by Al Maxey

Issue #391 ------- March 22, 2009
The more we feel sorry for ourselves, the less
sorry others will feel for us. People don't waste
their small store of sympathy on those who
can provide it so richly for themselves.

Gerald Brenan {1894-1987}

Paul's Pity Party
Withhold Your Whining

Don't you just get sick unto death of it? I mean, the apostle Paul is a fairly nice guy, and all ... he's said to be a pretty good speaker, I guess (although some certainly didn't think so) ... I never heard him ... a super writer ... an astounding personal worker ... I even heard he made a pretty good tent ... But, that incessant, wearying whining of his. Oh, my goodness, man ... get over yourself. Stick to preaching and give us all a break. We don't want to hear you belly-ache about how hard you have it. You knew the life of an apostle and evangelist was likely going to be difficult. Yet, you chose it anyway. So, suck it up and be a man, and let's have no more of your whining! Let's hear more gospel and less griping; more Word and less wail.

Okay, you are probably each thinking that poor, pitiful old Al Maxey has finally lost his mind (you knew it was coming, right?) ... and some of you are likely thinking I did so years ago!! Is this man really mocking the apostle Paul? And, if so, then why? What did Paul ever do to Al Maxey to deserve this kind of horrid treatment? That wretched Maxey ought to be ashamed of himself.

Let me hasten to assure my readers that there's "method to my madness," as the saying goes. I believe most readers would consider the above caustic criticism of the apostle Paul to be utterly unjustified. Some might even say, "Inexcusable!" How dare someone criticize Paul for writing about his many personal afflictions at the hands of others?! How dare they suggest he "get over himself" and stick to preaching the gospel? What kind of a JERK would do such a thing? In fact, you might be thinking that NO ONE would actually do such an awful thing to a fellow disciple of Christ who may have incorporated into his teaching (whether written or spoken) incidents of personal abuse and affliction. Well, brethren ... think again. It happens. And frankly, to be kind to these critics, I think the reason they do it may perhaps be simply because they have failed to perceive the purpose of such statements. Thus, what serves a very specific purpose is perceived only as the whining of some weepy wimp; a "poor pitiful me" mindset that seeks only sympathy; a martyr complex. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In 2 Cor. 11:23-27 Paul wrote about imprisonments, beatings without number, often being in danger of death. Five times he received 39 lashes from the Jews. On three occasions he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned. He was shipwrecked three times, and floated in the ocean for a day and a night. He was in dangers on rivers, from robbers, from his countrymen and from the Gentiles. He experienced dangers in the city, in the wilderness, on the high seas, and from false brethren. He experienced sleepless nights, was often hungry and thirsty and exposed to the elements. Wow! What a list. Was Paul throwing a pity party? Poor, poor, pitiful me. Look how much I have suffered for His sake! In Philp. 1:15-17 we find the apostle Paul whining about those preaching Christ from envy and strife, "thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment." Oh, come on, Paul ... seriously?! Get over yourself! To Timothy he whined, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds." Oh, poor baby! So mistreated! Come on, Paul, suck it up. Be a man. So, someone didn't like you and gave you a hard time! Do we really need to hear about it in your many writings?! Stay focused, Paul. Stick to preaching the gospel. We're all tired of your "sour grapes" and your martyr complex. "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me" [2 Tim. 4:16]. Whine, whine!! Okay, everybody, let's all take a moment and feel sorry for Paul.

Brethren, I think you get the point. I hope so, anyway. One would have to be a colossal JERK to make such statements (and actually mean them) about the apostle Paul. And, yes, some people truly ARE such colossal jerks. Others, however, may make such statements purely out of abject ignorance. They simply have failed to grasp the purpose of such statements within the context of Paul's writings, and that perceptive failure on their part has led them to "play the fool" in their criticism of him. And it isn't just Paul who feels the barbs of these critics. Devoted disciples of our Lord have had to endure such unenlightened criticism for centuries from their fellow disciples. Let me give you an example. This week I received an email from a reader in Indiana, who wrote, in part: "Dear Al, I'm responding to your Reflections that you send out weekly. I truly enjoy them to the extent that you just want to expand the human mind, but please stop making yourself out to be a world class martyr. Get over it and move on. So you took a licking from the far right. What else is new?! These guys do that to everyone. If you want to teach, then teach. Have you run out of things to talk about?! All of your writings are just so you can be pitied as a poor martyr. Come on, let's get back to teaching, and stop the whining. You're a grown man; stop pouting. Let it go already. Your readers want meat, not sour grapes."

First, let me state that I believe this brother from Indiana has only the best intentions in his above criticism. Yes, I could be wrong about that, but I shall assume that he seeks only to redirect me to a more positive focus, and to help me "get over myself." Frankly, if in my writings I was seeking simply to generate an outpouring of sympathy for myself, then his remarks would be "spot on," as they say. Indeed, I would hope that not only he, but also others would write to help me get out of my rut. If Paul's only purpose in speaking about the various afflictions he experienced was to make people feel sorry for him, and to elevate himself as a "world class martyr," then Paul would need to be reined in and redirected. That was not his purpose, however ... and neither is it mine. Paul knew exactly what he was doing when he repeatedly brought such matters to the attention of his readers ... and so do I.

There is a very powerful purpose to informing others of the attitudes and actions of the enemies of our Lord Jesus Christ. We, the people of God, are at war, and the stakes are high. Life and death hang in the balance. If one is unaware of the nature of one's enemy, one will easily fall victim to that enemy. Therefore, we must know what those who array themselves against the Lord God are capable of when it comes to inflicting harm upon our spiritual siblings. Nothing will rally a people together against a common foe more quickly than witnessing (or hearing about in graphic detail) these enemies of Truth afflicting the children of our heavenly Father. It literally serves as a powerful call to action. In a pamphlet titled "Anarchist Morality," Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) opined, "The more you are drawn to put yourself in the place of the other person, the more you feel the pain inflicted upon him, the insult offered him, the injustice of which he is a victim, the more will you be urged to act so that you may prevent the pain, insult or injustice." When one's sense of outrage is brought to the surface, one is far more likely to stand boldly and courageously against the actions and attitudes that generated those strong emotions. And there is no quicker way to tap into a people's sense of outrage than to facilitate their awareness of the abuses that abound around them (of which they may formerly have been completely oblivious).

The apostle Paul did not hesitate to inform as many of his listeners and readers as he could of his afflictions in the service of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ. He specified the abuses and he named the abusers. He turned a spotlight their way and exposed every corner of their dark little world for all to see. And the result was "the greater progress of the gospel" [Philp. 1:12], because this knowledge of what he was willing to suffer for Truth emboldened his fellow believers. "Most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear" [vs. 14]. When you witness one of your fellow soldiers refuse to retreat from the front line of battle, but bravely face the enemy and withstand his vicious assaults, you are inspired to rally to his side in the good fight against the forces of evil. Nothing inspires the soldier, sailor and airman more than to see and hear of the exploits of their comrades in arms, and how they endured and overcame. Therefore, Paul gave them that information!! He let them see his battle scars! "For I bear on my body the brandmarks of Jesus" [Gal. 6:17]. Wear them proudly, and display them to HIS glory, and for the encouragement of your fellow combatants!

Within the inspired writings (and not only those of the apostle Paul) we find countless accounts of faithful endurance in the face of godless affliction. These are not a series of glorified pity parties, they are glorious examples of lives lived for a greater cause than one's self, and of the price that often accompanies that commitment. They touch our hearts, they arouse our emotions ... yes, sometimes they even anger us as we witness our brethren undergoing abuse at the hands of the enemy. But, as a result (and this is their purpose), they inspire us to action and embolden us in our resolve to stand just as boldly against the same forces of evil as these heroes of faith. The writer of Hebrews pleaded with his many readers: "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the outcome of their conduct, imitate their faith" [Heb. 13:7]. Please read Hebrews 11 ... not as a list of persons who sought merely to be "world class martyrs," but as men and women, very much like you and me, who bravely stood tall in the face of affliction. They are our examples. Thank God that He has chosen to preserve for us their specific challenges -- not that we might pity them, but that we might be inspired by them, and thus imitate their faithfulness.

How impoverished we would all be if the apostle Paul had never shared with us those personal insights from the soul of a suffering saint. If Paul had just "sucked it up" and "been a man," how empty our appreciation of his noble spirit would be today! Paul shared his life's journey with us -- the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the successes and the struggles. He shared with us his friends, and he told us about his enemies. He informed us of the love of the former, and of the hatred of the latter. We witnessed acts of kindness, and acts of cruelty. And through it all we have come to know far more intimately the spirit of this man we know as the apostle Paul, and in so doing we ourselves are encouraged to greater feats of faithfulness and acts of daily commitment. Had Paul simply "stuck to his sermons" and left out all the personal "pouting" and "whining," his effectiveness in the lives of others would have been seriously diminished. Those striking insights into his trials and tribulations were just as spiritually significant as his marvelous insights into eternal Truth (as embodied in the life, work, teaching and Person of Jesus Christ). Either without the other would have left a void in his ministry.

Yes, I can understand the frustration felt by the reader in Indiana. It is never pleasant to have to speak of war, and to expose the tactics and strategies of the enemy. Far more pleasant is to simply enjoy our freedom and bask in the love of our brethren. And, as much as possible, we need to be doing this. But, brethren, we aren't "home" yet! There is an enemy out there who does not rest. That enemy wants you dead. While you are soaking up the warmth of your pleasant surroundings, there are others who are engaging these fierce foes on the front lines. The battle is drawing closer; your days of sweet repose are numbered; we're nearing the end -- that final great confrontation, and it is going to be intense. We had better be preparing for it, and we had better be rallying to the side of those already at the front (and, believe me, that front is closer than you might imagine). We need to know what our enemy is capable of (and what better way than by actual examples), so that we might be equipped to withstand all of his many onslaughts.

It is largely with this purpose in mind that I occasionally share with each of you in these articles some of the particulars of my daily struggle at the front (as well as the struggles of others similarly engaged). Yes, I try for a balance, and will have (over the course of a year) far more studies on Bible passages and heroes of faith than of "issues" and "enemies." However, the latter are necessary. If you don't perceive that fact, then your lack of awareness just may one day prove fatal. I don't want that laid at my feet. Therefore, I have chosen to continue my present course, as I genuinely believe it is Spirit-guided, and I hope and pray that more and more will be outraged, and thus ultimately emboldened, by the godless actions and attitudes of our foe. The end is near ... let's move boldly into battle as, even now, the Lord prepares to return and finish the fight. May we be found armed and ready and serving courageously.

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Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister/Author in Alabama:

Bro. Al, I am placing a check in the mail for your Reflections and PowerPoint Sermons CDs. Thank you, brother, for all you do to advance the kingdom of God. Your writings go a very long way toward helping individuals become more conscious of context in the study of the Scriptures, which, in my judgment, is one of the most critical points in correct interpretation. I, too, teach that there are three basic rules to proper interpretation: context, context, context. I truly believe God has raised you up for such a time as this!!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, Your last Reflections was another priceless article. My how we have agonized over things that are more man-made than God-given! I remember a young preacher moving into our area a few years ago. He attended the local preachers' meetings. He was warned to avoid me because I was a "Liberal." When he asked for specifics, they wouldn't tell him anything ... they just knew that I was. He was not satisfied with their answers, however, so he decided that he would come and ask me directly -- a real first!! He asked me if I taught such and so. I told him I never had. He asked me if I believed such and so. I told him I never had. I asked him which preachers had told him that I believed those things. He told me that before he would reveal their names, he wanted to go back and talk to them. He did. Rather than believe my responses to this man's questions, these other preachers rejected him as one who was now "associated with Liberals." They then began to accuse him of things, and did everything they could to destroy him. So sad. I've always wondered what happened to him when he finally left this area.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, You have encouraged us to stand for Truth and to resist the Legalists. I have started worshipping with a local congregation that I would call "mainstream." They are certainly not as aggressive as David Brown, Darrell Broking, Morris Bowers, et al, but they do believe in all the usual Church of Christ doctrines. I have presented my (your) ideas to the preacher, and I have discussed them with him for hours. The only result is that I have now been "marked," and am no longer asked to do fill-in preaching or teaching.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Thank you once again for your faithfulness in confronting those who would rather rip the church apart than consider the foolishness of our human minds in comparison with God's. I still don't understand why some actually think they have God totally figured out. His ways are so far above ours that I can just hear Him asking these people, "Where were you when I created everything?!" I love you, brother, for your dedication to helping all of us see ourselves more clearly in Christ Jesus. I hope to make a road trip out your way in May, and look forward to meeting you and thanking you in person at the Cuba Avenue congregation.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Dear Bro. Al, My daughter is a big fan of your Reflections articles (as am I). She is planning to take her daughters on a sightseeing trip through New Mexico during their Spring break. Specifically, she wants them to see Carlsbad Caverns. My wife and I plan to accompany them. We have all made plans to be in Alamogordo on Wednesday, March 25, with the intent of visiting at the Cuba Avenue congregation, and hopefully meeting you. At that time I would also like to purchase from you, if possible, a copy of your book Down, But Not Out. Would it be an imposition to ask you to autograph it also? We continue to look forward to receiving each of your studies. They have been enormously helpful to me in making the transition from legalism to a better understanding of grace and the true nature of the gospel of Christ Jesus.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, As usual, your last Reflections is first order, top of the line, outstanding. I have intended writing you several times of late, but other things keep getting in the way, like doctors appointments and the things associated with 91 years of living. I am so thankful for your presence on the Internet, and for your teachings to all of those folks that need bringing up to date on matters (and I'm including myself in that number). In looking back over the many bumps in the road, I wonder how I made it this far ... so many errors, so little time to make up for them! Bro. Al, please keep up the fine work you are doing, and Soldier On.

From a Minister in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Behavior such as was demonstrated by "Brother" Dub McClish does not just go "in one ear and out the other" with many of us. We, like you, are also fighting the battle against sectarianism, and sometimes even on the campuses of our own Christian universities. Recently, when I was attending a monthly preachers' luncheon held on the campus of one of our brotherhood's well-known universities, one of the participants (who always has something to say whenever comments are solicited after the guest speaker makes his presentation) said, "Well, as far as I am concerned our churches (i.e., Churches of Christ) are going to continue to decline in membership until we once again start telling it like it is! Whenever someone leaves a Church of Christ and begins attending a 'denominational church,' they must be told that they are leaving the 'Lord's Church' --- the only one He died for!" The speaker was dumbfounded at that comment!! I was sickened, and rather than cause a fight among the brethren, I simply threw my heavy linen napkin down and walked out. I have not returned since, but if I do I will have to address this fellow at least in private for that statement!!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Bro. Maxey, I would like to say that I respect your being able to turn the other cheek when these malicious monsters attack you! Also, I was shocked to read that article by Dub McClish in the Contending for the Faith where he seems to be delighted at the thought of a brother in Christ being lost. Even if he truly believes this man to be lost, how can a man who calls himself a Christian have such an arrogant, haughty attitude, and how can he be so confident that he can be the judge of this man's eternal destiny? Bro. Maxey, I've been a member of a Non-Institutional Church of Christ for several years, but I am currently attending church with my family at a small Southern Baptist congregation. I do not agree with everything that is taught there, but they DO lift up the Savior and they do NOT bicker over doctrines and patterns like the NI group. These people welcomed and embraced my family and me without questioning our religious background. I was criticized by one of the ladies at my previous congregation for "leaving the church." She told me that I "knew better," and that she'd be praying for me to come back to "the right church" before it was too late. I pray God's blessings on your work. Thank You for staying in the battle for freedom in Christ!!

From a Missionary in Brazil:

Dear Brother Al, I would appreciate you sending me a copy of the article by Dub McClish in which he condemned Walter Burch. I would also like a copy of the cartoon on Judas and the "change agents" being cast into hell. Thank You, Al, for speaking out and condemning this kind of thing!!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Dear Brother Al, Over the years, when I was still attending a Church of Christ, I grew to despise and dread the Sunday evening service. It just became a chore (maybe that was my spirit, but I know I wasn't the only one who felt that way) to get dressed and go back to the building for another hour. I suggested many times that we should have an extended morning service and do away with the evening service, much to the "shock and awe" of my brethren! But, I do not know of any churches that have a vibrant, Spirit-filled evening worship (not in the Churches of Christ or the Christian Church or any other denomination). I like the idea of a singing service, having a fellowship meal and a short devotional or church groups ("house churches" to use a "change agent" term). But what I would like more than any of these is a Sunday evening Eucharist service with singing, prayers, Scripture reading, being served the bread and the wine -- Communion with my Lord and with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe it would strengthen my faith and prepare me for the week to come.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Brother Al, What about Sunday evening? It isn't about numbers. It's about loving and serving one another. I think it worthwhile to start by considering the purpose of assembling ourselves together. We far too often emphasize Hebrews 10:25, while neglecting the import of Hebrews 10:24. If we get the motivation right, we will assemble wherever and whenever we have opportunity to encourage one another and spur one another on to worshipful, loving service 24/7. With all this in mind, Sunday evenings should focus upon the demographics of those attending, which may well differ from the demographics of those attending in the morning. All need spiritual nourishment, but some thrive on meat while others are vegetarians. Feed them what nourishes them!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for sending me the article by Mr. Morris Bowers. After reading his accusations that you are "stretching Truth," and after having read all of your articles in your Reflections Archives, I can only point to one possible area where Bowers just might be correct. In Issue #389 you made the following statement: "One of my more determined detractors is an elderly man residing in Athens, Alabama by the name of Morris Bowers." My concern with this statement (and this may be what Mr. Bowers is concerned with as well) is that you use the term "man" to describe Mr. Bowers. My dictionary lists one definition of "man" as -- "an adult male person who has a manly character (virile, courageous, competent)." I believe that Mr. Bowers' complete refusal to produce the evidence of his charges against you proves him to be other than a "man."

From an Elder/Minister in Alabama:

Bro. Al, I grew up in a conservative congregation, and thus experienced all the "issues" faced by the church from the early 1950's to the present day. The Church of Christ I now attend has been blessed beyond expression, and it continues to reach out to many who have experienced, or are experiencing, spiritual malaise as a result of legalistic teaching and not Christ-centered teaching. We are respected by a few Churches of Christ in this area of Alabama, but not by most, since most of them are very, very ultra-conservative and/or legalistic. Also, I can assure you that Morris Bowers is not considered someone who is bearing much fruit for the Kingdom here in Alabama. He is a worthy recipient of our prayers!! I wish I had the time to give you further testimony regarding our congregation's metamorphosis from legalism to being a grace-centered church where a rapidly growing number of people are experiencing true Christian LOVE, many for the first time. It's truly a glorious adventure. May the kingdom of God continue to expand, and may He grant you grace, mercy and peace!

From a Minister/Ed.D in Florida:

Bro. Al, Here is what we do on Sunday evenings (it has not increased the attendance, but it has increased the quality of time, fellowship and Bible study). It was an idea from one of the members, but, speaking as the preacher, it was a God-send. I take the Sunday morning sermon/lesson and Review, Restudy and Reflect upon it during a Sunday evening "class discussion" format. This gives the members of the congregation an opportunity to respond to anything I said in the morning lesson, or say it more effectively, or ask questions about it. It works very well for us.

From an Elder/Minister in Florida:

Bro. Al, In response to your request concerning Sunday evening services, let me share with you what we have been doing for the past several years that has greatly increased our interest in and attendance at the evening worship. On the first Sunday evening of the month we sing. We have 10-12 song leaders who participate and the singing is very inspiring and edifying. On the third Sunday evening of the month we have a prayer service with different men leading prayers. We ask for prayer requests on Sunday morning. Between each prayer there is a Scripture reading (usually by different men), thereby our conversation with God is two-way. On every other last Sunday evening of the month different men (usually our young men) lead the services. There are usually two short lessons presented, giving men who want to preach an opportunity to do so. On the other Sunday evenings we have an informal Bible study (an adult class in the auditorium and two separate classes for teen girls and teen boys). This has worked very well for us.

From an Elder in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I'm glad you raised the question about the Sunday evening service. Several years ago I heard a fellow who said that according to the research he had done, it seemed that in most cases the Sunday night service originated in city churches during World War II when factories started working on Sundays in the war effort, which forced some to have to work on Sunday mornings. So, to accommodate those brothers, many started having a second service on Sunday night. Regardless of the exact origin of the practice, I think it is healthy to consider doing something creative to serve the Lord instead of just repeating what we did that morning. In our congregation we decided several years ago to move our Sunday evening service to Wednesday evening. Thus, our second preaching service took place on Wednesday instead of Sunday night. As one member observed, "My spiritual cup is full after a good Sunday morning. Another dose on Wednesday night is more helpful than on Sunday night." We encourage the congregation to use Sunday night for a variety of good works. We have several support groups that meet then, along with a variety of small group Bible studies. We also encourage the congregation to look for opportunities to fellowship one another more on an informal basis during those times. I think it has helped the vitality of our church's spiritual life.

From a Reader in Washington:

Dear Bro. Al, I discovered the following quote tucked away in my Bible. I thought it very appropriate, as it shows the battle in which we have been engaged (and in which you especially have been engaged) has been going on for quite some time: "I blush for my fellows who hold up the Bible as the bond of union, yet make their opinions of it tests of fellowship; who plead for the union of all Christians, yet refuse fellowship with such as dissent from their notions. Such antisectarian-sectarians are doing more mischief to the cause and advancement of Truth, the unity of Christians, and the salvation of the world than all the skeptics in the world. In fact, they create skeptics" [Barton W. Stone, "Remarks," Christian Messenger, August 9, 1835, p. 180]. Bro. Al, please keep up the good work you are doing. You have many standing by your side in this battle. May God bless you in this great work.

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