by Al Maxey
Issue #715 -------
February 28, 2017
What task in life could I have performed nobler than
this, to write what is of great service to mankind and to
bring the nature of things into the light for all to see?
Plato (427-347 B.C.)
I have often been asked what the secret is to successfully impacting the lives of others through one's writings. There are many factors, of course, but perhaps the English poet, Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), was very close to the core of the matter when he simply advised: "Look in thy heart, and write." The most powerful witnesses for Christ are those who simply speak from the heart. Not only are they sharing their Lord, they are also sharing themselves. They are testifying to the power of God's Spirit to transform lives, a transformation they themselves have personally experienced. Thus, testimonials of the transformed are always moving, for they speak to our own hearts and our own circumstances and our own struggles. Oddly, there are those who teach that personal testimonies are sinful, and that no "sound" Christian would ever engage in such. I have dealt with this absurdity in one of my early Reflections: "Those Terrible, Trendy Testimonials: Are the Redeemed 'Authorized' to Testify?" (Reflections #77). Perhaps one of the best biblical refutations of and responses to this ridiculous view is found in Psalm 107:2 - "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so."
Over the years I have often invited believers to share the story of their spiritual sojourn with other believers, and these have always generated a very positive response from all involved. Whether these testimonies are from pulpits, or in classrooms, or living rooms, or various publications, they have the power to reach into the hearts and minds of disciples with similar struggles and challenges, and even doubts. The apostle Paul declared, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV), and, frankly, it is encouraging to actually hear from other believers how the Lord has fulfilled this promise in their lives! Many of us have walked some rather dark and dreary paths in life (and, yes, at times of our own making), yet we can also testify that God never abandoned us. He rescued us; He redeemed us ... and we are more than willing, as the psalmist urged, to "say so."
In this current issue of my Reflections, I have again invited (as I have done several times previously) a believer with a powerful story of God's redemptive grace to share that testimony with you. Many of you probably know Paula Harrington, as she is a published author of several books and articles (a regular writer for Wineskins magazine), and has been a featured speaker at many events around the country. The accompanying picture at the beginning of this issue of Reflections (which she suggested I use) was taken in March at the 2014 Tulsa Workshop, where she and I were both scheduled as speakers and teachers that year (that was also the year Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, was the keynote speaker). Though you may have heard of her, you may not have heard her powerful testimony. She had made mention of it on her Facebook page the other day, and it occurred to me that her story might be an encouragement to many of you out there who may be facing similar circumstances. So, I messaged her and asked if she would be willing to share that story in my Reflections (to which she has subscribed for a number of years). She graciously agreed, writing: "Thank you for asking! This is God's story, so every time I have a chance to tell about it, I do. There's more to the story. My mother was a preacher's daughter, but she also struggled with addiction. So, after my dad died, we lived a very chaotic life. Mom was killed in a car wreck on the 10 year anniversary of my father's death. But God is so good, and He is taking care of me and my brother, and always has. So, yes, I will certainly share this story with you and your readers." Therefore, that testimony is presented below, and I pray God will use it to touch many hearts and lives in a very powerful, healing way.
I'll never forget the morning that my father addressed the Heath Church of Christ for the last time. It was only a couple of years after doctors told him he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. His body was now weak and frail and slouched in a wheelchair in the front of the auditorium. His voice was slurred and barely audible. I was around six or seven at the time, but even a child knew that this was a powerful day. Dad said something that morning that will stay with me for the rest of my life: "We're all going to die, but I'm blessed to know that my time is coming soon." What an amazing outlook.
My father, Paul Nicklaus, was born and raised in Benton, Arkansas. He met my mother at Crowley's Ridge Christian College. Mom was a minister's daughter who had already decided that she was absolutely, positively never going to marry a preacher. Dad preached in Missouri and southern Illinois for a few years before we moved to Kentucky. His keen sense of humor and easy-going nature made him well-liked in the congregation and community. Friends say he had a passion, love, and respect for the Word. He loved God, and he loved people, and it showed.
Although that Sunday morning was the last time he was in a pulpit, it wasn't his final sermon. Dad continued to preach by the way he lived the remainder of his life, influencing the other residents at the nursing home, making the nurses laugh, or encouraging those who visited. That was his greatest sermon. He dared to die gracefully. I didn't see the moments of doubt or wrestling with God. I know he had them, because he was human; if others saw those moments, that's not what they chose to remember and pass down to his children. Dad died on December 30, 1980. He was thirty years old. I was nine and my brother was four. Dad's death, and the years that followed, ushered in an even darker time for us. Mom struggled as a single mother, and also with addiction to alcohol and pills. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder during this time, abused her medication, and lived a worldly life. She drank and slept. A lot. She also encouraged her two young children to drink. We lived in a chaotic and, at times, dangerous household. It was as if we were living on a trap door: we knew the bottom would fall out, we just didn't know when.
On Sundays, we drove to the next city and parked in the lot next to that large, old building, but only because my grandfather was the minister. It didn't matter that mom had donned a wig to drive through the liquor store the night before. All that mattered was that we were there. On a pew. Hiding in front of everyone. My brother and I never told our teachers what was going on, nor did we let anything slip to our grandparents. We silently lived the life that had been dealt to us. The life that seemed to be barreling toward disaster ever since dad left the pulpit and slowly succumbed to ALS. The life that would leave us orphans before we were out of our teens.
I sometimes wonder if talking about my mother and her addictions and depression is being disrespectful to her memory. A part of me still feels that I should be sweeping that part of my life under the rug to keep it hidden. But then, maybe my history is your present! Maybe you, or someone you love, is struggling with addiction, depression, or maybe even apathy. Maybe you feel like God has turned His back. Maybe someone mistakenly told you that this is God's plan for your life, and that you don't want to serve a God like that. Maybe you don't fit in at church because your life is messy and broken and full of things that most people don't have a clue about, so you don't go; or maybe you do go, but you hide on a pew. Maybe you go just to quiet your spouse or your parents. Maybe you've heard that "good people" go to church, and all you want is to be "good." Maybe you keep hearing about Jesus and the list of rules and regulations you need to "get right." Maybe He's just a five-step-plan and a nice building on Sundays. Maybe He's too decent and orderly, and you're just not. Maybe you're like the Samaritan in John 4, and thus afraid of facing those shiny, happy people whose lives seem so "together" that you avoid them at all costs, even if they're sitting on the other end of the pew. Maybe you keep going to the well, but coming back empty; certain that you don't deserve to be forgiven or loved or accepted. I get that! I know the guilt and the shame! I know that hiding is easy and familiar, but you are not here to hide. There is something greater for you. There is someone who will meet you at that well and walk beside you. And every time you start to let the world define your worth, He'll remind you that you are holy, righteous, and redeemed. He'll tell you time and time again that you don't have to be alone any more!
I moved out when I was seventeen and went to Nashville. It was there that I got involved with people I should never have been around, and that I did things I never should have done. My mom and I had a hard time seeing eye-to-eye for most of those years. But, near the end of 1990, she and I spent a weekend together. It was close to Christmas, and it was the first time we had sat and talked like adults. She was sober and happy. I drove back home to Nashville on the morning of December 30, 1990. It was the ten year anniversary of my father's death. I tried not to think about it that entire day, but, as some of you may know, some anniversaries seem to hover like a dark cloud. That afternoon, my mom called to make sure I was home, and we talked for an hour or so. That night, just a couple of hours after we had talked on the phone, I got another phone call. This one from close family friends. My mother had been killed in a car wreck. Ten years, to the night, of dad's death. She was thirty-eight. I was barely nineteen.
In the throes of grief, I turned down a full-ride scholarship to David Lipscomb University, and I married a boy I barely knew instead. We had two babies in two years, and throughout those two years things kept happening that told me this would never work. I had a two year old and a two week old when I became a single mother. I was twenty-two, and had no place to live, no car, no job, no money, and no parents.
You've heard the adage that sometimes you have to lose all you have to realize God is all you need. It was time to get serious about the Jesus my dad and granddad preached about. I couldn't shake the memory of my father's faith, or of that Sunday morning with him sitting in a wheelchair and barely able to speak, yet how he was so full of hope and encouragement to those in the crowd. How could he call his diagnosis a blessing when I saw it as a curse? How could I get to where he had gotten? Why did my mother turn back to God and devote herself to a little congregation down the road from where she lived just a few months before she died? I had nowhere else to turn but to Scripture, so that is where I started. I spent weeks and months going over the words in black and red. Was it really true? Could it have truly happened? Was it more than just a Sunday morning Bible story? The more I read, the more fervently I prayed. I took the words from that book and read them in a different light than I had before. Not in a happy, Sunday School, life-is-perfect setting. This time I read them with urgency! My life, and my children's lives, depended on it! It was there, in the words of Jesus, that I found hope. The inspired words of the New Testament is where I saw my future. The ancient, holy words of the Old Testament is where I found a connection with other seekers, other tired and scarred seekers.
Because of my history, I have a very soft spot for wild kids and single moms who are going through hard times. Thanks to God, I have been given many opportunities to sit and pray with women who are fighting addictions and trying to overcome. Sometimes that has been in locked rooms at the local jails, and other times in hospital rooms or income-based apartment complexes.
The only way to survive this crazy life is to take our past and pain to the altar of the Creator of the universe. Accept His healing, grace, and comfort, and then use our blessings to bless others. We need to seek out those who struggle. God did that for me and my brother by sending a Christian couple into our lives. They were neighbors and members at the congregation where dad had preached. They had lost their six year old son to cancer ten years before we moved to their neighborhood. They knew we were in need, and they did what no one else would: they got involved. Their home was our safe place growing up. That's where we ate our vegetables, learned to sew, and went to bed on time. They took us to the doctor and the dentist. They bought our school clothes, supplies, and yearbook. Because of the way they had been in our lives, when our mom died, a very wise judge gave full custody of my younger brother to them. A few years later, they sent him to preaching school. He became a missionary, and later a fulltime minister. And my brother's children now call this couple (the couple who lost a son to cancer, got involved in a widow's story, loved her and her children) "grandpa" and "grandma." That's not fate, friends. That's not karma. That's not luck, or just how things work out. That is GOD!
There is peace, joy, and hope in the midst of turmoil and dysfunction. We need to be telling others that. Seek out those who are hurting. Tell them this is not the plan for their lives. This is not how it is supposed to be. This is not how their story ends. Tell them about Jesus!
From a Reader in Colorado:
I'm writing to order two copies of your book "Down, But Not Out: A Study of Divorce and Remarriage in Light of God's Healing Grace." Please sign these, if possible. Thank you! I can hardly wait to receive them, as a friend and I here hope to read and discuss your book together and find some peace. Also, I would like to order your recorded class on CD titled "From Law to Liberty: Reflecting on our Journey away from Legalism and into Freedom in Christ." My check is enclosed for these items. Also, I really love reading your Reflections. Blessings!!
From an Author in California:
Bro. Maxey, I just read your Reflections article on the life of George Bennard and his hymn "The Old Rugged Cross" (Issue #714). Many years ago I lived in Austintown, OH, which is a suburb of Youngstown. Not long after Bennard's passing, a memorial was erected in his behalf at Lake Park Cemetery in Youngstown. When I visited the memorial it included a large wooden cross. I find it interesting, however, that he died in Michigan, but is buried in Inglewood, CA. Not sure why! On a different note, I am happy that your health enables you to continue with your Reflections. In this life you will never know the full realization of the positive influence of your written work!!
From an Elder in Oklahoma:
Al, thank you for your open-minded studying and your resultant well-reasoned, logical writings! I have been reading your Reflections for several years, and they always make me think. God bless you! I taught a class on heaven last year and purchased several books in preparation for this class: including your book "From Ruin to Resurrection," which I think reaches appropriate conclusions based on Scripture, not on tradition. I have come to the conclusion, from studying what the Bible says and reading your book (and Edward Fudge's, and books by others), that when we die physically we cease to exist. No part of us exists at all. Like the dog "Rover," we are dead all over! My expectation is that when I open my eyes after death, having been restored to life, it will be Judgment Day: the Day of Resurrection. I'm really glad to find that better scholars than I, like you all, believe this same way! Most Christians seem to believe that they go straight to heaven when they die, or to some kind of intermediate state. This all goes back, I think, to a belief in an "immortal soul," which I believe is completely contrary to the teaching of the Bible. The Bible says that God alone is immortal. And I also discovered the Hebrew word translated "soul" (when applied to humans) is the same Hebrew word translated "living creature" when applied to animals. Hmm, I guess animals have "souls" too?! In my studies, the best comment I read about "souls" is where you wrote, "We don't have a soul, we are a soul." I've found I have to bite my tongue a lot since my study of heaven. People always say at funerals that their loved ones are in heaven now, yet I've learned instead that we will actually live on the new earth. I didn't use to believe that, until I studied what the Bible actually says. It's amazing what you can learn when you actually check to see what the Bible really says! Thanks again, Al. I am so grateful that I am living at a time when I can read the writings of people like you, Edward Fudge, Leroy Garrett, Rubel Shelly and others!!
From an Elder in Pennsylvania:
Blessed friend, I was so edified and so greatly encouraged by our time together recently (when I came out and spent a couple of days with you). In fact, our time together has also blessed me in an unexpected way in that as I read your writings, now that I've met you, they are far more personal to me: they are now the words of wisdom from a trusted and dear friend! It is hard to express just how encouraging this is in my present circumstances!
From a Minister in New Zealand:
I shared your recent Reflections article on why some preachers are leaving Church of Christ pulpits ("Minister Migration Motivation" - Reflections #713). It is both significant and revealing! God bless you. I have been rereading Ephesians 2:11-16 and how powerfully this passage seeks to make us realize what God has already done: i.e., He has already unified us as One Body because of His great love through the blood of His Son shed on the cross. How futile it is to think that we ourselves can somehow do something to improve upon what God has already done! The attempt by many to try and amalgamate grace and creed is mindless, superfluous, arrogant, and actually lends itself to dividing what has already been unified by His love.
From a Reader in the United Kingdom:
Good afternoon, Brother Maxey. Thank you for your Reflections. I just want to ask what your belief is on the Holy Spirit. The Church of Christ where I worship teaches that we receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, and then that is all. They say being "filled with the Holy Spirit" was only possible through the laying on of hands by the apostles, and this filling disappeared together with spiritual gifts. We don't need any of this today, they say, because we have the Bible. What is your view on this? Be blessed!
I believe they are wrong! Their view is very common within the ultra-conservative, legalistic, patternistic wing of Churches of Christ, but it is largely rejected by more spiritually enlightened and biblically aware disciples today. The former believe the Spirit speaks and operates only through the written Word (the literal pages of the Bible), and that God's Spirit does not indwell us. This is partly based on their misunderstanding of something Paul wrote in his "love chapter." I've sought to thoroughly refute that misunderstanding in Reflections #327 ("When the Perfect Comes: Reflective Study of 1 Corinthians 13:10"). As to whether the Spirit dwells within us today, and any visible effects of that personal indwelling, I would urge a study of my following articles: Reflections #204 ("Indwelling and Empowering: Reflecting on Questions Relating to the Holy Spirit's Interaction with Our Lives") and Reflections #332 ("A Sanctuary of the Spirit: Study of the Individual/Corporate Naos of the Indwelling Holy Spirit"). -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Mississippi:
Last night we studied the end of John 13, and a few thoughts from the opening verses of John 14. I noticed that in John 13:34-35 Jesus told His apostles, "A new commandment I give to you, that you have perfect doctrine, even as I have given you perfect doctrine, you must have perfect doctrine. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you precisely obey all the doctrine that I have given you." You and I both know that this is not what Jesus said, but I am sometimes convinced this the way those in the exclusivistic, legalistic Churches of Christ read this passage. At times I think they read Paul and think he says, "Love makes Christians immature, but knowledge edifies." As Paul says in Romans 14 - that great chapter that calls each of us to tolerance and understanding of those who do things differently from us - "Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind." The only time I get really concerned about what another Christian teaches is when that teaching clearly goes against what God's Word actually says. I can live with someone not conforming to my theology. I have disagreed with you, and, if you knew my full beliefs and theology, I have no doubt you would not be 100% in agreement with all that I believe and hold to be true. But, we are not Christians by the purity of our doctrine, nor by our human ability to perfectly keep God's truths, principles, laws and commands. We are Christians by our common belief that we are sinners in need of a Savior; by our common faith in the life, teaching, death, resurrection, and return of our Lord; and by our love for each other. My very great concern is that men like Hugh Fulford (as per your article "Traditionalist Tendentiousness: Considering the Comments of Critics" - Reflections #712, which I just read) is that they miss God's love demonstrated through the cross, and that His grace and mercy cover a multitude of sins, including our theological failings (which we all have, for we are human and finite and ignorant of so much). Love, the real concern we have for each other through our common Savior, brings us together as One Body, not conformity to some theological set of doctrines that, because they come from human minds, are either imperfect, incomplete or wrong. As the hymn says: "We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord ... And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love."
From a Reader in Georgia:
I just read your Reflections article on "The Old Rugged Cross" (Issue #714). Who among us hasn't shed a tear at the singing of this song?! Powerful. And who could have imagined that the greatest attacks would come from "within the tent"?! Amazing how we chew each other up over petty matters. The secular world must find this very amusing.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
Thanks for this study of "The Old Rugged Cross" and the man who wrote it. It was my daddy's favorite hymn, and whenever I hear it sung, I close my eyes and can still hear my dad's beautiful bass voice singing along! What a beautiful hymn!
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Al, as you may recall, I have had many opportunities to visit Israel in connection with my engineering business (and also on the tours I've taken over the years). In a recent trip I visited what is known as "The Garden Tomb," which is very near the Damascus gate. I was indebted to our elderly Scottish guide who made the simple, yet impactful, statement, "The reference to crucifixion 'on a hill far away' is only found in the songs, not in the Scriptures." It was an epiphany, as I had never questioned the concept. "The Old Rugged Cross" is in most ways a wonderful hymn, but it contains this unfounded claim (i.e., that it took place "on a hill far away"), which also violates common Roman purpose. Romans crucified to terrorize, and they wanted the victim up close and personal to those passing by. Last year, while in Israel, a small group of us (one member of our group is an accomplished orthopedic surgeon) were privileged to meet with Dr. Israel Hershkovitz, a professor of medicine at Tel Aviv University. Professor Hershkovitz is perhaps the world's leading scholar on crucifixion, and even has responsible charge over the three crucifixion nails known to exist. We spent over an hour with him, and we were spell-bound as he set forth facts about Roman crucifixion, and as he dispelled commonly held myths. One striking comment was that the Romans placed the victim at eye level, while in the paintings our Lord was placed higher and higher over the centuries. Eye level is in keeping with the Roman goal of terrorizing the passersby. Also, it would have made reading the three-language sign above His head much more practical. I hope you find these things of interest. May God bless you!
From an Author/Publisher in Nevada:
Nice summary, Al, of the role of baptism in the writings of John (in your response to the minister from New Zealand, which was the final entry in the readers' response section of Reflections #714). On another note: I just came back from the Florida College Lectureship. No imagination shown, just more legalism and rehashing of subjects already covered many times in previous lectureships. Nothing but reinforcement of the old party line. How can the average Christian grow amid such drivel?!
From a Reader in Ohio:
I read your article "Preachers Swapping Pulpits" (Reflections #696), which talked about your pulpit swap with a Baptist preacher last June 5th. Aren't you a Church of Christ preacher? "Is Christ divided?" By swapping your pulpit with a denominational minister, not only did you allow your people to be exposed to the possibility of false teaching, but you yourself gave credence to their belief system. According to the Bible, you are lost; somehow, you have managed to lose your way. I don't know why, or who poisoned your mind, but I do know this: you are wrong! I will pray for you, as well as for others who are like you, who have also lost their way!
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, you made the following statements over eleven years ago in Reflections #228 ("The Silence Syndrome: Arguing for Exclusion ... Again"):  "In spite of the best efforts of the best scholars in Christendom, a few hardened legalists nevertheless persist in proclaiming the silence of the Scriptures to be prohibitive in nature" and  "Every so often, some leader of the legalistic factions among us will determine it is time to once again drag out this 'law' (of silence) and impress (impose) it upon the minds of their disciples." You gave a couple of examples of people doing this very thing in publications such as Yokefellow and Christian Courier. Well, here is yet another example from an online church bulletin dated February, 2017 (Click Here) of the Marshfield Church of Christ in Marshfield, Missouri. The article is by Gary Workman. I want to thank you, Al, for your great teaching and tireless efforts at trying to reason with these ultra-conservative brethren. I'm glad I can go to your Reflections Archives and quickly find what you have written when confronted with such writings by legalists. Obviously logic and reasoning from the Scriptures fail to penetrate those who are determined to close their eyes to the Truth, clutching instead to teachings they've heard repeated over and over, imagining that their interpretations, teachings and practices simply cannot ever be faulted.
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