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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 80
July 1997

LORD, I THANK YOU FOR WOODEN PEWS


Selective Appreciation

It's our way, I suppose, inbred over millennia absent from the pristine intimacy of the Garden. There was a time, "In the beginning," when every thought and event was in perfect alignment with the mind of God. Nothing unpleasant or foreign could occur within the daily experience of the two people in residence.

In the beginning, being thankful was a piece of cake. Nothing bad ever happened, so gratitude came easily.

But then an element was introduced which was not in alignment-- something bathed in the cloak of innocence, yet horribly out of sync with the rest, something with dark agenda and ulterior motive.

Suddenly, with fresh fruit juice still running down Eve's chin, things were changed. Now there would be good and evil in the couple's life; now, with only one bite of the forbidden fruit, there would be discomfort and pain and unpleasant moments woven into every day.

It's easy to be thankful for the pleasant things in our life, but read the fine print: God calls us to be thankful people always, and the fact that a long time ago unpleasantness was introduced into the world, changes nothing.

Like many other aspects of the Christian life, it is a developed skill. At the moment of our conversion we do not become magically thankful for unpleasant things. It takes time and practice to acquire the habit of gratitude for things which, on the surface at least, seem horribly wrong.

 

Lord, I thank you for Wooden pews


The church in which I grew up, lo so many years ago, was filled with lots of old wood, and the pews--though sculpted to fit the average Baptist posterior--were of hard, well polished, dark oak. No pads; no cushioned upholstery. Just hard--very hard wood.

You had to really work at falling asleep in those pews. Their simple discomfort was sufficient to keep the parishioner alert to every word of the pastor's sermon.

Every day, just after lunch, between one and three o'clock, I am sorely tempted to put in some quality "think" time in the easy chair that sits just a few feet away from my desk. Once in awhile (not every day, of course) I convince myself that lying back in the soft comfort of the chair will facilitate deep thought and profound insight, when, in fact, what it really facilitates is deep and profound slumber. Five minutes, ten minutes tops, and I'm out cold.


I'm thankful for those uncomfortable things that keep me awake to God. We live in a time when personal comfort reigns supreme, falling in priority just slightly behind incredible wealth. People don't like sitting on hard pews--in fact, most people don't much enjoy sitting on pews of any material. They'd much rather be sweating across a golf course or snoring into a pillow. The idea of voluntarily sitting still for sixty minutes of religion is enough to send some people rolling about the floor in hysterics.

I'm grateful that the things of God don't come naturally, that sometimes they leave bruises, or flat indentations in my flesh from too much pressure.

After all, ask any billionaire if it was easy acquiring his or her wealth; 99.9% of them will tell you it took long, hard work. Ask a movie star if they became famous overnight and they'll tell you it actually took many years of paying their dues in obscurity. Ask anyone of high political office if it was handed to them on a platter, and they'll inform you that it took a lot of hard slogging up through the ranks (then they'll hit you up for a donation).

So why should religion be any different? Why should the all-powerful God of the universe settle for any less than a billionaire, a movie star, or a politician?

Comfort invariably spawns complacency, and Christians without at least a few scars or indentations are probably not trying hard enough.

 

Lord, I thank you for people who challenge me to be more than I am


No one likes to play tennis with someone who is worse at the game than they, because the better player is always the one chasing after stray balls, hit badly by the less experienced opponent. Meanwhile, if you are the better player, the balls you hit rarely get returned. It's always better to be the one playing against someone more proficient at the game, so the ball gets returned.

Regardless the endeavor--be it sports, education, Bible study, or learning a trade--the prized spot is always with someone better than you.

A good mentor--though a cherished possession--rarely makes things easy for the one in his charge. The young John Mark had traveled with the apostle Paul and Barnabas in their early missionary journeys.

But while in Pamphylia, Mark left the team to return to Jerusalem, and the team leader, Paul, considered this tantamount to desertion. So later, when he and Barnabas were planning their next missionary journey, and Barnabas suggested they take John Mark along, Paul objected so severely that a rift was created between the two elders.

Paul then went to Syria and Cilicia with a new companion, Silas, while Barnabas and Mark departed for Cyprus.

Paul was tough on the young Mark--quite possibly, too tough. But without a doubt Paul's passion for service and ministry, and his devotion to the Lord, were qualities that Mark observed and absorbed into his own life.

Mark continued in the Lord's service, later writing the first gospel, and reconciliation did take place with the apostle. Late in his life, as Paul sat in prison awaiting execution, he wrote to Timothy, another of his "sons" in the faith:

 

Lord, I thank you for my Imperfections


Everyone, I'm sure, would choose to be perfect rather than imperfect, but since Adam's untimely fall, the latter condition has been our lot, so there's little we can do about it.

The apostle Paul understood the value of imperfections.


Some imperfections are meant to be dealt with, toward the goal of eradication, but some are to be, rather, embraced, for their purpose of pointing us toward the perfection of Christ.

While the thought may be abhorrent to some, the Christian life is one of dependency--dependence in God for His grace and mercy, dependence in Jesus Christ for His salvation and ongoing intercession. Someone who is perfect is not dependent on anyone, for they are self-sufficient. Sort of like God:

Indeed. So why should I waste my time trying to compete against God, while I could, instead, rejoice in those qualities that draw me closer to His perfection.

One reason we strive so against our own imperfections is that we are painfully aware of how unpleasant they are in others. The image that snaps back at us from the mirror of their life is uncomfortable, and ignites a passion within us to extinguish once and for all those same qualities in our own.

But when we gaze upon the pristine Christ, there are no unpleasant reflections; only purity, holiness, perfection. We see nothing that might remind us of our own inadequacies; only acceptance, understanding, love.

Perfection in man would mean the death of grace. Were tomorrow to usher in the age of man's perfection, it would mean, by its very definition, that we had stepped into the age of sufficiency--and anyone who is sufficient clearly has no need for God. And, oh, what a sorry place this world would be without Him.

Happily, we need not concern ourselves with this fanciful eventuality. We are--and I'm sure will remain--imperfect, and in this state are suitable receptacles for God's limitless grace. Every inhabitant of the earth is imperfect, but the Christian enjoys a strengthening partnership with the Lord, which raises us (in essence, if not in practice) up to His level of perfection. In Him we find our sufficiency.

 

Lord, I thank you for those times when things don't go my way


From the moment we emerge from the womb and fill the air with our unhappy caterwauls, we declare our intention to have things go our way, thank you very much. From those earliest days--whether reaching for a nipple, or announcing the uncomfortable condition of our nappy--we begin our life selfish and demanding.

I recently had reason to recall a rather unpleasant episode that took place years ago, while living in Southern California. The occasion was a visit with a respected elder in the church we were attending. He and I were discussing one of my recent performances and I was complaining about the apparent lack of positive response from those sitting in the pews. I had given my best, I told him, in service to the Lord, but the people didn't seem to appreciate it. I pouted that maybe I should take my work for the Lord elsewhere, to a people who would more encouragingly respond.

To this day I thank God that, instead of laughing in my face and walking out of the room, this man of God elected to let the Spirit speak through him. For he spoke to me with the wisdom of God when he said, "You're not performing for them. You're to sing to Jesus, then let Him distribute the blessings where he wants them."

I have not forgotten that day when the Holy Spirit sat with us and gave this man the words I needed to hear at just that moment. And, to honor the memory of this man, I have not forgotten the lesson we both learned that day (for he was as moved by the wisdom coming from his mouth as I).

The true servant does not concern himself with the outcome; that is left up to the Master. And a petulant response to the result of one's service is the mark of a person who doesn't yet understand his or her place in the Kingdom. No matter what work the Lord has assigned us, whether singing or acting, or preaching or teaching, or cleaning the church bathrooms--no matter what, we do it for the Lord, trusting that He will use it to His glory.

 

Lord, I thank you for not always answering my prayers right away


God's word is filled with references to His attentiveness to our prayers.

But nowhere does His word tell us precisely when He intends to answer our petitions--nor in what manner.

I'm grateful for those times when the Lord reminds me that I do not enjoy the privilege of dictating the terms of my prayer life. I'm grateful for those reminders that it is the one receiving the prayer that is responsible for its result.

Were the Lord to respond according to my schedule, He would instantly have abdicated His position of authority; He would, in a moment, become someone capable of being manipulated by a mere mortal. And who would choose to pray to such a god? What would be the point?

If we trust God enough to pray to Him, then we should trust Him to answer our prayers at the right time.

While we grow ever more impatient, God's timing--like every other part of Him--is impeccable. He is not influenced by our misplaced urgency; He says, rather, "Trust me."

O for a faith that will not shrink
Thou pressed by many a foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe;

That will not murmur nor complain
Beneath the chast'ning rod,
But in the hour of grief or pain
Will lean upon its God;

A faith that shines more bright and clear
When tempests rage without,
That, when in danger, knows no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt.

Lord, give me such a faith as this,
And then, whate'er may come,
I'll taste e'en now the hallowed bliss
Of an eternal home.

 

Lord, I thank you for persistent pain


The reason for pain is elusive--a quandary that can make the discomfort even more difficult to bear. Why are some stricken when others are not? Why are so many who are good destined to live with pain, while the bad often are not?

There are some who claim that persistent pain is always attributable to sin--that some wrong in a person's life has called down God's correcting hand. But Jesus told His disciples that that was not always the case.

Others will say that pain comes so that we might better understand and empathize with the pain experienced by others. But that would only explain some of the suffering that exists in the world. What about the rest?

Still others will claim that pain and suffering are stinging darts from Satan, sent to punish us for our allegiance to Christ, or to beat us into denouncing His name. But, while it's true that Satan works at our lives--and often in painful ways--understanding that he may be the source of our affliction still helps us very little in knowing what to do about it.

I'm grateful that God doesn't force me to identify the source of my--or others'--persistent pain. I'm grateful that He gives me the freedom to ignore the source of the pain to concentrate on the result. There is great liberty in knowing that from wherever pain might come, its ultimate purpose is to glorify God.

Why did Paul have a persistent `thorn in the flesh'?

Why do we share in Christ's sufferings?

Why are we told to rejoice, even though we may have to suffer "grief in all kinds of trials"?

And why did Job not curse God when He gave Satan permission to heap unbearable sufferings on His servant?

If we are to lift up the good and pleasant things in our life as offerings of praise and adoration, then we are to do the same with our trials through pain. But certainly no amount of gratitude or praise will soften the physical effect of pain--and that's the point. God doesn't bring trials into our life because they are pleasant; He intends the discomfort.

Learning how to bear persistent or continuous pain ultimately means coming to grip with the Lordship of Christ. If He is Lord, and I am His servant, then no matter what comes my way, it has arrived at His bidding.


Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav'nly Friend
Thro' thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hast'ning on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

 

Lord, I thank you for those times when all my own efforts fail


There is surely no more obvious area where the world and the Kingdom collide.

The world says . . .: "I am the captain of my destiny."

But God says: "Jesus Christ is Lord."[1]

The world says ...: "I don't need anyone else."

But God says: "You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."[2]

The world says ...: "I can take care of myself."

But God says: "Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down."[3]

The world says . . .: "Look at what I can do!"

But God says: "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."[4]

The world says . . .: "MY way is right."

But God says: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."[5]

The world says ...: "No one can tell me what to do."

But God says: "Every knee will bow . . ."[6]

When I think I have something that could be of use to God, I have failed to grasp His omnipotence and sovereignty; as soon as I empty myself of such presumption and pride, I then become a suitable vessel for His power.

I'm reminded of my experiences in U.S. Navy boot camp, back in the late Sixties. Back then the Company Commanders were free to do just about whatever they pleased to the raw recruits. The verbal abuse flew like projectiles at a cow-chip throwing contest and, different from today, they could even physically knock you about at will. The favorite word of the Company Commander for his hapless charges was "worm." We were lowly, worthless worms. Lowest of the low. Not worth the time it took him to even utter the word.

That's the image the ill-informed have of our willingness to have God fill us with His glory rather than our own. They think that God thinks of us (or wishes us to think of ourselves) as filthy, worthless lowlifes.

But when a person has been sanctified by the blood of Christ, he or she only exchanges temporal abilities and vanities for the eternal glory and value of God. What changes is the goal--the prize.

Say, for example, a man is a successful athlete. He is a perfect specimen of robust masculinity, and, as such, is a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions. His gridiron exploits make him famous and he becomes rich _ not only for his value to the team, but from many product endorsements, as well. He's got it made.

Now, let's say God one day says, "That's my man. I've got plans for him in my Kingdom." So in the next game, this incredible athlete is tackled badly and, in an instant, is permanently paralyzed from the waist down. And God says, "Good. Now I can use you."

To the casual observer this would seem to be utter foolishness--a complete waste. Here was a man who had it all: he was rich, healthy and strong, and famous. With all of that he could really be valuable to the Lord's work.

But all of that--all the wealth, the fame, the physical health--every bit of it was nothing but hay and straw, and would be burned up in the final day. None of those assets and abilities--not one--were of eternal value.

But now God has this man in a wheelchair; He has humbled him. Over a period of time God sends people into this man's life to help him mature into a useful member of the Kingdom and, as a result, the once rich and successful athlete becomes a powerful witness to the youth in the country. He tells them about the love of God, and the sacrifice Jesus made for them, and many come to the Lord because of his testimony.

And every one of those souls, every child saved and brought into the Kingdom, is a small piece of silver or gold--something to last for all eternity.


When we try to do it on our own, the result is only highly combustible material. I'm grateful for those times when my efforts fail, for that failure is a necessary reminder of how much more successful I will be-- in eternal terms--when, instead, I permit God to work through me.

 

Lord, I thank you for leaving me behind


Let's face it: sometimes living here can be a real drag. Hassles at work, problems in the home, friends that let you down, temptations that nag and nag until you give in ... In our moments of frustration we might find ourselves crying out, with David

It's easy for us to feel that Christ has deserted us, and to wonder why He couldn't have lifted us off this unfriendly soil along with Him. But that attitude assumes that our sole purpose in being a Christian is to get quickly to the safety of heaven and eternal bliss.

Kingdom living really isn't about bliss--it's about loving God. And living here, on earth, instead of in heaven, is about hungering for God all the more.

Is this a little like pounding your head against a brick wall because it feels so good when you stop? No, not really. The obvious answer is that we have been left behind to serve God's purpose--to lead others to Him, to teach, to edify the body. But beyond that, yearning for God is part of the process.

As I face the trials and unhappy consequences of living with my feet bound to this earth, I may long for the easy bliss of heaven. I may wish that there were finally an end to temptations and struggles and occasional failures; an end to awkward quarrels with my fellow man; an end, at last, to the troubling imperfections in my own life.

But these self-serving wishes are left whimpering in the shadow of the energizing joy found in loving and hungering after God. The process of becoming like Him is a great part of what it means to be a follower of Christ. To miss out on that is to miss out on the daily walks, daily communion--the daily process of Him pouring His life into mine.


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,
And He will walk with me.


NOTES, COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 80
July 1997

NOTES

[1.] Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philip. 2:9-11 (return to footnote 1)

[2.] "So, because you are lukewarm neither hot nor cold I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." Rev. 3:16-17 (return to footnote 2)

[3.] "The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, 'Who can bring me down to the ground?' Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down," declares the LORD. Obadiah 1:3-4 (return to footnote 3)

[4.] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:35-37 (return to footnote 4)

[5.] There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. Proverbs 14:12 (return to footnote 5)

[6.] It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" Romans 14:11 (return to footnote 6)

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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