devout, sincere Christians in the denominations. This paved the way for the acceptance of instrumental music, increased fellowship with the denomination churches, and an abandonment of the proclamation of the truth. Gospel meetings have shrunk from two weeks, to one week, to four days, eventually giving way to two day, or even single day meetings.  Perhaps it is time we took a lesson from the late Paul Harvey, and get back to the “strictness” of our doctrine and practice, the proclamation of that uniqueness, and holy living on the part of every member. 

We cannot control whether or not hearts will be receptive to our message. But just because the world refuses to listen is no excuse on our part to do what we know is important and essential to church growth. Meanwhile, we pray that the hearts of the world will become more receptive. When that happens, we need to be there to give them hope and guide them to the truth. If we fail in that regard now, while the world is not listening, what makes us think we will make a difference when the world eventually does listen?