by Al Maxey

Issue #302 ------- May 21, 2007
The noblest question in the world
is this: What good may I do in it?

Benjamin Franklin {1706-1790}

Ponderings & Puzzlements
Reflective Responses to Readers

I receive a lot of questions sent to me by the readers of these weekly Reflections. This has opened a great many doors for further study of God's Word with those persons who may be puzzled over some particular passage or practice, or perhaps who may actually be pondering Truth for the very first time. This interaction with my readers has proved to be a tremendous blessing for me (and I pray it has been for them); I always come away encouraged and even more convinced than ever of the inestimable value of this ministry upon the hearts and lives of God's One Family in Christ Jesus. Please continue to keep this outreach in your prayers, and let others know about it (as many of you are doing). These Reflections are now reaching over 12,000 precious souls each week, with many new subscribers being added every single day. There is quite clearly a growing hunger for the type of studies that will challenge God's people to think, and to responsibly evaluate their previous positions and practices. I still have a very gracious email Dr. Leroy Garrett sent to me some time back in which he commented on this very fact -- "Brother Al, I want to join others in commending you for taking biblical exposition seriously, and for believing in your readers that they are willing to think and to consider a different point of view. Soldier on!" It is largely with this premise firmly in mind (that there are indeed still disciples of Christ Jesus out there who are willing to challenge their cherished convictions and traditions in light of God's Word) that I am motivated to continue producing and publishing these weekly reflective essays. May the Lord bless all who truly possess a Berean spirit [Acts 17:11].

In this current issue of Reflections I would like to respond to a select few of the many questions and challenges I receive almost every day from various readers located around the country and around the world. Periodically I like to devote one of these weekly reflective mailouts to providing what I hope is a reasoned, yet respectful, response to what is on the hearts and minds of some of you. In my Topical Index, under the heading of "Questions and Answers," these previous special issues of Reflections may be found. Although I only select a few such questions and challenges to appear in these admittedly limited Question & Answer editions, nevertheless I do attempt to personally respond to every legitimate question and challenge posed to me. Those that appear in Reflections are selected because I believe they may possess some degree of wider reader interest and/or relevance to the spiritual development and growth in grace of God's people.

A Challenge From Georgia

Shelly and I have some very good friends who live in Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, we found each other through these Reflections. They became subscribers, then we began corresponding, then talked on the phone, and finally this husband and wife hopped a plane and flew out here to spend several days with Shelly and me. They are planning another trip here this summer or fall. We love them dearly. Although from a background of legalism, they are now blissfully Free in Christ Jesus, and enjoying to the fullest their newfound liberty. They are truly a spiritual success story. As a result of their departure from sectarian bondage, however, they have come under intense fire from the leaders of the group they left. They have defended their decision with great wisdom and clarity, which drives these law-bound leaders to utter distraction. They have also shared with them some of my writings in an attempt to show them a more grace-centered, Christ-focused perspective. One of these men, who serves as a minister of the congregation in which this pair were formerly members, wrote them the following comment this past week: "I read some of Al Maxey's material on his web site. I am surprised to read some of the things he said, since he advocates mechanical instruments of music." I wrote the following brief email to this preacher:

Well, you guessed it!! He refused to provide that passage. Not only that, he became angry that I had even dared to ask him for it. He is now hiding under a desk somewhere in Atlanta, Georgia, unwilling to engage in responsible dialogue for the purpose of greater understanding, and potentially greater unity, among differing disciples. Let's be frank here, brethren -- to make a fellowship and salvation issue of something about which God never uttered a single word anywhere in the Bible is unsound hermeneutics by anyone's definition of the term. It's time we ceased making up laws for our God. It's time we quit calling something a SIN that He never did. It's time we stopped declaring His disapproval of something for which He has clearly expressed approval in both the OT and NT, and about which He never offered even a HINT of disapproval ... no, not even one time! Those who dare to speak for the Lord God, or to create LAW for Him, had better make absolutely certain they are representing His true feelings, and not just projecting their own, as I fear is far too often the reality. The latter leads only to feuding factions fostered by those in possession of a sectarian spirit. For a group that began largely as a unity movement, it is to our shame that we have become one of the most divided and divisive movements in Christendom. It is time (indeed, past time) that we, as a group, began to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in a new direction, one far more in harmony with the prayer of our Lord Jesus in John 17.

A Challenge From Tennessee

There is a dear brother-in-Christ living in the great state of Tennessee who, although he differs with me dramatically on several key tenets of our faith, has always been very loving and respectful in his dialogue with me, and he has never hesitated to present his views and confront my own. I have the utmost respect for this man who has been preaching for many decades, and who also is an excellent writer (being one of the featured writers for The Spiritual Sword, an ultra-conservative publication of the Churches of Christ). This past week this brother sent me the following observation: "Bro. Al, you have an approach to Scripture that I find, to say the least, strange. You say that you have asked 'for years and years and years' for the biblical passage that shows divine disapproval of instrumental music. Is that the right question to ask? I don't think so!" I sent this brother the following response:

This brother from the great state of Tennessee says: "Is that the right question to ask?" I guess not, considering the legalistic patternists adamantly and consistently REFUSE to answer it. Why?, you ask. Because, first of all, they know that no such passage, sentence or phrase exists. Second, they realize that to admit the truth (that their prohibitive law comes not from God, but from the assumptions of men) will only result in the slaughter of their sacred cow upon which they have come, in large part, to base their justification for religious exclusivity. When forced to admit that their separation from others who also proclaim faith in Christ is based NOT upon anything found in Scripture, but rather upon personal assumptions and party preferences, their dogma is shown for what it really is -- sectarianism in its most heinous form. Unwilling to expose themselves to such self-condemnation, they instead flee like the wind from such questions and challenges. To me, this bespeaks an inherent dishonesty. It is no wonder that the harshest words of rebuke ever spoken by our Lord Jesus were to the religious legalists and separatists of His day (and, by extension, our day as well). By the way, in case you are wondering, the above brother to whom I responded has not responded ... not a word. This is very sad, but not unexpected.

A Question From Florida

A brother-in-Christ from the sunny state of Florida wrote to me this past weekend: "Brother Al, Thanks so much for your very fine articles. Your insights on timely subjects are extremely helpful. I would like to request that you consider sharing your thoughts on a subject that is left unresolved whenever it comes up here in our Bible study class --- the obligation or responsibility of new Christians with respect to restitution for their past sins. One side says that restitution must be made, no matter how long ago the sin was or how long it takes the person to make that restitution. The other side says to forget the past (those sins are forgiven and forgotten by God) and move on with your new life in Christ. Each side brings up life scenarios that tend to make the other side's arguments appear problematic. Al, I would welcome your consideration of this matter."

Under the Mosaic Law, those who inflicted some harm upon others, or did damage to property, were required in most cases to make some form of restitution. For example, "If a person sins and becomes guilty, he shall restore what he took by robbery, or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was entrusted to him, or the lost thing which he found, or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full, and add to it one-fifth more" [Lev. 6:4-5]. "Certain crimes, including theft and negligence that results in loss to a neighbor, were punishable by paying compensation to the wronged party" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 144]. "When a man or woman commits any of the sins of mankind, acting unfaithfully against the Lord, and that person is guilty, then he shall confess his sins which he has committed, and he shall make restitution in full for his wrong, and add to it one-fifth of it, and give it to him whom he has wronged" [Num. 5:6-7]. A chief tax-gatherer by the name of Zaccheus certainly understood this principle of restitution, and he was even willing to go well beyond the requirements of Mosaic Law. "If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much" [Luke 19:8].

The doctrine and practice of restitution is visible throughout the writings of the OT. It was quite clearly the will of our God for His people under the old covenant. The question we must consider, however, is this -- under a new covenant, does the Lord continue to expect His people to practice restitution, and, if so, is it to be regulated with the same degree of exactness as under the Law? Although you and I are no longer under law, in the sense that our justification and salvation depend on exactness of compliance with a legal code of conduct, nevertheless there are clearly principles evident within the old covenant that carry over to the new, and in some cases are even intensified or given deeper spiritual significance. Jesus made this fact abundantly clear in the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5-7]. Although some aspects of that which was bound upon the people of Israel are now abrogated (such as blood sacrifices for the purpose of atoning for sins -- Jesus now being that perfect, once for all, sacrifice), other aspects of that covenant, particularly those involving our interpersonal relationships with our fellow man, and our spiritual walk with our God and the incorporation of His attributes into our own lives, remain very much in effect. Unless God Himself specifically cancels some aspect of the old covenant, or unless some practice has been fulfilled in Christ (with the continuation of such a practice tending toward the negation of the work of our Lord, such as offering up a blood sacrifice to God to atone for sin -- see the epistle to the Hebrews on this), one should not discount as necessarily invalid those OT principles and practices that are inherently godly, ennoble the lives of others, and bring glory to our God.

It is my personal conviction that restitution, where such restitution is still within the realm of human possibility, is just such a timeless principle of our Lord. In some areas of life, however, as we all know, no true restitution is possible. Restitution in its purest sense, by definition, is "a giving back of something that has been lost or taken away" [Webster's New World Dictionary]. If I steal your horse, I must return it. "Let him who steals steal no longer" [Eph. 4:28]. True! However, it goes almost without saying that when one does steal from another, the godly thing to do, following repentance, is to return that which was stolen, or at least provide some fair compensation. This would most certainly fall well within the parameters of the admonition of John the Baptist, "Bear fruits worthy of repentance" [Luke 3:8]. But, having said that, how does one restore lost innocence? How does a child rapist restore virginity to his young victim? How does one who is party to a murder restore life to the victim? Yes, we may indeed suffer just punishment for our sins against others, but does such punishment truly restore that which was lost? The reality is: restitution is not always possible, not in the true sense of that term. Look at the actions of the apostle Paul (during his days as Saul of Tarsus). He destroyed families in his attempt to destroy the church, even forcing people to blaspheme their God [Acts 26:11]. Men and women ended up dead because of this man. Did Paul make restitution to all of those families? Would such have even been humanly possible? Where possible, I'm sure Paul must have sought to restore what could be restored, but in too many instances, as Paul would discover, the wrongs of the past may well prove beyond one's ability to make right.

Paul understood only too well the proviso principle, as can be perceived in Romans 12:18 -- "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." Some things are simply not possible, and some things are beyond one's control. Peace with all men is a noble goal, but it is not always possible. The same is true of restitution. Where possible, however, one should seek to restore that which has been lost. A perfect example of the validity of the principle of restitution in the early church is seen in a statement by Paul to Philemon regarding the runaway slave Onesimus -- "If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account; I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it" [Philemon 18-19]. Yes, restitution was alive and well in the first century church of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was a principle that had carried over from the old covenant to the new. And even if it wasn't prescribed in the Law of Moses, thus reflecting the will of our God, it would still simply be the right thing to do whenever possible.

What does one do, though, when restitution isn't possible? Again, I believe Paul is the perfect example. He moved forward with his life, doing his utmost to redeem his life by devoting it to his Redeemer! He could either wallow in the failings of the past, or he could learn from them, vow not to repeat them, and strive for greater Christlikeness in the future. Paul chose the latter course. "Forgetting what lies behind, I reach forward to what lies ahead" [Philp. 3:13]. That first statement doesn't mean Paul just shrugged off the past as though it were of no consequence. Indeed, he mentioned his past failings repeatedly in his writings. Paul certainly had not forgotten them. However, he did not let those past failings drag him down in defeat and despair. As many today like to say, he "let go and let God." He changed what he could, restored what he could, righted the wrongs he could, and then turned the rest over to God. Therein lies the best possible advice for us today with regard to the principle of restitution.

A Question From Oklahoma

There is a spiritual leader in the Churches of Christ in Oklahoma City who has long been a devoted supporter of my Reflections ministry. A couple of years ago, as Shelly and I were making our annual trek to Missouri to see our middle son and his family, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel in OKC and met this dear brother for lunch. Not only was the food great (we love eating at this particular restaurant), but the fellowship was wonderful. About ten days ago he wrote me the following email: "Bro. Al, I wrestleth (KJV) with a question: Have our conflicts been caused by the dichotomy of separating everything into sacred/secular? We want to 'get it right' when we are doing the sacred (going to the assembly, singing, communion), but we embrace freedom in the secular. Yet, 'in Christ' we don't really have 'sacred times,' but are rather a 'sacred people.' It appears to me that the sacred/secular dichotomy has evolved down through history and we have simply accepted it without question. Where did we ever come up with the idea that 'going to church' is what God really wants of us?! Where did we ever get the idea that the assembly is the litmus test of spirituality?!"

As far as I'm concerned, the sacred/secular dichotomy is purely a worldly perspective. Frankly, there is no such distinction for the genuine Christian with respect to his or her daily walk. Yes, we all live within a secular society, but as children of God our entire lives, every aspect of them, partake of the sacred, even though we exist within the secular. Or, as Jesus phrased it, we are "in the world" [John 17:11], but we are "not of the world" [John 17:16]. We have been "sanctified in the truth" [John 17:17] -- that is: we are holy, set apart; we are sacred. God's people periodically lose sight of this fact, and when they do it proves quite costly. The ancient Jews, for example, sought to divide their existence into sacred/secular compartments. "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat? -- skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat" [Amos 8:5-6, NIV]. They had compartmentalized their lives into the sacred/secular. They kept the religious rites and rituals, but transitioned all too quickly back to their worldly ways. God does not accept a sacred/secular dichotomy in our daily journey with Him -- we are a set apart people twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year! Holiness is not a cloak we put on and take off at the door of the church building, although some seem to think so.

There is a tendency among far too many disciples of Christ today to practice just such a dichotomy. We "go to church" and we "go to work." We're one person at one place, another person at the other. We may work alongside of a person for years, suppressing that spiritual light within us lest we be "marked" by those in the world as "different," and yet we let the light shine forth within our church buildings, or when around our fellow disciples, suppressing our worldly tendencies, lest we be "marked" by those within our spiritual family as "different." This is a dichotomy in life that we've come to accept without much thought, and nothing could please Satan, or displease God, more! Satan has no problem with a man or woman being a Christian on Sunday, as long as he gets them the rest of the week. The Lord, however, wants you every moment of every day, and will not accept a compartmentalization of your life and loyalties.

I have always cringed when hearing someone say, "I'm going to church." People don't "go to" church, people ARE the church. We are not part of an institution or organization, attending meetings at specified times and going through our series of secret handshakes and other rituals; we are part of a family, and the children of God are not just His children on Sunday mornings, but always. Our worship of our Father is not something that occurs through five specific acts during the hours just prior to lunch on the first day of the week; our worship is expressed in countless ways daily as we walk in the light with our Savior. Worshipful expression is simply the outpouring of the devotion of our hearts, and this can never truly be restrained, restricted and/or regulated by some repressive legal code. It is freely expressed by those who are genuinely free in Christ, and it is offered up every day of our lives. When such worship is perceived to be limited to a mere five acts, however, being restricted to specific locations and times, such "official" acts will inevitably come under intense scrutiny and regulation so that we might "get them right." Relationship is thereby reduced to religion, passionate praise devolves into lifeless ritual, and defending our patternistic preferences inevitably fosters factions. So, we go through the motions, get through the event, and get on with our lives, satisfied we have met all the religious requirements that will appease our God, and confident that we, and we alone of all believers, did so acceptably (while all others didn't "get it right," and are thus apostates bound for hell). God help us!! We don't have a clue!!

Spirituality that does not transcend the boundaries of a "worship service" (a phrase never found in the Bible) and transform our existence within the secular world about us, is a "spirituality" unworthy of the name. Indeed, the spiritual must infuse the secular, rather than being kept separate and distant from it. Yeast will never bring a lump of dough to "life" until it is thoroughly mixed into that dough; then it enlivens it. We are the light of the world, the salt of the earth, the yeast of humanity. None of these, kept contained, will do their work. You can't keep faith "in a box" and expect it to impact the world about you. Let it out. Get out of your buildings and start being the church of our Lord Jesus Christ -- a set apart, sacred, holy, Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people. Be visible, be vibrant, be vocal. Share your faith, don't storehouse it. Or, to phrase it differently: wear it, don't warehouse it. Yes, there is value in our times of assembly; indeed, they should not be forsaken. But, unless our times together motivate us to greater love for one another and for the lost, and unless they stimulate us to greater action on behalf of the cause of Christ [Heb. 10:24], they are not truly fulfilling their purpose. What happens within a "worship service" inside of some church building (the preciseness of the practice of some pattern) is NOT the litmus test of spirituality, nor the determining factor of faithfulness; it is rather that which happens outside the parameters of said "worship service" during the rest of the week as we walk with our Lord, guided by the light of His Word and empowered by the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which truly constitutes our "spiritual service of worship" [Rom. 12:1].

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Bro. Al, I read your articles each week, and I have gained so much from them! I have written you before, and always appreciate your prompt response to my questions. I ordered your book Down, But Not Out, and have really appreciated it. It seems that some people think that everything except divorce is forgivable!

From an Evangelist in the Philippines:

Dear Brother Al, Congratulations to your parents! My wife and I, if we last that long, will celebrate our 59th wedding anniversary this coming September 14th, and, obviously with the same proviso, our 60th the following year. In many respects, it all seems like barely yesterday!! Our best to your parents.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, Thanks for the warm and wonderful Reflections on your mom and dad and their sixty years of marriage and service to our Lord. I know you are extremely proud of them, and you have every reason to be. May they have many more years together! Enjoy that visit you will be having with them in June with all the kids and grandkids.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Brother Al, Congratulate your folks for me on their 60 years of marriage. What a marvelous testament to the permanency of a marriage covenant. Like you, I was blessed to be brought up in a loving, Christ-centered home. My mom and dad were married in 1942. Dad died of a massive stroke just weeks before their 54th wedding anniversary. You and I have both been blessed with wonderful examples to follow. May God bless you, my brother.

From a Reader in California:

Bro. Al, I checked your web site today and saw the title of your new Reflections. I thought to myself, "Al Maxey has been married for 60 years?! No way!! He looks so good. If he has been married for 60 years, then he must be at least in his late 70's. Wow! He really looks good for being that old." Then I clicked on the link and discovered that you were featuring your parents in the article. Duhhhh!! Now I feel like an ignoramus. At least I had a good laugh!!

From a Ministry Leader in Missouri:

Great tribute, Al. I send my congratulations to your parents. On this Mother's Day, I have reflected more than once on my own mother, who we buried just a week ago. Had she lived just one more day past the day of her funeral, she and Dad would have been married 66 years. Dad survives in a state of dementia -- a blessing, in a way, in that it insulates him from the grief he would otherwise suffer over her loss. They had two sons who became preachers, a daughter who is married to a preacher, and two grandsons who are preachers -- all part of the legacy of this godly couple. I couldn't help but want to send these thoughts your way in light of your own Mother's Day Reflections.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Congratulations to your parents! isn't it wonderful to see a marriage such as theirs?! It's too bad that some people of the world don't hold marriage in the same esteem. Again, please tell them I send my congratulations. I know their lives have been a blessing to their family, and, more importantly, to God.

From a Minister in California:

Bro. Al, You come from "good stock." We have been very intentional in the raising of our children so that they too, one day, can look back on their lives, and ours, and see the stamp of Christ Jesus!

From a Minister in Oregon:

Bro. Al, In response to that unknown male-chauvinist reader -- people like this need to grow up and realize that there are probably far more gullible, easily swayed, deceived, and power-hungry men than there are women. I think there is very little hope of heaven for men who think women are just put here for our pleasure and to spurt out kids. Such a mindset is ungodly and evil.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, You are doing a good job, and I am motivated by your Reflections to search the Scriptures more thoroughly. Thank you, and may God be praised.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, I haven't written in a while, but I continue to read your articles and find them fascinating; also very informative. I agree with most of what you say (hey, I can't even bring myself to agree with me ALL of the time!!). Anyway, I have a question for you: What do you see as the message of Psalm 104? Thanks, and may God bless you.

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