REFLECTIONS
Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #713 ------- January 30, 2017
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The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes;
The butterfly upon the road
Preaches contentment to that toad.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

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Minister Migration Motivation
Meaningless Measuring of Church Success by
Uncomplaining Butts in Well-Grooved Pews

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), an "American novelist and short-story writer who was a master of the allegorical and symbolic tale; one of the greatest fiction writers in American literature," according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, made the following very insightful observation that has great significance for those of us in ministry: "No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true" [The Scarlet Letter]. Bowing to the pressure of congregational expectation can quickly and easily destroy a minister and his ministry. Most who answer God's call to devote their lives to ministry do so with pure hearts and motives, and with little if any awareness of the unique challenges they are about to face from the very persons among whom they seek to serve. Members of local congregations can be quite demanding and controlling, and it is a rare young preacher who does not at some point, and for a period of time, "go along to get along," seeking to appease those in the pews so as to keep the peace and keep his job. Soon, simply to survive, he learns to "wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude," with a sense of betrayal to his calling from God growing increasingly within his heart. This is a trap that far too often results in a failed ministry, and even worse: a faltering faith.

There have always been, on the part of God's people, unrealistic and even unrighteous expectations of those called by God to be their spiritual leaders. Can't you just hear the grumbling and complaining of the people of Israel as Moses led them to Mt. Sinai and beyond. This wasn't what they expected, and Moses wasn't the leader they wanted. Little wonder Moses became frustrated on occasion. For centuries this called out people criticized and complained; not only against God's leaders, but also against their God. What God wanted for them wasn't always what they wanted for themselves. Sadly, there were prophets and priests who were only too willing to bow to the people for personal gain, rather than bow before the God who had called them to ministry. Ezekiel 34 is a scathing rebuke against such self-serving shepherds of God's sheep, and in Micah 2:8 we see a condemnation of the people's expectations of such leaders: "If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' he would be just the prophet for this people!" Some leaders will submit to these godless expectations, assuming that such a path "is a means to financial gain" (1 Timothy 6:5). After all, too many so-called Christians, "to suit their own desires, will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Timothy 4:3). Every person called to ministry will at some point be faced with this temptation to "sell out" to those who dangle these worldly trinkets before them (whether those trinkets be in the form of money, job security, fame, status, popularity, or whatever). Paul made it clear the choice he made: "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).

Choosing to please God, as those called to ministry by Him, will often lead to occasions when we displease those we are called to lead and guide. Yet, it is His expectations of us that ultimately matter, not the expectations of His too often wayward people to whom we have been sent. Too many pastors forget this, and when they do it proves costly to all concerned. Ministry is not a popularity contest, it is a personal calling; it is not self-serving, it is self-sacrificial. It is not for the timid (as Paul warned Timothy) or the fearful or the cowardly. We are called to be watchmen on the wall, and the blood of others will be on our hands and heads if we shirk our duty (as noted in Ezekiel 33). This is a grave responsibility, and those desirous of devoting their lives to ministry should consider it carefully, as noted by James: "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1). This is sobering! Life and death hang in the balance in day-to-day ministry. God's leader must not "wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude." He must learn to be open and transparent to all; he must be in practice what he professes from the pulpit ... whether people like it or not. We don't pander to a party's patterns for personal profit! The faithful herald proclaims Truth; the faithless hack proclaims tradition. The latter may take the easy way, but the former takes the right way (and, yes, it will probably be the more painful way, for it will tend to be the less popular way).

A reality many pastors and teachers face in their ministries at some point (usually after a number of years in service to the Lord and His people) is the growing realization that they themselves may have grown in their understanding of God's will and purpose beyond the ability, or even the desire, of those around them to embrace and put that understanding into effect. When this disparity becomes evident, a congregation will begin to disconnect from this man and his family, and the man called to ministry may begin to question his calling. This may be a personal doubt as to his fitness for ministry in general, or maybe doubt as to whether he should continue with that particular congregation (or even that particular Christian denomination). Just about every pastor I've ever talked with has been there at some point. I have too. It is huge, for it is that proverbial fork-in-the-road we face that can determine the direction and demeanor of our life and ministry. I spent a number of years in the military (6 years; 2 in Vietnam) and a number of years in undergrad and graduate schools getting my degrees at the university I attended. When those years ended in 1976, I went into fulltime ministry (this was not the original intent for my life, believe me, but that is another story!). It has now been 41 years, and it has indeed been a most interesting journey; at times frustrating, but as a whole quite fulfilling. During those years I have grown in many ways, one of which is in my perception of what God truly desires of us, and in the disturbing realization that some of what I had been indoctrinated to believe in my faith-heritage (that wing of the Stone-Campbell Movement denominated "Church of Christ") was far more tradition than Truth. In time, this led me to a point where I had to make a critical choice: would I preach the former or the latter, and what would be the personal consequences of that choice? As one who had deep roots in Churches of Christ, I knew only too well what happened to those who dared to question or challenge the "party positions and patterns." I had witnessed a number of "evangelist eviscerations," and it wasn't pretty.

Could I face such religious abuse from the hardliners in my denomination? Could I expose my family to that? Should I remain in this group, with which I was very familiar, and seek to bring about what I perceived to be needed reform? Or, should I leave and seek a group of disciples who were more in tune with my own understandings? As you know, I chose to stay. I also chose to boldly confront the legalistic, patternistic aspects of "one true churchism" that was plaguing my faith-heritage, and to call my brethren to "tear down these walls" that were isolating us from the universal One Body of Christ. In the decades since I made that decision, God has used my ministry (and the ministries of a great many others who made the same choice) to bring tremendous change among Churches of Christ. This hasn't always been popular, and some dear friends are now determined enemies. But, I believe I made the right choice. I have remained in my denomination, but I no longer preach a party or position, I preach a Person! I fellowship, and call "brethren," ALL who are in Christ by grace through faith. I will never again seek to bring people to "my faction," but rather to "His Family."

God has not called everyone to this choice, however. Some He has called to leave, and to head in a bold new direction. This can be just as frightening, especially when that call is to leave the religious traditions of one's earthly family, the consequences of which can be extremely painful to those leaving. The temptation is to simply submit to their pressure, suppress one's newly formed convictions, and keep "tickling ears" to keep the peace. Many give in to this, and that is sad. A growing number, however, are refusing to choose this path, and I applaud their courage of conviction. I doubt most church members have any clue what these men and women, and their families, are going to experience as a result of this bold choice. But, the Lord knows, and He will stand with them (while many of their former friends will not). The more fundamentalist, and legalistic, a group is, the more likely it will be that growing numbers of members and ministers, who have been spiritually enlightened, will choose to leave rather than stay and seek reform (as I chose to do). Frankly, there are times I wish I had done the former. But, I still believe God called me to stay, and so I'm okay with that. Ironically, God has also called me in recent years to counsel with ministers, teachers, elders, deacons and others who simply can't take the lunacy of legalism any longer, and who have chosen to leave, but who are conflicted about the choice. This is not just those within Churches of Christ, but other denominations as well. More and more we are witnessing ministerial migration from their "home" churches, which leads to reflection on both sides as to the causes.

I received a lengthy email a week or so back from a minister with a large Church of Christ in the Southeastern part of our nation. I won't mention the name or location of either the minister or the congregation, for you would recognize both. This preacher is very well educated, and has done a tremendous amount of research into the Scriptures to affirm his beliefs. He has especially been doing some rethinking of the purpose and place of baptism (in light of what is traditionally taught within Churches of Christ). He wrote, "Like you, I have come to the same conclusions and applaud you for your boldness. Thanks so much for that! My elders here want to fire me based on my beliefs concerning baptism. ... My wife and I are exhausted, and want to know if there is a time I could contact you over the phone to pick your brain. We feel like we are going crazy here ... and wonder if it's even healthy anymore for us to stay here." He sent me an article that he had recently come across that really resonated with him, and I thought it was well-written and insightful. It was written by Sean Palmer, a minister in Texas, on July 15, 2014. It is titled: "It's You, Not Me: Why More and More Ministers are Leaving Churches of Christ" (Click Here to read this article in full). Sean was not attacking "the church," nor was he seeking to irritate anyone; he simply sought to understand why so many Church of Christ ministers were leaving! He wrote, "People aren't talking about leaving ministry, they're talking about leaving ministry in Churches of Christ." His obvious question was: Why?! What are the reasons? His research showed three main reasons given by those leaving, and he shares those in his article, for which he has received a ton of hate mail from the hardcore among "our tribe." Sad!

Sean wrote, "You may be shocked to find that 'Women's Roles' is the #1 reason, but nearly every minister I speak with believes Churches of Christ are dead wrong on our limitation of women's roles." As ministers are becoming more and more educated, rather than merely indoctrinated, they are daring to think for themselves, rather than parrot past party preferences. "These men and women know more is going on in Scripture than flat, thoughtless readings will allow." As the Scriptures are examined anew, without our denominational dogmas determining our understandings, we are finding more and more that "our" traditional teachings on such matters as women's roles are simply not consistent with Truth. As this conviction grows within the hearts and minds of thinking pastors, a choice looms before them: they can either suppress these truths, or they can express them. Those who do the former may keep their jobs, but those who do the latter may find themselves, and their families, vilified. It takes courage to preach one's convictions, rather than taking the easy path of "zipping our lips" and "not rocking ships."

The second reason given for ministers leaving Churches of Christ is that too many congregations are literally "ruled" by a handful of men, and to cross them is "anathema." If these few people in the congregation "raise enough stink, cause enough pain, withhold enough funds, or hurt enough feelings, they'll get whatever they want." I think we have all seen this time and again in congregations. It doesn't take a new minister long to figure out which people "run things" in that congregation, and that these individuals must NEVER be crossed by him or he will pay dearly for it. Thus, the minister, as well as the members, "do as they're told" and don't cause a fuss. "The result? Safe, palatable, unchallenging, churches" where "success becomes measured only by uncomplaining butts in well-grooved pews. Nothing new or challenging ever happens; the status quo always holds." Sean points out: "This is not ministry; it's plate-spinning." Frankly, many ministers have grown weary of such church politics, and if "city hall" can't be reasoned with, then sometimes the only solution is to move on! The Diotrephes effect has robbed more congregations of good men and women in ministry than just about anything!

The third reason for ministerial migration is the power of entrenched tradition! "Ministers are saying that Churches of Christ are spiritually formed by neither Christ nor the Scriptures. Rather, we are primarily formed by the tradition of Churches of Christ. Here's what they mean: When a thorny issue is raised, Church of Christ people - even with all our gesturing to the text - will ultimately err on the side of traditional Church of Christ practice." In short, we typically defer to tradition over Truth! Sean wrote the following statement, which I have personally seen time and again: "Church members will leave long time friends, family, and their worshipping community when a particular tradition changes!" They won't talk to you, they won't study Scripture with you on the matter, they simply walk out. "This is not about Christ nor the Scriptures, but the tradition itself." They can't prove it wrong from the Bible, but they don't like it. Tradition!! "Many Churches of Christ only discover our unspoken allegiance to tradition the hard way, after they've surveyed the congregation about a 'hot issue,' and heard back from only a few who are against it, and then watch as hundreds leave when the change is implemented." Tradition!! This is heart-breaking, and it is happening again and again and again. And ministers, who have preached their hearts out trying to show the beauty of God's grace, are throwing up their hands in disgust and walking away!

Ministry ain't easy! That's a fact. It can be frustrating and faith-challenging! It can also be wonderful and fulfilling. A lot of it depends on the person in ministry, and the willingness of this person to perceive realistically both the nature of his calling and the nature of those to whom he is called to serve and lead. It is warfare; it is bloody and messy; but, done well, it can lead to life and liberty! It's worth it. Not everyone needs to stand in the trenches on the frontline; not everyone needs to stay and fight. The Lord has many vital positions to fill in His army, and all are necessary to the success of His purpose. Find your place and serve with all your might. Whether He calls you to stay or leave a congregation or denomination is really not that relevant. Either way, you are called by Him; and either way, you have answered His call. I love many of my traditions in my faith-heritage (Churches of Christ), but I have come to perceive them for what they are: traditions, nothing more. I will never again elevate them to the status of Truth. These are not LAW; they are human preferences, not divine precepts. By preaching and practicing this truth I have made enemies of men and women I love dearly (who will no longer even speak to me). This hurts. But, ministry is messy at times. Just ask Jesus. Ask Paul. Ask your pastor! Yet, we thank God for His calling, and we only ask that you pray for us, be patient with us, and love us as we seek only to serve Him faithfully each day of our lives!

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Readers' Reflections

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From a Reader in Ohio:

Brother Al, I find myself often now, when I come across a passage of Scripture in my daily Bible reading/study that I want to explore in more depth, looking to your Textual Index for your Reflections articles (prepared for you by Beverly Parks) to "see what Al Maxey has to say about this passage." It occurred to me that I would like this sister-in-Christ, whom I have not met personally, to know that I have been greatly blessed by her good work and that I really appreciate the fruit of her labors! Please pass along my Thanks and Appreciation to this sister of mine!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

It seems as though there is hardly a day that goes by that something "of old" doesn't smack me up the side of the head, causing me to finally see what has always been there. Such was the case yesterday at Sunday services. The preacher used Acts 15 as his Scripture reference for his sermon. Right there in this one chapter from Acts were biblical answers to so many of the things "that Al Maxey has been trying for years to get us to see!" I could not help but have "the light come on" powerfully that morning! Back then, some of the leaders believed and apparently taught that circumcision was "necessary to salvation," and on and on (with regard to other "issues"). Yet, it was all about Tradition, not Truth. Turns out after all, just as you have taught, that salvation is through Grace and Faith. Wow!! -- "the same as Al Maxey has been saying!" Not a single word anywhere in that passage ... not even the suggestion ... that it is baptism in water that saves us! Seems like, pretty much, all the things they dealt with back then, we deal with today. I reckon it doesn't really matter how big the hammer is, you just can't fix stupid!! Sorry for rambling, Al. I pray that you continue in your mission. It's been a long-fought battle, brother!

From a Reader in Louisiana:

In reading your last Reflections article (Issue #712: "Traditionalist Tendentiousness"), I was reminded to thank God that my wife and I have been blessed to travel a bunch during our lives (both in the military and in ministry), and to worship with brethren of different cultures and languages. I hope your own retirement, whenever that happens, will be just as great a blessing and rest to you and Shelly. May God continue to bless you as you bless so many throughout the world who are giving up their legalism and turning to Jesus to save them!

From a Reader in California:

I was wondering if maybe you typed your last Reflections article ("Traditionalist Tendentiousness") with one hand tied behind your back. If not, you certainly could have, for you so easily refuted not only the false teaching but the many false statements of those critics named in your article (Olan Hicks, Hugh Fulford, Morris Bowers, Walt Sasser). It is always refreshing to read your articles defending our liberty and freedom in Christ. I remember all too clearly the days of bondage I spent living under their brand of Christianity. Having tasted the joy and freedom of grace, and the security of knowing that I am just as saved as a Christian on my worst day as on my best day, I could never return to that slavery. My days of living with my neck "under the boot" of legalism are over ... and good riddance! Al, please continue to press on in spite of the barking of such mutts. I feel JOY every time I see you in my inbox!

From a Reader in Maine:

Greetings from Maine! I hope this finds you and yours well and strong. For traditionalist tendentious persons, I urge consideration of the old adage: "Never argue with someone whose salary depends on his not being convinced." I first learned of this saying from Chris Matthews on "Hardball" (both on TV and in his book by the same title). He said, "Never try to convince someone whose salary depends on his not being convinced." Probably the quote goes back to Upton Sinclair, who said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." With regard to the persons mentioned in your article, it may not be salary that motivates their intransigence. Rather, it may be reputations with their peers as "sound defenders of the faith," or a need to show consistency with their indoctrination and the certitude of long-held positions, or author status for their own or other publications, or loyalty to mentors (past or present), etc. Blessings, brother!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

I'm always blessed by your writings! When I was growing up, the "dangers" about which we heard from the pulpit were such things as dancing and card playing. If those preachers had only known! I never heard of anyone leaving "the church" because of these two activities, but thousands have left because of the most dangerous act of all: thinking!! I know -- I was one of them. First, I started learning how to think. Next, I started opening my eyes -- just a little, then more as time went on. Then I added the ultimate "danger" when coupled with sincere thinking: prayer. Ere long, I was a "cavorting calf" (Reflections #711); still am, and that gate will never close for me again!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

I was thinking the other night (yes, I've been thinking again ... probably shouldn't do it so much: it tends to get me in trouble!!) about Paul's letter to the Galatians, and some of the pertinent things he says there. The Judaistic teachers were basically teaching the formula: grace + circumcision = salvation. Paul's mathematical formula, however, was: grace + works = NO grace. It is interesting that in Gal. 5:4 he says, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law." The word "sever" can also be translated "naught, of none effect" [Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words]. I like the way the NRSV translates it: "cut yourselves off from Christ." The very thing the Judaisers were boasting in by cutting the foreskins off Gentiles, they were actually doing to themselves and others spiritually. Paul even goes so far as to say, "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves" (vs. 12). I think there is a lesson here: are some of our contemporaries "boasting in the flesh of others" (Gal. 6:12-13)? And significantly, are they doing it so that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ?! Have a great week, Al, and may the critics see the light!

From a Reader in Pennsylvania:

Thank you for the word "tendentiousness" and "tendentious." It is good to have fresh terms to use for "contentious," which must be so worn out from the fray. Also, your visual clearly shows the stress and pain of legalism's burdens. Those of us who have experienced severe back pain get the message, but there is also heartache from souls wounded by tendentious teachings! God bless you, Al.

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Just read "Traditionalist Tendentiousness." My theory is that the sad Stone-Campbell flavor of legalism you are correctly exposing is mostly a result of reading the New Testament completely out of its context (i.e., the Old Testament). There we find a fantastic schoolmaster teaching us the utter futility of law-keeping as a means of gaining access to the presence of God. To paste together a weak copy of the Law as "the New Covenant," as many attempt, is absolutely ludicrous!

From a Minister in Missouri:

Brother Al, just a word of encouragement for you! I have been preaching for nigh on to 50 years, and a mentor of mine (Carl Ketcherside) many decades ago challenged me to challenge traditions. Although I have been criticized over the years for doing just that, I have never regretted it for a moment. Your latest Reflections shows that progress is actually being made in this area! I have always considered it an honor to be criticized by legalists and such (makes me think I am doing something right). The character of a man is seen in his critics! May God bless you in your service to Him.

From a Reader in Georgia:

These guys that you mentioned in your Reflections (Fulford, Hicks, and the like) are preaching to an ever-decreasing "choir" who has over the decades, thanks to the Internet and folks such as yourself, begun to question and study for themselves, and have thus rejected the idea that traditions can become commands of the Lord Himself. They argue that their points are so "clearly made" in the NT, yet their own faith-heritage is so terribly divided to the point that at least two dozen different factions won't even associate with one another because of their "only truth" claims that they each insist ALL others must adhere to. Unity is cast aside for uniformity! And Lord knows why they feel they need to insult and shame and condemn those with whom they disagree. Be encouraged, brother!! The louder they bark, the more ominous they view the grace caravan to be! It is leaving them behind in the dust of their tradition. More and more people are turning to Truth and Grace, and are thus rejecting the many divisions and splinters formed from law-keeping and the nonsense that is patternism. God has become more of a loving Father than an angry Task-Master. Many, many people the world over read and learn from your writings, Al. You are making a difference, and thus you cause the dogs to bark! Well done!!

From a Minister in Rhode Island:

We are trying to break away from our traditional "five acts of worship," and believe me it has been a journey! Nevertheless, we are slowly moving forward: studying and praying our way out of the bondage of legalism and traditions. We just want to be free! Thank you so much for all of your help in this process through your writings. I personally have been moved and educated by your insights, and have been sharing them with those here in a way that is bringing about some changes. Again, thank you.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

I have read every Reflections you have written over the last five or six years, and every one is right on with what I have grown to believe. I went to Lipscomb, and I have had to make some major changes in what I think, how I think, how I understand what is written, and many other things. You are the best preacher and teacher I have ever studied under or with. My father was an elder and on the board at Lipscomb, so I have come a long hard way. You have helped me get to where I am, but I had begun to put "two and two together" some years ago. My father and I used to discuss it, but it made his blood pressure go up. He just could not see it because of the misunderstandings instilled within him when he was younger. I have been a deacon in three congregations, an elder in one, and a Bible teacher in three others. I have really been studying the Bible for over 60 years. When I began to see another view (rather than the one "we" had been taught), I talked to my wife, my minister, and some of the Bible teachers at Lipscomb. I had to do a lot of hard thinking, for a lot of the church members stopped speaking to me (that is really Scriptural, huh?!), but I kept on studying. I know that you have suffered the same abuse! But, I believe that you will be rewarded for all you have done for God, Jesus and for us. Thank you so much!! I wonder how much of my better understanding of the Bible is due to God enlightening me through your teaching?!! I think you have had a major input to this very enlightened thinking and better understanding of the Word. So, to you, Al Maxey, I say "Thank You!" for your studies, for the risks you were/are willing to take, and for having the courage to teach Truth in the face of criticism. Thank you very, very much!!

From a Reader in Florida:

My mother-in-law passed away recently. She was a cradle partisan "Church of Christer" in the shadow of Tolbert Fanning and David Lipscomb. For the 37 years I knew her, she was firmly and totally convinced that her church and her group were "the elect." ALL others were damned to a devil's hell through willful disobedience or ignorance. However, I can say with brutal honesty, she was terrified of death all her life. Her belief system and faith collapsed under its own weight. Near the end of her life, she began to openly question what she had professed, preached and pandered all her life. She grasped for anything that would allay her fears. At her funeral, I saw the same look of fear on the faces of those in her congregation. My wife and I were met with scowls, raised eyebrows and cold stares. Many refused to speak or shake hands. In all their self-righteousness, the love of Christ was nowhere to be seen; peace and joy were absent. Everything you described in your recent Reflections ("Traditionalist Tendentiousness") was on display. I thank God for you and your ministry, Al. It is you who taught me that one does not have to be my twin to be my brother!! God's LOVE reigns supreme!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Years ago my Alabama cousins introduced me to Cecil Hook's writings, and then to yours. It was like having a blindfold removed; like being able to breathe again. It's so difficult to move entrenched legalists. A law-based faith is easy, until it condemns you! Bless you and yours, and remember: dogs don't chase parked cars!

From a Reader in Colorado:

Thank you, Al Maxey, for helping bring light to my darkness. Every night before I go to bed, I select one of your Reflections from your Archives to read. I've been through so many of them, and look forward to each new one! You, and a few others who believe as you do about the error of legalistic teaching, have really opened my eyes and my heart to God's love and grace in my life, and I am now free of fear. I'm also now feeling community with other Christians in my town, although I had to leave the local "one true church" in order to escape their legalistic teaching. I just wanted to say Thank You for speaking God's Truth. May God bless you for stepping out boldly in faith. I'm learning to do the same.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

The best cure for legalism is legalists!! Their poor treatment of others can open many eyes!

From an Author in Nevada:

Your recent article led me to Reflections #235 ("The Doctrine Of Post-Resurrection Recognition"), where you discussed the subject of whether or not we will know each other in heaven. In that study you present both sides of the issue, and the article was truly edifying. It's amazing how many subjects you have touched upon over the many years of your writing ministry! Long may your pen write! By the way, that last comment dates me: I should have said, "Long may you be able to pound away on the computer!" (lol)

From a Reader in California:

I know you have your share of detractors, and that many of them hold various "pet peeves" about "what Al Maxey is spouting off about today!" So, sometimes I pop a bowl of popcorn and sit down to read their "thoughtful" exposÚs on what Al Maxey supposedly (according to them) believes. I am often torn between being amused at how pathetic their attempts are and being filled with sorrow because their arguments are so far off the mark as to be either deliberately diabolical or, let's face it, deliberately ignorant. You, dear brother Al, have always gracefully handled their criticisms with kindness and gentleness, just as our Lord Jesus and our dear brother Paul the apostle would have. You let them have their say, and then let the silliness of their own arguments be the proof of the absurdity of their accusations and assertions! Speaking of critics, I'm sending you a link to information on the Baptist pastor Peter Ruckman (1921-2016), which I thought you might find interesting, as it shows that "we" (in Churches of Christ) are not alone in breeding cranks and crazies! I think you'll find that he and Ira Rice (if they could avoid trading blows) were pretty kindred spirits.

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