by Al Maxey

Issue #306 ------- July 7, 2007
We should not think of conversion
as the acceptance of a particular
creed, but as a change of heart.

Helen Keller {1880-1968}

Dear Heretic ... Help!
A Conflicted Disciple's Plea

James Harvey Robinson [1863-1936], in his masterful work "The Mind in the Making: The Relation of Intelligence to Social Reform," which appeared in 1921, made the following observation: "Our convictions on important matters are not the result of knowledge or critical thought, nor, it may be added, are they often dictated by supposed self-interest. Most of them are pure prejudices in the proper sense of that word. We do not form them ourselves. Rather, they are the whisperings of 'the voice of the herd.'" Though aspects of Robinson's theory are clearly subject to scholarly debate by those in the field of social psychology, I have always regarded his concept of the influence of the whisperings of the voice of the herd upon one's core convictions to be fascinating. A newborn babe, in many respects, is indeed a "clean slate" upon which the significant people in his or her life immediately begin inscribing their very own set of standards and values. Although many aspects of our individual personalities are clearly formed within the womb, there is absolutely no denying the impact of our environment upon our development once we are outside the womb.

In graduate school I took a course on existentialist philosophy, which I found fascinating. The term "existentialism" was first coined by Jean-Paul Sartre, but in the course of time many came to be associated with this thinking. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, by way of example, strongly criticized what they called "herd mentality" and "slave morality." Rather than seeking ultimate truth for oneself, too many, it was felt, passively embraced the "thinking of the herd." In so doing, they became slaves, not free men. There's an old saying: "There are masters, there are slaves -- and then there are the free." Henry David Thoreau [1817-1862] wrote in his journal on December 4, 1860, that slavery may be found "wherever a man surrenders his inalienable rights of reason and conscience." When any person passively surrenders to the "voice of the herd," rather than daring to form his own convictions regarding ultimate truth, he is not free ... he is a slave. Sadly, there are many in the world about us ... and, tragically, many within the church ... who have surrendered unto the powerful, persistent whisperings of the "voice of the herd" their right to reason, thus becoming little more than mindless members of a muddled movement controlled by masters and their minions.

A number of biblical scholars, and not without some justification, consider Saul of Tarsus to have been just such a slave to the voice of the herd ... at least up to the time of his Damascus road encounter with the risen Redeemer. The apostle Paul himself later seems to suggest the role of the powerful influence of the forces around him in shaping his early convictions. "All Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation" [Acts 26:4]. "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers" [Acts 22:3]. From his days as a youth, Saul had been part of the herd. True, he was singled out to be one of the future masters of the herd, but even such masters are merely "leading slaves" when all they do is perpetuate the whisperings of the voice of the herd and persecute all those who speak against it. Paul would later characterize all such attainments as amounting to nothing but a pile of manure from the herd [Philp. 3:8]. Saul undoubtedly considered himself the wisest of the wise, far above his fellows, the golden boy of the Pharisees. In reality he was nothing; just part of a herd headed for a cliff ... and he didn't even know it. "And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief" [1 Tim. 1:13]. Speaking of his former herd members, Paul wrote, "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" [Rom. 10:2-4].

I would dearly have loved to have been able to see inside the heart and mind of this young man (scholars feel he was likely only about 24 at the time) as he prayed and reflected for those three days in Damascus. Imagine the emotional upheaval he experienced as he questioned and challenged everything in his life he held dear. Change can be traumatic; it's the crisis of a crossroads calling out for commitment; yet, in the words of the incomparable Thomas Kempis [1380-1471], it is such times as these "that best discover the true worth of a man" [The Imitation of Christ]. Saul of Tarsus proved his worth, charting a new course for his life. He left the herd behind and never looked back. "Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" [Philp. 3:13-14]. He became one of the greatest thinkers in Christendom, and one of the greatest leaders in the church. He dared to break ranks with the herd; he dared to consider a voice other than the voice of the herd. He dared to be free. Yes, "it was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" [Gal. 5:1].

Many of us can relate to Saul/Paul. We too have had our own encounter with Jesus which has left us questioning and challenging everything we previously held dear and upon which we were convinced our very salvation depended. We have sweated blood, wept rivers and poured out prayers unto our God, as we too sat alone reflecting upon our past, present and future. Some have lacked the courage of conviction to leave the herd, fearing the inevitable persecution from those about them. Others, however, step out boldly, following Him rather than the herd. It is a pathway fraught with danger, but the companions along the way, and the eternal home that awaits us at the end of the road, make the journey well-worth all the sacrifices.

Brethren, there is a young "Saul of Tarsus," who is now in the midst of his "three days" of intensive soul-searching, who has built up the courage to appeal to me for help. I say "built up the courage" because, like Saul of Tarsus who felt he had to attack those who differed with him, "Al Maxey and his ilk" were the dreaded, hated enemy in dire need of being destroyed. This young brother (he is only 20), who is a university student in Texas, and who was brought up strictly according to the traditions of his forefathers, is now greatly conflicted (his own word, used in the subject line of his email) as he begins to perceive his own past slavery in marked contrast to the freedom that awaits him. He is torn between the two, much as Saul must have been during his 72 hours in Damascus. The email of this young brother (which he has consented to allow me to share with you all, although I promised I would not reveal his name or the university he attends) is one that has touched my heart deeply. It follows in its entirety.

First, may I request of each of you that you fervently pray for this young brother. If ever a person was truly at a crossroads in life ... it is he! He clearly longs to take that path leading to greater freedom in Christ Jesus our Lord, yet the call of his friends and loved ones not to forsake the traditional "old paths" is a powerful one. He is torn and conflicted; hesitating between the two. I can't help but recall the words of the prophet Elijah to the people as they too stood at a crossroads with regard to whom they would serve. "And Elijah came near to all the people and said, 'How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' But the people did not answer him a word" [1 Kings 18:21]. They too were conflicted; they were fearful of the consequences of a commitment. Thus, like a herd of befuddled cattle huddled outside a slaughter house, they stood silent. Failure to choose IS a choice, however. Those in bondage who are fearful of extricating themselves, and who thus hesitate, have opted to remain in slavery. As the old maxim states, "He who hesitates is lost." Therefore, brethren, keep this young man in your prayers. He sees the road ahead he must travel ... pray he has the courage to take it.

Reflecting On His Email

Paragraph One --- The young brother's upbringing, in some respects, is truly reminiscent of that of another youth many years ago: a lad also in his 20's by the name of Saul. He was exposed from the beginning to a very traditional, law-focused form of religion. Two decades of such indoctrination are not easily overcome. One simply does not shrug off a lifetime of training from loving parents and mentors overnight ... at least not in most cases. For some it can take years. One thing that this young man from northern Texas has going for him, however, is his willingness to question, challenge and confront. He speaks of being "argumentative." That is not always a negative quality, although it certainly can be. Used negatively, it characterizes one who has a tendency to be contentious. And yet Jude, the brother of our Lord, urges us all to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" [Jude 3]. We can contend without being contentious; we can argue a point reasonably, rationally and respectfully, even boldly and firmly, without being argumentative.

When asking questions was actually discouraged in his Bible classes as he was growing up, he felt compelled to speak out. Good for him! Yes, there is a right and wrong way to go about challenging those who would rather indoctrinate than educate, who would rather pontificate than communicate, but to remain silent in the face of such arrogance only serves to perpetuate this systemic dysfunction in the One Body. Let us be honest with ourselves, brethren; let us tell it like it is --- the more traditional, conservative, legalistic and patternistic one's theology tends to be, the more resistant one is to being questioned and challenged. It was part of the reason Stephen was stoned to death. When some worthless religionists in Jerusalem became involved in a debate with Stephen, "they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking" [Acts 6:10]. Thus, in a typical tactic of such shallow disciples, they stirred up the people against him, put forward false witnesses to tell lies about him, and in general sought to destroy the man, since they couldn't refute his message [vs. 11-14]. When even that failed, they gnashed their teeth against him, stopped up their ears, rushed upon him and murdered him [Acts 7:54-60]. Problem solved; pats on the back all around for a job well-done!

Before a man can ever be free, he must first question the fact of his slavery. Simcha Bunam [1765-1827] made this astute observation, "The real slavery in Egypt was this: that the Israelites learned to endure it." B. H. Liddell Hart [1895-1970] asked this pointed question: "Are we so accustomed to our chains that we are no longer conscious of them?" Perhaps Machiavelli [1469-1527] summed it up best when he declared, "It is as difficult to make a people free that is resolved to live in servitude as it is to subject a people to servitude that is determined to remain free." Those who refuse to challenge the state in which they exist, are by their silence doomed to endure it. The fact that this young man in Texas is willing to seriously challenge the status quo of the doctrine and practice of his spiritual heritage, even when such is frowned upon by the leaders of the ultra-conservative wing of this movement, is what has brought him to the present crossroads in his life where he must choose between freedom and continued enslavement. I also commend him for his willingness to receive the necessary education and training so as to counsel others one day who may be facing the same personal struggle he now faces. Through this educational process he will also gain insight into how best to deal with his own dilemma.

Paragraph Two --- This young brother notes that his cousin was the one who introduced him to Reflections, and, in his words, "I've been wrestling with my beliefs since." In all fairness, he had been wrestling with his beliefs for many years, as he himself points out. "In my teenage years I rebelled and dove into what my parents and the elders of my hometown congregation dubbed liberalism and heresy." In the prior paragraph he admitted to being "argumentative" when questions were discouraged from the students in the Bible classes he attended. Clearly, he has been struggling with some of the tenets of his forefathers, as well as struggling with his own feelings regarding what God ultimately finds acceptable. He wants to be "safe," and yet if such spiritual "safety" is to be found in the ultra-conservative wing of the Churches of Christ, then why is he so unhappy and empty? Further, he perceives the reality that the more disciples gravitate toward the rigid legalistic, patternistic side of the religious spectrum the more condemning they become of all those with whom they differ. He even saw such tendencies within himself, and it troubled him. He said, "I really HATE that I often sneer or shake my head at those who approach me to discuss their 'different' religious practices. For someone to mention musical instruments in worship causes a wave of nausea and anger to rise from deep within me, and I find myself unable to regard them with the love that I know I ought to."

One of the most shocking revelations many have as they come out of their bondage to legalism, and it is actually one of the factors that motivated many to make that break with their past, is just how unloving and unaccepting these people are toward those with whom they differ. They cannot regard another as merely a "brother with whom I differ." Instead, these other disciples of Christ Jesus are the enemy. Love them? Never. Engage them in respectful dialogue for the purpose of greater understanding? Forget it. He would "sneer" and "shake my head at those who approach me to discuss their 'different' religious beliefs." There are two reasons for this. One, it is because such people are regarded as beneath contempt. "God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people" [Luke 18:11]. "We're better than you! We're the only ones who have a market on Truth; the only ones who worship correctly; the only ones going to heaven! Discuss anything with worthless scum like you? I think not!" When people walked past Jesus on the cross, they also sneered and mocked and wagged their heads! What truly gives me hope with this young brother from Texas, however, is that he sees this behavior ... and it troubles him. That is a giant step toward freedom!

The other reason these staunch legalists will behave this way is that it is a defense mechanism. Their behavior serves to erect barriers between them and those with whom they differ. It keeps such liberals and heretics at a distance. Why? Because they know only too well that they cannot defend their rigid theology against one who is willing to engage them in in-depth study of God's Word. Thus, when such people come too near ... they sneer. If that doesn't work, they hurl abuse and stir up others against them. If even that fails to discourage these "apostates" from pursuing open discussion of the Scriptures with them, then they attack without mercy. One thing I can assure you that you will almost never, ever witness is a hardened legalist sitting down with a "liberal heretic" to engage in respectful, rational, loving, in-depth study of God's Word to determine "if these things be so." An examination of Acts 17 reveals two major types of people, represented by the Thessalonians and Bereans. One group formed a mob and went after Paul, the other group sat down and examined the Scriptures. Who were the slaves, and who were the free? Brethren, if you are currently in a group that huddles behind walls, sneering at those on the outside, angry to the point of nausea that someone would dare to differ with them ... flee for your life!!

Paragraph Three --- The brother acknowledges, "Let me mention here that I shamefully have little love for the congregation that I was raised in." How utterly sad ... and yet how common among those who stand at a crossroads. They have been taught to hate, not to love. Little wonder that lack of love should flow in all directions, even back upon those who instilled it. Talk to those who have managed to extricate themselves from a cult, whether religious or secular. One thing you will find in almost every instance is a loveless retrospection. It's hard, at least initially, to feel love for those who enslaved you. In time, as one grows and matures in one's freedom in Christ, genuine love for these people will grow. So also will pity. An urgency will grow within these liberated disciples to reach back behind these walls that formerly imprisoned them to rescue those who remain behind, and also to confront those who would discourage their departure.

Yet, even as one stands at a crossroads, feeling little to no love for those who have held him down for so long, yet most will, almost inexplicably, stand there greatly conflicted. "I can't bear to be here ... but I can't bear to leave!" There is a certain comfort in the familiar, and a fear of the unknown. The Jews couldn't wait to leave their Egyptian bondage ... and then pleaded to return. In the face of the negatives that have caused one to consider departure, there is also a desire to find something positive to justify the years of one's previous existence. The danger, of course, is that we can easily rationalize our way right back into our chains. The young brother considered the teachings of those in his past as "inherently flawed," and "yet I can't help but acknowledge their righteousness." Yes, he writes, "I hate traditionalism, and I find it stifling to my faith, but it's conducive to leading a healthy, Christian life, so I need to just deal with it." Huh?! It is stifling your faith, and yet it is conducive to spiritual health?! It's like the Israelites saying to Moses, "Yes, they beat us and worked us to death, but at least they cooked up a good stew on Fridays." Again, what gives me hope in this email is that our young brother admits, "It's a terrible conclusion to come to!" Amen to that.

Paragraph Four --- This dear brother confesses in his email that he's searching for "loopholes." Anything anywhere that might convince him "that there is more freedom in Christ than what I've been taught." He has an intense hunger and thirst for freedom that simply isn't being satisfied where he is. And yet he feels trapped. "I feel locked into what I've learned since an early age." Which is the very purpose of the walls around you, brother! It is to keep you in, as well as to keep out all who would help you find those "loopholes" -- those biblical truths that will show you the pathway to freedom. He has discovered my weekly Reflections, which are designed specifically to challenge those locked away behind the walls of sectarianism. He reads them, and feels conflicted. "I love your Reflections, but I can't help but think of you as a heretic. I read a lot of what you say, and I'm dying to believe it, but I can't help but label you as a false teacher in my own mind, a wolf among sheep or an uncorrected Apollos. That I continue to even read your Reflections haunts me. I'm afraid that you'll lead me astray, but I don't like where I am."

How can one fail to detect both the thrill and the terror in this young disciple's heart?! He is daily discovering the very way out he has so fervently sought, yet fears taking it. He rejoices in the knowledge of God's gracious offer of freedom, but recoils from the call to step boldly beyond the walls that encompass him. His former conditioning warns him to fear me (and all others who would call him to freedom), yet his longing for liberty compels him to keep on considering that which is being offered through these writings. He fears change, but of even greater concern to him is the lack of connection he has with the Lord, and the lack of love he has for the people of God. He knows something is wrong with where he is, but he has been conditioned to believe there is even more wrong with where he feels called to go. If he leaves "the fold" of his faction, he has been taught that he will leave behind any righteousness he may have already attained. In other words, leave and you're lost.

Paragraph Five --- Some of you are probably amazed that a young man who is twenty, and "raised in the church," could be a part of a group for two decades and never have encountered Romans 14. I have also talked to several who have come out of legalism who have told me they never heard a sermon on grace. Some things are just not given much attention in such groups. You see, the apostle Paul, in Romans 14, advises acceptance of those with whom one differs. That is heresy among legalistic patternists. Unity in diversity?! Wash your mouth out with soap! Regard such people as brothers and sisters? Not on your life.

He observes, "I see it as maybe my light at the end of the tunnel, that all the small things are insignificant." Here's a "loophole" to legalism. Don't sweat the small stuff. And, frankly, much of what we "sweat over" in the church is "small stuff." Why do you think there are so many factions and schisms among the legalistic patternists? Because they have been separating over "small stuff" for generations. Do you know why no legalistic patternist will provide the specifics of his pattern? Because the moment he does so it will become apparent to us all that his pattern is just a long list of "small stuff" ... stuff about which God never uttered a word. Do you want to watch a legalist dive under his desk so fast he'll knock himself silly on the side of it? Ask him to provide the pattern. From under his desk he'll slide out a Bible and tell you to go read it and figure it out for yourself. Now there's an effective evangelistic model for you!!

Paragraph Six --- He writes with heaviness of heart, "I feel disconnected and tired in my faith, but am afraid to change lest I fall into a slippery slope of liberalism that leads to damnation." What is the solution? Remain in misery and slavery? Listen to his lament -- "Christians are sometimes meant to endure unhappiness, right? Is misery in the teachings of the church the cross I'm meant to bear?" Does the Lord want us to be miserable in His teachings? When we take up our cross daily does this figure suggest an inner void with reference to the teachings of Jesus? Is it a death to joy? Dear brother, if the teaching to which you have been exposed leaves you tired and frustrated and weary and sick at heart, it is time to take a closer look at that teaching. Frankly, that is exactly what my Reflections have been doing for almost five years now. It is why you are so drawn to them -- they are showing you that what the Lord has to offer is a cause of JOY, not MISERY. My Reflections are designed to chip away, a little here and a little there [Isaiah 28:10], at the walls that separate you from that joy that comes from knowing freedom in Christ Jesus. Brother, if you are truly that miserable, then you are on the wrong side of the wall.

"I guess what I'm asking is, how do I change what I've been taught? How do I find freedom in Christ?" Brother, I believe you have already found it. What you need now is the courage to embrace it. "I've taken months to decide to write this." Your courage increases, brother. Your fears are great; your conditioning is strong ... as are your chains. But, brother, you have a heart that longs to be free. There is an ancient Buddhist maxim -- "The way to final freedom is within thy SELF." You must want it ... and you do. Within you burns a mighty, growing fire that will not be quenched. It is that burning desire to be free. Those who deny it perish. As the New Hampshire state motto so rightly states: "Live free or die!" In reality, that is your choice. That is the crossroads you stand before. Brother, your final comment was: "I am so unhappy where I am that I don't know what to do anymore." Do what Saul of Tarsus did ... chart a new course. Yes, it's frightening, brother. It's also costly. Friends, family and loved ones will turn from you ... or turn upon you. Living free is not for the timid. It requires courage. But God will guide you. He already is. And His people will be there to support you every step of the way. You can call on any of us at any time. You stand at a crossroads, brother. Therefore, choose wisely. And remember: "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Missouri:

Bro. Al, I think you did a wonderful job of compiling all the responses and giving a very balanced answer to the person struggling with his sexual identity. I really appreciated the part where you examined this man's declaration concerning his family's possible influence. Those were my thoughts and concerns as I was reading his original email as well. Great job, Al.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, As usual, you have written a marvelous response to the issue at hand. I do have a question that I would like to ask, though: Do we deny that homosexuals can change by means of conditioning and become happy, functional heterosexuals? Part of our psychological makeup is that we must act our way into right feeling and thinking, rather than thinking or feeling our way into right acting. It is NOT hypocritical to do the right thing even when we don't feel that way. Haven't we all changed basic feelings and attitudes because of conditioning?

From a Pastor in California:

Dear Brother Al, Your article "The Nature/Nurture Dilemma" is another sensitive and masterful presentation. Thanks! We've come to expect such from you -- and you haven't disappointed us yet. It is so easy to destroy a human being with harsh, judgmental legalism. I know ... I've done it! It takes no effort at all. A few sharp, loveless words is all it takes. But Jesus didn't do that. The Pharisees had their stones in hand, proudly cocked behind their heads, righteously ready to eliminate that sinful woman they had caught in adultery -- until Jesus entered the scene and changed everything. Jesus is still entering the scene, and He's still changing everything today ... some 2000 years later. When Jesus is allowed into a human heart, legalism flees, cold hearts melt, and grace takes over. Al, your article goes a long way to opening the door so Jesus can enter the scene. God has given you a very special gift. Thank you for sharing your grace with all your readers.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Your study on homosexuality was a masterpiece. As I read over the material I thought about a sermon a brother preached recently on John 8 and the woman caught in adultery. If we substituted the sin of homosexuality for the sin the woman was engaged in, wouldn't Jesus still be saying the same thing? I think the reason some versions want to get rid of John 8:1-13 is because they really don't know what to make of Jesus "letting the woman off" without strictly following law by crossing every "t" and dotting every "i". On your reply to the brother about history, I remember doing a paper several years ago on the music question during my graduate work. I wish I could now remember the source (it was from a book in the Harding Graduate School library), but one author mentioned that the Gentile church did not use mechanical instruments, whereas the Jewish church did. When the struggle between the two groups grew (a struggle evidenced in Rom. 14), the Gentiles would refer to the Jewish brethren in a derogatory way because they used mechanical instruments of music. As the Gentile church began to grow, more so than their Jewish counterpart, the cultural emotions against the "Jewish way of worship" also grew. Knowing how men tend to be, that which they disapproved soon came to be viewed as "sin."

From a Reader in Arizona:

Bro. Al, You did a great job with your last Reflections. Your concluding paragraph and "Final Thoughts" were strong, compassionate and thoroughly Scriptural. They brought tears to my eyes!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you for your thoughtful, kind response to the brother struggling with his identity. Also, thanks to the many readers who shared their insights with you. You are being used by God to help His people better reflect His nature and will. Keep up the good work.

From a Minister in Missouri:

As usual, my dear brother Al, your Reflections this week was outstanding. It certainly humbled me. The "thinking" on MarsList [a Non-Institutional group] is very similar to the Old Paths Advocate [a One Cup group] "thinking." Please keep on challenging both these groups, because, brother Al, I am free today as a result of God touching me through your writings!! I love you, brother!

From an Evangelist in Georgia:

Brother Al, I had intended to respond to your special request about homosexuality, but then got busy preparing for a jaunt to Polynesia. We just got back this week, and am off to Jamaica next week for our summer's work. We're taking a team of 28. This will be my 50th trip there over the past 20 years. Anyway, I appreciated your thoughts on the subject. Like you, I believe one can be born with a tendency towards homosexual attractions, just as one can be born with a tendency towards alcoholism, kleptomania, pyromania, etc. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. But, whatever our weaknesses are, they can be controlled. I believe Matt. 19:12 can be used to help people with this. Some are born eunuchs. God didn't "make" them that way; it was an accident of nature. This is the result of sin that is in the world, which just causes things to go wrong sometimes.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, I am glad to see you back from vacation! I hope you had a great one. Another great article!! I must admit that the sin of homosexual practice is especially repugnant to me, but in reality it is no worse than any other sin -- they are all repugnant to our God, including those that I commit. Hate the sin, love the sinner! I too wish the church would mature to the point that we could indeed feel free to confess our sins one to another without fear of judgment or gossip. Unfortunately, in most cases that is just not so! As long as we continue to devour one another we will never be what Christ wants us to be. God bless you and your great work, Al.

From a Doctor in Alabama:

Bro. Al, I hope you had a wonderful vacation. It's really good to see that you're back, though! I thought your treatment of the special request was very appropriate. I am encouraged by the fact that so many of the people who wrote you about this issue were supportive of this struggling brother who genuinely wants to do the right thing. But it is sad that there are still a few Pharisees out there who insist on taking a "holier than thou" attitude about such things, refusing to sympathize with anyone who struggles with temptation, and even condemning those who are willing to show kindness and compassion towards these people. In some ways it almost seems as if nothing has changed since Jesus' day. They are like Simon the Pharisee, who not only condemned the sinful woman who washed and anointed Jesus' feet, but also resented Jesus for allowing this woman to even touch Him. But, I was really glad to hear that you only received a few such responses from people who took this sort of attitude. Al, I truly look forward to receiving your next issue. Thank you so much for this ministry. You have been, and continue to be, a great source of encouragement and edification to me. My best to you and Shelly. Keep sowing the good seed.

From a Minister in the Philippines:

Dear Brother Al, Having to wait these past few weeks for your next issue of Reflections has seemed like an eternity!! Thank you for the helpful insights you once again shared with us, this time regarding a very sensitive issue -- an issue that is only mentioned by most preachers here in the Philippines with great condemnation. Some years back, I was talking with one of the elders of a congregation in the "lowlands," and he mentioned (with an air of triumph, it seemed) that there were three "bakla" (homosexuals) who came to his church building to inquire if their congregation "accepted gays." He responded, "No, we don't." And that was that ... with a chuckle, he said he forced them to leave. Deep inside I was crying. Surely there could have been a better way to respond to their question. Perhaps they were at a crossroads in their lives; perhaps he could have helped them make their shattered lives whole again. Instead, all they got was a self-righteous and ignorant elder who shut the door right in their faces without even attempting to have a heart-to-heart talk with them about their moral/spiritual struggles. He wouldn't even refer them to those Christian groups in our country known for their ministry to homosexuals, because, of course, "these denominationalists don't preach the whole counsel of God." I have personally always frowned upon the ungodly lifestyle of many homosexuals in our country, but I have still tried my best to respect them as persons, and to view them as fellow sinners who can be transformed into saints just like the rest of us. Your Reflections article on this topic has tremendously helped me to be a better minister to our alienated friends. Thank you for being such a blessing to our lives, brother! May your tribe increase!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Great article, Bro. Al. I appreciate your Reflections ministry so much! It crossed my mind as I was reading your latest study that there are churches of practicing homosexuals out there. Many of these folk seem to believe what the Scriptures teach, but they clearly have a rather significant difference of opinion as to what the biblical passages referring to homosexuality mean. Perhaps it might be a good topic for a future article to discuss how they view these passages. Again, thanks for your ministry, and may God bless you.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Your article on nature or nurture was one of your best ones yet. Looking at everyone through the eyes of Jesus, regardless of the temptations they face, has always been the best way to "size people up." I wonder if anyone has ever considered that maybe Jesus was faced with this same temptation? If the Bible is God's Word, and if it is true about His being tempted just as we are, then He was!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Bravo, brother Al ... Bravo! I've thought and prayed about this young brother in your special request, but decided not to comment on the issue. Rather, I wanted to wait and see what others said about it. I'm not surprised at some of the ignorant, vehement comments, and I appreciate the quote from Thoreau -- "The stupid you have always with you" (I'll have to remember that one). When reading that brother's plea, and your article "The Nature/Nurture Dilemma," I couldn't help but think of a brother back in TN who struggled with homosexuality for years (he was even a preacher in KY for a year or more). The brethren finally ousted him for ministering to other homosexuals in the area. He told me about it, saying that he knew what they were going through. "Who better to help them understand that God still loves them," he said. I had to wonder -- would Jesus have reached out to homosexuals? Would He have worked with them? Anyway, I haven't seen or spoken to that young brother in years, but your article brought him back to mind, and I am going to try and track him down and see how he is doing. I hope your vacation was a relaxing and peaceful one. Glad you are back enriching our souls with your Reflections.

From a Reader in California:

Bro. Al, Thank you so much for your thoughtful article on homosexuality. I think you did the topic justice. Also, I wanted to compliment you on your response to the person looking for truth regarding instrumental music. I think you correctly pointed out that many early Christians were not wealthy, and owning a musical instrument (much less being able to play it), was a rare thing indeed. I also appreciated your statement that, while history is indeed illuminating, the Word of God must be our guide. I'm reminded of the story of our dear late brother Marshall Keeble. For his 80th birthday, some of his friends had purchased a set of commentaries to give to him as a gift. Bro. Keeble was thankful for this gift, but didn't say too much about it. A few weeks later his friends asked him how he was enjoying the commentaries. His response was classic -- "The Bible sure does shed some light on those commentaries." Take care, brother. It is so good to have you "back in the saddle" after your vacation!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Bro. Al, You don't know me, but I'm a Christian and was doing a bit of research for an upcoming Bible study on Obadiah when I came across your study of that prophet -- Reflections #181. So first, let me thank you for that study. Second, I was personally disturbed when I came across your dialogue with Pastor Martin: The Maxey-Martin Dialogue. I was raised a Southern Baptist. While I am sure that you don't hold all Baptists accountable for the horrid behavior of David Martin and Ray Meier, I still feel the need to apologize to you for their ungodly treatment of you. As far as I'm concerned, Bro. Maxey, you and I are on the same team ... and I think our team is much the better for having you!! God bless you!

From a Minister in Malaysia:

Dear Al Maxey, I stumbled upon your web site when doing a Google search on Amos 8. I saw the cover of your book Down, But Not Out, and the phrase "a study of divorce and remarriage in light of God's healing grace" left an impression on me. I have been deeply affected by this issue this past month, and do not think your book is available here in Malaysia. Is there an article, or perhaps excerpts from your book, that I could obtain from you to enlighten me on this troubling issue both on a personal, as well as ministerial, basis? I really hope you can help me.

From a Minister in Pennsylvania:

Bro. Al, Excellent job on your recent Reflections -- "The Nature/Nurture Dilemma." It certainly contained some very relevant considerations that the church must be prepared to address. I'm writing to share with you a web site containing writings by a brother named Ashby Camp. Have you heard of him? While theologically he is somewhat more conservative than you, his writings remind me very much of your own -- well-researched and well-presented. I thought you might, at the very least, appreciate his efforts as a fellow Bible scholar. The main point at which you and he part ways theologically is in your hermeneutical approach to Scripture, but I'm sure you probably surmised that. Generally, his writings are more well-reasoned than much of the ultra-conservative espousings that seem to be little more than dialectical gain-saying. Bro. Al, I continue to be challenged and encouraged by your Reflections, and I pray that your ministry there in New Mexico continues to be abundantly blessed. Your prayers for me, and for the church throughout the greater Northeast, would likewise be most appreciated.

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