Issue #556 -------
November 16, 2012
If you let fear of consequence prevent you from
following your deepest instinct, then your life
will be safe, expedient and thin.
Katharine Butler Hathaway (1890-1942)
"Living a life of faith means you don't always play it safe. Be who God has called you to be ... don't miss His plan because of fear." This quote by that famous author "Anonymous" conveys a significant spiritual truth. When God extends His grace and the Spirit bestows His gifts upon true believers, the latter are expected to be courageous and even creative in the manifestations of their faith in their daily acts of devotion and service to God and others. God does not call His people to "play it safe." Instead, He calls them to fearlessly step beyond the parameters of religious tradition and personal preference. Too many disciples of Christ have been so indoctrinated by the various rigid sects and schisms of Christendom that they fear the consequences of stepping beyond the parameters of their party patterns. This shackles their spirituality and limits their liberty in Christ. They are bound again to law and live in constant fear of violating the customs and traditions of their denomination (or of some faction thereof). "Playing it safe," in too many instances, is little more than an effort to excuse, and perhaps put a positive spin on, an unwillingness to live one's faith courageously and creatively before God and man.
Jesus, on a couple of occasions, told a parable of a master who entrusted his servants with various amounts of money, expecting them to use some personal initiative in increasing those funds during his absence. Those who boldly did so were rewarded, but one servant chose to "play it safe," and gave back to the master no more and no less than what he was given. Why did he do this? "I was afraid of you," the servant told the master (Matthew 25:25; Luke 19:21). Rather than praising this servant for "playing it safe," the master called him lazy and wicked. Playing it safe proved to be rather costly. The same is true of our daily journey of faith through this world. There are those who "play it safe," hoping to coast quietly into heaven without creating a single ripple in the waters of life and never rocking the boat, and then there are those who sail fearlessly into each new day, braving the storms, and evidence their faith in bold and exciting new ways to the glory of their God and the benefit of their brethren and as a testimony to those seeking salvation.
Tragically, too many disciples fear the Lord. I'm not talking about reverence for the Lord, I'm talking about being afraid of the Lord. They are terrified they might overlook some rule or regulation and thus have "the mean master" crush the "lowly slave" like a bug. What faith they have is a fearful faith: only sufficient to make them utterly miserable in their journey through life. Those with a more mature grasp of God's grace realize that we are free; we have been liberated from law; each day is a new adventure in which we may express our devotion and evidence our faith in new and exciting ways. There are no "party parameters" to box us in; no limits to love. Legalistic patternism, by which some seek to restrict our acts of love and faith to those few examples given in the NT of a people who lived in a different time and culture, is a device of the devil; it is not of God. Legalists will always use fear and intimidation to keep their followers in line (enslaved). Jesus has liberated us from such abuse. We are free. Never again should a disciple of Christ live in fear. The Father's love has set us free from fear. Rigid religiosity may be alive and well among legalistic sects, but it has no place among the children of God. "There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).
As an example of the above, consider the email I received from a reader in Houston, Texas the other day. He wrote, "Many people that I respect use this argument when dealing with the use of instrumental accompaniment during worship: 'But, don't you want to be 100% safe where your family is concerned?' In other words, they are saying that the only way to be 100% sure that God is pleased is by singing a cappella exclusively during a worship service. The logical part of me says that this is an argument out of fear and that we should not be swayed by it. However, the emotional part of me says that they may have a point, and I certainly don't want to put my family in danger by doing something which God may genuinely disapprove of. How would you answer such an argument? Also, you may use this question in a future Reflections article if you wish, but please do not use my name. I appreciate your time and dedication in trying to bring unity back to a broken fellowship."
In my faith-heritage (Churches of Christ) I have heard this "play it safe" argument for as long as I can remember. It is certainly not unique to my denomination, but I have found few groups that tend to employ it to the extent that ours has. Admittedly, this is changing rapidly in our movement as we become increasingly grace-centered and Jesus-focused, for which I am extremely grateful. Nevertheless, among those who are still shackled by legalism, the "play it safe" mentality persists. Generally this is linked, either directly or indirectly, to the "law of silence" dogma. If God said absolutely nothing about something in the pages of the Bible, then we should "play it safe" and NOT do it. This is the perspective that silence always prohibits -- i.e., if God said nothing about something, then He is obviously against it. The opposite extreme, of course, is that silence permits. Neither position is logically or exegetically valid. Silence in Scripture is neither permissive nor prohibitive. It simply means God chose to say nothing about the matter. Thus, we are left to use the good sense God gave us to examine the matter in light of revealed biblical principles, and then determine if said matter would be to the glory of God, the edification of the saved, and the benefit of the lost if acted upon.
Frankly, the assumption that binding restrictions upon the people of God in areas where God has said nothing whatsoever constitutes "playing it safe" is fallacious thinking. I hardly think making up laws for God to bind upon His people is a "safe" course to follow! Indeed, Scripture, and the apostle Paul especially, strongly condemns those who seek to limit the freedom of those in Christ. A return to law -- the binding of legal prescriptions and proscriptions -- is a dangerous, and potentially deadly, course to follow. To characterize such a path as "playing it safe" is an absurdity.
As for the matter of instrumental accompaniment to our singing in a corporate worship setting, God is hardly silent on the matter. Indeed, such accompaniment, whenever mentioned in Scripture (and it is mentioned) is always approved by God. There is not one single sentence anywhere in the Bible where God even hints at disapproval of this practice, but there are passages where it is clearly found pleasing in His sight. The "silence" on this matter, of which the legalistic patternists speak, is the fact that there is no NT reference to a group of Christians using an instrument. Thus, even though it is approved time and again by God in the OT writings, and even portrayed (in symbolism) in Revelation as approved in heaven, yet these legalists use "silence" to override all the places where God has "spoken." Again, it seems odd to me that such a practice constitutes "playing it safe."
The basic problem here, of course, is that those who are in bondage to legalistic, patternistic thinking are, by virtue of that enslavement, extremely fearful. They are literally terrified they will forget to dot an "i" or cross a "t" or that they will fail to perfectly perform some ritualistic act and thus be cast headlong into the fires of hell to be tortured forever by their "hard master." That is why they fear Him. They see Him as the ultimate legalist, who sits upon His throne watching every little move they make just waiting for a slip so He can squash them like a bug. Thus, rather than risk any such slip, they "play it safe" (or so they think). It is a strategy born of fear. It is not the way a disciple of Christ is supposed to live. If our God had truly changed His mind about instrumental accompaniment to such a degree that He would cast into hell anyone who used it during the NT era, then He would have at least mentioned this somewhere, at least once, within the pages of the NT writings. He did not. He never even hinted at it. Not only that, but in Rev. 15:2 we find the redeemed "holding harps of God." Odd that the redeemed would be holding in heaven what they would be sent to hell for holding on earth!! Odd, also, is it not, that these harps were "of God." Hmmm. I thought He hated them! See Reflections #297 for an in-depth analysis of this passage. The legalists will point to Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 as the "proof" that God forbids the use of instrumental accompaniment to singing songs of praise unto Him. That is a ridiculous assertion easily refuted. I would refer the reader to Reflections #454 -- Legalism's Twin Proof-Texts: Allowing Tradition to Trump Truth. There is a much sounder way to approach the exegesis of such passages, as I have sought to convey in Reflections #126 -- Suggesting Another Hermeneutic: Inquiry into an Interpretive Methodology. For additional studies on the "instruments issue," I would ask the reader to examine my list of articles under this heading on my Topical Index page.
Living in fear is debilitating. No disciple of Christ can be effective in proclaiming God's grace if he is shackled by sectarianism. "Playing it safe" is not living by grace; it is not demonstrative of a dynamic faith. It is a cowering, cowardly mindset that sees the Father as "a hard master" to be feared. While the faithful sons and daughters are stepping up and stepping out in their evidentiary acts of faith and devotion, the fearful sons and daughters are hiding under their beds in their rooms. "God has not given us a spirit of timidity" (2 Tim. 1:7), yet this is how some people live their lives. When we come to grasp God's grace and love, fear will no longer be a factor in how we manifest our faith and devotion to our Father. Love liberates. We are now free to express our love to Him in courageous and creative ways; ways that glorify and honor Him, edify and encourage our brethren, and manifest His goodness and greatness to those seeking spiritual substance in their lives. Nothing great was ever accomplished by those who simply "played it safe." Flee from such defeatist thinking. It is a death trap. Remember: in the list of those whose "part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death," the group identified as "the cowardly" appears first. May our God give us boldness in our faith, and in its expression, as we live daily for Him.
One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism
(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE
Immersed By One Spirit
Rethinking the Purpose and Place of
Baptism in NT Theology and Practice
(A 304 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE
From a New Reader in Swaziland, Africa:
I am with the African Christian College, and it has been recommended to me by my mentor that I "study Al Maxey's Reflections." So, please include me in your mailing list. Thank you!
From a New Reader in Kansas:
Please add me to your mailing list for your weekly Reflections. I have been enjoying reading and thinking about your articles online, but just discovered I can receive them by email as well. I preach for a small congregation in Kansas and am always looking for things to encourage my congregation.
From a Reader in Texas:
Thank you for sharing this story ("Chaplain at an Execution" -- Issue #554). It was moving and emotional, but it was also difficult to read, mainly because God's grace doesn't seem fair. Stories of people like Terry Clark make us cringe and bring out feelings of condemnation toward one who commits crimes like this. I also heard of Jeffrey Dahmer's salvation. To think that he, along with Terry Clark, will be before the Father's Throne is difficult to grasp. Honestly, I struggle with this. But then, after coming to realize how much God has forgiven me, and that Jesus died for every sin of every man for all time, I stand in awe of our God whose grace is indeed "greater than our sin" -- even sins as terrible as Terry's or Jeffrey's. I have a friend in prison, and his crime was terrible. But I have learned that grace is for everyone and that no sin is so great that the blood of Jesus cannot cover it. I praise God that Terry put his faith in Jesus Christ and that one day he, along with the likes of me, will be in the Eternal Kingdom, praising God for His amazing grace! Thank you so much for this article and for what you did.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Sorry for the delay in responding to your article "Chaplain at an Execution," but I have just returned from a trip to Israel. Al, your testimony about this is deeply moving, to say the very least! As I reflected on this situation, it helped me focus on God's promise to take away our tears; not only the tears of those who have been harmed, but also the tears of those who created the harms and who have taken steps in this life to accept Christ and have those evil deeds washed away. Only in the afterlife will we really come to understand the song we sing: "There Is Power In The Blood." I am convinced that power is far beyond what we can comprehend in this life. How wonderful it will be to fully understand it then! Shalom.
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Your article titled "Post-Election Reflection: Where Do We Go From Here?" (Reflections #555) was one of the best Reflections I have read so far! You spoke what I felt in my heart when I heard the news about how the election turned out.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Amen, brother, to your "Post-Election Reflection." There is an email circulating, claiming to quote an editorial from a Czech newspaper saying that the danger to America is not the fools elected to power, but the fools who voted for them! We have become a foolish nation, and I fear it could be our downfall. But, even if this nation falls, we know God is in charge of our final destiny. It just worries me what we will have to endure before then!
From a Reader in Texas:
Your "Post-Election Reflection" was excellent, and I agree with what you wrote. Our problems in the country are rooted in spiritual decline. When we pray for forgiveness and truly seek God's will and guidance, only then will our country be healed.
From a Minister in Kansas:
GREAT article, Al -- "Post-Election Reflection." I am going to share it on my Facebook page.
From a Minister in California:
Thank you, my brother, for this insightful analysis of what is going on in our nation. Disciples of Christ are the preserving salt of the land and the light set on a hill, our Lord told us. You wrote: "If, in fact, we have traveled too far away from God, and the time has come for this nation to suffer the consequences for its choices, and we may well be at that point, then may God be merciful to those who still love Him and bring them safely through the storm." The elected of men are like the chaff that God can blow away, but the elect of God are in a Kingdom that can never be shaken and will survive the STORMS OF LIFE.
Dr. Don Givens, an extremely good friend of mine for many, many years now (we were together in Hawaii for years) mentioned his book in his above comments ("Storms of Life"), which is available through Amazon.Com (and also available on Kindle), as well as other outlets and formats. Randy Travis wrote the Foreword to this book, and Randy and I wrote the back cover. It is a wonderful book, and I would urge you to get a copy if you don't yet have one. You will be uplifted and blessed by what Don has to say. --- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Connecticut:
I agree 100% with what you wrote in your "Post-Election Reflection." Our nation's problem is, I believe: the older generation has done a poor job of instilling traditional moral values and Christian principles in their children. Families are assaulted on every front by social media, the Internet, cell phones, 500-channel televisions and a tainted education system that is diametrically opposed to any- and everything good and decent. Parents, especially fathers, need to step up to the plate and restore some sense of order in their homes. The first order of business should be getting on their knees, seeking repentance and guidance to restore godly and spiritual values in their children. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of our collective national sin is that, like the Israelites of old, we are likely going to be doomed to wander in the wilderness of this world for 40 years before we will see any significant fruit of our labor. Such is the price of disobedience, apathy and neglect.
From a Reader in Florida:
I appreciate what you wrote in your "Post-Election Reflection" -- "It's time for us to dust off that Bible and start actually reading it and applying it and sharing its heart-changing, soul-saving message with the lost all around us." This is how they will know that you are the Lord's disciples: by the way you love one another. Christ must be seen in our lives if we want to win the world for Him. Application is the key!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
The most mind-boggling part of the election is knowing that over half of the people in this nation seem to think like Obama. Many years ago (long before I had ever heard of Obama) I wrote the following poem. It is called "History Repeats." I think it applies to our situation today.
The Constitution of our land is trashed by Mr. Hood,
With massive ego-wisdom, under guise of "public good."
Disdaining moral principles for which our fathers died,
He's displaced God and decency; we're on a downhill slide.
Like wolves dressed in sheep's clothing, his band of merry men
Are killing off our freedoms with a weapon called a pen.
As we worship at the altar of fortune, beauty and fame,
Friar Tuck has picked our pockets, and we've only self to blame.
From a Reader in Texas:
Many Americans, the young especially, are not so much shifting away from God as they are shifting away from organized religion. This is because of the sorry record of churches in addressing needs and issues, while not even getting along with one another. The unChristian treatment of gay people and single mothers by churches and their spokespersons has convinced a generation of Americans they need to keep their distance from churches.
I would have to agree that the people of God have become so institutional that they have largely ceased being influential. Like the rigid religious elite of Christ's time, we spend more time seeking to promote and protect our party preferences and personal prestige than being salt, leaven and light to a world in desperate need of divine guidance. Jesus embraced the outcasts of society and sought to lift their lives, while also calling them to evidence greater godliness in attitudes and actions. Today's young people (although many older people feel the same) have little "religious brand-name loyalty," but seek rather to live their faith freely, rather than have it limited by some religious institution. There are societal ills that truly need to be addressed by God's people, and addressed in a loving, caring, compassionate, grace-centered manner (something many religious institutions have woefully failed to do). This is certainly not to suggest that Christians should "wink at sin" or embrace that which God specifically condemns as abhorrent. Our stand on homosexuality is a case in point, one which I have sought to address a number of times -- Reflections #305, for example, in which I offer a reflective, respectful response to saints struggling with homosexuality. In the 21st century, far more people are seeking to simply BE the church than GO TO a church. Those groups and movements that perceive this will be in a better position to minister to these seekers of responsible spiritual relevance in society. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in California:
Since Christians on both sides of the political aisle (yes, I believe it is possible for a Christian to be a Democrat) prayed that God's sovereign will be done in this election, why should we think that it wasn't?! If it wasn't, what use was there in such a prayer? If it was, then what business do we have in questioning the outcome of the election (just because our side didn't win)?!
I personally believe that God's will is accomplished in every election. At times He may grant a nation righteous leaders (even when the wicked desire otherwise), and then at other times He may place wicked leaders in power over a people (even when the righteous plead for godly leaders). If a people, as a whole, choose to turn away from Him, He may well give them the type of leaders they desire as punishment (and, sadly, the righteous will suffer the effects of such godless rule along with the wicked) or in the hope that their tyranny may lead the people to repent and turn back to Him. In ancient Israel, for example, the people did not want God to rule over them; they clamored for a king, wanting to be like the nations around them. God "spoke" -- giving them what they wanted, and they suffered the consequences of said clamoring. The lesson of history, both secular and biblical, is that those nations who turn from God (no matter how powerful or prosperous they might be) will in time be brought low. I do not "question" the outcome of our recent election. The people of our nation have spoken; so also has our God. I am disappointed by what the people have said, and I am fearful of what God may now have to say (or what He has already declared). My article was not intended to bemoan one political party's loss, but rather to point out that our nation is turning rapidly away from God. Choice of leaders and legislation is only symptomatic of that departure from God and godly principles. The sickness in our land is in the heart of its people; thus, it is the people I call to repentance (godly leaders and legislation will naturally follow on the heels of such national repentance). I, and others like me, issue this call with a firm hope in the promise of 2 Chron. 7:14 -- "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." May it be so! -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Maine:
I want to thank you for all of your hard work and your dedication to Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. I am way behind in reading your Reflections, but wanted you to know that I just finished reading "Pastors Politicking From Pulpits" (Reflections #546). After the election I had a very uneasy feeling as I went to bed, and I couldn't sleep. I got up about 3 a.m., went to my workshop next to my house, and started to pray! My prayer was very simple: that God would give me the strength to deal with this. The people here in Maine have now accepted sodomy as a definition of marriage. What a travesty! God has clearly condemned this perversion, yet the people here won't listen to God's Word on the matter, and they certainly won't listen to me or anyone else either. Although I continue to pray for these people, that they will change their ways, I truly believe that America and Maine deserve what they voted for (however, many Christians will be affected by all of this garbage). Elections are serious, and they have serious consequences, and those who voted for those who promote sodomy need to ask God's forgiveness!!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
Al, I appreciate your Reflections. There is always something to chew on. I really appreciate the spirit of your most recent article ("Post-Election Reflection"), knowing how disappointed you are over some of the election results (as am I). A few years back, when Bill Clinton was elected, I was certain the end was near, not only of our nation, but the world. I'm not a prophetic doomsday person, but that was how deep my passion was for the importance of that election. When Clinton was elected for his 2nd term, I had even more trepidation for what lay ahead for our country. I felt the 2012 election was an even more important election, and had thoughts I now wish I could take back about how stupid I thought people were. However, God is still on His Throne and in control. If He could use Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, even Nero, and a host of others, then He can use Obama. I recall many coming to know Christ during the Clinton administration because people began searching for more meaning in life than the shallow, corrupt personal life Clinton portrayed. Perhaps we'll have the same under Obama, resulting in an awakening in the USA that will bring glory to God. Thanks again for your work, brother!
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