Issue #254 -------
June 28, 2006
In health we should continue to be
the men we vowed to become
when sickness prompted our words.
Pliny the Younger (62-113 A.D.)
2 Cor. 12:7-10 -- "And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given unto me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, in order to keep me from exalting myself. Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, then, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Thus, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
It is tempting to employ a bit of alliteration here. For example, this whole thorny scenario presented to us by Paul could very easily be compartmentalized under five individual headings each beginning with the very same letter of the alphabet: Problem --- Prick --- Plea --- Purpose --- Perspective. As one who has always enjoyed such alliteration, I shall shamelessly succumb to the temptation. Thus, we shall carefully examine each of the five points in this passage penned by the apostle Paul, with particular emphasis upon the nature of his so-called "thorn in the flesh." Needless to say, the theories and speculations are legion. Some are quite well thought out; others less so; some are just bizarre!
Paul's problem appears to have been a tendency to think more highly of himself than was emotionally or spiritually healthy. Good self-esteem and confidence in one's abilities can be very positive; arrogance and self-glorification is another matter altogether. Paul, on more than one occasion indulged in a bit of boasting, although, as each context shows, there was a legitimate purpose for doing so. Nevertheless, it does display a personal proclivity on Paul's part; a tendency that could be turned against Paul and facilitate his downfall. It was imperative this pitfall be avoided, especially in light of the very special privileges bestowed upon this apostle chosen by the Lord.
The apostle Paul was allowed, in some manner unknown to us today, and even unknown to Paul himself (2 Cor. 12:2-3), to enter into "the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2) ... to be "caught up into Paradise," and to hear "inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak" (vs. 4). The word Paradise is of Persian origin. It was incorporated into the Hebrew language during the time of Persian influence, and passed into the Greek language through its extensive use by Xenophon. The Hebrew word "pardes" occurs only three times within the pages of the OT writings: (1) Nehemiah 2:8, where it is translated "forest," (2) Ecclesiastes 2:5, with reference to "gardens and parks," and (3) Song of Solomon 4:13, where the author refers to his bride as "an orchard of pomegranates." The word literally means "a park; a garden." In time it came to signify "a place of exquisite pleasure and delight." The Septuagint uses the Greek word "paradeisos" (transliteration: paradise) consistently in Genesis 2-3 for the "Garden of Eden." It is also used in reference to the Jordan Valley (Genesis 13:10) and again of the Garden of Eden in Joel 2:3.
In the NT writings the Greek word "paradeisos" appears only three times: (1) 2 Corinthians 12:4, where Paul says he was "caught up into Paradise;" probably equivalent to the "third heaven" of vs. 2, which many biblical scholars suggest signifies being in the very presence of God in heaven [although this event may have been more vision than physical journey, as Paul himself acknowledges], (2) Revelation 2:7, where Christ promises those who overcome -- "I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God." This tree is in the very presence of God in heaven, positioned on either side of the river of the water of life which flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1-5). Thus, the tree is said to be right before the throne of God in Heaven, which is identified as being "the Paradise of God," and (3) Luke 23:43, where we find the statement of Jesus to the thief on the cross, "You shall be with Me in Paradise."
The word "Paradise," as it is used in the New Testament writings, obviously refers to the eternal abode of God (what we generally term as "Heaven"). "In the NT 'paradise' means heaven in 2 Cor. 12:4 and Rev. 2:7. Accordingly it naturally denotes heaven in the remaining instance: Luke 23:43" (Davis Dictionary of the Bible, p. 569). "It is evident that Luke 23:43 speaks of a heavenly Paradise" (New International Commentary on the NT). "There can, therefore, be no doubt that paradise is heaven! The Fathers made a distinction between paradise and heaven which is not found in the Scriptures" (Charles Hodge). "Paradise is not a shadowy waiting-room, but a blissful abode within the very courts of heaven itself" (New International Commentary on the NT). Thus, we should stress that Paul, in his statement to the Corinthian brethren, was not speaking of some compartment in Hades or Sheol, when he spoke of "Paradise" and "the third heaven," but was rather referring to Heaven itself -- the abode of the Father.
Although there has been much debate over the centuries as to the nature and location of Paradise (and whether it equates to the "third heaven," which most feel it does), and just how, and in what form [physical or spiritual], Paul experienced this event, there is no debate whatsoever as to the potential effect this might have on one such as Paul, who had a tendency toward self-elevation. Paul had been exalted by God -- the problem was that Paul might be tempted to exalt himself. It was a challenge he realized all too well, as we shall soon see.
God's solution to the problem was to allow Paul to experience a persistent form of affliction that would be so debilitating, and perhaps even outwardly obvious to others, that Paul would have great difficulty elevating himself above others. This affliction would be a very humbling, perhaps in some ways even humiliating, experience. Paul referred to it as a "thorn in the flesh" and a "messenger of Satan" (2 Cor. 12:7). There has been considerable debate down through the centuries about each of these descriptive phrases. Just what exactly is this "thorn" of which Paul speaks? Is "the flesh" just a figure of speech, or is he speaking of his physical body? Is the phrase "messenger of Satan" figurative, or does it perhaps refer to an actual being? Is this being human or angelic or demonic? The questions are endless. So is the confusion as to the correct interpretation.
Most scholars feel the phrase "messenger of Satan" refers to the source of Paul's affliction, whereas the phrase "thorn in the flesh" refers to the nature of his affliction. With regard to the former, however, it must not be overlooked that even though this affliction was perceived to be a messenger of Satan, nevertheless Paul speaks of it as something that was "given to me" (vs. 7), which most feel implies the permissive will of God in the matter. In other words, as with Satan's affliction of Job, this was allowed, but with divine restrictions. There was purpose to his pain, as we shall see later.
First, however, we need to examine some of the many theories that have been suggested over the centuries as to the identity of this "thorn in the flesh." The Greek word here translated "thorn" is skolops, which in classical Greek had reference to a pointed stake used for impaling. In the papyri and in the more common Greek of the people (which one finds in the NT writings), it had reference to a thorn or sharply pointed sliver. Figuratively, and metaphorically, it conveyed the concept of an intense, vexing, stabbing pain. The biblical interpreter, therefore, is left with several decisions to make. Is the phrase literal or figurative? If it is the latter, what type of affliction (physical, mental, spiritual) is suggested by the "thorn" in the "flesh" of Paul?
As the Pulpit Commentary points out, "There have been endless conjectures as to the exact nature of this painful and most humbling physical affliction" (vol. 19). In that very statement one finds a conjecture -- that the affliction was physical. Not all agree with that. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states, "Paul's vague reference to a thorn in his flesh has stirred an enormous amount of discussion" (vol. 4, p. 843). "The efforts that have been made to identify Paul's 'thorn' are legion" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 396). Adam Clarke, in his commentary, concurs: "What this thorn in the flesh might be has given birth to a multitude of conjectures" (vol. 6, p. 368). The major theories promoted over the years are:
There are a great many more interpretations, but we shall allow the above to suffice. Needless to say, they illustrate only too well that we simply don't know the exact nature of Paul's "thorn in the flesh." We don't even know if it was literal or figurative. Thus, any speculation is just that --- speculation. "Some interpreters have refused to guess, and so should we all. The word 'thorn' is a general term in Scripture for sorrow and suffering, and nothing in it can indicate whether the suffering was physical or spiritual. Many of the suggested interpretations are clearly possible, but none can be proved or disproved" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 843).
As one might expect, Paul sought relief from his affliction by appealing to the Great Physician Himself. "Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me" (2 Cor. 12:8). "Affliction should drive us to, not from, God. And we should come to pray, not to complain" (Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19). Many blame God for their afflictions and trials; in anger and frustration they turn away from the Lord, assuming, incorrectly, that He has turned away from them. This was not the response of Paul. It was also not the response of Job when he was afflicted by Satan. "Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God" (Job 1:22). When his wife urged him to "curse God and die," Job rebuked her, saying, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10). Paul, like Job, understood that in life one experiences both good times and bad times. To thank God for one, and curse Him for the other, is merely to demonstrate lack of integrity and spiritual maturity. "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). Solomon wisely observed, "In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider -- God has made the one as well as the other" (Eccl. 7:14).
It is very interesting to observe the similarities between the apostle Paul's plea to the Lord for relief, and the Lord's own plea to God for deliverance from the affliction He was about to endure. "As Christ in Gethsemane prayed 'the third time,' so thrice did this Christ-like apostle knock at heaven's gate" (Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19). Both responses were the same -- "You must bear this affliction, but I will strengthen you for what lies ahead!" The Lord does not always answer our prayers in the manner that we might expect. What was the Lord's answer? "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). By the way, in the NASB (and perhaps in others as well) these words appear in red, signifying they were spoken by Jesus (indicating that these translators also understood that Paul was praying to Jesus). The answer of the Lord was a simple one --- rely on Me, not upon yourself. When we trust in our own strength, we too frequently forget to trust in His.
As already noted, there was a divine purpose behind this affliction experienced by Paul. This mere man had been blessed with a good number of revelations and visions [Acts 9:3-6; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 22:17-21; 23:11; 27:22-25]. And this doesn't even include being caught up into the third heaven [2 Cor. 12:1-6]. It would have been easy for Paul, or for any man, to allow such privilege to "go to his head." Thus, the Lord chose something that would tend to keep Paul "grounded." Notice the following translations (each of which does an excellent job of bringing out this purpose):
"God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:5-7). "The higher Paul's work was, the more he needed humility. The more divine his work was, the more necessary for him was the constant realization of utter dependence on the Lord" (R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of Second Corinthians, p. 1301).
"Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:9-10). "The great practical question for us, in our endeavor to live the godly life, is not -- What have we to bear?, but -- What strength have we for the bearing?" (Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19). God's marvelous grace and matchless strength is sufficient for every circumstance in our lives. Trusting in ourselves only deprives us of the true source of our strength to overcome! Paul's perspective was the proper one! If I must boast, then let me boast in Him, and the good He has accomplished through me, who, at best, is just a mere tool in His mighty hands. Thus, Paul rejoiced that he was counted worthy to be expended in service to God and His Kingdom. So should we.
Paul was accomplishing great things for the Lord, and the Lord had blessed him richly. There was a danger to Paul in this. His pride could get the best of him. Thus, to keep him humble, and also to help him realize the true source of his strength, God allowed him to be afflicted in some manner by Satan (just as Job had been). Satan, however, did not have such a noble purpose in view. Satan's purpose was to use this affliction to destroy Paul, just as he had sought to do with Job. Paul understood this "thorn in the flesh" was the handiwork of Satan, but he also perceived a divine purpose to it, and saw the sovereignty of God behind it all. Yes, he pleaded with the Lord to remove it, but when the Lord responded in the negative, he accepted that decision with the proper spirit. We can learn from Paul in this. "We should make our wants and supplications known to God, and leave Him to answer as He will. In our blindness and lack of faith, we often think God has not heard us, when He has blessed us above that we asked" (David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the NT Epistles, p. 160).
It is not easy being the target of affliction, whether that "thorn in the flesh" be literal or figurative, physical or spiritual. It is especially hard to endure the malicious manipulations of Satan and his godless servants. However, such attacks simply show we have come to the attention of the enemy and are considered sufficient threat to warrant such mistreatment. God will not allow Satan to inflict more upon us than we are able to bear, however (1 Cor. 10:13), and will always provide the strength to endure and overcome. Paul's thorn was "used by Satan to annoy, pain, depress, and harass Paul, and with the hope that it would hinder his great work. Satanic malice rejoiced in the anticipation that it might prove the last straw upon the camel's back. Paul interfered much with the devil's kingdom; it is no wonder that the devil sought to interfere with him. Satan can afford to leave some people alone; but if we faithfully attack his kingdom and his rule we may expect reprisals" (Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19).
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Hello Brother Maxey, I am still in the process of enjoying your insights contained in the weekly Reflections. I appreciate your intelligence and your studies. I am also ordering your book Down, But Not Out, along with an extra copy to share with the minister who preaches for us. I am looking forward to reading it.
From a Reader in Honduras:
Al, I am sure your inbox is filled with thoughts from well-wishers, but enjoy your vacation. Sleep late, eat too much, and love on those grandkids!! I appreciate your Reflections ministry more than you know! I am not a "trained theologian," and your research more often than not helps me understand what the Word means, instead of just what it says. Please enjoy your days off, but hurry back!
From a New Reader in Newfoundland:
Al, I like your web site. Your discussion of the seven churches of Revelation was very interesting. I am a member of the Canadian Navy, and am posting this from St. John's, Newfoundland. Please add me to your mailing list for the weekly Reflections. Thank you!
From a Reader in Canada:
Hello Brother, It has been a long time since we have talked. I had a stroke five months ago, and that has really slowed me down. But, such is life! After all, you've got to die to go home, and what a great blessing that will be! Come, Lord Jesus! Al, you are able to make things so clear; you always go a little deeper than the usual teacher, and that I truly enjoy. I enjoy every article of yours I get to read. God bless!
From a New Reader in the Philippine Islands:
I was browsing the Internet and found your web site. I am really interested to keep in touch with you in order to know well what you are doing so that we can share some knowledge. I am looking forward to hearing from you. God bless and peace in Christ.
From a Reader in Australia:
Al, It has been some time since I wrote to you to say hello and to thank you for your faithful work and insightful Reflections. You are constantly in my prayers even if I don't write. May you and Shelly have a refreshing and blessed holiday -- you certainly deserve it after all your work. I also wanted to let you know that I concur with all you said, both from a Scriptural viewpoint as well as from my own personal journey, in your article: "Facing A Family Feud." Insightful leadership and a willingness to confront issues early on by the eldership is always that which is necessary to avoid disputes and ensure a continuing healthy "body."
From a Missionary in Brazil:
Dear Brother Al and all Reflections readers, I have found "The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict" by Ken Sande to be extremely helpful in the process of resolving severe conflict in the church. There is a great web site [www.peacemaker.net] that offers a free downloadable Peacemaker Brochure, which is in .pdf format, consisting of a condensed summary of the book. I highly recommend getting this book. One of the most helpful comments in it was something to the effect that often all that is really needed to start down the road to conflict resolution is simply: (1) recognize that how we respond to conflict is very often a large part of the conflict itself, and then (2) deliberately move toward more biblical ways to respond.
From a Reader in Indiana:
Dear Al Maxey, I was reading on your web site your studies regarding the Lord's Supper and enjoyed them thoroughly. I am working on putting together a Christian Foundations book for our church and would like to use some excerpts from your writings on the purpose of Communion. I have not found such an excellent explanation and would really appreciate you letting us use this material. I would put an acknowledgement of the source (your name and web site) on the literature. Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.
From a New Reader in Washington, D.C.:
Hi Al, Do you know Harley and Carolyn Pinon? Well, they have a link on their web site to your web site. So, I thought I would look at your web site and see what it is all about. Your web site is very good. I saw your articles about the Lord's Supper and they are very good. I also write Bible lessons and you can see them at my web site.
From a Minister in Oklahoma:
Al, After I wrote my response to you on this matter of the church in crisis [which you addressed in Reflections #253], I was reminded by the Holy Spirit that I have my own set of leadership issues within the church I am currently serving as the minister. Thankfully, we are addressing them, but by no means have we arrived. So, excuse me while I remove the railroad tie from my eye!! May God have mercy on us all in our haste to "right this brother's ship."
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Al, Thanks for the balanced article. I believe that you represented all parties fairly. It's tough to know the "facts" sometimes, so I feel that your article brought the necessary principles to light.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Fantastic article, brother. And I can "hear" the concern in the elder's reply which you included in the Addendum. These types of situations are so tragic and heart-rending. Perhaps you will follow this up with an article on bishops versus autonomy! Okay? I would like to hear your thoughts on why having a bishop is not appropriate for churches today.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, After a long battle with my "Restoration Movement" indoctrinated conscience, I have come to this conclusion: the assembly recognized as the "Church of Christ" by the sign on the premises has a lot of problems, and the insertion of a bishop into the leadership of this particular group could only help. Al, with your own advice in your last issue of Reflections to that elder, weren't you assuming the role of a bishop? If not, what was it? You even recommended Dr. Charles Siebert, who is from Abilene Christian University. Thus, yet another bishop recommended, and by none other than bishop Al Maxey. I believe a bishopric would be a step in the right direction! Just my honest opinion.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, I just finished reading your last Reflections. I thank God for the wisdom, sweet spirit, love and understanding He has given you. The kingdom is blessed and so am I. My heart hurts with those who are the recipients of so much pettiness, selfishness and bitterness from those who have never really learned (or been taught) to love, cherish, protect and guide our loved ones in the kingdom. I wept when I finished reading today's Reflections ["Facing A Family Feud"], and my heart and eyes are still puddled up as I write this. I have a great love for New Mexico and I am grateful they have brothers like you. I grew up in Clovis where my mom and dad became Christians when I was in high school. Shortly thereafter, we moved to Portales where I met and married my sweet wife. We've been together 51 years come December. I earned a degree from ENMU with a double major in Bible and Media (Television Production), and I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Steve Eckstein. Again, thank you, and God bless you, my brother. Keep up the good work for the kingdom.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, Thank you for your diligent efforts with your Reflections, and for your many insights therein. They are much appreciated by many! I have a dilemma regarding NT Greek, and would appreciate a comment from you regarding this. Having just finished my second year of study in NT Greek, I feel overwhelmed with so much information, and feel somewhat paralyzed as to how I can productively use all this information in my daily devotions. The reason I say "paralyzed" is because there is just so much to learn about NT Greek -- grammar and vocabulary, semantic domains, syntactical analysis, word construction, etc. Could you recommend a place to start? There's so much information involved, and I don't know where to start to have a meaningful time with God's Word.
From a Minister in California:
Al, Outstanding analysis of the divided congregation whose elder requested your help. How I pray the family will rediscover the awesome, healing presence of the Spirit of God! Only the One who specializes in the impossible can restore this badly broken body. I will pray for the same. Enjoy Missouri, brother! I spent four years there in the 1960's as a student at Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly. My wife is from the Joplin/Carthage area -- her father taught at Ozark Bible College. Great state -- but not as great as California! God bless you, Al.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Al, You said a mouthful, brother! Amen to all your suggestions and thoughts to that elder in the troubled congregation. I am sharing this article here, for this issue of your Reflections should be read by all elderships, even when (and especially when) there is no current conflict. Once again I am grateful to you for your work, and for the diligence in the work you do. Articles such as this are not easy to write, even with the abundance of input you had. When all is said and done it is still your name on the article, even when you quote those of us that responded. Your words show study, wisdom and compassion for the pain and hurt clearly being felt in that congregation. It does sound like the elder who asked for help has taken a lot of your words (and others' words, as well) to heart, and has begun efforts to make things right. Truly they will need prayer, and I for one will continue to pray for them. I know the brethren here that I have shared this with are praying also. Enjoy your trip to Missouri. Who knows, maybe we will see you there.
From a Reader in Georgia:
Dear Bro. Al, I have really enjoyed reading your assessment of the 7 churches of Asia mentioned in the book of Revelation [Jesus Evaluates His Church]. It has helped me to understand those passages so much better. Thank you for all of your hard work in getting these studies out there so others can learn from you.
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, Just a quick note to wish you and yours a safe and happy vacation. Shift gears for a short time, and take time to smell the roses along the way. You will be missed on one end and welcomed on the other. You have an important work to come back to, though ... so hurry (big grin). Just enjoy the off time. God love you and yours.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Al, My husband has been getting Reflections for quite a while and is a big admirer of your work. He doesn't always share them all with me, though, so I thought I'd subscribe myself. Keep up the good work. You are always in our prayers.
From a New Reader in [Unknown]:
Al, Your latest Reflections article -- "Facing a Family Feud" -- was forwarded to me by our new minister. I was thoroughly broadened by this article and request that I be added to your mailing list for future Reflections.
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al? Shelly? If you are the Al and Shelly I remember, you hosted a baby shower for my baby daughter and me at your home in Kaiserslautern, West Germany! We still have the pictures and the wonderful memories that go with them. It's so good to know that "this man sent by God to help me understand His Word" is someone I have met and loved. Please say hello to Shelly and give her a hug for me. That way, she gives you a hug from me. My husband and I were both Air Force officers (now retired) serving a four year assignment at Ramstein Air Base. I have been reading your Reflections for over a year now, but never made the connection between you and the minister at the Kaiserslautern church until I read your article on "Thirty Years on the Firing Line" [Issue #249]. Then I realized it was you. When I first started reading your weekly Reflections articles, they were the answer to my prayer for increased understanding, insight and wisdom in the Scriptures. My prayer was (and still is) for an "instructed tongue" (Isaiah 50:4), and your Reflections have become like "living water" to me. Thank you so very, very much for sharing your insight and spiritual discernment, which, in turn, helps me with mine. Please keep writing as God inspires you. We need to hear (read) what God inspires you to say (write). My love to you and Shelly. Thanks for the good old memories, and for the new spiritual insights.
From a New Reader in Oregon:
Al, I was recently reading the account in 1 Samuel 4-7 where the Israelites lost possession of the Ark of the Covenant to the Philistines. I was amused by the term "emerods," so I Googled it and found your Reflections article [Issue #135] -- Five Golden Emerods: A Tale of Rodents and 'Rhoids. I really enjoyed it. While I was reading this article I was struck by another lesson, which might be added to your own "Eight Lessons Learned" from this account. Israel first went to battle with the Philistines in their own strength. After suffering defeat, they brought the Ark of the Covenant to help them. They had a tremendous history of victories which involved the Ark, and they had come to believe that the Ark in itself had power to save them. It did not, and it was taken from them. The problem was that the power of God worked according to their faith and faithfulness to Him, not just by the presence of the Ark. What was required was obedience and respect for God, not religious relics. I think we make similar mistakes in our own times.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Dear Bro. Al, Thank you again for all your help in helping my wife and me find the true freedom in Christ that we can now see in His Word. I wish you both "Shalom" and a safe and very enjoyable trip!
From a New Reader in Indiana:
Al, As a member of the Berean Spirit forum, I have seen your name frequently, and have seen an occasional excerpt from your writings appear in that forum. I have enjoyed some, wrestled with others, and have argued the merits of several. I doubt any of that is new to you! Today, however, I have decided to ask if you would add me to your list of subscribers to your weekly Reflections. I feel that there is just so much I have to learn and far too often I have shut doors that should be opened. There is too much sectarian spirit flourishing today, and in that realization I have decided to open some of those doors that still can be opened. God forbid that I should find myself fueling the flames of divisiveness and separation that plague God's people. I will await your kind reply.
From a Minister in Washington:
Thank you for your very informative critical analysis of the KJV [Reflections #88]. It was loaded with excellent information. It is so difficult for a King Jimmy Only Christian to see past that one version. I used to be one! But, being bilingual, I know that God doesn't require all my Latin American friends to learn my language so they can read the "one true version" of the Bible. When they do learn English, however, they certainly aren't going to be able to understand the archaic text that I personally love so dearly. God has so much more for us all than getting hung up on the letter of the written Word, which is dead without the Spirit. Al, I so appreciate the spirit with which your work is written. You are coming to us from a much higher plane than carnal, angrily written, opinionated web sites which are trying to persuade the reader toward a certain point of view. An educated person, when reading your studies, can sense a higher level of learning on the part of the writer.
From a Minister in Missouri:
Al, I really appreciated your Reflections article on "The Woman at the Well" [Issue #252]. As you know, I have been on the receiving end of attacks that were launched due to my associating and fellowshipping with "digressives" and others. I am led to believe that these attackers would have harshly rebuked Jesus for His conversing with the woman at the well. I completely agree with your statement that the biblical passage doesn't speak to the moral level of this particular woman. However, I did recently hear a preacher conclude that the reason the woman was so quick to change the subject in her conversation with Jesus was to take the focus off her immoral lifestyle. God bless you, brother, and thank you for your fine teaching.
From a Reader in Nevada:
Dear Al, I want to say thank you for your Reflections. I am constantly amazed at the depth of your study. I was raised in an ultra-conservative Church of Christ home and grew up going down the aisle to be "restored" like a yo-yo. I knew nothing about grace when I entered Memphis School of Preaching in the early 90's. I just wanted to preach the Gospel. Six months at MSOP was all I could take. I was reprimanded over and over again for asking questions that made them uncomfortable. Frequently I was held over after class on Fridays so that all the directors could take turns intimidating me in private to keep me from "ruining" any of the other students with my questions. I could go on and on about my experiences there (including being physically threatened by another student in class for using the NIV to explain the meaning of a verse; watching the ladies of the congregation fawn over the newborn child of a "Stepford" student, when only two weeks before that my wife and I had our daughter and no one even came to see us at the hospital. After I complained about no one coming to see us, two women came to our home to "visit" only to leave my wife in tears because as they left they told her that if she was going to be a preacher's wife she would need to keep a cleaner house. And this with a child less than a month old).
This was a stressful point in my life. I came to wonder what the other side must be like if this is life on the "right" side of the Truth. So, I obtained Rubel Shelly's phone number and called him at his home. He was cordial, loving and kind. He talked to me for a long time. There was no suspicion in his voice even though I told him at the beginning of the conversation that I was a student at MSOP. After speaking with him and praying a lot I quit MSOP. We had $1700.00 in support in our account at MSOP for our move back home, but the school kept every dime of it and told us our supporters sent money for me to attend school, not to return home. We went to a "liberal" church that we had heard the directors complaining about, and they raised enough money in the one service that we attended there to get our belongings back home. That was the beginning of my road to Grace. It took over ten years, but I finally learned what the GOSPEL really is. It is, in fact, GOOD NEWS!!! I thank the Lord every day for revealing it to me and my family. Thank you!
From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:
Al, I don't know if you have read Curtis Shelburne's Focus on Faith, but today's issue included a word picture I had not heard before. It reminded me of some of our "erring brothers" who don't accept the rest of us "erring brothers." I thought you might enjoy it. He describes such people as being "so narrow-minded that a gnat could stand on the bridge of their nose and kick out both eyes with one foot." Have a blessed week, brother!
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