Genuine Needs

by Tom Wacaster

The scenario is a common one. A family or individual is on their way to Anytown, USA, and for some reason they began the journey with inadequate funds, making the arduous journey in a broken down jalopy that couldn’t make it across town, much less across the country. I have never understood how someone traveling from point A to point B could end up in some of the small towns where I have done local work when in fact their destination was far removed from either point A or point B. But it happens time and again.  In fact, it has become so common place that one begins to question whether or not the “need” is genuine, or just another shyster taking advantage of those who are supposed to be compassionate of heart and generous with the Lord’s money. The same scenario is not limited to small towns; we have the same problem here in Fort Worth, and according to some of the preachers I visit with from time to time, it happens in Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, and even in remote Alaska, just to name a few of the locations where brethren experience the same situation. I must confess that I have mixed emotions every time we get such a request. It may be that I have seen the Lord’s church give, and give until it can no longer give, only to learn that in many cases that the need was NOT genuine. Volumes could be written on the promises such “needy cases” make: “I’ll visit your church services this Sunday!” “I’ll pay the money back as soon as I get a job and get settled in!” Like so many cookies, the promises are quickly made and easily broken. I have learned to take such promises with a grain of salt and a touch of skepticism.
Still, there are undoubtedly those occasions when someone expresses a truly genuine need. While it is true that none of us want to be “taken” by some shyster or con-man, neither would we want to neglect those cases when someone is genuinely in need of assistance; and that truly haunts me. It has been several years since Alan Smith addressed this same topic in a most enlightening way with the following story:
Robert De Vincenzo, the great Argentine golfer, once won a tournament and, after receiving the check and smiling for the cameras, he went to the clubhouse and prepared to leave.  Some time later, he walked alone to his car in the parking lot and was approached by a young woman. She congratulated him on his victory and then told him that her child was seriously ill and near death. She did not know how she could pay the doctor’s bills and hospital expenses. De Vincenzo was touched by her story, and he took out a  pen and endorsed his winning check for payment to the woman.  “Make some good days for the baby,” he said as he pressed the check into her hand. The next week he was having lunch in a country club when a Professional Golf Association official came to his table. “Some of the boys in the parking lot last week told me you met a young woman there after you won that tournament.”  De Vincenzo nodded.  “Well,” said the official, “I have news for you. She’s a phony. She has no sick baby. She’s not even married. She fleeced you, my friend.”  “You mean there is no baby who is dying?” said De Vincenzo.  “That’s right,” said the official. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all week,” De Vincenzo said. 
Brother Smith then commented on the story, and his comments are as good as the story itself:   “De Vincenzo’s attitude is reminiscent of the spirit that God has shown toward us. Despite mankind taking God’s goodness for granted, despite our repeated failures, God was willing to give not just a token amount, but the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. He did so, not reluctantly or with resentment, but willingly and gladly, knowing that while most would only show disdain for his gift, some would respond in obedience motivated by faith and love. ‘For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:6-8).”  
We would not suggest for a moment that we should carelessly squander the Lord’s money. That would be poor stewardship.  But if there is one precious soul that could be classified as a “genuine need,” and we miss it, we may very well pass up an opportunity to do good unto someone who is worthy of our help. And even if we are “taken” from time to time, at least we can rejoice in knowing that there really wasn’t a need after all.

Tests

by Tom Wacaster

I never did like to take tests. Even in college, preparation for and the taking of tests was stressful, and I suppose college students (or for that matter, any student) feel the same today. I never enjoyed having to memorize numbers, names, and words. Like every student, I often found myself “cramming” for an important test. The study I had neglected often came back to haunt me, and the grade on my test paper would reflect the degree to which I had prepared (or neglected to prepare) the night before. I managed to get through elementary and high school with fair grades, though looking back I now realize I could have probably done a lot better; but who among us does not feel that way? While young I imagined that someday I would no longer need to memorize numbers, names and words. I have been preaching for nearly half a century and I can attest to the undeniable truth that a preacher’s life is one of—well, memorizing names, numbers and words. Little did I know that during my school years I was developing habits that would contribute to my work as a preacher of God’s word. It was in school that I learned good study habits, the value of good books, and how to relate with fellow students and professors. In retrospect, I have come to appreciate the things I learned in school, and I can also appreciate the tests I had to take from time to time.
It is interesting how much emphasis the New Testament writers place on things “written.” Consider just a few examples. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). As John was drawing his gospel to a close he told us: “Many other signs did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Paul reminded the church at Ephesus that he had received the mystery by divine revelation, “as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:3-4). We are warned not to “go beyond the things that are written” (1 Cor. 4:6), not to “add to” or “take away from” the things that have been “written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19), and, as did our Lord, to answer every dart hurled at us by the devil with the words, “It is written” (Matt. 4:4, 7, and 10). Let us never underestimate the power of the written word.
I find it intriguing that the same apostle who closed his biography of Christ with a reference to the massive amount of material that might have been written about our Lord, also includes in his first epistle reasons for which he wrote that short letter.
First, John tells us he wrote these things “that our joy may be made full” (1 John 1:4). John attested to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection in no uncertain terms. “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we behold, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1). The Gnostics of John’s day questioned the reality of a bodily resurrection; spirit perhaps, or even an illusion, but not a bodily, physical resurrection. John denies that false doctrine of “no resurrection,” the reason being that he, and the other apostles saw, heard and touched the Lord. The Gnostic doctrine offered no  hope, provided no joy, and if there was any scintilla of these things, it certainly was not “full.” Jesus came to give us a full and abundant life (John 10:10). Such can be found only through the written word of God.
Second, John tells us, “My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin” (1 John 2:1). The preventative to sin is not an overpowering, direct operation by the Holy Spirit or any other member of the Godhead. David acknowledged this truth when he wrote, “Thy word have I laid up in my heard that I might not sin against thee” (Psa. 119:11). Our Lord and Master appealed to the “written” word for His defense against Satan. Let the wise take note that the fruit of a godless society is the result of ignorance of the word of God. Over the last half century or so educators, politicians, and the entertainment industry have expunged God from our lives, and then they wring their hands in despair and bewilderment as to why our nation is coming apart at the seams.
Third, John tells he had “written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray” (1 John 2:26). The “antichrists” had already come, and that in great number (1 John 2:18). They were ravening wolves, destroying the church from within (Matt. 7:15). John was not afraid to pinpoint the cause of apostasy, and he did so in writing so that every generation that would follow would have the means to identify and properly deal with false teachers. Too bad some of our brethren are not reading what John and the other apostles wrote regarding these “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15).
Finally, John tells us, “These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 4:13). Assurance is a much wanted commodity in an age of such uncertainty!  If you want to know for sure whether or not you are in a saved condition, compare your life with the examples of those who are said to have been pleasing and righteous in God’s sight (Heb. 11 is a good place to start). Walk in the steps of Jesus, follow the lead of Paul, and sit at the feet of those men who laid out, in detail, what it takes to become a child of God, and what it takes to remain saved; you will be blessed for having done so.
Having examined the different ways in which John addresses what is written, we turn our attention to the “tests” contained in the epistle that can be used to determine if we are, indeed, begotten of God and living according to God’s will. There are three of these.
Test #1 is the test of obedience. The Gnostics prided themselves on their knowledge, but they were lacking in love and the practical application of the word to their lives. So John tells us, “hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). Prior to that John told us that we must “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 John 1:6). A person’s claims that he is a child of God are vain and empty if the claims are not accompanied by obedience. Do you pass the test?
Test #2 is the test of love. “He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him” (1 John 2:9-10). Genuine love—’agape’ love is the kind of love that seeks the best for a brother in Christ. This implies (and requires) interaction with fellow Christians. No man can be an island unto himself, isolated from fellow Christians, and expect to pass this test of genuine Christianity.
Test #3 is the test of believing Jesus Christ came in the flesh. Who would deny that? The Gnostics did. Here is a fundamental truth that was ignored on the part of the self-proclaimed elite. We are speaking of doctrine—divinely revealed truth that must be accepted for one to remain in fellowship with the Father and the Son. Don’t forget, one must walk in the “light” - i.e., the revealed word of God. Failure to abide in the doctrine of Christ will result in the severance of fellowship from the Father and the Son (2 John 9). There are not “big” doctrines and “little” doctrines. All doctrine is important, and the rejection of the clear teaching of God’s word manifests an attitude of disrespect toward divine authority. It bears repeating, “There is no such thing as a little false doctrine!”
By the way, the tests we take are not printed exams, nor can they be taken “on-line” in some digital classroom. These tests are live, on going, and whether or not we pass will have eternal consequences.

The Gospel Attracts

by Tom Wacaster

Several years ago I came across this little advertisement for Wheat Chex: “Mothers of America, rejoice! Wheat Chex is guaranteed to contain no premiums, no whistles, missiles, rockets, or ruckus. No beanies, B-Bs, heebies, or jeebies. Not a ball, bat, hat, or gat in any package of this crunchable, munchable whole wheat cereal. Wheat Chex is made so the fun is in the flavor. You get taste instead of toys, and nutrition instead of noise” (original source lost). When I was a child, I thought as a child, and the best cereal (in the humble opinion of a 7 year old boy) had to be the one that included the best toy or trinket in the box. Flash Gordon figures, a racing car, or a mystery ring were enough to convince me that the cereal itself simply had to be good. The bottom line is I was not attracted to the cereal but to the gimmicks and gadgets packaged with the cereal. The lover of truth will be attracted to the gospel for what it is and what it provides for the soul that is hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt. 5:6). What is the drawing power of that simple message contained in that wonderful book we call the Bible? Using the letters contained in the English word “GOSPEL,” consider this acrostic as a sampling of why the Gospel Attracts.
G – The Grace It Extends: Without doubt, the gospel is a message of divine grace. Grace has been properly defined as God giving us what we do not deserve. In spite of man’s rebellion, God was willing to extend His grace to lost humanity and offer a way of salvation and reconciliation (Eph. 2:8). It was God’s grace that gave us the Bible. It was the grace of God that sent His Son. The grace of God contained in the Gospel attracts anyone who is poor in spirit and searching for the truth (Matt. 5:3).
O – The Opportunity It Affords: Adam introduced sin into the world, and because all men choose to follow in his steps, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). All men are provided an opportunity to find God, however small that opportunity might be or in what form it might come. A man living in a remote part of the earth might look up at the starry sky and using his reasoning capabilities conclude there is a God Who made the heavens. Will he now take advantage of that opportunity and begin his search for God? Or will he, like those ancients old, choose to exchange “the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23)? Adapting the words of Mordecai and using them in a slightly different context, “Who knows whether this opportunity has come to you for such a time as this?” Any opportunity, if rejected, may forever block one’s search for God. For the most part, humanity in this century has almost unlimited access to the Gospel, regardless of where one might live. The world-wide-web can now take the Gospel to places where no man has gone before giving men more opportunities to find God. Thanks be to God for His gift of the Gospel. May all men take advantage of this opportunity to find God.
S – The Salvation  It Offers: The Gospel is not a gimmick to make men rich. The very essence of the Gospel is the salvation it brings to men. Paul tells us that the Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16, emphasis mine, TW). The great challenge we face in this century, especially among developed nations, is convincing men of the need to be saved. “Saved from what?” they often ask. Modern man has everything he needs. His creature comforts are provided, and he enjoys unprecedented opportunities for pleasure. He has a chicken in every pot, and even more than that in the freezer. He has a car in every driveway because his garage is filled with “stuff” he has collected through the years. But without the Gospel, mankind remains in spiritual poverty. Until a person recognizes his need for salvation from sin, he will never be drawn to the Gospel.
P – A Power That Is Endless: Our nation uses more than 80.8 quadrillion BTU’s of energy each year. Our electric and gas companies struggle to keep up with the demand. Not so with God’s kingdom. The Gospel is the power to save (Rom. 1:16), the power to guard us (1 Pet. 1:5), the power to preserve (2 Tim. 1:12), and the power to strengthen (Eph. 3:16 and 6:10). It meets every demand and provides every need so as to make the man of God “complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16).
E – The Enlightenment That Is Enriching: Paul wrote, “having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling” (Eph. 1:18-19). A young boy of 9 was sitting in his father’s workshop watching his dad work on a harness. “Someday Father,” said Louis, “I want to be a harness-maker, just like you.” “Why not start now?” said the father. He took a piece of leather and drew a design on it. “Now” he said, “take the hole-punch and hammer out this design, but be careful that you don’t hit your hand.” But when he hit the hole-punch; it flew out of his hand and pierced his eye! He lost his sight in that eye. Later, as fate would have it, sight in the other eye failed. Louis was now totally blind. A few years later, Louis was sitting in the family garden when a friend handed him a pinecone. As he ran his sensitive fingers over the cone, an idea came to him. He became enthusiastic and began to create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so that the blind could feel and interpret. Thus, Louis Braille in 1818 opened up a whole new world for the blind. So it is with the Gospel. Those who read and study it will have a whole new world opened to them.
L – The Love It Evokes: “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). One of the most famous tombs in the world is the Taj Mahol in India. It took 22 years to build using more than 20,000 skilled laborers. It was built on the order of a Mogul emperor in memory of his wife of 19 years. Such incidents attest to the words of Solomon, “Set me as a seal upon thy heart, As a seal upon thine arm: For love is strong as death... 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 8:6-7). The Gospel is the greatest love story ever told: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16). God’s love can never be surpassed, and it is the ultimate drawing power of the Gospel. Jesus Himself said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself” (John 12:32). The Gospel attracts because of the love it evokes.
The late Joe Gilmore observed: “We do not need a new gospel, neither do we need a supplement to the message we already have. We have an unchanging man in an unchanging world, exposed to an unchanging malady, sin, kept alive by an unchanging adversary, Satan. We need the gospel of the first century preached in all of its plainness and purity, without compromise, without apology, without speculation, addition, or subtraction. Only that will draw men to Christ.”

Blessed Are They That Mourn

by Tom Wacaster

This is the second of nine wonderful beatitudes that came from the lips of our Lord. Like so many of the other beatitudes, this one seems to run contrary to the thinking of men, for who in their right mind would even suggest that one can be genuinely happy while at the same time mourning? The Greek is ‘pentheo,’ and means “to mourn for, lament, to wail over, sorrow for something.” The word for mourn is a form of the same word that describes mourning for the dead. It is bereavement, the utter grief and sorrow which accompanies the loss of someone dear. Trench remarks that the Greek word means to grieve with a grief which so takes possession of the whole being that it cannot be hid. The word is used to express the over whelming grief of Jacob when he believed the false report of Joseph’s death (LXX). There is no stronger word for mourning in the Greek language than ‘pentheo.’ “What a generous and merciful arrangement of Almighty God that even life’s sorrows shall bless and reward his servants!” (Coffman). Oh yes, what a paradox! To the man attuned to the world this beatitude may seem ridiculous, a bit out of sorts with the thinking of his peers. If there is one thing the world agrees on it is this: sorrow should be avoided and mourning shunned. “Forget your troubles; drown your sorrows; forget reality!” The grief here is not a one-time grief, but it is a continuous mourning. “Blessed are the ones who keep on mourning.”

But to what kind of sorrow does this refer? What kind of sorrow must the child of God feel every single day? Should we take it literally and conclude that Jesus was saying, “Blessed is the man who has endured the most bitter sorrow that life can bring”? This kind of sorrow might compel others to have compassion on us thereby giving us the experience what it is like to be on the receiving end of the love and care of our fellow human beings. If this is the sorrow to which Jesus referred, then perhaps the words of the poet might take on a much richer meaning:

“I walked a mile with Pleasure,
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she,
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!”

As important such mourning is, I do not think it is this kind of sorrow that Jesus had in mind. The sorrow of which Jesus speaks is the sorrow resulting from one’s personal sins. Not only must the true servant of God feel bankrupt because of his sin (“poor in spirit”), but he must have sorrow as a result of it. Here is the soul who, feeling his spiritual poverty, laments that such sins have separated him from his God. The value of this “mourning” is the resultant change in life. Paul tells us that “Godly sorrow worketh repentance” (2 Cor. 7:10). In his book, ‘The Trial of Jesus,’ Walter Chandler devotes a small section to the different means of Roman capital punishment. Never has so wicked a means of death been devised as that of death by crucifixion. The agony and pain that our Savior went through was of the greatest degree possible. The cause for that suffering? Our sins! Yours and mine. Because of His great love for us, He suffered on the cross. How does that make us feel about sin? Do we take it lightly? If so, then we need to learn the lesson of this beatitude. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who mourn for their own sins. Blessed are those who mourn because of the sorrow brought upon the whole human race because of sin. Yes, blessed are those who mourn.

Unfortunately, extremes tend to beget extremes. There is a need to manifest joy in our lives. We are to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). We are not suggesting that the child of God should not be among the most joyful, if not THE most joyful, in all the world. But every time we read this passage we are reminded that this quality of spiritual mourning is something that is rather rare in the church today. There are some who refuse to preach on anything that is “negative,” or that might be perceived as “negative preaching.” We have reacted to the “puritanism” of two centuries ago by putting on a mask of piety. Some seem to think that you cannot convert a world lost in sin unless we radiate brightness, joviality and pure optimism. When is the last time we shed tears over sin, any sin, all sin, and especially OUR sin? Eldred Stevens took a close look at the life of Jesus and wrote: “We have no record anywhere that He ever laughed. He was angry (John 2:13-17, Mark 3:5). He was hungry (Luke 4:2). He was thirsty (John 4:7). But there is no record that He laughed” (Eldred Stevens, Sermon on the Mount, page 21). Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be a “man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:2-5, 7). Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus (John 11:35), and He wept at the lost condition of the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:35-36). I would caution, however, lest we draw the conclusion that Jesus walked around with a somber look, never smiling, or expressing any sense of happiness whatsoever. Quite the contrary. The very fact that He drew men to Himself suggests that He manifested joy and happiness to the greatest degree possible. But never a man wept to the degree which our Lord wept. Truly the Son of Man struck the perfect balance between mourning and joy.

Now notice the blessing promised to those who so weep. “They Shall Be Comforted” (5:4b). “Shall be comforted” translates ‘parakaleo.’ The noun form of this word appears in John 14:26 where Jesus promised the apostles the coming of the Comforter. The root word literally means, “a calling to one’s side; hence, either an exhortation of consolation, encouragement” (W.E. Vine). The comfort promised here can only come through a study of, and compliance to, the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon men; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). In connection notice Luke 4:18. Other sources of consolation do not reach the deep sorrows of the soul brought on by a realization of one’s sins as that promised here. Some human solutions may temporarily blunt the spiritual senses, but they do not provide the true comfort promised by our Lord. Only through the realization of the hope given through the gospel can one be genuinely comforted. Those who mourn over their sins, who sorrow because they have committed sin, who are deeply touched because they have offended God, shall receive the comfort here promised. The wonderful invitation of our Lord to lost humanity touches on this very point: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). It would seem that the immediate comfort comes when one obeys his Lord and receives the forgiveness of sins. The burden of sin is lifted at that point and soul enjoys the comforting realization that he now stands before God with continual access to the blood of Christ that keeps us clean as we walk in the light (1 John 1:6-8). But the ultimate comfort will come when we are ushered into heaven, where all tears will be wiped away, and we will rejoice with immeasurable joy for endless ages. Indeed, heaven will be worth it all.

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

by Tom Wacaster
Being truly happy is related in some way to a certain kind of poverty. The word “poor” is from ‘ptochos,’ an adjective describing one who crouches and cowers, and is used as a noun, a beggar; while ‘prosaites’ is descriptive of a beggar, and stresses his begging, ‘ptochos’ stresses his poverty stricken condition” (W.E.Vine). There is another word that deserves attention as well. It is the Greek word ‘penes,’ and describes a person who lives day to day, month to month, with nothing extra; only that which is able to keep him from being classified as “poor” or “destitute.” While the man described as ‘penes’ has nothing extra, the other described by the word ‘ptochos’ has nothing at all! To be “poor in spirit” is not the suppression of one’s personality, as if to claim, “Woe is me, I’m not worth anything to the church. I can’t do anything,” and so on. Nor does poverty of spirit have anything to do with the amount of material possessions a man might or might not have. Those who are “poor in spirit” recognize their need with regard to the inner man. While those lacking poverty of spirit decry religion, Bible study, prayer, etc., those who are poor in spirit recognize their complete destitution inwardly. The proud say, “Who needs this religious stuff? I’m my own man. Nobody is going to tell me I need religion.” The poor in spirit recognize their need spiritually; they NEED God, they NEED spiritual nourishment; they NEED forgiveness. They KNOW this, and they KNOW that they KNOW it. Consequently, those who are poor in spirit have a deep awareness of the horrible nature of sin in their lives and the need for forgiveness. The need arises from man’s fallen condition. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). All we like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). The true servant of God acknowledges that he, like all men, is spiritually undone, inadequate, and desperate for help. Here is a man who realizes the horrible nature of sin and the consequences attached to his spiritual treason before God. “The unsaved man must recognize the fact that he needs God; he needs the Savior; he needs faith; he needs cleansing; he needs righteousness; he needs hope; and without these things, he is destitute” (V.P. Black). Here is “one who is deeply sensible of his spiritual poverty and wretchedness” (Adam Clarke). Here is the man who is destitute of the proud, haughty, arrogant spirit of the world. In contrast, modern man perceives of his “sin problem” as a social problem. Given enough money, education, time and self-determination and there is nothing that he cannot solve, so he claims. Such is the opposite of one who is “poor in spirit.” Perhaps the words of a popular hymn express the sentiments of this first beatitude, with which I will close:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!