Issue #619 -------
May 29, 2014
I look not into the night, but to a dawn
for which no man ever rose early enough.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
I suppose, at some point in our lives, we have all wondered why bad things happen to good people. What possible purpose is served by the suffering of those devoted to the Lord? Does He care? Is He there? When experiencing times of distress, it is not unusual to also experience times of doubt. You are, I'm sure, familiar with the words of the hymn written by Frank E. Graeff in 1901 -- "Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth and song; as the burdens press, and the cares distress, and the way grows weary and long? Does Jesus care when my way is dark with a nameless dread and fear? As the daylight fades into deep night shades, does He care enough to be near? Does Jesus care when I've said 'goodbye' to the dearest on earth to me, and my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks, is it aught to Him? Does He see?" The answer of faith is provided in the chorus: "O yes, He cares; I know He cares. His heart is touched with my grief. When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares!"
In reality, some of life's greatest blessings have arisen from some of life's darkest moments. Indeed, it is often in the darkness that faith shines the brightest. Such was certainly the case with a woman named Eliza Edmunds Hewitt. Many of you have probably never heard of her, but I'm sure you have sung the words of her hymns countless times. Eliza was born on June 28, 1851 in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she would spend her entire life. Her father, James Stratton Hewitt, was a sea captain, and a very successful one (he was worth about $1.5 million). Her mother was Zeruiah Edmunds. Eliza was the second born of six children (4 boys, 2 girls). Being from a wealthy family, the children were able to obtain a good education, and went on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers and businessmen.
Eliza graduated from the Girls' Normal School of Philadelphia, and was the valedictorian of her class. She then became a school teacher. All seemed to be going well for Eliza. She had a loving family, a good home, a great education, and was working at a job she truly loved. This came to a sudden end when she suffered a very serious spinal injury while teaching one day. According to family sources, while a male student was being disciplined at school, he took one of the heavy slates in the classroom and struck her in the back with it. The injury was so severe that she was placed in a body cast and was bedridden for six months. She would eventually make a recovery, but she still suffered occasional episodes of severe back pain throughout her life, which served to limit her activities somewhat. During her invalid stage, lying in bed month after month, it would have been expected that she might become extremely depressed and bitter. However, she used this time to further her studies in English literature. She also began to write poems in which she proclaimed her faith in the Lord and His grace and mercy. One of the poems she wrote (which later was put to music and included in a hymn book) reads: "Sing the wondrous love of Jesus; sing His mercy and His grace. In the mansions bright and blessed, He'll prepare for us a place." This, of course, is the marvelous hymn: "When We All Get To Heaven." Other hymns she wrote are: "More About Jesus Would I Know" ... "Give Me Thy Heart" ... "Stepping In The Light" ... "Who Will Follow Jesus?" One of her best loved hymns, however, is "There Is Sunshine In My Soul," which she wrote after getting the body cast off and being able to once again walk in the nearby park and feel the sunshine on her damaged body. She realized that regardless of what darkness we may experience here in this life, there is always "sunshine in my soul today, more glorious and bright than glows in any earthly sky, for Jesus is my light." "When Jesus shows His smiling face, there is sunshine in my soul."
Eliza simply refused to give in to discouragement, depression and despair. No matter what afflictions came her way, she determined to rejoice in the Lord always. She became very close friends with Fanny Crosby (see my tribute to this great Christian hymn writer in Reflections #188), and these two women would spend much time together, encouraging one another, and working on hymns. She also had a first cousin who was a hymn writer: Edgar Page Stites, who wrote the old classic "Beulah Land." In addition to writing hymns, Eliza also wrote Sunday School literature for children. She loved children, and loved teaching them about the Lord, however she never had any children of her own, as she never married. She was a member of the Calvin Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and was their Sunday School superintendent until she died. She also served as the Sunday School superintendent at the Northern Home for Friendless Children. She believed in reaching out beyond the walls of her own denomination, however, and attended and worked at the Methodist Camp in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, helping with the youth at that camp. In fact, she worked closely with Emily Wilson (the wife of the Methodist district superintendent) on the hymn "When We All Get To Heaven." Eliza did not believe that the children of God were to be found ONLY in her group. She worked with ALL God's children here on earth, and looked to that day when we ALL get to heaven. We can learn from her example! Eliza passed from this life on April 24, 1920 at the age of 68, and is buried in the Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia.
From a Reader in Texas:
I am a subscriber to your weekly Reflections ministry, and I enjoy it very much. I wanted to let you know that I recently changed my email address, so would you please modify your list so I will continue to receive your weekly mailouts? Thanks for doing such a great job week after week. I can't believe how relevant the topics are to my own personal struggles this year!
From a Minister in Washington:
I would like to purchase ALL of your CD sets and books; my check is enclosed. Thank you so much for the work you do. Last Sunday I presented a sermon on baptism, and I shared with the congregation what I learned from you on 1 Peter 3:21 (Reflections #217, #497, and #613). It received a very positive response, and I believe it opened a few eyes!
From a Reader in Georgia:
In your latest article ("Set Free By His Blood"), this statement by you was a particularly inspired one: "Our faith is certainly paltry, puny and pitiful in comparison to the power found in the blood of the Passover Lamb, but even a flickering faith finds perfect propitiation, and thus plentiful pardon, within that red redeeming flow!" WOW!! As I was reading this, I thought of two passages: in Luke 4:18, Jesus says that part of His mission was to "set the captives free." He said nothing about giving them a bath. And then Jeremiah's words that God would remember their sins no more (Jer. 31:34). It was prophesied and completed. Now, if we can just accept the Word of God by faith and quit trying to wash ourselves!
From a Reader in Canada:
In your last Reflections you could also have included the OT account of loosing the Azazel goat into the wilderness (Leviticus 16), which is a testimony to what Jesus has done for us: we are loosed/set free from our sins by the sin offering of God's Son. We are indeed loosed from the bondage of sin if we walk in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus and not according to the flesh. Thanks for another well-researched article. I especially love the quote at the beginning by John Newton, whose biography everyone should read so that they may realize how our God can pull us out of the depths of sin and depravity.
See my tribute to John Newton in Reflections #265. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, your Reflections article "Set Free By His Blood" was wonderful. Thank you very much! Keep up the good work.
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
I found your article "Set Free By His Blood" very uplifting. It agrees with the things I have begun to learn and embrace as truth in my older years. Do you not find it amazing how our Father is able to "grow us up" in Him into maturity with age? I mean, does He not reveal more and more of Himself to us as we endeavor to love Him more? It makes me think of the words in the song: "Oh, for grace to love Him more." Thanks, brother, for sharing with us insights into His holy writings.
From a Reader in New Mexico:
I just read your latest Reflections ("Set Free By His Blood"), and, as usual, agree with what you say. Nothing about what Jesus did is really past tense. He loves us now, and His blood was shed for us now, as well as when He died. We accept all this by faith because it was done, and we don't have to continually "apply" it to our lives through various "works" for it to work for us. By the way, you have beautiful grandchildren (thank you for sharing their pictures on Facebook).
From a Reader in Oregon:
I don't know if you remember visiting with me via email and on Facebook a bit over a year ago. But, I want you to know that the things you said to me, as well as the things I have read in your Reflections, forced me to rethink many of my positions. As a result of talking with you, and with others like yourself, I have been able to leave legalistic patternism, CENI, and sectarianism behind! I left the pulpit, after 10 years of preaching, for an uncertain future of simply following Christ and allowing myself to be retaught. I now share Him with others through teaching martial arts, which is a great passion of mine. Thank you for being a part of my journey toward freedom in Christ! You are making a difference in people's lives!! Keep it up, and don't let the haters get you down!
From a Reader in Virginia:
Frankly, Mr. Maxey, you are one of the sickest and most hurtful people to the cause of Christ on the planet. I pray that God will have His revenge on you!!
From a Reader in Georgia:
My husband read Michael Shank's book "Muscle and a Shovel," and told me not to bother -- that it would only upset me! Al, we discussed your article "Against Such There Is No Law" (Reflections #36) in our Bible class this morning. It is clearly just the opposite of this book by Shank. Thank You for your Reflections!!
Several people have been asking me to please read this book and do a review of it. I finally bought the book on Kindle last week and began reading it. I got halfway through the book and simply could not read another page. It was making me sick to my stomach. It is one of the most disturbing, and at times disgusting, books I've ever read. It was a glorification of all that is twisted and sick about legalistic patternism and sectarianism within our particular faith-heritage. To be honest, it is an affront to the grace of God and the cause of Christ Jesus. If one wants a manual on how to evangelize the Baptists by using the proof-texts of the ultra-conservative, legalistic, patternistic factions of the Churches of Christ, this is the book for you! Indeed, some ministers have gone so far as to say that if one had to own another book other than the Bible, he should own this book! Yes, it is indeed a fabulous handbook for those desirous of promoting the view that ONLY those in OUR group (and ONLY the most legalistic within THIS group) are going to heaven. All others, especially Baptists, are headed for hell. If that is your perspective, and if you believe evangelism is all about getting someone to the water (i.e., a Church of Christ baptistery) as quickly as possible, this book is for you. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Washington:
I really find it difficult to say much (I'm not a speaker or writer), but I want to say that I so appreciate your Reflections. I've never been very good at sharing my feelings with another human being. I think it must be as a result of my officer training in the Army and combat service in Vietnam. Our pastor (yes, he is both the preacher and one of the elders) asked me to say a closing prayer of thanksgiving this morning at church for our veterans (since tomorrow is Memorial Day). He knows how choked up I get, but I agreed to say the prayer. His message today was on the arrest of Christ (John 18). The only thing I could think of to say in my prayer was that veterans had the same attitude as Jesus when it came their time: they were willing to go! May God bless the willing: those willing to sacrifice self for a greater cause! Thank you, Al, for all your efforts. You are not just a willing Vietnam combat veteran, but a willing soldier of Christ. You get attacked daily by the religious weirdos, yet you are willing to face this! God bless you, Al. Your devoted fellow soldier.
From a Minister in West Virginia:
I have been struggling in my ministry lately, for God has opened the Word to me in ways I never thought I'd see. I am struggling because I have to avoid certain subjects so as not to be "controversial." However, I feel a great passion to teach what I have come to believe on such topics as instrumental music, the nature of hell, a woman's role in the church, etc. Have you dealt with this struggle, and, if so, how did you approach it?
One of the blessings of being a minister and pastor is that we get to devote more time than most in study of the Scriptures, which will invariably lead to tremendous personal growth and maturity, and a deeper understanding of God's will and purpose for our lives. It is expected that those who provide spiritual leadership and guidance be "farther down the road" than those they are called to lead. This being so, we face a huge challenge: how do we bring those we lead to this same place with regard to our perceptions of His Word? We can't just cease our own personal journey; we must continue to grow. Yet, we can't leave these people behind to fend for themselves. Somehow we have to wean them from milk and get them on solid food. This takes wisdom and patience, and lots of love for one's fellow disciples. We must know our flock: what they can and can't tolerate with respect to these deeper understandings. Some disciples of Christ are tradition bound, and they may react strongly against anything that questions or challenges those cherished practices and preferences. If they perceive our ministry as one designed to undermine or condemn their beliefs, then we will not get far with them. Thus, while we ourselves continue to grow and mature in faith, we must be patient and loving and sensitive to those we are called to bring to this greater light from the Word of God. This involves "preparing the soil" for the planting of these "seeds." It may take years of careful, prayerful preparation of these precious souls before they are ready to accept these greater spiritual insights. If you give an infant meat before it is ready, that infant will choke. The same with our brethren. We must never abandon them to their "cribs and bottles;" we must work with them day by day, and possibly year after year, until God opens doors of opportunity to improve their diet so that they can mature in their faith. The more we ourselves grow in faith, the harder it is to be patient with those who can't see what we've seen. That will prove to be one of the biggest challenges of spiritual leaders. Be patient. Love them. Prepare the soil, and when God reveals to you the time is right, plant the seed. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in [Location Withheld]:
Al, as I may have mentioned to you before, my wife is a Field Representative for U. S. Congressman ------. He is also the Chairman of the House --------- Committee. As part of her duties for the Congressman, she goes out in the community to interface with different community groups and bring greetings from the Congressman. Just recently, she was assigned to attend a Gay OUTreach event dedicated to helping troubled youth who suffer from sexual identity problems. Since my wife and I are both very active and known in our community, I was invited to attend with her. After much prayer and consideration, we came to realize that the only real question that mattered was, "Does our Lord and Master Jesus Christ want us to go?" After even further prayer and consideration, and study of Scripture, we came to the realization that not only does He want us to go, but He really wants us to go! The basis of our decision was that Jesus spent time with those in the society of His day who were considered "outcasts" -- whether lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, or just plain old garden variety sinners. In fact, Jesus spent SO much time with them that He was accused of being one of them. We felt we should go together to this in order to show these people that (1) Christians can love people who have been alienated by the rest of society, and (2) to model to them what a loving Christian couple can be. While we are opposed to homosexuality, we are very much in love with people, because they are children of God. How else are these people going to meet a true ambassador of Jesus Christ, especially in light of the polar extremes of attitudes today toward homosexuals? There has got to be a way to show them the love of God without compromising the Word of God. Thus, we will go there as invited guests, and we will make friends. We will not let our presence be exploited by them for political gain, nor will we engage in any sinful activities. We will show them love.
I must tell you, Al, that this is completely contrary to what I have always believed ... until I came to understand GRACE. This decision was made with much prayer and consideration on our part, but I wanted to check with you to see if there is a flaw in our thinking on this. Yes, we will go regardless, partly because she has to go as part of her job, and because my presence will solidify the fact that we are a heterosexual couple, but if there is any way in which you believe we could be better ambassadors for the Lord in this situation, please advise us. For those who might suggest that I stay away from them because I disapprove of their lifestyle, I would answer that I disapprove of my own lifestyle at times! Jesus didn't stay away from people because of their lifestyle, but went to them and showed them love. God showed ME grace as I was living in sin. I'm just one messed up person reaching out to other messed up persons, showing them how Christ has helped ME to be less messed up. Thank you so much for always taking the time to respond thoroughly to my requests. I am always edified by my interactions with you, my brother! Also, please feel free to share this letter, if you feel it could help others. I will provide details, after the event is over, as to how it went. If you've addressed anything like this in a Reflections, please shoot me the link. I would love to know your heart on this.
On May 24, 2007 I sent a Special Request to my readers, asking them to respond to a moving appeal from an individual struggling with homosexuality. In that request, I sought input from the readers on how we, as God's people, should respond to and relate to those within this lifestyle. The response to this appeal was overwhelming, and the result was shared a month later in Reflections #305 -- "The Nature/Nurture Dilemma." Like the couple in the letter above, I do not condone homosexual behavior. The Bible speaks very clearly to this sin (as it does other sinful behaviors and lifestyles). That should never, however, prevent us from forming friendships and relationships with those struggling with sin in their lives. After all, who among us isn't struggling with such? Also, how will we ever influence others for good if we withhold ourselves from them? Jesus, our great example, mingled with such people. So should we. Yeast will never impact the dough if it remains in the package; Christians will never impact the world if they remain in their church buildings! I applaud this couple for going where Jesus would have gone: to those in need of love and grace! Just as He was willing to reach out to the likes of ME, may I be willing to reach out to others who, like me, struggle with attitudes and behaviors in need of reformation by the power of God's Spirit. -- Al Maxey
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