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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 66
May 1996

DIRT UNDER THE FINGERNAILS

Part I
The Gift


Never before, in the history of all mankind, has there been a God who has so invested Himself in the lives of His people.


The long cold winter has slowly, grudgingly, become spring. The carpet surrounding the house is gradually turning from a dull beige to green; the summer birds have returned, looking for new homes and a handout; and Linda already has a good portion of her garden planted.

Even though night temperatures can still hover around freezing, already the potatoes, onions, leeks and peas have been planted and are beginning to break the surface of the soil.

Watching my good wife--clad in her customary boots and overalls--dig around in her garden soil with such enthusiasm and joy, I am always reminded of a moment decades past when I described her, sight unseen, to a tee ...


It was many years ago--Rick and I were probably in junior high, which would put the year somewhere in the vicinity of 1965. We were sitting together, on the front stoop of his house, looking out over the football field that was located just across the street.

My friend and I had grown up together and had spent many happy hours doing what we were doing then: sitting together, dreaming, and comparing notes on just how we wished the future to be.

The topic on this day was future girlfriends; future, because neither of us had the privilege of one at the moment--and more than a little ironic, in retrospect, since my friend in later years revealed himself to be gay (but then, that's another story).

This day we were comparing notes on precisely what characteristics would define the perfect girlfriend. To be perfectly honest, I cannot for the life of me remember how Rick described his perfect girl; as it turned it out, I guess it really didn't matter anyway. I do recall, however, the description I put forth.

My vision for the perfect girlfriend described someone who was at once exquisitely feminine and a tomboy. (I wasn't about to settle for anything less than the whole ball of wax.) My girl would be pretty, yet not be afraid to get her hands dirty; she would be a knockout at the junior/senior prom, yet wouldn't mind helping me catch crawdads down at the creek; she would be bright, intelligent, and loaded with class--yet would be willing to crawl under the car to help me change the oil.

Rick thought I had a screw loose, that I could never hope to find someone fitting that description, but I was perfectly confident with the image I had painted in my head. And, as it turned out, that image conjured up so long ago turned out to be dead on. My wife today is all of that, and more.

 

Pretenders

Over the vast millennia of the history of man there have been countless thousands of gods put forth, manufactured, by endless streams of self-serving individuals and convocations, along with untold numbers of well-meaning but wrong-headed truth seekers.

Gods have been created to shoulder the blame for bad crops, years of drought, floods, and unexplained calamity. Likewise, gods have been created to prevent bad crops, periods of drought, floods, and unexpected calamity. There have been gods of the soil, the rivers and streams, the mountains, the valleys, the healing arts; human and national fertility, childbirth and women of all stations; gods of war, gods of peace; the afterlife, the previous life, and any lives that may have followed or preceded those.

The Romans had Jupiter and Juno, Apollo and Castor; Greeks worshipped Zeus, Athena, Artemis, Poseidon and Eleusis Demeter; the very ancient Egyptians had Isis, Osiris, Ra--the great sun god, Sobek--the crocodile god of the Nile, and Hathor--cow-eared goddess for women. The Sumerians worshipped Innini, Ninkarsag, and Tammuz; the Babylonians worshipped Ishtar (their version of the Sumerian Innini), Anu and, of course, Bel or Baal.

All these myriad deities fell in and out of favor, changed names and were swapped with neighboring gods, supported vast infrastructures of priests, real estate and wealth, and were utterly, completely useless--except as a way for the state and religious powers to keep the people under their control.

Common with these gods was their requirement of sacrifice. To some were brought baskets of fruit and produce, to some an offering of wine or prepared food. To others was made a sacrifice of sexual relations, and to some was required a sacrifice of human life. The god Molech even required the sacrifice of children burned alive in fire, and for awhile even the Hebrews practiced such offerings:

These were all silent gods that required sacrifice but gave nothing in return. Their existence was contrived, their benefits imagined. They were deities of stone, wood and plaster, their earth-bound incarnations not human, but the beasts of the field. They were worse than imperfect, they were abominations, and their sacrifices despicable.

 

All the Right Parts

If you were given the opportunity, how would you describe the perfect God? You might begin with purity or holiness; certainly you would want a God who was holy.

Yet, in His holiness, you would want a God to still be attentive to your personal life.

Since a God would have absolute dominion over your life, you would want Him to be fair and just.

You would want a strong, omnipotent God ...

... who would not forget the fragility of His people.

He must be wise ...

... yet patient with our lack of wisdom.


Too good to be true? Too much to ask? Can we expect a God of absolute purity to bend to our level? Would the One who commanded the stars to take their place in the heavens concern Himself with the minutia of our lives? Would a righteous God soil His hands on the depths to which we are capable?

 

A HUNDRED POUNDS OF CLAY

The believer can always look to the person of Christ to personalize God--and rightly so. Jesus Christ came so that we might experience God in the flesh, and know Him in a tangible way without risking death[1]

But Jehovah God was active in the affairs of men and women long before He showed Himself in the person of Christ. Millennia before Bethlehem's Child, God was stooping to partake in the lives of those who called upon His name.

 

From Dust

From the very beginning moment of man's creation, God was taking an active role in the relationship. It is sufficiently remarkable that there was any personal relationship at all; history is replete with stories of lesser gods keeping their subjects at arm's length. But Jehovah God--the only god who is truly God--deigned to meet with those He created.

It's not hard to imagine how lesser gods might have created the first human being:

or

God the Father, the one true God who created all that is, when it came time for Him to create man, this God dug his hands down into the mud and fashioned the man for Himself. Like a potter at his wheel, God, quite literally, squeezed and molded[2] the man into the shape of His choosing.

Then, to give life to His new creation, God the Father blew[3] His own breath into him.

Here is an exquisite picture of what kind of beings men and women are. We are not fashioned from magical pixie sparkles, but grounded in the soil of the earth. As the Psalmist has said, we are dust. We are flesh--not gods, but people whose feet are planted firmly in this temporal plane.

Yet, at the same time, we have within our bodies the capacity for the Spirit of holy God--that heavenly breath[4] and companion. In this package of weakly, soil-bound flesh, we can receive and comfortably house God's Holy Spirit.


Selah

My God, how wonderful Thou art,
Thy majesty how bright,
How beautiful Thy mercy seat,
In depths of burning light,
In depths of burning light!

How wonderful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity,
And awful purity!

O how I fear Thee, living God,
With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship Thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears,
And penitential tears!

Yet, I may love Thee, too,
O Lord, Almighty as Thou Art,
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart,
The love of my poor heart!

             Frederick W. Faber


God, in this close relationship with the first man, saw that His friend was unhappy. He had populated the garden with every imaginable animal, but these were not enough.

The beasts of the field were not suitable companions for Adam, so God made him one who was. And here again we see God reaching down to involve Himself in mankind's situation. Here was a God who could have simply willed someone into existence, but instead He got His hands dirty.

And out of the Lord God's condescension came an eloquent illustration for the union between husband and wife.

 

HOLY VISITATION

 

Three Strangers

It was the hottest part of a hot day. Abraham, about 100 years old, sat resting in the door of his tent. Inside, his wife Sarah whiled away the time expending as little energy as possible. Their camp was pitched under the great trees of Mamre, just south of Salem[5], the site of many important events in Abraham's life.[6]

For twenty-five years the Lord had spoken to Abraham--or Abram, as he was originally named by his father, Terah. For twenty-five years he had listened to, obeyed, walked with, called upon and worshipped Yahweh--Jehovah God. Several times Jehovah had promised Abraham that He would make him the father of a great nation; in visions and dreams and audible messages, God had counseled Abraham in His ways.

And Abraham had believed.

But now, a quarter-century since he had first obeyed God's call to leave Haran and journey into Canaan, Abraham was wondering when--even how--God's promises would come to pass. In human terms he was now far too old to become a father, and Sarah, while younger, was still well past child-bearing age. Yes, he believed, but when, Lord--when?

From the entrance to his tent Abraham commanded a broad view of the surrounding valley and hills; from this vantage point he could see someone approaching from quite a long way. But when he next looked up there were, quite unexpectedly, three men standing before him.

Whether by supposition or supernatural information, Abraham knew at once that this was a visitation by Jehovah God.[7] Yet, in the way of the Bedouin, even the Lord God must be shown hospitality with food and rest.

The three strangers accepted his offer, and patiently waited while Abraham instructed Sarah and a servant in what was to be prepared. When he brought them their food he--again in the Bedouin manner--did not join them, but stood a bit off to the side while they refreshed themselves.

It is never necessary for God to pose any question to someone; He knows every answer. But because He was present in human form, He inquired of Abraham


In popular culture the voice of God is always a thunderous, intimidating bellow that causes mere mortals to quake in fear and huddle against the immensity of His heavenly presence. And while it's true that God is all powerful and does, at times, necessarily strike fear in the heart of mortal man, we must remember that He is also a God of love, who chooses to walk among His people, breathe their same air, and converse with them like an old friend.

Here is the Creator of the universe, leaning against a tree and munching down veal and bread, quietly inquiring after His host's wife. No booming voice, no lightning bolts firing off around Him; here is God, come down to personally answer the faithfulness of His children.

The Christian speaks of having a "personal" relationship with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. And here it is being played out on the pages of God's history. Here is God reaching down to make Himself a part of His people's lives, condescending to sit in the dust, eat our food and drink our milk. Here is the true personality of God on display.


Selah


Our God is an attentive Father, whether sitting upon His heavenly throne or reclining against a tree at Mamre. He attends to the needs of Abraham and Sarah and, as a good and loving Father, He not only consoles and reassures, but rebukes their misbehavior. When Sarah's trust falters, God is quick to set her straight.


In heav'nly love abiding,
No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?

Wherever He may guide me,
No want shall turn me back;
My shepherd is beside me,
And nothing can I lack.
His wisdom ever waketh;
His sight is never dim.
He knows the way He taketh,
And I will walk with Him.

Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o'er me,
Where darkest clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure;
My path to life is free;
My Savior has my treasure,

 

GRACE

In the days that Jesus walked the earth, the Samaritans were considered foreigners--and worse. Because the Samaritans blended pagan elements into their worship of Jehovah, the Jews had nothing to do with them.

If a Jew were traveling from Galilee, in the north, to Judaea, in the south, he would not pass through Samaria, but would instead skirt the region--even crossing over the Jordan to the eastern shore. This would explain the impact of Jesus' teaching about the 'Good Samaritan' on His Jewish audience.[8]

After Jesus had been teaching in the Jerusalem area, and His disciples baptizing believers, the Pharisees (the ruling religious class) began to take more of an interest in Him. Not wanting to feed their suspicion, Jesus chose to leave the area and return to Galilee. The shortest route would take Him and His disciples through Samaria.

At Jacob's Well, near the town of Sychar, Jesus paused to rest and refresh Himself while His disciples went into the town to purchase food.

 

No Condemnation

Most women would draw their water from the local well in the cooler hours of the early morning or evening, which is why this woman came in the middle of the day. She was as much an outcast to her own people as the Samaritans were to the Jews, and she had never been welcomed to fetch her water with the other women of the village.

She was surprised to find a man sitting at the well, for collecting the water was women's work. She was even more surprised to see that the man was a Jew; most never passed through the region.

The woman considered returning to her home without getting the water. Her reputation was bad enough without having people see her talking to a strange Jewish man in broad daylight. But he appeared tired, and had no way to retrieve the water for himself.

So when he asked her to draw some for him, she relented, but then said, "Why would you ask me, a Samaritan?"

His words were strange and, as she was beginning to notice, he was a very different man from those to which she was accustomed. Normally she would be more defensive around a stranger; experience had taught her to be wary around men, for they liked to imagine opportunities for themselves in her. There were times, however, when her response to a strange man was quite the opposite from that.

But this man produced neither response in her. In his demeanor she quickly saw that he was no one to fear nor pursue. When he spoke to her it was with a voice of quiet peace, interest with honorable intentions.

"If you knew what God could give you," he said to her, his voice weary yet still strong, "and if you knew who it was asking for the drink, then you would have been the one asking--and in return you would have been given living water."

No one had ever spoken such words to her! Who was this man? She handed him the skin filled with cool water from the well. As he upended the black bag she said, "You needed me to draw the water you're drinking. How would you be able to get 'living' water? This is Jacob's well; surely you don't think you're greater than our father Jacob."

The man handed her back the water skin. "If you drink the water of this well, you'll thirst again. But if you drink the water I offer, you will not only never want for more, but the water I give will become a well-spring leading to eternal life."

She laughed. "Then give me this water--and I'll never have to fetch from this well again!"

His expression changed. He glanced past her, over her shoulder, down the road that led back to the village. "I've jeopardized your reputation. Please, go get your husband, then return."

These words came upon her like a sudden downpour of cold rain. A chill ran through her, for in his eyes she saw that he already knew what her response would be. Surely this man was a prophet! And she felt the old familiar fear running up her spine.

Yet there was something about him that held her there. She owed him nothing, could turn and leave at any time. But something held her. She stared down at her dust covered feet, felt her face flush with shame. "I-- I have no husband."

He did not touch her, but his voice seemed to reach out toward her with a sober compassion that she felt against her skin.

Without condemnation, yet also without approving, he said, "Yes, I know. I know that you have actually had five husbands--and the one with whom you are now living is not your husband at all."

"You are a prophet!" She blurted out, and her face reddened even more.

She set down her things and listened to what this man had to say, and all her fears and uneasiness left her. They talked of people and God and worship, of Spirit and truth. Though they had just met, they spoke comfortably with each other, as brother and sister. She wished that she could remain at his feet, listening to his wisdom, for the rest of her days.

The woman heard voices approaching. Down the road a group of men were coming from the village. Quickly, before the men reached them, she said with some urgency, "I've always heard that the Anointed One will come, and that when He does, He will explain truth to us--just as you have to me today."

Jesus looked down into her eyes, embracing the woman with his gaze. "Yes. I am the One."

A rush of joy filled her soul as her suspicion became fact. Suddenly the two of them were surrounded by men who seemed to be associated with Him, but it was as if they were still alone. All she saw was Jesus--the Messiah!--and knew she was forever changed.

God Himself had come down and touched her. He had pried open and exposed to the light of day the darkest secrets of her life; knowing full well the darkest sins of her past, He had accepted her as someone worthy. Her faith had been enough--and now that same faith would forever change every part of her life. She was now a new person--because of Him.

As the men drew closer, surrounding the Savior, the woman gathered her things and slowly backed away. Jesus said nothing more to her, but as He watched her go, she felt his eyes saying Yes, go. Tell the others.

And she did.

 

The Master's Touch

For every person who has any kind of relationship with God there is quite probably a different perception of who God is. For some He is the white-bearded grandfather, for some He is brilliant white light that cannot be apprehended. Some people think of God in terms of holiness, others in terms of righteousness or justice or profound love.

In truth, God is all of the above. God is everything we might possibly imagine, as well as infinite things beyond our imagination.

But one thing we can depend on is that if it is true that Jesus Christ is God, then it is equally true that God is Jesus Christ.


Jesus is God getting dirt under His fingernails. Jesus loses not one bit of His humanity by being God, and God loses not one bit of His deity by becoming man. So when Jesus sits down and visits with an immoral Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, it is eternal God making her feel loved and accepted.

There was another time when Jesus forgave the sins of an immoral woman--the woman about to be stoned because she had been caught in the act of adultery.[10] Imagine, if you will, a modern setting for this story from John's Gospel. Imagine Jesus walking the earth in our time, instead of almost 2,000 years ago. And imagine this woman feeling the stones of our own hypocrisy and the loving forgiveness of the Savior...

Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine;
Living with Jesus, a new life divine;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.


Refrain                         
Moment by moment I'm kept in His love;
Moment by moment I've life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

Never a trial that He is not there,
Never a burden that He doth not bear,
Never a sorrow that He doth not share,
Moment by moment I'm under His care.

Never a heartache and never a groan,
Never a teardrop and never a moan;
Never a danger, but there on the throne,
Moment by moment, He thinks of His own.

Never a weakness that He doth not feel,
Never a sickness that He cannot heal;
Moment by moment, in woe or in weal,
Jesus, my Saviour, abides with me still.

             Daniel W. Whittle

 

Holding Us Up

We have a God who isn't afraid to get His hands dirty with our lives. Oh, don't for a moment imagine that He is changed by any of it; the sin of our lives does not ever rub off onto Him. His purity and righteousness remain.

But through various means the Godhead--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--is involved in our lives. We do not worship a God who is far off--a demanding, scowling deity who exacts his payment in silence, never to be disturbed by the episodes being played out by his people. We worship the one God--the only one worthy of the title--who stoops to invest Himself in our lives.

So the Lord God is holy, He is faithful, righteous and pure; He is justice, truth, and changeless; God is omnipotent, omniscient, He is 'strong to save.'

But He is also at our shoulder when we need Him. He is at our side to lift us up when we feel like falling. He sinks His hands down into the meat and potatoes of our lives. He understands us, knows our soul, our yearnings, our heart's desire.

Our Lord is a holy God who isn't afraid to come into contact with His people.

Like a beautiful gardener with her hands buried in soil.



Selah

Genesis 2:18-25 Neh. 9:6 Isaiah 45:18
Genesis 6:11-13 Job 38:1-41:34 Jeremiah 14:22
Genesis 15:1-21 Psalm 8:3-9 Jeremiah 23:23-24
Genesis 18:1-33 Psalm 113:1-9 John 14:5-11
Genesis 20:3-7 Psalm 139:1-24 Col. 1:13-23
Exodus 33:18-23 Psalm 144:1-8 Hebrews 1:3
Deut. 4:39 Isaiah 43:1-12 Hebrews 2:11
    1 John 4:19

 

Next month
Part Two: "The Response"


NOTES, COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 66
May 1996

NOTES

[1.] See the article "Holy Radiance" in the April, 1996 issue of Aspects, I Have Seen the Light!. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] yatsar, yaw-tsar', Hebrew Stg 3335; probably identical with Hebrew 3334 (yatsar) (through the squeezing into shape); ([compare Hebrew 3331 (yatsa')]); to mould into a form; especially as a potter; figurative to determine (i.e. form a resolution) :- x earthen, fashion, form, frame, make (-r), potter, purpose. (return to footnote 2)

[3.] naphach, naw-fakh', Hebrew Stg 5301; a primitive root; to puff, in various applications (literal, to inflate, blow hard, scatter, kindle, expire; figurative, to disesteem) :- blow, breath, give up, cause to lose [life], seething, snuff. (return to footnote 3)

[4.] The word translated "Spirit" in the New Testament is pneuma, pnyoo'-mah, Greek Stg 4151; from Greek 4154 (pneo); a current of air, i.e. breath (blast) or a breeze; by analogy or figurative a spirit, i.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implicaiton) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, d'mon, or (divine) God, Christ's spirit, the Holy Spirit :- ghost, life, spirit (-ual, -ually), mind. Compare Greek 5590 (psuche). (return to footnote 4)

[5.] That is, Jerusalem. (return to footnote 5)

[6.] See Genesis 13:18; 14:13; 14:24; 18:1; 23:17; 23:19; 25:9. (return to footnote 6)

[7.] And said, "My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant." Genesis 18:3 KJV. The word translated "Lord" is Adonay, ad-o-noy, Hebrew Stg 136; which is used as a proper name of God only :- (my) Lord. (return to footnote 7)

[8.] But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where th e man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert i n the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." Luke 10:29-37 (return to footnote 8)

[9.] Expositions of Holy Scripture (Baker, 1984), Vol 10, p.208f. (return to footnote 9)

[10.] John 8:2-11. (return to footnote 10)

[11.] No Man Condemns You, Copyright 1987-1996 David S. Lampel, a His Company play, catalogue #MCR5. (return to footnote 11)

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1996 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 1996 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

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