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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 78
May 1997

PRESENT IMPERFECT


A rather large number of people in the body of Christ, the Church, labor under the misguided counsel of a popular myth. This myth--never formally chronicled, but long established in our traditions--considers life in the Kingdom to be something akin to a 1950s sitcom.

For many of us who grew up during that decade, the memories remain vivid: Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, the Donna Reed Show. Every one of them presented the classic picture of the American family:

In these imaginary families the father was always wise and understanding, the mother always quick to forgive and ready to comfort with a hug and a kiss, and the kids always (eventually) obeyed their parents and thought themselves fortunate to be who they were.

All neatly sanitized. Every problem solved in thirty minutes, and every show had a rainbow finish.

This is how many people see the Christian life. After the threshold of salvation is crossed, everything becomes rosy, every problem is solved, and every brother and sister in Christ is happy and pleasant, honest and good.


But we know that, as pleasant as the image may be, not all families-- even those back in the Fifties--are like those in the television sitcoms:

 

A Messy Affair

In the real world, not all parents are Ozzie and Harriet, and not all kids are as good and respectful of their parents as Wally and `the Beav.' And in the real world, problems are not always solved in thirty minutes.

Likewise, life in the Kingdom can be tough and gritty and filled with moments of strife. It can be frustrating, disappointing, and something less than glorious. Life in the Kingdom can be tough slogging, making tough calls, and a place where faith can turn fragile.

Though He could have, God never removed us from the rigors of humanity. The Godhead could have established the method that at the moment of conversion--at the moment in which we accept Christ as Savior and Lord --the new believer is suddenly whisked off the earth to dwell for the rest of eternity in the peace and joy of heaven. But He didn't.

Jesus, on the night of His arrest, could have prayed, "Father, I love my disciples, so I want to take them with me when I leave." But instead He prayed

Just as God could have removed us from humanity--but didn't--He also could have removed the humanity from each of us--but chose not to.

God respects the individuality of His followers; He wants their devotion to be genuine. He's not interested in people who follow Him because they've been so programmed. He is a God of honesty and truth. So those who make the decision to believe in Him come away from the moment with their humanity intact. Some of us may come to regret that Divine decision, but it's the one He made. Whatever His reason, God decided to let the conflict remain.

 

Living 'Before Heaven'

Because of our experience in the day-to-day realities of Kingdom living it's easy to divide our existence and draw a line of demarcation between earth living and heaven living. Kingdom living here amidst humanity can be, frankly, something less than encouraging. So we gaze longingly toward heaven, and what we consider real Kingdom living in the presence of the Lord.

Here is how many of us think of our relationship to eternity:

                                  I.H.  (In Heaven)
                                -------
                                   ^
                                   |
                                   |
                                   |
                                  B.H.  (Before Heaven)
                                   |
                                   |
                                   |
                                  A.D.  (Anno Domini)
                                -------
                                  B.C.  (Before Christ)


In fact for many of us there is an almost unconscious tendency to think that eternity does not even begin until after we have crossed that profound divide between B.H. and I.H. But eternity has already begun, and real Kingdom living means living as if we are already in the presence of the Lord.


 

PERFECT IMPERFECTIONS

There are, naturally, valid reasons to yearn for the living conditions which will exist in heaven. In the new heaven the Lord promises that

Physical and mental ailments that exist in the Kingdom B.H. will happily be absent once we pass over the threshold into the Kingdom I.H. Wicked people will also be excluded, so that conflict will be removed.

Temptation, and those who tempt, will not be included within the Pearly Gates.

And who can say how our attitudes and behavior will be altered in heaven. Pain and sorrow will vanish, leaving us with bodies in the peak of health, but what about our minds? All we can say with assurance is that we will be 'changed.'


To some the eternal Kingdom of God is a far-off country, something only imagined, something only attained by death. To others, the Kingdom is the formal structure of the church universal, made up of the vast millions of believers living today. To still others the Kingdom is a mystical realm of transient thought and metaphysical aesthetics, a place where only philosophers might feel welcome.

Throughout the gospels Jesus makes it clear, by way of stories and parables and examples, that the Kingdom of God is all of the above--and much more.

Taken as a whole, Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom describe something difficult to comprehend. It is described in the past tense, the future tense, and the present tense; it is described by the use of morality parables, stories about truth and justice and fairness, and in almost mystical terms not easily grasped. But one thing is clear: for the believer, the Kingdom is something all-encompassing.

 


Selah

          Matthew 13:24-35
          Matthew 13:44-53
          Matthew 18:23-35
          Matthew 20:1-16
          Matthew 22:1-14
          Mark 4:26-34
          Luke 8:10
          Luke 9:27
          Luke 9:60-62
          Luke 10:9
          Luke 10:11
          Luke 11:20
          Luke 13:18-30


 

When the Pharisees put the question to Jesus regarding the Kingdom's time of arrival, He said:


The mistake we make is in somehow removing from our perception of the Kingdom any and all imperfections, for as soon as we remove imperfections, we remove ourselves. The Kingdom of God is not constructed of plastic and sheet metal but of flesh and bone and blood. God's Kingdom is not restricted to those who are incapable of error.

When Jesus looked the Pharisees in the eye and said, "the kingdom of God is in your midst," He was the only human in all the world capable of living perfectly. Yet Jesus' illustrations of the Kingdom encompassed far more than just the members of the Godhead.

Membership in God's eternity is not by merit, but by grace,[3] and since God does not remove our humanity upon our induction, this ensures that the Kingdom is filled with imperfect people.

 

ROLL CALL

God's grace and the broad sweep of His Kingdom eternity are beautifully illustrated in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Here we see itemized those participants in the grand procession of God's history--the history of His working in the lives of flesh and blood people toward their salvation.

Here is the roster of faith, the men and women who proved themselves faithful and, as a result, were declared righteous, and worthy of "a better country, that is a heavenly one." Not only were they declared righteous, but God bestowed upon them a most gracious and generous honor, declaring that He was "not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them."[4]

Who were these supermen and superwomen, these demigods brought down from the purity of the heavens to people holy Scripture? In truth they were people made of dust, imperfect souls just like you and me.

 

NOAH

Noah was a singularly righteous man in the heathen society of his time. And he was a man of God.

One day this man of God received word from his Lord that time was running short. God was planning on dealing with the people of this young earth in a most decisive way.

Noah obeyed his unseen God, and because of his obedience God again declared him righteous.

But in his righteousness--even though his faith and obedience were sufficient to save him and his family alone among all the people of the earth--Noah was capable of base sin. After the Lord brought them to dry land, and they were once again given the opportunity to set down roots, Noah did a foolish thing.

 

Abraham

It was with Abraham (earlier, `Abram') that God made His covenant promise that if this Chaldean (who would become the father of the Jewish nation) would only walk blamelessly before Him, Abraham would become "the father of a multitude of nations"[5] and that his people would be deeded the land "from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates."[6]

Jehovah God promised Abraham that if he obeyed Him and kept His covenant, He would make him "exceedingly fruitful" and that "kings [would] come forth from" him.[7]

Based on the trust God was placing in him, one would expect Abraham to be just about perfect, upright--even sinless. But Abraham was just a man. In fact, as it turns out, Abraham was a bit of a coward who was willing to place his wife and people--even all the inhabitants of a foreign land--in jeopardy to save his own skin.

So the subterfuge of passing off his wife as his sister not only saved his neck, but ended up adding to his already considerable wealth. But, as with most sins, there came a day of reckoning.

This was a pattern of behavior for Abraham. And, to his shame, the behavior resulted in heathen kings appearing to be more righteous and upright than this one in whom God had entrusted the heritage of His chosen people.

 

Jacob

Jacob became the true father of the nation of Israel. In fact, later in his life, God actually gave Jacob a new name, the name of `Israel.' He was God's man, and just as He had with his fathers before, God made a promise to Jacob to "keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."[8]

But in human terms, Jacob obtained this place of honor by treacherous means. With the help of his mother, Rebekah, he stole his older brother's birthright, and the blessing from their father, Isaac.

Isaac's wife, who favored Jacob over Esau, plotted to deceive her husband so that the younger--instead of the rightful elder--son would receive the blessing.

The plot took advantage of Isaac's blindness. If they could only make Jacob feel and smell like his brother, then Isaac would be fooled.

As soon as Esau returned from his hunt, and prepared the requested meal for his father, the plot was quickly exposed. But the blessing could not be retrieved, and Esau saw his future wither before his eyes.

 

Moses

To Moses Jehovah God entrusted His laws and the leadership of the people of Israel from the bondage of Egypt to the promised Land, Canaan. To Moses God spoke audibly, favoring him with an intimacy not experienced by a human since the Garden of Eden.

But once again, the man of God's choosing had not shown himself particularly worthy of such a relationship and high level of responsibility. Once again it was God's grace--not man's merit--that made the difference.

For you see, Moses had not only been raised since birth as an Egyptian (though, by blood, a Hebrew), and worshipper of multiple gods, but he was also a murderer.

 

Samson and King David

Samson was a judge over Israel during the period before it had a king. The thirteenth chapter of the book of Judges tells a story with parallels to the birth of Christ, in which an angel from the Lord visits a woman who has been childless and announces that she will indeed bear a child and that he would be a deliverer.

In our day Samson already has a tainted reputation because of his famous episode with Delilah. But throughout his entire adult life Samson had a heart overwhelmed with lust for women.

In God's sovereign wisdom He uses sinful people for His holy purpose. But sin in the life of a believer--even someone with whom God has entrusted the leadership of His chosen people--exacts its toll.

The story is familiar: Delilah eventually succeeds in robbing Samson of his supernatural strength and he is reduced to a life of blind servitude. But even here God's grace is displayed--even here we see God hearing and answering the sincere prayer of his child.

King David was also God's man. In fact the prophet Samuel told the first king of Israel, Saul, that God was replacing him with the young David, "a man after His own heart."[9]

But this man after God's own heart was no angel. Mixed in with all his finer qualities of leadership, bravery and fine character were qualities of a decidedly more base character.

So David saw someone beautiful and he was tempted to commit adultery. He gave into that temptation and, as a result, she became pregnant. Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, was one of David's bravest and most valiant warriors and was devoted in his service to the king. In spite of this, David hatched a plot to do away with this inconvenient spouse. He sent a note to his general-in-chief, Joab--using Uriah himself as the courier.

The plot worked, and Uriah was killed in battle, leaving Bathsheba, after an appropriate period of mourning, available.

As Scripture makes clear, David's life was never the same. Though his sin was pointed out to him, though he accepted responsibility for his actions and sought forgiveness from the Lord, though God did indeed forgive him--the scars from this transgression remained, and were passed down into succeeding generations.


These few men are only a small handful from the many examples in God's word of imperfect people who were not only used by God for His purpose, but were included in the highest ranks of His followers. Kings, prophets, priests, judges, great leaders of every stripe: all were found to be as sinful as anyone else--and all were a part of God's family.

 

THE WAY

When we read through the Bible as a whole--from Genesis to Revelation as a book, instead of picking out isolated passages--we are soon impressed with the organic nature of our God. Oh yes, He is Spirit, He is certainly holy and righteous; He is invisible and untouchable; and He is impossibly unreachable--except through the blood of Christ.

But with all this He is, nonetheless, a God not afraid to get His hands dirty.[10] He is daily, actively involved in the details of human life; He seems to go out of His way to enlist the services of men and women who fall dramatically short of His ideal; and He was willing to send His Son to earth to personally experience what it is like to be made of flesh.

When we read the biographies of Biblical characters such as those just discussed, we are left wondering how they could possibly have been chosen by God to accomplish His sovereign will. Surely He should be, instead, thoroughly embarrassed by their behavior, and quick to disassociate Himself from them and their ilk. After all, they include

Adulterers Dirt-poor farmers and Fishermen Prostitutes Dishonest Politicians Cheats and Swindlers Egomaniacal Kings Idol worshippers Murderers Slaves and Slave owners

When we look around at those in the Kingdom today--indeed, when we look closely at ourselves--we can only wonder why our God would permit people like this to even follow after Him, much less serve Him in a leadership role.

 

A Promise Kept

What is the Lord's answer to this? How does He feel about these people who so terribly fell short of the mark?

While these saints of old did not receive the ultimate promise to be fulfilled in Christ Jesus, they did receive every promise made to them by God, and were, thereby "commended[11] for their faith".

Noah, after demonstrating uncommon trust in God's promise of salvation through the flood, fell into a stupor of naked dissipation, but because His faith did not waver, God declared him worthy.

Abraham had a serious character flaw that would seem to call into question his willingness to depend on Jehovah God's promises. But, instead, God honored the man, and declared him righteous through his demonstration of faith.

Jacob used deception and guile to acquire that which God said was already his, but because he continued to worship and call upon the one true God, that same God declared him faithful.

Moses was a murderer who sought by every means to avoid serving as God's messenger and prophet, yet through him a nation was begun and, though disobedient, it was declared that

Samson lived a life of flagrant debauchery, searching for pleasure in the arms of women rather than in the embrace of his God. Yet even in this he did not ultimately turn away from Jehovah, so that, in his final moment, God heard his plea, and in death he still served the Lord.

David was Israel's great king, and a man after God's own heart. But, as an imperfect man, he sinned. Nevertheless, God heard and answered David's prayer when he cried out

Though the rest of his life bore the scars from that sin, David was forgiven, and through his line came the very Son of David, even Christ the Lord.


These were men who, through every failure, kept their gaze hard upon eternity. They were living not for some mystical tomorrow in which today would not matter; while they were, indeed, desiring "a better country, a heavenly one," that longing did not remove a steady, day-by-day walk with the Lord.

All these ancient saints had lives not unlike our own: moments of exhilarating victory and moments of depressing failure; days of steadily walking with God, and days in which they all but forgot about Him; lives filled with great zeal, anger, joy, religious fervor, otherworldly insight and worldly passions.

In a word: human.

We need not commemorate their failures, but we should heartily celebrate their vision of faith.

 

Toward the One Who Is

There's a lie floating around out there that says the Kingdom is made up of little angels. This lie heaps guilt upon those who are not, and has the effect of making many people feel as if they--by their less-than-perfect behavior--are unworthy to be numbered among Christ's followers. But the Kingdom consists of a vast and varied collection of misfits--people imperfect to varying degrees who are loved by their God anyway.

So long as we think of ourselves, in our imperfection, to be somehow inferior--somehow unworthy to be a part of God's Kingdom--we will remain ineffective in our service. Only when we see that it is precisely because of our imperfections that we belong, will we start being truly used of God.

If we spend too much time looking into the future, toward the day when we will surely be better than we are now, then we will be of no use to Jesus Christ here and now.

Should we be changing? Should we be more like Christ tomorrow than we are today? Of course; that's what Kingdom living is all about. Should we be preoccupied with our sins, our failures? No, no more than we should be preoccupied with our righteousness.

Then what is to be our focus? How are we to rise above our imperfections --even, possibly, sift them out of our lives once and for all? As the writer to the Hebrews continues, he gives us the answer.

The Lord God takes all those saints who have gone before--those who in their imperfect lives witnessed to the power of God's grace and compassionate justice--and surrounds us with their testimony. Their lives encourage us, and testify to the involvement of God in our own.

We are to keep going, to persevere, by removing from our lives those things that hinder our communion with God. As imperfect humans we can so easily become entangled in those things that prevent the full-flowering of our relationship with the Lord--just ask king David.

Above everything else, however, we must focus our gaze intently upon the only truly perfect one: Jesus, our Lord. There is no point in following after ourselves; there is no point in following after our fellow pilgrims (those running alongside); nor is there any reason to follow even the lives of those saints chronicled in Scripture. We are to "fix our eyes on Jesus," the only one capable of showing us the way toward eternal perfection.


O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

Thro' death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion _
For more than conqu'rors we are!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

His word shall not fail you--He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.

           Helen H. Lemmel


NOTES, COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 78
May 1997

NOTES

[1.] The Divine Conquest (Christian Publications, Inc., 1978) p23ff. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] NIV: "... is within you." For a discussion on the pros and cons of the two translations, see Walter L. Liefeld's commentary on Luke in The Expositor's Bible Commentary. (Zondervan, 1984), p.997. (return to footnote 2)

[3.] Ephesians 2:3-10 (return to footnote 3)

[4.] Hebrews 11:16. (return to footnote 4)

[5.] Genesis 17:5. (return to footnote 5)

[6.] Genesis 15:18.(return to footnote 6)

[7.] Genesis 17:6. (return to footnote 7)

[8.] Genesis 28:15.. (return to footnote 8)

[9.] 1 Samuel 13:14. (return to footnote 9)

[10.] See the May, 1996 issue of Aspects, "Dirt Under the Fingernails, Part One: The Gift". (return to footnote 10)

[11.] NASB: "gained approval". (return to footnote 11)

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1997 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) 1997 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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