by Al Maxey

Issue #494 ------- July 20, 2011
There are two distinct classes of what are called
thoughts: Those that we produce in ourselves
by reflection and the act of thinking, and those
that bolt into the mind of their own accord.

Thomas Paine {1737-1809}
The Age of Reason

Thinking Outside The Box
More Epiphanies From Readers

Last month (June 22), in Reflections #490 --- Life-Transforming Epiphanies: Reflecting on a List of 52 Insights Compiled by a Former Non-Institutional CofC Disciple --- I shared with you some of the insights of a brother who has, with the help of God's Spirit, extricated himself from enslavement to the lunacy of legalistic patternism and the oppression of the tyrants who promote it. His life-transforming "flashes of insight" touched a great many of you, and several readers shared some of their own epiphanies with me. In this present issue of Reflections I would like to share several of those with you. I believe you will be both encouraged and challenged. In this issue, I will also share several of my own epiphanies --- insights that have truly transformed my life and forever altered the course of my spiritual journey.

Epiphany #1 --- Brother Al, My epiphany came in 1987, while reading Cecil Hook's first book Free In Christ. I used to think that if two people differed in opinion, one or the other might be right, or they both might be wrong, but they simply could NOT both be right. Reading Cecil's work gave me a whole new insight into Romans 14, and I came to realize that, yes, indeed, both CAN be right ... or, at least, both can be accepted by God as right with Him, even with differing convictions. This epiphany led to, and was the basis for, hundreds more epiphanies.

Cecil Hook was a dear friend of mine, and our relationship goes back to the early 1980's. Like the above brother from Michigan, Cecil had a tremendous influence on my thinking, especially with respect to the wondrous reality of our freedom in Christ. Cecil's sister, Lois, was a member of the congregation in Santa Fe, NM for which I preached for eight years, and I performed the funeral for her husband (Cecil's brother-in-law). Cecil, on a regular basis, used to send me entire boxes of his book "Free in Christ," telling me to give them away free of charge to anyone I believed was bound in slavery to law and who was open to being extricated from that enslavement. I gave away a great many of his books for him (he wasn't interested in getting paid for them), and only eternity will reveal the number of souls salvaged from sectarianism by his work. Before his death, Cecil was a great encouragement to me in my own writing ministry! He was truly an inspiration, and he'll be greatly missed. Nevertheless, his writings live on, and they continue to bring epiphanies to people around the world. If you haven't read his books and articles, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Romans 14, when properly perceived and applied, is truly A Safety Valve for Steamed Saints (Reflections #120). Unfortunately, there are some Professional Weaker Brethren (Reflections #25) who twist this liberating text to their own purposes, with the result being greater sectarian schism among spiritual siblings. It is a sad testimony to those around us when they witness the disciples of Christ Jesus warring with one another over personal and party perceptions, preferences and practices rather than standing boldly together for those few essential eternal Truths that are truly redemptive in nature. One of my first great epiphanies came many, many years ago when it first "dawned on me" that God's universal One Body (Church) was NOT made up exclusively of those few disciples within the confines of my own faith-heritage (the Church of Christ wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement). The Father had children with traditions and perceptions much different than mine, but these in no way made them any less the children of God than I was. Membership in HIS Family was on the basis of Paternity, not Pattern! "You do not have to be my twin to be my brother" was an epiphany that has truly changed the course of my spiritual journey, and has forever altered in my sight the parameters defining inclusion and exclusion with respect to God's Family! Frankly, I had once drawn my circle of fellowship too small; drawing it with sectarian brush strokes! Never again!!

Epiphany #2 --- Brother Al, Here is one of my epiphanies for your list: Trying to achieve unity is noble, but futile. Unity already exists!! Unity is from God the Father who looks with favor on ALL of His children, whoever and wherever they are. Men can only be responsible for disunity when they refuse to recognize as brothers and sisters any and all who are His children.

This is truly an interesting insight. We hear a lot about how we need to "strive for unity" within the Family of God. I myself have pleaded with my brethren for greater unity. However, it is a fact that all who are in Christ Jesus are already united in One Body! Thus, unity already exists, for in Jesus we are truly ONE. Perhaps what we are really suggesting (or should be), when we urge our brethren to be "united," is that we all need to show this spiritual reality far more in our daily attitudes and actions than we typically do. Our Father, through the actions of His Son and Holy Spirit, has united us into One Family. Now, the Father expects us to ACT LIKE IT. We must become far more accepting of one another, and less judgmental; far more harmonious, and less acrimonious. I suspect what many of my brethren are striving for, when they plead for "unity," is really a rigid uniformity. The former is a blessing from the Lord; the latter is a curse from the legalists.

Epiphany #3 --- Dear Bro. Al, I don't know if this qualifies as an epiphany or not, but it was something I discovered years ago while leading a discussion of Paul's letter to the Galatians. I was in my 30's then, and am now in my 70's. I discovered God's GRACE, and this took away my fear (I had been raised in a "traditional" church) and brought about peace of mind!! I experienced a freedom I had never known before!! I no longer feared going to bed at night and wondering if I had "done enough" that day "to be saved" should I die in my sleep. I had lived with that fear for most of my life up until that time, particularly in my teen years and early 20's!! Unfortunately, after this epiphany an elder of our church family was surprised at how "liberal" I had become!! I really wonder if the legalists have ever known this kind of peace and freedom. Thank God for His GRACE!!

We know that "there is no fear in love" (1 John 4:18); however, there can be nothing but fear for those who seek to live by law. Why? Because one can never "do enough" or "be good enough" to merit salvation. Those who seek to live by law are LOST. If you are trusting in keeping commands to save you, rather than trusting in the completed work of Christ, then I genuinely pity you. You have got to be one of the most troubled and conflicted people alive. Those who seek redemption by following rules and regulations, those who believe Jesus lived and died and rose again to establish a new system of LAW, have essentially denied God's Son and all He came to accomplish. He died to set us free, and they clamor for the chains of slavery found in additional commands; He liberated us, and they cry out for LAW. How pitiful to watch good men and women perish at the open gates of the death camps because they have been so brainwashed by their godless guards that they can't grasp the concept of freedom. God's GRACE is truly an "epiphany" that many more of my dear brethren need to experience! Without it, they shall continue to wither away in some religious Auschwitz long after victory has been secured for them by our Great Redeemer. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free" (Gal. 5:1). He didn't liberate us to lead us back into law!!

Epiphany #4 --- Paul wrote, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1, NIV). If Paul really meant this, then a great weight should be lifted from us when we recognize legalism and shed it! My epiphany is -- IT WORKS!! Freedom really IS freeing!! This says it all ... nothing more really needs to be added.

Epiphany #5 --- Brother Al, I am very happy to share an epiphany that I had that led me to understand grace and to repudiate legalism. I was studying about Jesus' crucifixion and was drawn to Jesus' interchange with the two thieves with whom He was being executed that day. Initially, both of these thieves heaped abuse upon Him, but then one came to take a more penitential attitude. He asked Christ to remember him when He came in His kingdom. Jesus declared that he would join Him in Paradise. In that second, this sinner was saved!! Directly!! By the word of Christ! No special, formulaic words were spoken, no baptism occurred; none of that! So, how does one explain all this? The legalistic view, with which I was brought up, dictated that since Christ wasn't dead yet, He could "save by decree," or some such nonsense. But after His death, burial and resurrection, then the "New Rules" kicked in. "That 'thief on the cross' nonsense doesn't apply to us today who have 'the truth.'" So, this tender moment on the cross was being degraded into a theological cesspool. I came to the realization (epiphany) that the thief was saved because Jesus wanted him to be saved!! End of discussion!! And I am saved today, NOT by my correct following of the formulas of men, but because Jesus wants me to be saved!! After I came to that realization, all I could really say was, "Hallelujah!!" After I came to this epiphany, so much more of the Bible finally made sense! I realized that I had to make a choice -- was I going to love and serve a God who wanted to have a relationship with me, or was I going to follow a dogma that kept me constantly wondering about my spiritual status?

I have heard from a great many people over the years who have shared with me similar epiphanies. Their lives were forever changed for the better when they finally realized that God was simply seeking children to whom He could express His love, not slaves to whom He could "lay down the law." He sent His beloved Son to reestablish a relationship, not establish a religion. We lose sight of this, however, when we shift our focus to rules, regulations and rituals. We mistakenly perceive our Father as some "Cosmic Legalist" who watches us like a hawk to make sure we cross every "t" and dot every "i" in the performance of LAW, the majority of which we are left to try and deduce from what He never said. Praise the Father with a piano playing in the background and our merciful Father will set you ablaze and torture you forever. Eat a meal inside a church building? Let your children learn about God in a Sunday School? Send money from the church "treasury" to help an orphan? Well, you can forget about going to heaven! Brethren, if this is your view of our Father, then you are in desperate need of an epiphany!! Salvation is not for those who can "get it right" with respect to commands, doctrines and rituals. Salvation is for those who love Him who first loved them! Focusing on LAW blinds us to LOVE. It overhears a conversation between a dying Savior and a dying thief and, instead of perceiving a display of grace, mercy and love, wonders why the latter wasn't baptized, and can only justify the Lord's action by "rationalizing" that the "New Rules" had not yet taken effect. Such is the "logic" of legalism!! It simply cannot grasp grace!!

Epiphany #6 --- Dear Bro. Al, I am writing in response to your request for epiphanies and how they've helped transform our lives. My "wake up call" came in the form of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted throughout the world. When my husband went to Florida to attend the funeral of his dad in 1999, the speaker at church that following Sunday was from The Voice of the Martyrs. He came home from that trip with a new focus and a new vision. He signed up for the VOM free monthly newsletter, and so I started reading it. My world-view of Christianity had previously been very narrow, and reading about these people who did not "worship properly," and yet who were dying for their faith in Christ, really shook me up and shattered my concept of what it meant to "obey" Jesus. How could I not consider these giants of faith my brothers and sisters?! How could I believe that being a Christian depended on understanding the Bible perfectly and worshipping with the same traditions I have?!! From that epiphany God has been "growing" me, and Romans 14:4 has come to have a whole new meaning to me!!

I'm very familiar with the good work of The Voice of the Martyrs, and have been receiving their publication for quite some time. If I'm not mistaken, I believe they even have a booth each year at The Tulsa Workshop. The information they present is truly eye-opening and heart-breaking, especially for those in our own nation who tend to be somewhat sheltered from some of the horrid conditions faced by peoples in other parts of our planet. There are people, as I write these words (and as you read them), who are facing great persecution and even death for their faith in Jesus Christ. And yet, many of those people do not possess Bibles (it is a crime punishable by death in some places), and therefore do not even "know the issues" that too many of us seem to feel are connected to salvation. All they know is that God loved them, sent His Son to die for them, raised Him up, and He's coming again. They know they have been called to love God and one another ... and show it in their daily lives. The "issues" and "traditions" of our own sects and schisms haven't yet reached them (thank God), which, sadly, causes some who are captives of such issues and traditions to look with suspicion upon those who are not. Can such persons really be Christians? They don't look anything like us? Hmmmm. Since when did WE become the standard?! If they love the Lord and seek to show it in their daily lives as best they can, given their understanding and circumstances, then that is sufficient. Those who live faithfully to the available light given unto them by their God are our brethren!! That is an epiphany more of us need to experience!!

A Few of My Epiphanies

The above six epiphanies were not the only ones that I received from you, the readers. There were several others. Some were quite similar to the ones above; some dealt with very personal matters, and thus I was somewhat hesitant to share them. All came from the heart, though, and all were genuinely life-transforming for those who experienced them. Let me close this present Reflections by sharing just a few of the insights that have been significant to me in my own spiritual journey.

  1. In May of 1976, after earning my Master's Degree in Theology, I entered "the ministry." Frankly, I didn't have a clue!! -- (and some would likely suggest that hasn't changed in 35 years!!). I attempted to be what I believed a "preacher" was supposed to be; I tried to look and sound like they were supposed to look and sound; I attempted to be what everyone else expected me to be (and they ALL had expectations). And after two years I quit. I spent the next four years as the Executive Director of a Christian Children's Home in Albuquerque, NM, on a 26-acre campus, that housed and provided special care for abused and neglected children. It was a tremendous work, but it wasn't really what I felt personally "called" to do. So, when a chance to preach in Germany opened up, I took it. We relocated to Kaiserslautern, Germany where God opened my eyes to the fact that He had called me to simply BE ME, rather than trying to be something I wasn't. He called me to share His message with people through my teaching and example, not to "play the part of a preacher." After that, ministry took on a whole new dimension. I was free to be ME. Thus, what you see is what you get!! There are things I do well, so I do them; there are things I do not do well, so I defer to those who can. When I finally came to the realization (the epiphany) that I do not have to be "all things to all people," but I merely have to be the best ME that I can be, it truly made a life of service to the Lord much more enjoyable and fulfilling.

  2. One of the most troubling epiphanies I have experienced is the awareness of the reality that not everyone in the church truly appreciates Truth. I know! That sounds shocking, and one's first reaction is to deny such an assertion. But, brethren, let's be honest with ourselves!! We have all seen and experienced it. Far too many of our brethren are so steeped in tradition that when those "sacred cows" are challenged, and they are forced to face the objective truths of God's Word, they will often choose the former over the latter!! I've learned in thirty-five years of ministry that one takes his very life in his hands every time he dares to challenge a church dogma or tradition. Yet, challenge them we must, for Truth demands to be heard, and it deserves to be defended.

  3. About midway through my eight years as the minister for the Church of Christ in Santa Fe, NM (1984-1992) one of the members came into my office, set a 500 page book down on my desk top, and said, "Al, would you read this book and then tell me what you think about it?!" I told him that I would. That book was The Fire That Consumes by Edward Fudge. That book has probably done more than any other (except for the Bible) to change my focus in ministry. I read the book twice, and then I read the entire Bible (verse by verse) again to "see if these things be so." I examined this topic of the nature of man and the final punishment of the wicked more intensely than I have ever examined any other subject. At some point during this journey of several years "the light came on." This epiphany has impacted almost every area of my theology and ministry, and has opened my eyes to a whole new world. For those who would like to hear more of my thoughts on this, I would urge them to go to my Topical Index and read the 20 Reflections articles listed under the heading "The Nature of Man and Final Punishment." I would also encourage a careful and prayerful reading of The Maxey-Thrasher Debate, which is on this same topic. I pray it will lead to a similar life-transforming epiphany for you!!

  4. When you take a stand for an inconvenient or unpopular Truth, you will discover who your true friends are!! Thank God for those men, women and young people of courage, conviction and character, for they are God's gifts to you as you continue on to the completion of your journey through this life.

Special CD Offers

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Hawaii:

Brother Al, Your Reflections are always great spiritual brain food. For some reason, the June 22 edition on "Life-Transforming Epiphanies" was one that I still had in my inbox today -- perish the thought (LOL). I do believe that God will reward you greatly in the next world for all that you have done, and will continue to do, to proclaim the Good News of Christ Jesus. I appreciate you ... greatly!! You know, you just MIGHT make a half-decent preacher/writer some day!! Keep at it, though ... the "buzzards" will always be hovering around you!!

From a Reader in Australia:

Dear Bro. Al, I was greatly blessed to read your latest article on hermeneutics! It reminded me of my meeting with Dr. Mark Moore at the 2008 Tulsa Workshop. Dr. Moore gave two great presentations at the workshop on hermeneutics. He and Jeff Walling gave one of the evening presentations as well. Mark is, like yourself, a great communicator and faithful to the Word. He is professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Hermeneutics at Ozark Christian College. Mark has all of his lectures on hermeneutics available online. You can locate them at the following sites --- Institute for Christian Resources and Dr. Mark Moore. Take care, my friend and brother. I pray that you and Shelly, and your grandkids Jacob and Emma, are doing well.

From a Minister/Author in Arizona:

Brother Al, I appreciate the review of Osborne's book "The Hermeneutical Spiral." It is a good basic intro to the subject of hermeneutics. Disciples need to become students of this subject.

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, The selected quotes that you shared with us from Dr. Grant R. Osborne's book are quite valuable. Many of our troubles, confusion and divisions have their roots in faulty interpretation of the Scriptures.

From the Director of an International Ministry:

Dear Brother Al, This is an excellent review of a great book! I have struggled for a long time with trying to articulate a perfect hermeneutic, and it is hard for me to believe we will ever be able to articulate a perfect hermeneutic. Religion is in the field of philosophy, while hermeneutics is a science of interpretation. When you put a philosophic question into a scientific model, you will find that it just does not work. It seems to me that reading and studying the living and active Word of God is like stepping into a river. You never step into the exact same river a second time --- the only thing that is truly constant is that the water is wet! The rate of flow, the temperature, even the course of the river changes. Similarly, even within very familiar passages of Scripture, we are always perceiving some great new truth or some far greater light. My father read through the OT once each year, and the NT twice each year, yet in his 90's he would still declare, "I never saw that before!" I hope my heart and mind will always be open to the "living and active Word of God."

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, Now that was helpful. Nothing makes me more suspicious of a person's point of view than when they declare, "THAT is what the Bible SAYS!!" Even when guided by the Holy Spirit, Peter still said that there are some things (written by Paul) that were (are), quite frankly, difficult to get one's head around! Further, there is nothing more damaging than sloppy or proof-text exegesis.

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, I have now ordered Dr. Osborne's book (The Hermeneutical Spiral) through our in-house bookstore at church. Thanks for the recommendation!

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Brother Al, Your last article was excellent, my friend! Much of what separates believers is simply poor Bible study methods, especially "proof-texting." Thanks for your devotion to Truth.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, Another great article on legalism!! I've never heard of Dr. Osborne, but I surely am looking forward to reading this book by him. It sounds soooo needed by the legalistic branch of the Churches of Christ, as you noted. God bless you, Al, for your loving service to Him and His children!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dearest Al, We just wanted to send you a note telling you once again how much we appreciate you, your sermons, your Reflections, and all you do for our church family here at Cuba Avenue Church of Christ. We are blessed indeed to have you for one of our shepherds!!

From a Reader in Arizona:

Brother Al, I really do enjoy your Reflections. Well, maybe "enjoy" is not the right word, since your writings at times cause me to "grow," and growing can often be rather painful. May God bless you and Shelly. Be sure and give her our love! Also, it has been fun seeing your grandkids on Facebook, although it surely makes me feel old!! We think of our special family from the church in Santa Fe often!!

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