Solomon wisely observed, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Among other things enumerated in the verses following are: "A time for war and a time for peace ... a time to kill and a time to heal." No sane person longs for warfare, and yet all it takes for tyranny to triumph is for good men to do nothing. To sit silently while others are oppressed is the epitome of godlessness.
In recent months our nation has shouldered its responsibility, and courageous men and women have made tremendous sacrifices, in some cases the ultimate sacrifice, that others might know some of the freedoms we too often take for granted in our sheltered lives. When these brave troops return, as many now are, one expression they long to hear, and need to hear, is "Welcome Home!" Hardly a community in this nation hasn't been touched in some way by the recent conflict, and each in its own way is welcoming home those who set aside their own interests for the good of others. Many of these returning combatants are also our beloved brethren in Christ.
One such individual is Capt. Alex Jernigan of the U.S. Air Force. Alex flies the F-117A Nighthawk, which is a stealth fighter aircraft based here in southern New Mexico. These aircraft flew the first strikes against Baghdad, and they played a significant role in the success of our nation's mission. Alex was one of the men who left home and family to fly those first combat missions. He returned home just a couple of weeks ago to a warm welcome. The above picture was taken just after he landed when he was greeted by his oldest son Devin. Just moments later, Alex also got to see his newest son, Brandon, who had been born while he was gone. Four days after his return, Easter Sunday, Alex and Cheryl and the children were assembled with us at Cuba Avenue Church of Christ for worship, and we all welcomed him home with a standing ovation.
Alex and Cheryl are new Christians. I had the honor of baptizing both of them into Christ just a couple of weeks before he was deployed to the war zone. They are very faithful and devoted, and are deeply loved by this congregation. In an interview with the news media upon his return, he and Cheryl were asked what they planned to do their first weekend together, now that he was home. They stated they planned to spend it, in part, with their church family at the Cuba Avenue Church of Christ. What a great testimony they gave to the public in that response!
In our church bulletin last week, they wrote: "To Our New Family -- Cheryl and I would like to thank each of you for all of your outstanding support and prayers during my recent deployment. We have always felt fortunate to have a great family in the Air Force, but we have discovered a new family: our family in Christ at Cuba Avenue. We are grateful to be part of this wonderful congregation. May God continue to bless each of you, and may He continue to bless the United States of America!" Amen! .... and welcome home, brother! With people like this, both our nation and the church are in good hands!
You are very likely reflecting upon the above mathematical equation, expressed in Roman numerals, thinking, "Something about this equation just doesn't add up!" You would be correct in that assessment. The equation in its present form is inaccurate. Eleven plus one does not produce a sum of ten .... it totals twelve. The challenge before you is to correct this equation. However, there are some restrictions placed upon you as you seek to accomplish that task.
To make this challenge more intelligible and physically manageable, assume that the above Roman numerals, as well as the mathematical symbols, are laid out before you on a piece of cardboard using match sticks. Your challenge is to correct the equation
What seems upon initial evaluation to be an impossible feat is actually quite easily accomplished. It is all a matter of perspective. One must learn to "think outside the box." The solution to the challenge lies not in physically changing what is before you, but rather in changing your way of viewing it. Turn the piece of cardboard 180 degrees (upside down) and look at the equation once again. It is now mathematically correct. The task was accomplished not by manipulation of the match sticks, but by simply changing your own perspective.
There is an important spiritual truth here, if we will take the time to absorb it. Men have almost always had a tendency to seek to change, manipulate, redesign and reconfigure that which they do not understand or with which they may differ or disapprove. If something just "doesn't add up," the "problem" is generally declared to be outside of ourselves. Thus, the "problem" lies not with me, but with them. It is they who need to be "fixed," never me. It is the situation or the circumstance that needs alteration; I'm just fine. Not infrequently, however, what may actually need to be "fixed" or altered is our perspective, rather than the object of our misunderstanding or misapprehension.
One may rush to judgment on the actions, attitudes and suspected motives of another when their behavior just "doesn't make sense." The solution of choice, quite frequently, is to compell them to alter their practice so as to bring it into greater conformity with what we have determined to be the "norm." For example, the disciples of Jesus were indignant with the woman who "wasted" the costly perfume by anointing our Lord with it (Matthew 26:8). However, seen through the eyes of Jesus, this was an act of devotion so marvelous that He declared it would be remembered until the end of time! It was not the woman's act of devotion that needed to be changed, it was the perception of the disciples who beheld it. They needed to "turn the cardboard" and perceive the scene through the eyes of deity. Viewed from the Throne, "it made sense!"
John sought to "hinder" a disciple from serving the Lord Jesus because in John's perception "he is not following along with us" (Luke 9:49). Jesus had to inform this beloved disciple that his point of view was wrong; the problem was with John's perspective, not with the actions of the disciple he sought to hinder. I shudder to think of how many of our Father's children we have sought to hinder or harm because our perceptions of them were faulty. If the truth was known we would all probably hang our heads in shame.
"For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). When we finally begin examining people and situations from the perspective of the Throne, rather than through the colored spectacles of our own point of view, things may finally start "adding up." We may even begin multiplying, instead of dividing.
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Al, After reading Reflections #34, I happened across Numbers 25:6-15 and made a mental connection that seems to me important in this era of religious pluralism. Let us never forget that God is a jealous God, who won't tolerate fornication with gods invented by men ... such as those of Midian. Why were the descendents of Aaron granted a perpetual priesthood? Phineas' jealousy for the uniqueness of the Living God refused to permit fornication with mere religion. If Christianity is merely another religion, we are of all people most miserable. The commands reflected in Exodus 20:2-6 are as valid today as when God carved them in stone 3500 years ago. Toleration of religion is one thing; religious pluralism is quite another. Keep up the good work!
From a Reader in Oregon:
Dear Bro. Maxey, I just finished your Reflections #34 and found it interesting. The most important part, other than the four principles you drew from that text (right on), was the note from an Alabama reader referencing Mr. John Waddey's site. I immediately went there to see what was written. I agree with your response to Mr. Waddey, but my heart ached as I saw the emphasis of his being "right" on the issues. The derisive remarks made about the Christian Churches caused me sorrow for him and his views. Our dear brothers in the Churches of Christ aren't even sure which other Churches of Christ they can enjoy fellowship with. My heart aches for them, and I do pray for their better understanding of God's wonderful grace. I truly pray for our brothers who are ready to stand on their own "rightness," instead of in Jesus' righteousness. May God bless you as you work for responsible change within the One Body, God's precious family.
From a Reader in West Virginia:
Al, What a treat to see your e-mails in my in-box. I first came across your writings in Grace Centered Magazine and have read everything you write with eagerness. Thanks for your willingness to challenge our traditional thinking with fresh biblical insight. I praise God for the spiritual gifts he has deposited in you!
I wanted to comment on the question from J. D. Tant (Reflections #33a). I have been trying to get this idea across to folks with varying degrees of success since first understanding the implications of John 4 in the early '80's. In my early attempts I did not realize that to suggest a change in the "five acts of worship" is to jeopardize the security of salvation for a works oriented person.
Your explanation to Brother Tant prompted my thinking. As Brother Tant's question indicated, many see the difference between the OT and NT concepts of worship as nothing more than "moving" the boundaries of what is acceptable. In actuality it is more like moving from one dimension to another. It would be similar to someone who lived in a 2-dimensional world (think of a cartoon character on a sheet of paper) trying to grasp the concept of a 3-dimensional world. The added dimension does not exist in their world.
The difference in OT and NT boundaries is, conceptually, a similar leap. The boundaries of the OT worship are PHYSICAL ACTS while the boundaries of the NT are not in the physical dimension but are CONCEPTUAL boundaries. Paul says that we are to do what ENCOURAGES, COMFORTS, EDIFIES or INSTRUCTS. Those are radically different boundaries. NT worship is not a new and improved OT worship. God did not "get it wrong" the first time and send Jesus to fix it. Law and grace are not neighbors in the same cartoon neighborhood! They are from different worlds, governed by different laws. Hebrews 10 actually commands creativity -- "Consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
Thanks for inspiring me to dig deeper. God bless your efforts and don't let the negative minority get to you!
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