Church Bulletins

by Tom Wacaster

When I attended Brown Trail Preacher Training School I had the distinct honor of having the late Wendell Winkler as my second year homiletic teacher. Brother Winkler struck me as being very organized, very systematic, and a virtual “pack rat” when it came to collecting material that could later be used for sermon starters, illustrations, quotes, etc. When our second year class on homiletics began that fall of 1971, brother Winkler gathered the students into the large auditorium at Brown Trail, and proceeded to give us a scenario of what to expect in the class. He also gave us an assignment that I thought rather odd: “When we meet for our next class I want you to bring three shoe boxes to class.” Shoe boxes? What in the world does collecting shoe boxes have to do with preaching? I would soon find out. Two days later nineteen of us preacher students came marching down the isle of that auditorium with our shoe boxes in hand (empty of shoes, of course). At the front of the auditorium brother Winkler had laid out stacks of church bulletins and periodicals; enough copies of each one for all of the students to pick up a copy. Over the course of the next ten months he would provide fresh stacks of church bulletins and periodicals every week. During the class he would instruct us on how to read, clip, and file articles, poems, sermon starters, illustrations and quotes that we would find useful in preparing our sermons. Not every bulletin was useful; but brother Winkler knew how to select from among the best bulletins from congregations all over the state of Texas, and even beyond the Lone Star State. Brother Winkler taught us how to set up various subject dividers in those shoe boxes, and then we would clip, snip, read, and file the two or more dozen bulletins we picked up once a week. Before I graduated I had collected hundreds of bulletin articles, all neatly filed away for later use. That was not all he taught us, but it was that little segment of each Wednesday’s class that eventually led to my own system of filing away church bulletins and periodicals for later use.

I still receive a large number of church bulletins. With the advent of the electronic age many of those paper copies of church bulletins and periodicals have given way to digital copies. I receive no less that a dozen church bulletins each week in digital format, and about the same number in paper format. In addition, I get bulletins passed along to me that are actually addressed to the Handley Church of Christ. Occasionally I pass along to our readers an item of interest, or a well written article that is worthy of  sharing with others.  I realize that a church bulletin is only an expedient means of passing information and news along to its members.  There are no “rules” for what constitutes a “scriptural,” or even a “good” bulletin.  But at the same time, a church bulletin is a reflection of where a congregation places its emphasis. One can get a pretty good picture of where a congregation is going by what appears within the pages of its church bulletin.

Over the past 40 years I have collected a sizable number of bulletins; I have also thrown away my fair share bulletins that contain nothing worth keeping. If a bulletin has some interesting quote, illustration, sermon idea or note of personal interest, I take the time to put a number on that bulletin, enter it into my computer database under subject, title and author, and place it in my file cabinet by numerical sequence. The old “shoe box” filing system introduced by brother Winkler has given way to my own personal computer database filing system; but forty years later I am still filing away information that I find useful.

It seems to me that fewer and fewer bulletins are being used as a teaching tool. Most of what appears in some of these bulletins has to do with person-to-person activities. Let me share just a few of the “announcements” that have appeared in some of the bulletins through the years.  “Water balloon fight for Jr. and Sr. high will be held at the home of ____ this coming Friday.”   “Annual ski trip planned for _____.”  A more recent bulletin announced a “Spaghetti Dinner and Auction to help our leadership training for Christ students attend the convention.” The auction was to include “arts and crafts, antiques, and specialty desserts” (some of our brethren are falling prey to the “bake sale” mentality for raising church funds, something which is without Biblical authority, but has come into use among churches of Christ in increasing number). Another bulletin has an ad for an upcoming “youth rally,” featuring a “juggling act” to teach spiritual truths to the audience. I read of “divorce and remarriage seminars,” “health seminars,” “craft shows,” and “concerts.” Admittedly, much of what is advertised in the local bulletin is scriptural, and falls into the realm of expedients (though I would be very suspicious of this dinner and auction to raise funds for church work). I suppose the most puzzling thing about this is the amount of space that is taken up with such “trivial” and unimportant events, and the relatively little amount of space given to teaching, instruction and encouragement.  I have always sought to provide something to our readers that will inform, encourage, or instruct.  It only makes sense to me that if a congregation is going to spend the amount of money and energy it takes to put together, print and mail a weekly bulletin to folks in distant places, that they would want to have something more to offer their readers than a long list of “church activities,” none of which pertains to some of those who receive their bulletin. A well written article, whether by the local preacher or fresh from the pen of another, makes any bulletin worth taking the time to read. There are some bulletins that it takes me less than 10 seconds to look at.  Then there are those bulletins that I look forward to getting each week because I know that more than likely they will have some article that challenges my thinking, or uplifts my spirit in a time of discouragement. Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Perhaps the same could be said of the written word.  If what appears in the local bulletin of many congregations is any indication of where the emphasis of a congregation lies then perhaps it is later than we think.  

Breaking The Alabaster Cruse

by Tom Wacaster

The beautiful story of Mary and the alabaster cruse is recorded in John 12:1-8. It is, perhaps, one of the more well known incidents in the life of Jesus. I typed “John 12:1-8” into my Mozilla Fire Fox browser and an astonishing 32,700,000 links were provided for my investigation. When I typed in “Matthew 26:6-13,” I received 18,200,000 links. The search on “Mark 14:3-9” produced 1,720,000 links. That is a total of 43,620,000 links to the three parallel passages; far more than I could ever hope to investigate.  In comparison, I typed in “atheism” and received only 7,550,000 links; “evolution,” 16,300,000; “Hollywood,” 19,500,000. The large number of links to various sites that tell of this touching story of Mary and the alabaster cruse attest to the fulfillment of our Lord’s prophecy: “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her” (Matt. 26:13).

Multiple sermons have been preached that focus upon the act of Mary in breaking the alabaster box and pouring the ointment upon the head and feet of Jesus (Matt. 26:6-7; John 12:1-3). John does not mention the cruse itself. For whatever reason, John only mentions the oil; not the container. John wanted us to focus our attention upon that which was “very precious” to Mary. The value of what was in that alabaster cruse was recognized even by the most avarice of heart, such as that of Judas. There is something in that wonderful act of Mary that not only touches the heart, but challenges us to follow in her footsteps; something much deeper than a simple expression of thanksgiving, or an act of sorrowful remorse for what lay down the road for our Lord. Did the cruse have some sentimental value to Mary? Had it been given to her as a gift from someone close to her? Had she sacrificed more than a month’s wages (perhaps even a year’s wages) to purchase this “very precious” ointment, maybe as some kind of hedge against inflation; perhaps even an investment of some kind? These are questions that intrigue the mind, but must wait until eternity for an answer. Here is an act that would live in perpetuity, as declared by our Lord Himself. What is the real lesson behind the breaking of the alabaster cruse? In my estimation it is this: When Mary broke the alabaster cruse she declared in that action the majesty of Jesus! Consider the following:

First, Mary is indicative of multitudes of precious souls who have given their best to the Master. The monetary value of that cruse of “very precious ointment” may never be fully realized. I don’t know if any of you men have ever shopped for “very precious” perfume, but I can tell you, it is not cheap. One source suggests that the 300 denarii it took to purchase this cruse of oil may very well have been the equivalent of a year’s wages. I could not prove that if my life depended on it. All I know is that it was not cheap, for otherwise Judas would not have responded the way he did. The point I am trying to make is this: Mary recognized the majesty of Jesus and she wanted to give Him the best that money could buy!

Second, Mary wanted to express her love for the Lord while there was still time. She must have realized the impending death of our Lord; her actions here prove that to be the case. Perhaps she had heard one of the Lord’s prophetic statements regarding what would happen to Him upon His return to Jerusalem. The point I am making here is this: The mere desire to perform some kind deed and/or expression of love is of no value once a person has died; we must act while the object of our love is still alive. Some years ago the singing group, Mike and the Mechanics recorded ‘In The Living Years.” A couple of stanzas of that song express this exact sentiment:

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him
In the living years.

Mary realized the importance of declaring the magnificence of Jesus while He was yet alive.

Third, Mary’s appreciation for the magnificence of Jesus is seen in the fact that she performed this act in the presence of all. She was not ashamed of what others might say; she was only concerned with expressing her love for, and appreciation of Jesus. Our devotion to God must not be hidden. “Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 3:14-16). The true value of Christianity comes when we break our alabaster cruse and allow the fragrance of Jesus in our lives to influence others. An unknown author observed, “Until our outward man--our soul--is broken, the fragrance of Christ in our inward man cannot come forth.

The story of Mary and her alabaster cruse is set in concrete (so to speak). Where ever the gospel has gone, men have read, and continue to read of Mary’s selfless devotion to the Lord, and the price she was willing to pay to uplift Jesus in the eyes of those who happened to be at that supper in that little insignificant town of Bethany. The extent to which that story has gone into the world is manifest in the tens of millions of websites that now provide a link for us to   read, and re-read the inspired record. How about you, dear reader? Can you not see the magnificence of Jesus expressed in those events that unfolded in that small town of Bethany?  Oh that you would!