Monthly Archives: March 2015

Remembering Our Brother Tom

I have many fond memories of working with my fellow-laborer, our brother Tom Woody. He had already been in the work a few years when I started, and he was a great benefit for me as I began my work. Over the next several years I was privileged to work with Tom under varying circumstances. I traveled with him to a number of church meetings as he allowed me to accompany him. I recall in 1988 Tom, Louis Garbi and I began an evangelistic effort in the community of Baden in St Louis. We worked for a couple of years as we tried to start a new church from the community that only lasted a short time. However, that period was a great learning opportunity for me, and much of what I learned came through observing Tom’s godly spirit and desire to serve the Lord and the brethren.

Certainly as I moved west to continue my work I remained close to Tom in spirit. I felt there was a lot about Tom that was worth emulating. His emphasis in regard to his family was always foremost, and his enthusiasm for the Lord’s church and His Word was always an encouragement to me. Tom was very steadfast in his faith in the Lord and his desire to serve others. He will certainly be missed, but the influence he had on me and others will certainly be seen, possibly until Jesus returns. I am confident, that just as what happened to Lazarus in Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31, the angels carried Tom to His Lord and God when he passed. Those of us in the Lord will indeed see Tom again when Jesus returns.

~ Jay Graham

I suppose I have known Tom Woody as brother, coworker and friend for just about four decades. When Tom was training to be an evangelist, he came to California with Brother Tom Dennis, and while Tom and Ann stayed with my parents, young Tom stayed with Sue and me in a tiny house that belonged to my grandmother. Tom was very amiable and easy to talk to; he had an easy going manner that has been a blessing to many over the years of his service to the Lord. In those early days of our acquaintance Tom was gracious in his acceptance of the limited hospitality we had to offer, and in subsequent travels when we were together in various homes opened to us for food or lodging in the U.S., and also in the Philippines, he always was a gracious guest, appreciative and easy to be with. In subsequent years Tom and LuAnn have also been gracious hosts to us on several occasions, generously and pleasantly opening their home and hearts to us, always comfortable to be with.

No one was more serious about teaching and following the word of God than Tom, but Tom certainly had a love for silliness too, within bounds of course. He had a bright imagination and a creative flair that sometimes turned up in comic skits or campfire settings, or conversations, but always with a view to having fun that was happy and harmless.

Fifteen years ago Tom and I were in the Philippines, at Sonny Tobias’ place. During a very busy meeting we had a break, and a young woman sitting alone was singing in English, “Jesus Paid It All.” Her singing was soft, and lovely. When she came to the chorus she sang the soprano part, “Jes-sus-died-and-paid-it-all-yes-…” We had been talking together but decided to move over and sing with her. The three of us spent the remainder of time until lunch was ready conversing about her life experiences and singing. She was a 25 year old widow with two young children, preparing to go to the Middle East to earn money to support her family, the children she would leave behind with relatives. Her circumstances were in some ways all too common, though her response to them was not. In the difficulty of a situation beyond her control, she found joy in the Lord, and comfort and release in singing praises and gathering with Christians. Conversing with this young impoverished Filipina widow, Tom was at his best, personable, thoughtful, compassionate, encouraging. Tom has been, of course, a capable speaker and teacher and writer, but even more he has had a wonderful gift of being at home with people. Tom has treated people as though they matter, because he knew people really are important, great or small, young or old. Tom knew who he served, and had his priorities in order. “… as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:16-17).

~ Charles Fry

In the early nineties, I began to spend time in Bible study with Tom when he visited the Kansas City area for vacation Bible studies. In those years, he was regularly conducting evening VBSs at both 25th and Oakley and Claycomo. At least some of the time, I would drive over early to have the pleasure of studying with him before the evening’s events began. It was during one of those studies at 25th and Oakley that one of many precious memories was made.

Tom was taking me through a portion of Romans, I believe, and at one point remarked, “God wants to see in our lives that we want to be with him more than anyone else.” I was too immature at the time to deeply appreciate these words, but they stayed with me over the years. Little did I know that 20-some years later Tom would show me and everyone else, in unmistakable fashion, how much he wanted to be with God.

In November of 2013, Tom said to me during a private Facebook exchange: “I am looking at life more clearly—get [sic] my mind set for Heaven—a thankful heart is always willing to do whatever Jesus wants, knowing that He knows what is good/the end from the beginning—I want to FIT IN up there (emphasis Tom’s)!”   Tom had his eyes on the prize. He was living with the end in mind. He was fitting himself for a heavenly home.

Tom now dwells among the spirits of just men made perfect. It brings tears, but it also brings a smile. I’m sure he fits in quite well.

~ John Morris

When Tom made his decision to do the work of an evangelist, I had seen him at various meetings of the church but had not gotten to know him. We became acquainted at a basket dinner. It didn’t begin with friendly chit-chat. It started with “Why are we doing this?” I don’t remember what “this” was. It is my term for a more specific line of inquiry. His question wasn’t disrespectful. There was no scorn in it. Nor was the question an attempt to justify himself in light of some alternate point of view. It was the expression of one who did not take things at face value. “Why are we doing this?” Often our conversations would turn toward examination of teaching, practices, and ourselves.

I did not see the characteristic of calling things into question as an “us versus them” mentality. There may have been a little of this as we were branching out of the final stages of youth, but Tom didn’t take himself too seriously. He respected the church. As a result, he was able to call things into question with great effect. Such an underpinning attitude can be found in these verses:

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Unity is not found in blithely congratulating one another. Nor is it found in looking the other way when things are going astray. The unity of the Spirit is found through facing the truth in humility. This was fundamental in Tom’s ability to arbitrate disputes, to ordain elders and deacons, and to encourage small congregations.

We will miss Tom, but let us not make the mistake of giving him too much credit. Let us not hold to his memory in the manner of the scribes and Pharisees who adorned the monuments of the righteous. Tom’s attitude was/is for us to follow Christ. If we would honor Tom’s memory, let his memory be an added encouragement to study our Bibles and be the people our Father wants us to be.

~ Louis Garbi

Tom’s Example

At Winford Lee’s funeral in March, 2007 I asked Tom Woody, editor of this paper at the time, if he thought it would be suitable for me to write about Winford as my article for the April issue, which I had already agreed to write. Tom said it would be entirely appropriate.

I thought of that conversation when Tom’s faithful wife called with the not unexpected news that Tom himself had passed from this world. With the consent of the present editor, as my article for this year, I would like to write about the man who edited this paper longer than any other man to date.

There is nothing new to be said of Tom Woody. He was a constant among us. He was steadfast, approachable, reliable and available to any and to all who needed his help. Tom loved people, and he loved the assemblies of the saints. His life was bound up in the lives of others. Most who are reading this knew Tom. Those who didn’t know him missed something good.

Tom’s love for the Lord and his desire to please Him was the mainspring of his existence. His focus has always been on going home to be with Him. The end of his emails reminded all recipients that “one thing is needed.”

One who knew Tom well said he was the carefulest man they knew. I can understand that. Tom was careful about the way he spoke. He did not abuse words or wear them out. He was careful about the way he drove. He did not break laws. He wanted to do right. He wanted to be right.

Tom perhaps came as close to fully developing and utilizing the gifts God gave him, as anyone I’ve known. Many have remarked on the growth he manifested in the several years since being diagnosed with cancer.

Generally, in the arc of an evangelist’s work, he probably helps the church the most from about ages fifty to seventy. Tom died at fifty-eight. This death is a victory for Tom, but in my view it is not a victory for the church on earth. Tom had grown into a good evangelist. He wanted the Bible taught clearly, accurately and completely. I would have preferred to have had him working among us through his sixties at least. That was not to be, but we still have the fruits of his labor, and the memory of his example.

Last summer he contrasted the long life of Methuselah with the shorter life of Enoch. He said, “People say, ‘Oh, Enoch didn’t get to live as long.’ What a break that was for Enoch! . . . This life is not worth holding onto. This life is something we should give to God. Give him all you’ve got left.”

Tom ran track in high school. I have heard him say that a birthday is another lap of the race completed. Now he has crossed the finish line, and we can all rejoice with him in his victory. I can almost see him in Abraham’s bosom.

We sorrow not as others which have no hope. I’m not worried about Tom. His race is run. He fought a good fight. He finished his course. He kept the faith. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).

Tom has gone to a loving God. I want to hold up Tom’s example to the rest of us. We should follow Tom as he followed Christ. The writer of the Hebrew letter tells us to take note of worthy leaders among us, who have spoken to us the word of God, and follow their faith, considering the purpose of their course of life (Hebrews 13:7). The aim of Tom’s life was to be saved, and to see us saved. When we see such a living embodiment of faith, we need to emulate in our lives the things in his life that were acceptable in God’s sight.

It is God’s intention to link our lives through His church. If the Lord had not built his church, most of us would have probably never met Tom, or one another. What a shame it would have been to have missed our shared times in Christ. What precious memories God has given us!

In 2 Corinthians 5:1, Paul talks about the tent of our body being dissolved. Tom pushed his tent body as far as it would go. In her poem to Tom, Byrl Rhoads wrote,

We know there were times when your body was saying,
I don’t think I can do this today.
But you had control and you pushed yourself onward,
And your body had to go anyway.

Tom, like Paul, looked for a building, his resurrected body, which never sickens and cannot die. Earth life is short, even at the longest. In Adam, all die (1 Corinthians 15:22). It is appointed unto man once to die (Hebrews 9:27). The living know that they shall die (Ecclesiastes 9:5). There is a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:2). The death rate is one per person. Let’s wear ourselves out in the work of the Lord, and like Tom, glorify God in the way we live, and in the way we die. We were made for heaven, and nearly everything we hold dear is there.

~ Rick Sparks

By What Authority Do You Do These Things?

It was just a matter of days before Jesus was crucified. He and the twelve had returned to Jerusalem. The teachings of Jesus and His wondrous works and miracles had been witnessed throughout the land. The following incident is recorded in Matthew 21, Mark 11 and Luke 20: “Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”’ Much earlier in His ministry, “the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).

Some honest-minded individuals, who perhaps had a better understanding of the inspired Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, were more receptive of Him. One ruler of the Jews, Nicodemus, who had come to Jesus by night had said to Jesus, “We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these things that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).

Jesus certainly had not kept secret His authority or who had given it to Him. Jesus had openly proclaimed:

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).

“You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23).

“I must work the works of Him who sent Me” (John 9:4).

“The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me” (John 10:25).

“If I do not do the works of My Father do not believe Me, but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:37-38).

“I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:49-50).

“The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:10-11).

How often did He have to tell men of His authority? But the prejudiced minds of most of the Jewish leaders rejected His authority. That lowly Galilean just did not fit the description of the coming Messiah that they had apparently envisioned, and they even accused Him of casting out demons by Beelzebub as they endeavored to keep the people from believing in Him (Matthew 9:34, 12:24; Luke 11:15).

The Jewish leaders who came questioning His authority did so with evil intent, but the question is valid, and men would do well to consider by what authority many religious practices are done today, and what authority gives sanction to the various teachings and trends in religion today. Let us ask the same question concerning these things, that Jesus asked the Jews concerning John’s practice of baptism: “Was it from heaven or from men?”

There is much religion in the world, and many sincere worshippers, but many doctrines and practices, even among believers in the one true God. Are all these different doctrines and practices from heaven or from men? Can they all be right? Did God authorize all the different denominations? Or have these been developed by men? Our eternal destiny may well be determined by our consideration of these things. God is a jealous God and He requires that we follow His instructions.

When the apostle Paul first carried the gospel into areas of Europe where it had never yet been heard, he met with much opposition in some cities, but when he came to Berea, “These were more fair-minded (or noble) than those in Thessalonica in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If people would search the Scriptures, they would find that many of the religious teachings and practices in the modern world are not authorized by God. The mere fact that religious leaders have introduced sprinkling or pouring or a wet finger making a cross on a forehead to substitute for baptism does not make it acceptable to God. Many people have never searched the Scriptures adequately to realize that instrumental music is not authorized to be used in the worship services of the church. Or, that titles like Reverend and Father for mere men are contrary to the teachings of the Word of God. A number of things common in the religious world today are foreign to the Scriptures. Jesus said concerning the worship of many in His day, “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). It seems to be the reasoning of men: “What difference does it make?” It is simply a matter of is it from heaven or from men?

God’s Word teaches unity, one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God (Ephesians 4:3-6). There is one name that is above every name (Ephesians 1:20-21, Philippians 2:9). “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). That excludes Mary or some saint, whether living or dead. “Christ is the head of the church” not a man on earth or a council of men (Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 1:18). The early church routinely observed the Lord’s Supper the first day of the week, not just sporadically at times men designate (Acts 2:42, 20:7). We are repeatedly warned not to add to or take from the Word of the Lord. If we want to make our calling and election sure, if we want to go to heaven, we had better follow the way of the Lord, revealed to us through the Scriptures, rather than following mere mortals.

~ Thomas D. Dennis

Joshua, Jericho, Achan, and Ai

In Joshua chapter 2, we have the prelude to Israel’s first battle in Canaan to conquer the land God had promised centuries earlier to Abraham. Their first conquest would be Jericho, which was strongly defended in a strategically critical location. Israel’s leader, Joshua, secretly sent spies across the river to look over the land, especially Jericho. The news they returned with was encouraging, as they affirmed, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands” (Joshua 2:24). A few days later the Israelites were led to the Jordan river where they saw the water stop flowing as soon as the priests carrying the Ark of God stepped into the river, so that the people were able to cross the river during the high flow of spring runoff on dry ground, a demonstration that God was with Joshua as he had been with Moses (3:7) and that “the living God is among you” (3:10). So, “that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him” (4:14). Right away after that Israel began to enjoy the spring bounty that was already available in Canaan, and the manna they had eaten for 40 years no longer appeared. At that time the Israelite males who had not been circumcised during the Israel’s wanderings were circumcised, and then they celebrated the Passover (5:2-12). Soon Joshua received explicit instructions from the Lord about how to approach Jericho and how to deal with the city when God brought down the walls for them.

God’s instructions to Joshua made sense only if God were going to help Israel defeat Jericho. Joshua then told the men of Israel exactly what God had commanded them to do. For seven days they followed God’s instructions, and at the climax, as they did what God had said, the walls of the city collapsed, providing unimpeded access into the city and an easy victory over what had seemed insurmountable adversaries. Part of the instruction for defeating Jericho, clearly emphasized by Joshua, was to take no loot from the city, but rather devote items of silver, gold, bronze or iron to the Lord and abandon everything else to destruction and fire. This event again affirmed that “the Lord was with Joshua” and had the effect that “his fame spread throughout the land” (6:27).

Shortly after the victory at Jericho, Joshua and Israel set out to conquer a smaller and less defended town now remembered as Ai. Again Joshua sent spies to look the situation over, and again they brought back an encouraging report, except that instead of stressing God’s hand in the matter, they reported that Ai would be easy to take and only a small portion of the army was needed to do it. Joshua and Israel made the mistake then of planning and attempting to defeat Ai without consulting the Lord. What looked like easy success turned into disaster. Fifteen centuries later James warned Christians against the error of presumption when we don’t know what the future holds, so we should always seek God’s will (James 4:13-17). When Joshua belatedly sought the Lord, he was upbraided for his attitude and Israel’s sin (7:10-11). Even though we already know that a man named Achan took some of the “devoted things” that were to have been reserved for God or destroyed (7:1), the unfaithfulness is attributed to the Israelites (7:1) and Israel (7:11). God didn’t tell Joshua “someone” had sinned, but “Israel has sinned; they have transgressed… they have taken… they have stolen… they have lied” (7:11). What followed was a God-given process to make everyone participate in sorting out what had happened, and who had done what. The result was Achan being singled out and admitting his greed and theft and lies (7:20-21). Then Achan and his whole family, all his possessions, including the stolen objects, were destroyed, as the things he stole had been devoted to destruction. This was a potent reminder to Israel that God meant what he said and that unfaithfulness was disastrous for all concerned, and that they should seek God’s will in everything.

For Achan (and his family) the penalty was horrible, but consider the circumstances. Achan had seen God’s works every day of his life, eating the manna, seeing God guide and discipline his people in the dessert. He drank water from the rock a few months earlier (Numbers 20:1-13). He’d crossed the dry Jordan only a few weeks before and experienced the cessation of manna. The day he sinned he saw the walls of Jericho fall and knew that what Joshua commanded came from God. Knowing all of that, he somehow thought he could steal from God and get away with it. Not because he was poor, he had family, he had livestock, he had everything he needed, but he saw some things that he wanted more than he wanted to obey God. Nor is it likely he carried off a beautiful robe from Babylonia, 5 pounds of silver and another 1 1/4 pounds of gold with no one noticing, and then hid it under the floor of his tent without even his family being aware.

Remember, Paul’s instructions to Timothy included do not “take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22b).

~ Charles A. Fry

What is Your Closet?

Jesus says in Matthew 6:6, “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” This is a quotation from the NKJV, but it is one place where I like the KJV word “closet.” Though it is clear from the context Jesus is speaking of the “private place” in your life, the word “closet” seems to more clearly convey what Jesus was teaching. So, my question in this article asks, “What is your closet?” To be clear, I am not expecting you to answer me. Certainly the idea of a “closet” is intended to be your “secret place.” It is between you and the Lord. I am only urging you to consider one for your own spiritual life.

Much of the New Testament centers on the doctrines of the church and in particular the assemblies of the body. These are absolutely important to Christians for various reasons. However, much of the New Testament and a large portion of Jesus’ teachings speak to a Christian’s life away from the assemblies. This certainly is one of the most important aspects of a Christian’s life. How a Christian lives is absolutely vital to his or her faithfulness to the Lord and ultimately to his or her salvation.

In the verse quoted above, Jesus highlights the importance of a believer having some portion of his or her life set aside to private activities, specifically activities that assist in his or her spiritual life. It is worth noting that Jesus said “when you pray.” He is speaking as if this is something you will naturally do, even on a regular basis. And this need for private prayer is certainly not superseding prayer with the body as taught in Acts 4 or even prayer in the presence of unbelievers as was the case in Acts 27:35.

While Jesus is specifically speaking to prayer, this principle goes far beyond the need for private prayer. It certainly pertains to private study of the Scriptures. It also pertains to meditation of spiritual thoughts and activities and perhaps to the spiritual health of our own spirits.

While this is surely relevant to any generation, it seems especially needed in our modern society today. In the normal hustle and bustle of our lives, perhaps even in the context of our constant contact with those who are worldly and live according to the flesh, it may be especially needful to have some time to ourselves devoted to private spiritual meditation. And this, my brothers and sisters, is where our “closet” becomes very relevant.

It is my conviction the New Testament writers spoke of such in various phrases and passages throughout the Scriptures. Consider these examples to name a few:

2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disquali-fied.”

Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”

These verses and many others speak to the need for Christians to take care and give diligent thought as to the health of their spirits. What better place is there to spend time in our lives but in our “closets?”

Now consider these very easily applied examples of the benefits of such private activities. What better way for a young Christian couple to draw closer to each other than by studying and praying privately together, especially before marriage or even children? Even though that involves another it would still be a “closet” for them as a couple. How about taking some time for prayer or simply reading portions of the Scriptures daily or at least regularly in the early morning hours before the busy home activities begin? I know brethren who listen to MP3 lessons that can be so easily downloaded and played as they commute to and from the workplace. Yes, I know of some of the dangers of modern technology and the wariness it requires, but this is an example of the positive benefits of technology as well. Audio versions of the Scriptures are very easily acquired. I know of brethren who listen to a cappella praises and hymns of the Lord throughout their activities at home or elsewhere. What better way to help keep our minds and lives focused “on things above, not on things on the earth” when we must deal with the “things of the earth”? There is no better way for families to conclude their days with their children in prayer and/or Bible readings and discussions. This too could be their family “closet.”

These are just a few examples of how we can enter our “closets.” Use your imagination and come up with whatever ways and methods you can find to make time for a “closet” in your life. The spiritual benefits are tremendous and the eternal rewards are literally “out of this world!” I guarantee your lives and your spirits will be benefitted if you take time to build a “closet.”

~ Jay H. Graham