by Al Maxey

Issue #690 ------- March 16, 2016
Give me, kind Heaven, a private station,
A mind serene for contemplation!

John Gay (1688-1732)

Pausing for Personal Reflection
A Time of Assessment and Commitment

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), who was married to Mary Shelley (the author of "Frankenstein"), was one of the most important progressive thinkers of his day, inspiring countless men and women for centuries by the insights which he masterfully presented in poetic form. As one of the top English poets, his thoughts were seriously scrutinized by those seeking enlightenment and encouragement. In his 1821 work titled "A Defense of Poetry" he noted, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." There is enormous power in the musings and reflections of some people, though such powerful influence is not often consciously perceived or even acknowledged; rather, it is quite subtle. Such men and women, however, often feel the heavy burden of their gift, and at times seek a season of release from this calling. Even Jesus and His close companions often sought times of solitude for physical, emotional and spiritual renewal. Thus, it is no real surprise to find Shelley doing the same. In the year of his death he wrote the following:

Best and brightest, come away!
Away, away, from men and towns,
To the wild wood and the downs.
I am gone into the fields
To take what this sweet hour yields.
Reflection, you may come tomorrow.

Yes, there are times when each of us, for our own well-being, must heed the call of our Lord Jesus to "come away by yourselves to a quiet place and rest a while" (Mark 6:31). No matter how personally satisfying one's ministry is, or how many precious souls are being instructed, inspired and encouraged, there must of necessity be times when we flee to "the fields to take what this sweet hour yields." When thusly renewed, however, we must renew our commitment to our calling: "Reflection, you may come tomorrow." As Solomon observed, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven" (Eccl. 3:1). There is a time for work, and a time for play; a time for joy, and a time for sorrow; a time to minister, and a time to be ministered unto; a time to rest from one's calling, and a time to renew one's commitment to that calling.

For well over a dozen years I have been writing and publishing these weekly Reflections, as well as seeking to perform my other duties as a minister and elder. Next month will mark 40 years that I have been in fulltime ministry for the Lord. These have been exciting and fulfilling years, and I have enjoyed them thoroughly, even though there were times of struggle (as anyone in ministry knows only too well). I have to admit, however, that the past two months have been particularly difficult for two reasons: the death of my mother and my own struggle with prostate cancer. I am certainly not alone in such experiences, and I know most of you reading this have experienced similar life-challenges, or worse. None of us are excluded in the course of our lives from such events, yet such awareness doesn't make them any less painful. I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you who contacted me over the past several weeks to provide prayers and encouragement. It was felt, and it was greatly appreciated. Watching a loved one suffer and die is a traumatic experience, yet knowing that my mother was a strong Christian woman who loved the Lord with all her heart, and who lived it daily, is truly comforting, for I know she rests safely in the arms of her Lord. Learning that one has cancer is also somewhat traumatic, yet the good news is it was diagnosed very early and the prognosis is very good. The treatment, in my case, is 9 weeks of radiation (a session each day, except weekends). These treatments will end on Monday, April 4. I have truly been blessed in that there have been almost no side-effects for me other than fatigue.

I wanted to take this opportunity, in this brief personal reflection, to let you know why there have been few Reflections mailed out in the past several weeks, and why there may not be many in the next few weeks. Rather than trying to maintain a busy schedule in the face of the above challenges, I chose to take some time to focus on these other events and circumstances, giving them more of my attention. The Lord has truly blessed my family and me during this time with a peace and confidence that could only come from Him (and which was often channeled through devoted disciples such as yourselves). It has, in many ways, been a time of renewal and refocusing, and I'm convinced it will make my family and me even stronger and more effective in our various ministries. Reflections will continue; this ministry is not being terminated (I am fully committed to it); it is just on hold for a little bit longer. So, I ask for your patience these next few weeks, and for your continued prayers, and I also want to thank you once again for being such supportive and gracious friends and brethren. May God richly bless each of you, as you have so richly blessed my family and me.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Both of my copies of your book Down, But Not Out are "out" (LOL), and I am probably not getting them back! One is in Florida (and has been for almost three years), and I don't have the heart to ask for it back, and the other is God only knows where (although I know the person I lent it to; she doesn't know where it is, though). One of them was a signed copy, although I don't remember which one. Do you still have copies on hand, and could you send me a signed one? Thank you!! The check is enclosed.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Hey, Al ... I've got one for you: that is, if and when you run out of extraordinary thoughts and insights into all things spiritual, or you just want to give your brain a rest. Have you ever written anything on the "covenant of salt" mentioned in 2 Chron. 13:5 and Lev. 2:13, and any implication about it perhaps referencing the NT idea of our being the "salt of the earth"? I had never read anything about this before, so I thought it might be right up your alley. But, please feel free to totally disregard this request; you've got plenty to do, I'm sure!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Al, we have been so blessed by your writings, and also your dedication to changing the thinking of those who would make our relationship with God into a legalistic, formalistic activity. It takes more than a Sunday evening stroll to accomplish all the sharing you have done! Love ya, and may God bless you!

From a Minister in Michigan:

Mr. Maxey, you are extremely dangerous, and I have told my wife that you make Max Lucado look like a saint. Stop doing untold damage to the church. God and He alone will be the judge as to whether or not you are my wayward brother in Christ or perhaps simply a non-Christian refusing to follow the roadmap to heaven (i.e., the New Testament), but I notice more and more that you rely on the word "legalism," like a dog relies on its chew bone. Bad over-reliance on a word which was crafted by the Protestants to attack those who insist on following the spiritual roadmap to heaven (which is the New Testament). Not a good sign. You and your disciples are very much, in principle, similar to the fictitious, yet revealing, Peanuts character known as Peppermint Patty. In believing things such as water baptism not being a part of the plan of salvation and that instrumental music is "neither here nor there," you and your disciples are basically insisting that Snoopy is a funny looking kid with a big nose and that Snoopy's doghouse is a guest cottage. Wake up to reality, Mr. Maxey, or pay the eternal consequences of failing to do so (2 John 9; Rev. 22:18-19). Repent, Mr. Maxey. Your time will be expired before you know it.

From a Reader in Georgia:

I just read your article "Old Orators on Old Paths: Past Preachers Preaching Patternism" (Reflections #689) and can't help but be appreciative of brothers and sisters who contended for the faith all their lives, no matter how flawed they may have been, for they tried their best. That being said, one needs to grow in maturity with respect to the Word. I find it incredible that some preach and rail against "denominations" when they themselves are so splintered. Some have suggested that as many as 25 to 30 different divisions exist in the "Churches of Christ," each of which won't, for various reasons, associate with one another on Sunday mornings. Seems that patternism is so badly defined, as you have suggested, that there is no clear pattern at all. Thus, one believes one thing and one believes another, and they accuse each other of being callous to the "clear teaching" of the Word ... and so they divide. It's time for them to remove the log in their own eye before continuing any discourse against those who don't believe as they do, since they can't even agree among themselves what that "pattern" should entail. But, alas, patternism is a flawed theology, as you have so clearly pointed out. Hopefully, as we continue to challenge one another in brotherly love, putting down the stones we seem to enjoy slinging at others, we'll see improvement and perhaps even come more closely to fulfilling one of the NT's greatest admonitions: UNITY.

From a Reader in Florida:

Thanks once again for emphasizing that Jesus is the only "pattern" His disciples need to be following. Christendom, in the main, has been so focused on everything else that we put very little effort into studying the example and teaching of Jesus, seldom remembering to ask that He simply lead us by His Spirit.

From Hugh Fulford in Tennessee:

Al, I read your review of my article in Reflections #689 and it is typical Maxey fare. Same ol', same ol'. Nothing new to offer. You speak of the church denominationally; I speak of it from the NT perspective. Have a good day.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Al, you and your family have our sympathy in the recent loss of your mother. You also have our prayers for your complete healing of your prostate cancer. Brother, I always look forward eagerly to your excellent Reflections. As I approach the middle of my 9th decade on earth, I have some physical issues to deal with. As I read your excellent essay today ("Old Orators on Old Paths"), I thought of what my physical therapist told me recently as she was helping me with my walking and balance problems. She said when we have problems with walking and balance, we tend to lower our eyes and watch our feet as we walk. She warned me to lift my eyes and focus on where I am going, or else I would be more likely to fall, and I might not end up where I was trying to go. Analogy: If we don't lift our eyes from our traditions and focus on Jesus we just might not be headed where we are trying to go, and we may stumble and fall. Thanks for your excellent work!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

"Old Orators on Old Paths," dealing with "Past Preachers Preaching Patternism," was a good article, Al. This is because many of us recognize that Jesus instructed His apostles, and through them us, to immerse disciples in the NAME of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). He didn't say immerse "in water," but in the NAME. What does it mean to immerse "in the Name"? Does it mean to immerse "in water"? Some assume this! Yet, all of us who preach, regardless of so-called denominational roots and ties, "immerse" all who will listen in the Good News so eloquently expressed in John 3:16. ALL of us attempt to "immerse" disciples in the biblical teaching and testimony about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We do so even though we often realize we may be mistaken in our understandings and beliefs. But, we KNOW that salvation comes to us by GRACE, not by attempts to conform to rules and regulations. God's grace surely covers mistakes in theology as well as wayward thoughts and actions, else we oft-mistaken disciples are beyond any hope of salvation. As the apostle Paul taught in Romans 14, we must learn to accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ despite disagreements. Surely that includes every human being who confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. ALL such disciples who strive to imitate Christ are members of the living Body of Christ! Thank God, He has covered our errors with His precious blood. To God be the glory, now and forever!

From a Reader in Pennsylvania:

So sorry to learn about your mom's passing. Please accept our heartfelt condolences. Also, concerning your prostate cancer: we are so glad to hear that it was diagnosed very early, and that the doctors feel your two months of radiation treatments should take care of the problem. Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers for healing and total recovery. May you and your family feel the comfort of God's peace and grace as you go through these treatments. Get your rest -- you are a true blessing to so many, and our family always looks forward to your weekly Reflections for the inspiration and edification they provide us!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, no doubt you are going to be barraged with well-wishes and condolences, but I still want to add mine. I'm so sorry for your enormous loss, and for your own physical battles right now. You're a blessing to many people, and hopefully you can take comfort in the fact that so many of us will be praying for you.

From a Well-Known Leader in Louisiana:

Al, I love your Reflections! They often encourage me, and they always enlighten me. I thank you for your hard work on these studies. May God give you many more years to encourage Christians who love the Lord and abhor those who have hardened their hearts in legalism. Many, if not all, of your readers can empathize with your fatigue right now which is brought on by your daily radiation treatments, and they would all join me in encouraging you to get your rest and spend time with those you love (especially your family). You are well aware that the loss of any loved one can bring on fatigue (not to mention that you preached her funeral), but add to that your physical condition (prostate cancer), and the truth is your body just will not have adequate strength with which to repair and renew itself. You need rest! And now that I've written that admonition, please turn it around and send it back to me when I do the same thing!! God bless you, Al, for all you do for the Lord's kingdom!

From a Reader in Texas:

You will not likely recall (as you get so many emails from people), but I wrote you almost two years back telling of my spiritually traumatic rejection to serve as an elder at the congregation I was born into. The reason for my rejection was that I would not say that baptism itself saves us! My position, as I understand the Scriptures, is that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone! Although our current culture at our congregation is far removed from the staunch stance to which you speak in your article ("Old Orators on Old Paths"), there are enough elements of it lingering in the hearts of our present elders that they saw my position as indication that I am not a man of "sound doctrine." As painful as that was, my wife and I still worship and teach there to this day. Our family ties and roots are there. The people are good people. They need men that are deeply rooted in the Scriptures to speak out and to teach Truth and stop teaching tradition! Thank you for your example to me! I love you, brother!! I am also truly sorry for the loss of your mother, and for the news you have received concerning your cancer. Please know that my heart and prayers are with you. Your ministry is a blessed gift from God to our faith-heritage!!

From an Author in Alabama:

Once more, I want to thank you for all you do to promote unity among God's people. Your writings are extremely well-written! Al, I am deeply saddened to learn of your mother's death. I will pray that God will also bring about healing to your body. God has used you in a mighty way as you have sought to teach people how to read the Word of God more accurately. I am praying that God will continue to use you to promote unity and to advance His kingdom.

From a Reader in Virginia:

I'm so sorry to hear of the death of your mother. However much we rejoice in the confidence that "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord," nevertheless the loss of their physical presence is difficult. We know, for my husband's youngest brother just died! Al, your articles are always thought-provoking, and I appreciate your insights very much.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

I just wanted to send my condolences to you regarding the loss of your mother and a prayer for your healing from prostate cancer. My thoughts and prayers are with you, and I am so grateful to God for you! Your articles and CDs, especially the two CD set on Galatians (The Magna Charta of Christian Liberty), are such a blessing to my spiritual walk with Christ! May our Father restore your health so you can continue to be a grace warrior for Him and an encouragement to His children!

From a Reader in California:

Al, you have helped and encouraged me along the way, via your Reflections, as you have a great many people! I am always uplifted to hear about those who are making their way, even though painfully, out of legalism. It's a long and bumpy road, and we must ask for wisdom from a God who is delighted to grant it. Then we must act on that wisdom, even if it costs us some pain. Thanks again, Al, for your help and encouragement in our own journey out of legalism.

From a Reader in Louisiana:

I was saddened to hear of the passing of your mother, and I extend to you and your family my sincere condolences. Life is so unpredictable, but peace with our Father is a certainty. I thank God that your mom is now at peace, and may you and your family also know that peace and be surrounded by the love and comfort that comes from Him. I am also concerned for your health as you struggle with the radiation treatments for your prostate cancer. I think I can speak for all your readers of Reflections when I say that we would rather see you take the time you need to recover than to exhaust yourself in the feeding of our spiritual needs. You have left us with a LOT to feast upon and devour in all your past Reflections that are available to us on your Archives site. So, when we get hungry for some of your wisdom, we can just spend some time with the "leftovers" (your past writings). I, for one, have not read all of your hundreds and hundreds of writings, so let us be encouraged by your past reflections upon biblical truths and allow you to recover your health!! May God be with you and your family during this time, and may He bless you with a rapid recovery.

Also, thank you for your last issue of Reflections (#689): "Old Orators on Old Paths." I grew up believing that those faithful men of the past must have known the truth or they would not have been so famous in our Church of Christ heritage. I have learned as I grew older (I'm now 76) that they were just men who were expressing truth as they understood it with their limited access and understanding of the culture of the times of Jesus. There are universal truths in the recorded words of our bibles, but they must be seen through the eyes of the culture to which they were originally addressed, just as they should be viewed through the eyes of the cultures of our times (and not just the culture in which we live in the USA, for every culture will perceive the biblical writings and their application differently). I would recommend people read "Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes" by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien. In the Introduction they state, "We can no longer pretend that a Western interpretation of the Bible is normative for all Christians everywhere." They state further that "soon the majority of Christians worldwide will not be white or Western." We need to stop exporting our brand of "Christianity," with its inherent problems, to the world around us, and simply let God speak to the hearts of His listeners and searchers for truth, for "if they seek Him they will find Him." Tell the world about Jesus, and once they know Him it will become clear what they should do with their own lives, and that truth will set them free and not bind them to any human traditions! Be at peace, dear brother, and may God bless you with a speedy recovery!

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