Wherein Is Our Battle?

By Tom Wacaster

There is no doubt that our battle is a spiritual battle: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh  (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds), casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; and being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full” (2 Cor. 10:3-6). It seems, however, that we cannot divorce our spiritual battle from the arena in which God has called us to war the good warfare of faith. That battlefield is the world. “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). The front line of battle is Main St. USA, as well as every hamlet and village in the remote parts of this world. But the front line is also the citadels where the philosophies of the “old man, Adam” are ingrained in the minds of impressionable youth. From Washington, to every country road in America, the battle is waged between God’s people and the agents of Satan every single day. Keep in mind that when the devil could not defeat God in those spiritual realms, the great dragon was cast down, the old serpent, he that is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world; he was cast down to the earth, and his angels were cast down with him” (Rev. 12:9). When a preacher (or anyone for that matter) addresses social and moral issues of his day it does not mean that he has stepped out of the area wherein we have been called to engage the spiritual battle. When the terrorists attacked our country in 2001 it was the intention of our governmental authorities to take the battle to the stronghold of the enemy rather than wait for the enemy to come to us. We do the same when we address the inconsistencies of all who would oppose the principles of truth that God would have all men to know and apply to their lives. While our battle might occasionally cross paths with the philosophical and moral inequities of the world in which we live, we dare not forget that we are citizens of a greater kingdom than that which any mortal man, or group of men, might be able to design and establish. This includes the United States of America. The one thing that makes the United States so unique in all the annals of history is found in the desire of our founding fathers to be guided by the realization that God had blessed their endeavor and to do all within their power to assure the citizens of this great nation that every man, woman, and child would be free to seek God and to worship Him accordingly. This demands freedom from tyranny, and the absence of the intrusion of government into the lives of the citizens. In short, they knew that it is the people who should rule over the government, and not the other way around. It is sad that the direction of this country is on a course away from God, rather than seeking to be guided by His divine laws. Meanwhile, every child of God should keep in mind that his or her loyalty is NOT to a physical kingdom, but to the kingdom of our Lord Who is King of kings, and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15).

I stand ready to give my life for the cause of my Master. If that means I must be persecuted at the hands of a tyrannical government, then so be it. I will, however, use every legitimate and Biblically authorized avenue to assure my freedom to worship God as I should, and to provide the greatest opportunities for the free run of the gospel. Since my government gives me the freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, I will do what I can to promote the gospel through that free speech, and I will also use the legal avenues available to protect this right. If this means I must openly oppose government leaders who seek to remove those rights, then I will do so; not for the sake of opposing government leaders, but for the purpose of assuring the furtherance of the Kingdom of Christ upon this earth. Should our freedoms be taken from us, I will not take up arms to oppose a change in government; such is not my battle. But while I have the legal right to oppose those who might, by their wicked and evil schemes, seek to destroy those legal rights, I will then “appeal to Caesar” for my personal protection and freedom to preach the gospel of our Lord.

It has been correctly noted that we are “in” this world, but we are not “of” this world. There is a marked distinction between the society in which we live and the kingdom wherein is our greater citizenship. But keep this in mind. In building up the Kingdom of God it becomes necessary on occasions to battle the world’s ideology for the sake of truth. Keep in mind that Paul said our warfare includes “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God.”  It seems to me that the liberal and corrupt element in our society are a part of those “high things” that have exalted themselves against the knowledge of God, and as such, we are compelled to speak out, not to promote the Constitution of the United States, but to promote the Constitution of our King and His glorious kingdom.

The battle rages, and the Captain of our army encourages us to stand in the gap, to “put on the whole armor of God...and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 6:13). A recent bulletin reported that the Episcopalian church is on the verge of allowing homosexuals into their pulpits.  Another bulletin reports that the Catholic church is about to capitulate on this same moral issue. Meanwhile, toleration is in, opposition is out, and it is apparent that some of our brethren are about to succumb to the same kind of “pluralistic” thinking that is sweeping our society. “Judge not that ye be not judged” has become the battle cry for those weak of spirit. Controversy is no longer politically correct, whether it be in the political or the religious realm. I, for one, am grateful that neither Jesus, nor His apostles, ever adapted such a philosophy in order to promote and promulgate the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Had the restorationist pioneers held to the same attitude toward religious division and error as some of our brethren do today, they would never have gotten to first base in bringing about a restoration of the ancient order of things. J.S. Lamar wrote the following approximately 30 years after the death of Alexander Campbell. I share it with our readers for no other reason than to show that firm conviction and a stalwart stand for the truth is the only way by which the citadels of error will ever be torn down and the truth of God exalted. Here is what brother Lamar wrote: “Every party had made its own creed, and set forth its conception of Christianity in a form chosen by itself. Every builder had erected a structure in accordance with his own architectural ideas and designs; and the results were satisfactory to the builders and really, for human structures, very good. It was while resting in fancied security in these corrupted and beautiful temples, the product of their skill and the pride of their hearts, that Alexander Campbell, as with the voice of God’s thunder and the sword of God’s Spirit, broke upon them, and aroused them to a sense of their danger.  Now, if instead of thus assaulting them, he had been content to accept their guage [sic], and to meet them on their own chosen ground, both the conflict and the result had been different. They were fully prepared to contest the question of comparative merit; and if the issue had been, for example, whether the English church was better or worse than the German; whether the Methodist had more or less truth than the Presbyterian; whether the creed, the doctrines, the practices, of any given sect, approximated in more respects than those of some others to the apostolic model and teaching - in such case the conflict would have been most welcome. But Mr. Campbell did not condescend to engage in any such useless strife. The peculiarities of sects and their varying degrees of excellency were treated only as side-issues and incidents, while with ponderous and pounding logic he battered upon the very basis of sectarianism - contending that, whether they had more of the truth or less, they were still wrong, fundamentally wrong, wrong in being sects, wrong in not being what Christ had founded, while yet assuming to occupy the place, to command respect, and to wield the authority of the divine institution. And now the fight was on. It was Alexander Campbell against the whole sectarian world - and all this world combining to resist him.” 

Thank God for such men as Mr. Campbell, “Raccoon” John Smith, Barton W. Stone, and a host of courageous men who refused to bow to the “pluralistic” mind set that so dominates our world, yea even our own brotherhood, at this very hour. It is readily admitted that when we take a stand on the side of truth, that we will be criticized.  But at least we know we stand with good company, “for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you” (Matt. 5:12b). And should it be our lot to stand alone, or at best with the minority, and should the host of the armies of darkness assail us, we can be assured that in the final analysis, when all has been said and done, and we stand before the Captain of our army, we will hear the sweet words, “Enter thou into the joys prepared for you.” It will have been a well fought battle, and the victory shall be ours to enjoy for all eternity. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). 

The Tax Man Cometh - Albeit A Little Late This Year

By Tom Wacaster

“The tax man cometh!” My exposure to those words dates back further than I can remember. I don’t know how many years it has been since I filled out my first tax return. Too much of the proverbial water has passed under the bridge. Evidently the words strike a cord with the American public because books have been written, movies produced, and television producers have used the IRS as a target for numerous plots. Businesses and banks are required to have all tax documents delivered prior to January 31st so the American tax payer can take care of his/her obligations to the government in general and the Internal Revenue Service specifically. By now the numbers have been crunched, and data has been entered into the various tax forms and worksheets, either using hand held pencils or computer software. Thankfully the process lasts only 60 days or so; unless, of course, you are a proverbial late filer who seeks an extension for six months so you can stretch out the wonderful experience that comes with filling out your tax forms each year. I say that jokingly, of course. This year the government has given us three extra days to complete the tax forms. I suspect, however, that some will still procrastinate, hesitate, or agitate over their tax forms, and still fail to get them filed by the deadline. Whether you chose to complete your returns by the deadline, or file an extension, there is a magical date that looms ever before us.  April 15th (or the 18th this year) has long been highlighted on the calendar of most Americans, either literally or at least mentally. I am sure it ranks up there with one’s anniversary, birthday, graduation day, et al! Again, I jest! With the age of the internet, E-filing, and on-line tax help and software, we have finally managed to see the “Reduction In Paper Act” become more of a reality in our lives.

I quit doing my tax returns the old fashioned way more than two decades ago. I have moved up to the world of Turbo-tax, computers, and electronic filing. When e-filing first became available I was one of those die-hard old-timers who refused to trust the internet for filing my tax forms.  But then, I’m not so sure that the Post Office is all that reliable either. But I found comfort in the realization that the Post Office probably takes special care of those packages mailed to the Internal Revenue Service, if for no other reason than the fact that it is the IRS that collects the funds to pay the salaries of the Post Office; you might call it “self-survival.” Having conquered my fears of filing electronically, I decided a few years back to go ahead and send my returns, along with all of the sensitive data included with that return, over the internet, signed and sealed with a computer generated signature that looks nothing like my ‘John Henry.’ Since the scandal surrounding the IRS hit a couple of years back, I’m not so sure that my feelings of security were that well founded.

Like a number of you, I got my taxes done early this year. But whether early or late, last month or next month, electronically or by snail mail,  it is only a matter of time until the IRS examines that return. The wheels of government may grind slowly at times, but they do grind. And while I have only been audited one time in my lifetime as a tax-payer, there remains in the back of my mind the realization that I may have to stand before a representative from the IRS and give an account of my actions for this, or any other tax year. But you know what?  Such an “audit” will be nothing compared to that great “audit” that each and every one of us will face come Judgment Day. Oh, to be sure, none will escape. We will all give an account (2 Cor. 5:10). And while the wheels of Divine justice may seem to grind slowly (at least from our perspective), be assured that God’s judgment will be swift and sure when the time comes for our Lord to return to gather His own. The appointment has been set (Heb. 9:27), the time and place stipulated by Almighty God Himself. We will not have to provide any records of “business expenses,” or “charitable contributions” because our omnipotent Judge will know the inner most thoughts of our heart (Heb.  4:12-13).  There will be no “earned income credit,” nor will there be any exemptions based on age or income. No one will be able to file jointly, for “each one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Great and small, rich and poor, black and white—all men will stand “before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). While an “at random, computer selected” audit by the IRS is only a mild probability, our appearance before God is an inevitable reality. Now let me ask you something.  Which event do you fear the most? The POSSIBLE audit by an IRS agent, or the INEVITABLE audit by God Almighty? Think about it!

Someone once said, “A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.” The truthfulness of that depends on one’s perspective of life in general, and more specifically the kind of work he does to support himself and his family. I have been preaching for almost forty-five years (as of August), and I don’t think there has ever been a time when I thought I was having to “endure” the “ordeal” of what I do. Actually, as someone once said, a vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in. That may be the technical definition, but I can assure you that even when I am on vacation I still get at least a little work done. It is an ideal time to read and write, something that is really quite enjoyable. Maybe that is why I often feel that I am on a perpetual vacation, even when getting the work done I need to get done. With all that said, it is good to be home, and the seven days away was really enjoyable. And neither Johnnie Ann or I got sick!


Dreams: Anticipation Or Wishful Thinking?
by Tom Wacaster

I dreamt that heavens reward had arrived, and I was ushered into that eternal abode with God, Christ and the redeemed of all ages. The angels of heaven accompanied the saints in singing praises unto He Who sat upon the throne. Never before have I had such a magnificent audio sensation as in that dream. The sound of angels and saints blending their voices in majestic strains of that favorite hymn, The Old Rugged Cross,  filled my imagination in what seemed at the moment so real.  One can imagine the disappointment upon awakening. I still dream of heaven, and occasionally the angels singing heavens song of redemption, but nothing quite as vivid, or as soul stirring as that particular dream more than two decades ago. Dreams are expressions of the sub-conscience as they are played out on the stage of our imagination and thinking. Often illogical, and unrealistic, they sometimes wake us in a cold sweat of fear and anxiety. At other times they sooth our souls with the hopes that lay deep within. I often wonder if our Lord, in His human form, had dreams. And if so, of what did He dream?

There are those who dream of heaven, but not in the sense in which we are using the word. Some dream of heaven as an extension of their worldly life here. They seem to think that their sensual desires will find their ultimate fulfillment in heaven. Eternal marriages, harems, or some “fishing pond up in the great bye and bye” are the substance of what they think heaven will be like.

Then there are those who dream of heaven, yet give no consideration as to how they should live upon this earth. I once attended a funeral of the town profligate who had been killed in a drunken boating accident. When his body was laid in the casket the family placed a six-pack of Budwiser under one arm, a can of chewing tobacco in the other hand, and a Bible laid across his chest opened to Psalms 23. The preacher commented, “Johnny [not his real name] attended VBS when he was six years old and said he believed in Jesus, so we fully expect to see him in that heavenly home.” What mockery! Such persons live lives out of harmony with Gods will, and then expect in the final analysis to receive heavens reward right alongside of the faithful. Such expectations, like a dream in the night, are illogical and unrealistic.  Heaven is for the obedient.  Anything else is but a dream!

He's Just Not Presidential

by Tom Wacaster
(excerpt from upcoming commentary on Matthew)

During the Presidential campaign of 2016 it was frequently heard (especially by the opposition) that Donald Trump “is just not Presidential.” Would someone please define what it means to be “Presidential”? Webster says that the word means “relating to a president or presidency” (On-Line Dictionary). I have read of “presidential races,” “presidential orders,” “presidential polls,” and “presidential debates,” but the way this word “presidential” is being bandied about refers to something completely different. I really think the politically “elite” have a concept of a President that is completely foreign to the intentions of our founding fathers. The “entitlement mentality” has brought us to the point that we perceive of the President as a doting Grandfather who presides over the well-being of the citizenry of the nation and signs into law those bills passed by Congress that continue to feed the insatiable desire and wants of a nation that has gouged itself on the pleasures of this life and the handouts that Uncle Sam has doled out at the taxpayer’s expense. So when someone comes along who is “out of the norm,” or acts in a way with which we are not accustomed, the nation throws a little temper tantrum and screams, “He’s not Presidential!”

As we come to the conclusion of our study of the Sermon on the Mount it might be fitting to ask, “Does Jesus act Kingly?” Do His actions and words represent that of a King, or do these things suggest that Jesus was nothing more than a person with delusions of grandeur and power? Well, it depends what standard you use as your measuring stick. Earthly kings exercise power, possess wealth, and usually have little concern for the wellbeing of their citizens. Yes, there have been exceptions, but I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the larger part of earthly kings fits that description.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Art thou the king of the Jews?” to which Jesus replied, “Thou sayest” (Matt. 27:11). No, Jesus was not a king in the sense which Pilate asked the question, but He was (and is) a King nonetheless; in fact He is “King of kings and Lord of Lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). While Pilate (and so many others like him) was a despot, Jesus was a servant. While earthly kings seek after wealth, the accumulation of material things never entered into the quest of our Lord. Instead, Jesus came to “seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10). Pilate used brute force to secure his power over the people, while Jesus told His disciples to “put up the sword into the sheath” (John 18:11). Jesus was nothing like what the materialistically minded religious elite expected in the coming Messiah. Had the liberal news media of our day been around during the earthly ministry of our Lord there is no doubt they would have pointed a finger at Jesus and declared, “He is just not Kingly!”

Now let the evidence speak for itself. The Sermon on the Mount is a manifestation of the majesty of our Lord. Every word in every verse of these three chapters bespeaks His Kingly nature. Take the words of this Sermon and lift them out of the context and those who read and study its contents will declare without equivocation that these are the words of a King! Place them in their context, and the student cannot help but realize that these words set forth the constitution of the kingdom over which that King rules. The Beatitudes serve as the preamble to the Constitution of Jesus’ spiritual kingdom. They immediately focus our attention on the inner character of the citizens of this Kingdom. Jesus does not say, “Blessed are the physically strong, the wealthy, the educated, or those with large and powerful armies at their disposal.” Instead our Lord places the premium on those who are “poor in spirit,” “they that mourn,” “that hunger and thirst after righteousness,” “are merciful,” “pure in heart,” and “peacemakers” (5:3-9). Earthly kings could care less of the inner character of their subjects so long as they pay their taxes and obey the laws of the land; but our King demands that His subjects develop those inner character traits that determine whether or not they will be a part of His eternal kingdom.

The preamble is followed by the Bill of Rights that sets forth in no uncertain terms the relationship that the citizens of His kingdom must maintain toward their fellow man. The King demands a “righteousness” that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20). When the heart is changed, the way we treat our fellow humans is changed as well. Remove hatred from the hearts of men and the killing will cease. Stop the lusting and the adultery will disappear. Honesty toward those around us will make a better society, and the keeping of one’s vows will make better men and women.

Article 1 in the King’s Constitution reminds us of our obligation to this King: “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: else ye have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:1). The history of this world is strewn with kings and kingdom that have forgotten or never heeded the warning from David: “The wicked shall be turned back unto Sheol, Even all the nations that forget God” (Psa. 19:17).

Article 2 in the King’s Constitution warns: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). The sooner men learn this truth the better off they will be.

Our King closes the Sermon on the Mount with various instructions that warn, encourage, and admonish (chapter 7), with the final warning that we build on the solid foundation of God’s word, a truth beautifully portrayed in the parable of the wise and foolish builders (7:24-27).

Now think about the King that spoke these words. He never possessed wealth, never obtained a formal education, and never sought to overthrow a single earthly kingdom with military might. Yet He managed to overcome every earthly kingdom by an army devoted to Him and His teaching. He never wrote a book, and yet all the libraries of the world could not hold the books that could have been written about Him (John 21:25). He so influenced the world that every first day of the week His devoted followers gather to remember His life, death, and resurrection, all in anticipation of His promised return. Someone has noted:

The names of the past proud statesman of Greece and Rome have come and gone. The names of past scientists, philosophers, and theologians have come and gone; but the name of this Man abounds more and more. Though time has spread two thousand years between the people of this generation and the scene of His crucifixion, yet He still lives (Author unknown).

Only the King of kings could have spoken the words recorded in this wonderful Sermon. While some men have decried its value, attacked its contents, and ridiculed its Author, the fact remains that all who have lived by its precepts, have lived and died better men and women.

Jesus may not act kingly, as men measure kingliness, but rest assured, dear reader, that no man ever deserved the title of King as does Jesus our Lord. Truly this wonderful Sermon on the Mount helps us see the majesty of Jesus. Would that men would open their eyes!