Issue #672 -------
August 21, 2015
In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still,
In men whom men pronounce divine
I find so much of sin and blot,
I do not dare to draw a line
Between the two where God has not.
Joaquin Miller (1841-1913)
The quote at the top of this week's Reflections is by a very colorful and flamboyant figure: Joaquin Miller (1841-1913), which was the pseudonym of Cincinnatus Hiner (Heine) Miller, an American poet and journalist who specialized in the Old West. The quote I cited is pertinent to my following thoughts because it expresses a truth men often overlook: none of us are qualified to "draw lines in the sand" where our God has not; nor are we qualified to disregard the lines He has clearly drawn and called men to honor. Drawing lines is generally for the purpose of making distinctions between things, suggesting some things are okay and some things are not, and that one must never "cross the line" from the former to the latter, and that to do so will often bring down certain consequences upon the "line-crosser." Yet, men are notorious drawers of lines in the sand in virtually every area of life. It is especially true in religion, where so many theological lines-in-the-sand have been drawn that trying to discern the ones drawn by our Lord is like looking to locate a single grain of sand on the seashore. What adds to the religious and spiritual confusion is that every man with a stick is convinced that the line he drew accurately reflects or represents God's line. Others go a step farther: the line they draw IS God's line, and all the other lines out there on the beach are "false lines!" Step over my line in the sand and you have stepped over His line in the sand. Is it any wonder that the poor soul strolling the beach is confused and conflicted by the countless lines in the sand stretching to the distant horizon? And how can that poor soul not be concerned when each line and line-drawer declares, "Cross me at your own risk!"? And remember: these guys have big scowls and carry big sticks!
Over the years I have been accused time and time again, by those who differ with me on various theological matters, of "crossing the line" and stepping over into "apostasy." Some will inform me I have "gone too far," while others inform me, with regard to the same issue, that I have "not gone far enough." Some have even been upset at me for "straddling the line," and not stepping over it one way or the other! When it comes to lines in the sand, and those who draw them, it's difficult to know where to step, for inevitably you're stepping over someone's line, and they are ready to whack you for it. Therefore, a number of years ago I decided that the ONLY line in the sand I would honor in my walk with the Lord during my life-journey was HIS line. I wasted too many years as a young disciple and minister seeking to "toe the line" of all those line-drawers around me, and the stress was enormous. No matter how hard I tried, I kept crossing someone's sectarian line, and they wasted no time in demonstrating their displeasure. I believe the apostle Paul reached the same conclusion, for he wrote: "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). At some point we have to "draw the line" with line-drawing and line-drawers. Where I personally have drawn the line is here: where God has drawn a line in the sand, I am obligated to observe it, and I will do so to the best of my ability; where a mere man has drawn a line in the sand, I feel no obligation to observe that line, and I will most likely subject it to some serious scrutiny to determine why such a line was drawn and why it is demanded by the line-drawer that I must never cross it. I'll be blunt: as I grow in God's grace and in my freedom in Christ Jesus I grow increasingly incensed by and intolerant of those who would draw lines limiting these blood-bought blessings from above. I will not be limited by your lines in the sand; I will only be limited by His. And, yes, I realize that by saying that, I have just crossed another of your lines!
Virtually every day, and certainly several times a week, I receive emails or phone calls from those who feel "called of God" to take me to task for "abandoning the faith," "promoting apostasy," and seeking to "destroy the church." Goodness!! I've had to go take a look in the mirror a few times just to make sure I wasn't sprouting horns and a tail. Yes, I quite often "cross the lines" that some have drawn in the sand with regard to various spiritual perceptions and practices; and, yes, sometimes I do this intentionally. So did Jesus!! Frankly, there are time when, to draw people's attention back to God's line in the sand, you have to trample upon theirs. Jesus did this frequently when He was around the rigid religionists of His day, and they, like their descendants today, were not amused. But, He was making a point that men dare not miss: it's God's lines, not theirs, that ultimately matter! We must do no less today! And, yes, these human line-drawers will come at you with their sticks waving, just as they did with the Lord and His disciples. I have a cadre of committed religious rod-bearers who rarely miss a chance to "strike a blow for truth against that apostate line-crosser."
Let me just give one very recent example. On August 13, 2015, during the afternoon, I received an email from Olan Hicks. He and I have known one another for many years, and we have sat down together many times and had some wonderful discussions about a wide variety of topics. He is truly a devoted disciple of Christ, in my view, and I was honored to have him write the Foreword to my first book (Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace) in which he had some kind words about my work for the Lord. In the last few years, however, as I have challenged and crossed some of the lines he cherishes, Olan has become more and more critical of my ministry and of me. I have "crossed the line," and that is concerning to those who draw them (or who believe their lines ARE God's lines). Thus, on the 13th, Olan, in part, wrote this in response to a recent Reflections, "Al, I am also in favor of unity in the Lord's army. I also resent preachers thinking of each other as competitors. But I have one question. I know that brethren have differences, and that is permissible up to a point. But when you say, 'We are all in the same army,' how far are you saying that membership in the Lord's army reaches? I really would like to know what you think." I wrote Olan a response early the next morning (August 14), which I'll get to momentarily, and then on August 17 he responded in part, "I would appreciate a bit more clarification, to help me understand you better, as well as some other brethren who would like to understand you better, about the 'line in the sand.' You condemn its basis, saying that it is founded on 'our own views rather than God's.' Okay, I understand that and agree with the concept. But, do you condemn the line itself? Are you saying no such line exists based on God's views alone? Has God drawn a line of distinction between truth and error, between His Son's spiritual Body (the church) and man-made religions? In other words, are we wrong because we draw the line, or because we draw the line inaccurately? Another vague point is 'false teachers and false teaching.' My question is: Are you saying there are no false prophets in disguise about whom we should be alerted? Are you saying we should be receptive to all preachments whether biblically accurate or not? Forthright answers to these questions would be very helpful." Following is the email I sent to Olan on the morning of the 14th, to which he responded with the above questions about the line in the sand:
Olan, I think the "elephant in the room" is what you mean by "up to a point" (i.e., it is permissible for brethren in Christ to have differences "up to a point"). What is that point?! My guess is that this "point" moves around quite a bit depending on the personal and party preferences, perceptions and practices of each person making that judgment. My point, Olan, is that we make too much, in my opinion, of this "line in the sand" we have drawn, one based largely on our own views rather than God's. We speak of false teachers and false teaching, and yet in far too many of those cases our pronouncement of "false" has no basis in Scripture, but rather in our own traditional or sectarian biases. I believe those in the Lord's army are those who are in the Lord. If one is in relationship with HIM, they don't necessarily have to be in MY little group (John learned this truth from Jesus when he tried to hinder another disciple who was "not walking with us;" Jesus informed John that this person was with HIM, and thus did not need to be in John's "group"). We can be in the same army, but in different units; we can be in the same flock, but different folds. The key is that we are under the same Commander; the same Shepherd.
Olan sought clarification from me, which I am more than happy to provide (indeed, I have provided it many, many times over the past few years, but apparently I'm not clear enough in my explanations; so, I shall try again in this Reflections). However, to be fair, I also sought clarification from Olan. He stated it is permissible for brethren in Christ to have differences "up to a point." My request of him was: "What is that point?" This is a relevant question, for it goes right to the matter of where one "draws the line in the sand" with regard to one's beliefs and practices, lines which, by the way, move all up and down the beach based on personal and party perceptions and preferences. So, knowing the point at which one chooses to draw their line reveals much about the one who draws the line and his/her beliefs. Perhaps Olan sought to provide that clarification when he indicated that God has drawn a line of distinction between truth and error, and also between the One Body (the church) and man-made religions. If this constitutes the "point" at which spiritual agreement with others ends, then I would agree with him. That is indeed a "line in the sand" that our God Himself has drawn. On one side is truth, on the other all that is false; on one side stands the called out body of believers, on the other side those who reject that call; on one side is love, on the other is hate; and the distinctions go on and on. These are indeed lines of demarcation and spiritual distinction repeatedly revealed and validated in Scripture. Most of us would readily acknowledge these as God-drawn lines in the sand. No argument there.
Drawing a line between light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate, and the like is fairly easy, although there might be some minor quibbling among some disciples over the inevitable "shades of gray" in such lines of separation. But, this is not really where our problem lies. Rather, it lies with those of us in the light quibbling with one another over the color of lampshades and whether the lampstand is made of wood or metal. God draws the line at the point of ultimate Truth; we tend to draw our own lines at the countless points of sectarian Tradition. Brethren in Christ will always have differences of opinion, preference, understanding, practice, etc. These do NOT require "lines in the sand" denoting the boundary lines of sibling separation. Thus, "up to a point" should only describe that point when a fellow believer completely and willfully rejects the Lord Himself and His specific revealed will for their lives. That is rebellion, and that "crosses the line." Prior to that point, however, is where we ALL stand: i.e., sinful men and women, faltering in faith and understanding daily, yet trusting in Him who saves us by grace through faith. "Up to a point" should NOT be the point where I have drawn a line in the sand about instruments of music, or kitchens in a church building, or versions of the Bible, or Sunday School, or a name on a sign on the lawn, or who may pass a Communion tray, and a thousand other lines in the sand NEVER drawn by God (much less even mentioned in Scripture). That was my point, Olan, in asking you what you meant by "up to a point."
MY point is that most of the "lines in the sand" that are drawn on the beach are those drawn by line-drawers promoting tradition rather than Truth, a sect rather than a Savior, some creed rather than Christ, religion rather than relationship. Yes, God has indeed drawn lines in the sand, but they are far, far fewer than the endless sectarian scratchings stretching to the far horizon. When Jesus was asked to "draw the line in the sand," He drew it at the point of loving God and loving one another!! Paul was not even willing to add any other lines in the sand, but stated that if there were any other laws or commandments in existence, they were all summed up fully in THAT particular divinely drawn line in the sand: Love God and One Another!! But, we aren't satisfied with HIS line in the sand, so we draw our own. Piano in the building = line in the sand. Multiple cups in trays = line in the sand. Women passing a tray = line in the sand. Small groups = line in the sand. Joy bus = line in the sand. And a thousand more silly strokes in the sand with our sectarian sticks. Shame on us!!
Olan wrote, "When you say, 'We are all in the same army,' how far are you saying that membership in the Lord's army reaches? I really would like to know what you think." Here's what I think and believe and teach, Olan: ALL those who are saved by grace through faith are in the Lord's army -- all of them!! Wherever a heart turns in simple trusting faith to the Lord, and away from the darkness of this world, I find a fellow soldier of Christ. Our understandings may differ, our traditions may differ, our worship customs may differ, but if they are "in Him," then they are "with me." I don't personally care about the "lines in the sand" men draw and name "Baptist" or "Methodist" or "Church of Christ" or if they choose not to have a name. I don't judge my fellow soldiers, or my brothers and sisters, by some name on a sign; I recognize them for what they are by the sign of the Spirit in their hearts!! They wear HIS name! And that doesn't change just because they worship with traditions that vary from mine, or if they understand some Scriptures differently than I do. I do not have perfect perception of all Truth; neither do they ... and neither do you, Olan. Thank God for grace, right?!! We are ALL disciples "in error." There is no other kind. So, my friend, I draw the line at drawing lines!! There is only one line in the sand: LOVE! When the tide brings in the waves of time, all other lines in the sand will be washed away, but HIS line will endure! So, Olan, I have laid my sectarian stick aside. I no longer need it. HIS line in the sand is enough for me.
From Wayne McDaniel in Phoenix, Arizona:
Al, your Reflections (#671) on the passage from Isaiah (re: our own country) is a faithful reminder for all Christians. We see a club atmosphere in too many churches. What distinguishes believers from make-believers is genuine sorrow for our sin and the humility to confess that sin. We read in Isaiah 57:15 that the Lord dwells with such people. By the way, I have a request: please include my name and where I live! The reason I ask this is because I am looking to meet others here in Arizona of like mind and faith who read your Reflections. It would help me personally to have more contact with others who value, as I do, the thoughts you share with us. When evil days arrive, contact and fellowship and dialogue with devout people could help sustain our lives. This is such a simple idea (making ourselves known to others of faith in our area for fellowship), and could be a blessing to many in other states, and even countries, as well. Thank you, brother!
Special Note: I have known Wayne for a number of years. He is an awesome brother-in-Christ who will most certainly enrich, encourage and bless your life. We correspond quite frequently, enjoying the blessed fellowship of being with that Forever Family. Should you choose to contact him, you won't regret it. The way our nation is headed, we need more men and women like him, so take advantage of his offer of fellowship! His email address, which he has authorized me to give out, is: email@example.com -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Singapore:
Dear Bro. Al, I thank God for brethren like you who steer us back to the essentials of God's will. I have been trying to understand these sectarians (including myself when I was one of them) and their mindset, their way of reasoning, what motivates them, etc. Are they mathematicians and lawyers by profession? Do they read the Bible the way they read their textbooks and code books? Do they make the Bible an idol? I believe there are many who are sincere, but it is so hard to teach them because of their mindset. I have tried to show my "anti-" brothers the inconsistencies of their doctrines and practices, but they refuse to listen. Keep on writing, Bro. Al, for our benefit!
It is truly hard to help those who are hardened legalists, patternists and traditionalists, for they have a tendency to "stop up their ears" whenever anyone with whom they differ approaches them, and they also have a tendency to go on the attack when their views are questioned. Stephen learned this truth when those of that mindset tried every underhanded trick in the book to silence him, and then, when he wouldn't be silenced, they "covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him" (Acts 7:57-58). Dealing with these rigid religionists can be dangerous ... even today! No, they aren't all lawyers and mathematicians, but most do tend to approach the Scriptures as a source book for laws and formulas, codes and creeds, and highly regulated rituals. The Pharisees were much the same during the time of Jesus, for which approach to Scripture He rebuked them rather soundly (John 5:39-40). Keep chipping away at their wall, brother; reaching those precious souls behind those sectarian walls (some of whom, sadly, do not want to be reached) takes time and patience and prayerful persistence. The legalistic leaders won't like it much (just as those during the time of Isaiah didn't like that same tactic), but it is an effective device for downing the walls of dogma -- "To whom will he teach knowledge, and to whom will he explain the message? Those who are weaned from the milk, those taken from the breast? For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little" (Isaiah 28:9-10, ESV). Keep chiseling, keep chipping, keep challenging, brother; you are slowly opening a door of escape for the captives, and, yes, there are some who are truly longing to be free! -- Al Maxey
From a Minister in Donetsk, Ukraine:
Greetings Dear Brother Al. We are now back home in Donetsk, praise the Lord! Your materials were here waiting. I always enjoy receiving them and using them, and I know you rejoice with us over the good things the Lord is doing in my homeland of Ukraine! Thank you very much for having your part in this success! God bless you richly, and keep on glorifying Him through your ministry!
From a Reader in Nova Scotia:
Brother, I am not sure an article of this length ("The Guilt of National Stupidity" -- Reflections #671) can be posted on a Facebook page, but if so: may I have permission to post this wonderful article on my page? In a world chock full of being politically correct, it is refreshing to hear a fellow follower of God speak the Truth, and to do so in love for the lost, as you did! Love you, brother!
I post the link for each of my articles to my own Facebook page, and every time I do so there are always multiple "shares" of that link by others. I do not mind this at all, and even welcome it. It is not necessary to "copy and paste" the text of my articles into a Facebook post, however. That could indeed be problematic on a number of levels. All one needs to do is provide the URL in your text box on your Facebook page, and then Facebook itself will automatically format that link in such a way that your friends can read the article simply by clicking on the link; that single click will take them right to that Reflections article as it appears on the Internet. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Washington:
Your Reflections article "The Guilt of National Stupidity" was far and away the most powerful one I remember receiving from you! I think this may be true for me for several reasons. I had just been through the Isaiah section in my Daily Bible Reading program, thus causing that part of Isaiah to be fresh in my mind. I am also a living witness to the castration of my country and military by these socialists in the various seats of power. It makes me extremely sad to watch it happen, while the people around me just stand around silently "drinking the Kool-Aid." All that Isaiah prophesied would happen is happening again in our own time. I don't wish to pick up arms again, but I will if need be. I sent this issue of your Reflections to all five of our pastors at our church. I felt it was necessary to let them know God and I are watching to see if they will truly lead, rather than being "politically correct." God bless you, Al. It most definitely took a couple of brass ones to write this latest article of yours!!
From a Reader in Georgia:
After reading your article titled "The Guilt of National Stupidity," I was reminded of the passage in Ezekiel 22:30-31, where God said, "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before Me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out My wrath on them and consume them with My fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done!"
I thought the rendering of this passage by the Easy-To-Read Version was quite interesting: "I asked the people to change their lives and protect their country. I asked people to fix the walls. I wanted them to stand by those holes in the wall and fight to protect their city. But no person came to help! So I will show them My anger: I will completely destroy them! I will punish them for the bad things they have done." -- Al Maxey
From a New Reader in [Unknown]:
I have just finished reading "The Guilt of National Stupidity." Some of your Reflections in the past have been forwarded to me by one of your faithful readers. I am writing to ask that you add me to your mailing list for Reflections. Thank you for sounding the alarm about the state of our country and our national spiritual state. May 2 Chronicles 7:14 echo back and forth across our nation, for our only hope is God. "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" (2 Chron. 7:14).
From a Minister in New Mexico:
I just read your latest Reflections ("The Guilt of National Stupidity"). It was great. I also just finished listening to the recording of your 11th class (out of the 14 sessions) in your Sunday morning series on The Church. The content of these lessons is great! Thank you, Al, for your service, both to this nation and to the Kingdom of Christ!
From a Reader in Arkansas:
At our congregation we recently used James Kennedy's "What If Christ Had Never Been Born?" for a study. It was an eye-opener with regard to the potential power of the pulpit. It is sad that so many preachers see their work as a "job" that they can lose. As a result, the Truth is not being taught. I would encourage all who preach to have their own income, thereby not being hindered by the naysayers. Fear has no place in our stand for Truth.
From a Reader in New Mexico:
This Reflections ("The Guilt of National Stupidity") should help a lot of people see much more clearly some of the things they read in the Bible, and thus to have a better understanding of them. Al, I love to read the quotes from the other readers in the section following your article each week. You are bringing many people to a better understanding of God's Word by your deep, but simply presented, studies. You are especially a life-saver for me. As I have sat these many years in your classes and heard you teach, and in the auditorium to hear you preach every week, I have found confidence, in spite of my sinful past, to know I am saved and that I can live now in peace and joy. I can't wait for Jesus to come and rescue us, and to take us home to live with Him for eternity!
From an Author in Kentucky:
Thank you for your Reflections article today on "The Guilt of National Stupidity." I believe you are exactly right about the way in which we preachers and churches have considered each other as "competition." We have actually gone beyond that, and count each other as "enemies," fighting and tearing each other down. We have done this while the devil has gone unhindered about his usual work of destruction. I believe there is beginning to be a convergence of thought among many religious people today as to what the real problems and needs of our society are. But, is it too little too late?! I hope not!
From a Reader in Oklahoma:
Al, I am in complete agreement that this country is in deep trouble! The ignorance (stupidity) of our people and government is unbelievable!! Like you, I am afraid the end is very near for our beloved country. God will not long endure the gross disrespect shown to Him! At 80 years of age, I am more than ready to give up this life for one far, far better. I do, however, fear that my grandchildren will have a lot of suffering to go through, and I can only pray that people wake up and return to God, though I doubt they will. Keep up the good fight, brother. As long as we can, we must do the best we can to make a difference!
From a Reader in New Zealand:
I can't remember if I have discussed this with you before, but the book "Muscle and a Shovel" has been circulating through some of our churches here, and some people think it is marvelous. I read about a third of it and couldn't stomach any more! It is amazing how the human mind, when devoid of true faith, gravitates to a secularized, simplistic and formulaic concept of Christianity. I got into a discussion the other day with a dear old Christian lady whom I have known for many years, and who has been very good to me, but she likes the book because it is like a creed book and infers other Christian people (not of "us") are lost. My point to her was that other Christians are not our enemy, but rather the devil and his angels. I would appreciate your insight and comments as this Christian lady has asked me what you think of this book! By the way, I am starting a series of lessons on the "Seven Churches of Asia" this weekend after my final study of the "One Chapter Books" (the last one was Jude). I am impressed with the number of times non-canonical or extra-biblical quotations are used in the Bible. We never really stop learning, do we?!
I too could not bring myself to actually finish reading the book. It was disgusting! I have shared my comments (and a few by Reflections readers) in the readers' sections of the following three issues of my Reflections, and I informed this brother in New Zealand of these references so he could share them with the Christian lady he knows: #617, #619, and #620. As for the study of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, I referred this brother to my study on my web site: Jesus Evaluates His Church: A Study of the Seven Churches of Asia. -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Texas:
Thank you for the message you delivered in your article "The Guilt of National Stupidity"!! PRAISE GOD!! I live in Houston, Texas where the Mayor is an open Lesbian who shows off her "partner" and their children. Where are the white preachers? I see the black preachers here on TV protesting at City Hall, but not any white preachers! Too many preachers today are afraid to speak out: afraid that someone in the pew might be "offended," so they are silent, and they only preach soothing words that do not offend. The local preachers I know seem more concerned with keeping their pulpits than with preaching the whole counsel of God. Al, you talk like the prophets of old; like a voice in the wilderness. However, when one starts challenging these preachers who are "at ease in Zion," that person is headed for trouble: they will come after him (as they often do with you). Preachers should read the minor prophets prayerfully (as per your in-depth Study of the Minor Prophets) and let the Spirit, and the spirit of the prophets, catch them on fire. God's judgment is coming, and soon. He must either destroy America or apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. I really believe God will probably use the radical Islamists as His instrument to bring judgment upon America. We need more leaders to speak up (as you do)! May I suggest you arrange to speak at the preaching schools, and also at places like the Tulsa Workshop, and at the ACU and Pepperdine lectureships. These people ought to be contacting you! Your message is needed!!
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