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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal by David S. Lampel / Issue #96, November, 1998

For eight years encouraging believers to know God and His ways, and to enjoy a more intimate communion with Him


RUNNING FROM JEZEBEL

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man?
Why do you boast all day long,
you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?
Your tongue plots destruction;
it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit.
You love evil rather than good,
falsehood rather than speaking the truth. Selah
You love every harmful word, O you deceitful tongue!

Psalm 52:1-4

READING THE ENTRAILS

The movie that night had been Camelot, with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave. The overpowering sense of ennui and nostalgia with which the movie ended sent me outside into the black of the night--a night so black the ship cutting through the waves became an envelope of sound, wrapping me inside, sightless and soundless, like the roar of silence in an empty desert. I groped my way along the deck, feeling the waves closer than they really were, and thinking any wrong step would be my last. Refuge found, I sat alone on the cold metal deck, staring into the invisible night, feeling profoundly and irrevocably alone.

Vietnam, for me, was one-thousand guys on a gray-metal Cruiser, traveling in circles around the Tonkin Gulf. The ship never came within sight of the Vietnamese shore. It stayed well away, training its radar and missiles on an invisible enemy lying somewhere over the horizon. My Vietnam was days of boredom and sleep, and nights of aimlessly roaming about the darkened passageways, dreaming of a footing more steady than the rolling deck of the ship. During those six months of my very young life I made myself intimately acquainted with the smallest nooks and crannies of that Naval vessel. As a member of the admiral's band I was thoroughly despised by virtually every other member of the ship's company. We were routinely hated for the simple fact that while they were busy with the business of war, we were busy sleeping, reading, and practicing our instruments. Clearly this opinion of musicians was shared by even the upper ranks of officers, since our assigned station for general quarters was the ship's library--a compartment buried deep within the bowels of the vessel--guaranteeing that we, like the legendary band aboard the Titanic, would be accompanying the captain of the ship on any voyage down to Davey Jones' Locker. For this reason they deemed it unnecessary to assign us an "abandon-ship" station. We would never make it out anyway.

Into this foreign environment stepped a rosy-cheeked lad of eighteen years, fresh out of high school and Midwestern naivetĒ. My six-month tour on the U.S.S. Chicago was a confusing mix of the absurd and the frightening. Days were spent sleeping or reading a well-worn paperback, huddled in some out-of-the-way space of the ship. Nights were spent doing the same, or staying up with a card game for as long as the Master at Arms would permit. And all the time, the lunacy of Vietnam pressed in.

Wars are never quite as poetic as remembered. This undeclared idiocy was responsible for thousands of deaths, gruesome injuries, and the dissection of our national spirit. Strong youths returned in pieces, and healthy minds were fragmented by the noxious brew of drugs, killing and frustration.

This particular war was, for some, just another job. They put in their time, followed orders, and went home to live a normal life. They experienced little of the lingering aftereffects realized by others.

Some returned home on crutches or in a wheelchair; others returned home to embrace their loved ones with only one arm. Some came back on stretchers, their face to the clouds and an uncertain future in a VA Hospital. Still others returned to lead lives of unspeakable violence or crime--as if to perpetuate the war they so hated.

My war wound was invisible, for awhile. There was no gaping sore, no missing limb, no head swathed in bandages. I felt no need for counseling from a veteran's group. I discounted the impact of Vietnam on my life; after all, I had only been on a ship off the coast, never even in sight of Vietnam. I had no experience with the jungles, the shooting, the killing. I had never even held a real gun all my time in the service!

Years later, however, the wound began to bleed. There was the time in Egypt, locked in the middle of a crowd of tourists who had been jammed into a tiny holding room, when the panic hit; the time in Kenya, when, coming down the mountain in a crowded bus, it seemed like the air was all dust, and no oxygen; and then the many times in crowded grocery and department stores, the terror of feeling trapped and helpless, needing to flee to a place of quiet safety.

THE HUDDLING PLACE

Daily the headlines and network talking heads bombard us with tales from a society turned upside down--of criminals being termed victims, of real victims being left with shattered lives; of the old rules being discarded and replaced by new rules that aren't even rules at all; of good people being ridiculed for having integrity, and bad people who haven't any getting away with murder.

In the land once called Yugoslavia a madman orchestrates slaughter on an epic scale, and the world fusses and threatens, but ultimately leaves him to do as he pleases. In Iraq another madman still plays with nuclear weapons--and gets away with it because the President of the United States has a girlfriend. And in that "land of the free and home of the brave," leaders who vote their conscience are labeled, with a contemptuous sneer, 'bipartisan'--as if standing on principle reduces them to the level of an axe murderer.

It's all enough to make one cross back over his moat and pull up the drawbridge. Like the one who is afraid of crowds after being pressed from all sides by a ship-load of sailors, we want to somehow pull away from this backwards society living on the wrong side of the looking glass. We want to pull our loved ones in with us, close and secure, and shut the rest of the world out. We want to scream back, "Enough! Is there anyone left who is good?"

The prophet Elijah once found himself in a similar situation. Even though he had just demonstrated the power of his God in a most dramatic, public way,* he suddenly found himself running for his life.

What is the Christian to do when society struggles so persistently against everything he or she believes? What is the Christian to do when just about everything outside the sanctity of the home runs counter to that believed within? What should be the response when even the leaders of the land have turned against things holy and righteous?

Elijah's response was to run. The detached observer could easily point out to the prophet that he had just demonstrated the supernatural strength of his God. What had he to fear from mere mortals? Why didn't he just call upon that same righteous power to protect him from this new threat?

There are, essentially, three possible responses to conflict: Fight back, change sides, or retreat. Elijah had just fought back, in a most dramatic way, dealing a serious blow to the opposition. But suddenly, when faced with the schemes of one evil woman, he chose to turn tail and run. Worse, he fled with a thoroughly shattered spirit, whimpering and pouting that since he couldn't be better than his fathers, then he may as well shake off the dust of this mortal plane and return to his Maker.

In His mercy, God meets us at our needs; He is not one to throw hard currency at a starving mother and child. Elijah may have needed a swift kick in the posterior, but in His compassion, the Lord first met the prophet's more physical needs. First things first.

VISITATION

On our missionary trip to Mexico in 1969 I became troubled by some things that were going on. Where the year before (during an earlier visit to the area with a group from our church) I had observed in the leaders an honest love and compassion for the residents, and a tireless zeal to share with them the good news of Christ, now the group was becoming more of a business intent on its own survival, rather than the eternal survival of souls. We, as a group, seemed to be more detached, and disinterested in those to whom we had come to minister.

Over a period of days I wrestled with what I should do about the situation. In my youth, I felt powerless to affect any change. My personal options seemed to be reduced to two: stay or leave. When I brought my troubled misgivings to those in charge, rather than the discussion focusing on my spiritual and emotional turmoil, it focused instead on what would become of the money I had paid them.

So, while everyone else was busy in an evening preaching service, I retired into our old bread truck and spent the rest of the evening on my knees.


Selah


For something more than an hour I poured my heart out to God, seeking His will in the matter. What should I do? After only a few weeks into the summer, should I pack up my things and return home? Or should I stay put and learn to live with the hypocrisy around me? Maybe I was wrong, imagining hypocrisy where none existed. What did He want me to do?

My anguish and confusion filled the inside of our truck like a thick, heavy cloud. My tears drenched the seat cushion of the old, overstuffed chair. The truck became a powerful prayer closet as I sought His face.

Then He showed it.

Through the haze of my uncertainty the face of God came to me in the person of Jesus Christ. It was no apparition, no ghost conjured by religious ecstasy. Neither was it the Savior in bodily form. It was, in reality, the spirit of Christ come to comfort me in such tangible power as to seem that His presence actually filled the interior of that truck. Even then, in the throes of passionate prayer, I knew that what I was seeing through closed eyelids was really emanating from the confines of my own heart--not that my bruised heart was manufacturing this comforting image, but it was somehow releasing, in more tangible form, the spirit of Christ dwelling there.


Selah


In my moment of pain and lonely indecision, my very personal Savior came to me, and in His compassionate embrace I found peace--and the answer to my youthful uncertainty.

His body refreshed by the Lord's sustenance, Elijah journeyed to God's mountain--the holy mountain on which Moses had received the tablets from the Lord. Once there, however, it became clear that the prophet had lost none of his self-pity. In fact, he had spent the last forty days letting it fester and ripen.

To the one who is focused upon himself, earthly trials can seem overwhelming, as if sufficient to block out the strength and all-powerful justice of the Lord God. In a moment of petulance and doubt we remove the Infinite from our list of possible solutions.

Almighty God took a moment to graciously remind His despairing prophet that He was still near. In the words of the apostle Paul, the Lord revealed His "eternal power and divine nature" to him.

Though He controls it all, and can inhabit any phenomena He chooses, we take comfort in the fact that our God most often shows Himself in the quiet whisper. God is a spirit, and that gentle Breath washes over us and through us, holding us up, patiently reminding us of His presence, inviting us to participate in His life.

THE ASSIGNMENT

The "God" of so many in this world is one of insipid detachment. Because their concept of God is so simplistic, and his grace so all-encompassing (why else would the hymn "Amazing Grace" have become the unofficial anthem of virtually every celebrity death and/or public tragedy?) they are practically struck dumb when faced with the reality of His true personality. "How could a loving God have done this?" they cry in their ignorance.

The late Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote eloquently of 'cheap grace'--that "grace we bestow on ourselves,"

Those words were first published in 1937, shortly before the beginning of the second World War in 1939. During the ensuing fifty years, I fear grace has gained little in price, but its stock has, rather, plummeted in value. Grace to this world is not cheap, but worthless. Grace is bubble gum, it is cotton candy: sweet and rotting to the teeth.

God displayed immeasurable grace toward Elijah. From the moment he chose to flee from those who hated him, Elijah received from His God only patience, mercy, assistance, and grace. But it was real grace, not the sickening-sweet grace imagined by the world. It wasn't cotton candy, but fresh vegetables. Even after the prophet repeating his lament, God was still demonstrating grace when He said

God's grace is full-bodied, tangible, real. It is sober, realistic, clear-minded. The world would have the Almighty pat Elijah lovingly on his shoulders, purring, "There, there. You poor thing. Now you just take as long as you like. Yes, I understand; you've been under a lot of stress lately. We'll just have to do something about your low self-esteem. Maybe a vacation--even a sabbatical. Yes, you need some time off! You've been under so much stress." Instead, God took Elijah firmly by the shoulders and said, "All right! It's time to get back to work."

There will be days when, faced with the prospect of going out amongst them, we would rather just crawl back into our cave and forget about all that's out there. Certainly Elijah would have preferred staying in the relative comfort and ease of his cave. But the Lord God had much more work in mind for His servant.

A COMMUNION OF SAINTS

No one has ever been as alone as was Christ upon this earth. He left the pristine communion of heaven to sojourn upon this soil a unique, solitary soul. There was not, for Him, anyone here of common rank or experience in whom He could confide. Though cloaked in like appearance, no one around Him shared His roots--nor could they share His future.


Selah


God among men, Christ was high above them in intellect, depth of thought, and religious faith; the Lamb to be slain, He was beneath them, as something less than human to bear the weight of their sins in His blood. Human friendship is born in common experience, and though He could participate in their moments for awhile, He was not, in His essential being, like them. Spiritually, Christ's disciples were His brothers and sisters, closer than those from Mary's womb. But even at their best, they could not share His singular perspective, His infinite life experience, His depth of soul. Jesus was not of this world.

"I AM THE ONLY ONE LEFT, AND NOW THEY ARE TRYING TO KILL ME TOO."

The prophet's words echo those of the Savior, but, since he was not God, the prophet Elijah could not bear being the only one of his kind. Since, from his perspective, he was left as the sole righteous one in Israel, his choice was for God to take his soul up to be with Him--to be united with those of his kind. And we need not dwell too long on Elijah's arrogance at thinking that he alone was sufficiently righteous toward God, for to one degree or another we have all entertained such thoughts. In the present societal milieu it takes very little time before rampant deceit, hypocrisy, or crass disingenuousness raises our paranoia to even greater heights. It's not hard at all, today, to imagine that 'I alone am left.'

But no Christian is ever alone. We carry around in us that sublime connection to the Father: the Holy Spirit--the great revealer of God's mind left us by Jesus when He returned to His home. Save eternal life itself, there is surely no more precious gift in our possession than that gentle Counselor.

Though, in a sense, one might say that in His printed word we carry around with us the Father--for that document contains His very personality, will and wisdom--as holy as its contents are, the Bible is still just a book. It's too easy for it to be lost amidst all the rest on the shelf. But the abiding Spirit is an actual person--as real a companion as a spouse, a best friend, a mother or father. He is the channel through which we hear the voice of God speaking to us, as well the channel for our muffled groanings to pass in the opposite direction. He is the one who illumines God's printed word, so that we might find Him in its pages; He is the one who reveals God's presence in the whisperings of nature; He is the one who chides and corrects, and restores us after confession.

In addition to the Holy Spirit, the believer enjoys the fellowship of a unique collection of like-minded souls: the Body of Christ--the church. It is our relationship with God, through the blood of Christ, that permits us to enjoy true fellowship with other believers. Without that mutual point of focus, we would have nothing in common. Yes, plumbers would meet other plumbers and have the basis for conversation; mothers would chat with mothers; and clergy would seek out other clergy for meaningful dialogue. But that would not be koinonia--that deeply spiritual joining found only in those bound together by the blood of Christ.

Many years ago, I flew from California to the Midwest on an airline that changed planes in Las Vegas. The plane ride, with its claustrophobic packing of people like sardines into the narrow tube of the fuselage, had been in itself sufficient to raise my level of anxiety. My custom on such journeys was to take every opportunity to disembark to the nearest exit, to drink in as much fresh air and open space as possible to reinvigorate myself for the next leg. On this occasion, however, I stepped off the plane and into a terminal that was a smoke-fogged den of poor souls feeding their dollars into rows of mechanical thieves--an environment no less oppressive than the interior of the airplane from which I just exited.

I suddenly felt very much alone and alienated from my world. The noise was deafening, the people milling about, pushing, shoving. The cigarette smoke was so heavy that I couldn't breathe. I hadn't time between planes to make it outside; somehow I would have to find a way to survive in this one, intolerable room. Looking around, I discovered that the crowd of people had not yet invaded one small area of the terminal, so I sought refuge in that out-of-the-way corner.

I stood there, huddled and feeling miserable, wishing for it all to end quickly. I felt, like Elijah, surely the last sane human being in a world gone wildly insane. But then I spied a young black man in the crowd. He wore a satin warm-up jacket, the back of which was emblazoned with the words "King Jesus." I didn't speak to this young man and I knew nothing about him, but just the presence of a kindred soul in the same room brought comfort to me. Just the nearness of someone who called upon the same Lord brought a certain peace to my troubled spirit. We may have had nothing else in common, but for the moment I had found a brother.

There was only one link between the stranger and me: Jesus Christ. Without Him, that stranger would have been just another face in the crowd. But with that holy connection in place, that was all that was needed. We were related. We instantly had a bond more personal and substantial than if we shared the same friends or occupation. And suddenly I knew: I was not alone.

In His mercy, God reminded Elijah that the prophet was certainly not alone, that, in fact, there were seven thousand others who yet called upon the true God, and had not bowed to the heathen god, Baal. And He constantly reminds us that none of us are alone. Until the day Christ returns to take us to our true home, we will always have both the comforting, always-abiding Holy Spirit within, and the communion of saints about us.

When Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not
mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being
'in Christ' or of Christ being 'in them,' this is not simply a
way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying
Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them;
that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism
through which Christ acts--that we are His fingers and muscles,
the cells of His body. C.S. LEWIS

HER ULTIMATE DEMISE

Not all 'Jezebels' are the product of troubled, paranoid minds. There is evil in this world, and much of it is directed quite specifically at the followers of Jesus Christ. Even He warned His disciples that they would be confronting isolation, loneliness, and trouble.

Our 'huddling place' must ultimately be found in the arms of the Savior. Only there will we find our spiritual and physical sustenance; only there will the Lord God reveal Himself to a searching, expectant believer; only there will we find motivation to continue working in obedience to Him; only there will we enjoy not only His presence, but the supporting presence of fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord.

It all boils down to faith--faith and trust developed into a mature state by a life submitted to Him. In that condition, when doubts and frustrations rise and, like Asaph, we cry out over life's inequities, and want only to slink away into our protective cave, we will instead walk boldly into the presence of God--into His sanctuary--and there find our solace.


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NOTES

*   NOW SUMMON THE PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER ISRAEL TO MEET ME ON MOUNT CARMEL. AND BRING THE FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY PROPHETS OF BAAL AND THE FOUR HUNDRED PROPHETS OF ASHERAH, WHO EAT AT JEZEBEL'S TABLE." SO AHAB SENT WORD THROUGHOUT ALL ISRAEL AND ASSEMBLED THE PROPHETS ON MOUNT CARMEL. ELIJAH WENT BEFORE THE PEOPLE AND SAID, "HOW LONG WILL YOU WAVER BETWEEN TWO OPINIONS? IF THE LORD IS GOD, FOLLOW HIM; BUT IF BAAL IS GOD, FOLLOW HIM." BUT THE PEOPLE SAID NOTHING. THEN ELIJAH SAID TO THEM, "I AM THE ONLY ONE OF THE LORD'S PROPHETS LEFT, BUT BAAL HAS FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY PROPHETS. GET TWO BULLS FOR US. LET THEM CHOOSE ONE FOR THEMSELVES, AND LET THEM CUT IT INTO PIECES AND PUT IT ON THE WOOD BUT NOT SET FIRE TO IT. I WILL PREPARE THE OTHER BULL AND PUT IT ON THE WOOD BUT NOT SET FIRE TO IT. THEN YOU CALL ON THE NAME OF YOUR GOD, AND I WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD. THE GOD WHO ANSWERS BY FIRE--HE IS GOD." THEN ALL THE PEOPLE SAID, "WHAT YOU SAY IS GOOD." ELIJAH SAID TO THE PROPHETS OF BAAL, "CHOOSE ONE OF THE BULLS AND PREPARE IT FIRST, SINCE THERE ARE SO MANY OF YOU. CALL ON THE NAME OF YOUR GOD, BUT DO NOT LIGHT THE FIRE." SO THEY TOOK THE BULL GIVEN THEM AND PREPARED IT. THEN THEY CALLED ON THE NAME OF BAAL FROM MORNING TILL NOON. "O BAAL, ANSWER US!" THEY SHOUTED. BUT THERE WAS NO RESPONSE; NO ONE ANSWERED. AND THEY DANCED AROUND THE ALTAR THEY HAD MADE. AT NOON ELIJAH BEGAN TO TAUNT THEM. "SHOUT LOUDER!" HE SAID. "SURELY HE IS A GOD! PERHAPS HE IS DEEP IN THOUGHT, OR BUSY, OR TRAVELING. MAYBE HE IS SLEEPING AND MUST BE AWAKENED." SO THEY SHOUTED LOUDER AND SLASHED THEMSELVES WITH SWORDS AND SPEARS, AS WAS THEIR CUSTOM, UNTIL THEIR BLOOD FLOWED. MIDDAY PASSED, AND THEY CONTINUED THEIR FRANTIC PROPHESYING UNTIL THE TIME FOR THE EVENING SACRIFICE. BUT THERE WAS NO RESPONSE, NO ONE ANSWERED, NO ONE PAID ATTENTION. THEN ELIJAH SAID TO ALL THE PEOPLE, "COME HERE TO ME." THEY CAME TO HIM, AND HE REPAIRED THE ALTAR OF THE LORD, WHICH WAS IN RUINS. ELIJAH TOOK TWELVE STONES, ONE FOR EACH OF THE TRIBES DESCENDED FROM JACOB, TO WHOM THE WORD OF THE LORD HAD COME, SAYING, "YOUR NAME SHALL BE ISRAEL." WITH THE STONES HE BUILT AN ALTAR IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, AND HE DUG A TRENCH AROUND IT LARGE ENOUGH TO HOLD TWO SEAHS OF SEED. HE ARRANGED THE WOOD, CUT THE BULL INTO PIECES AND LAID IT ON THE WOOD. THEN HE SAID TO THEM, "FILL FOUR LARGE JARS WITH WATER AND POUR IT ON THE OFFERING AND ON THE WOOD." "DO IT AGAIN," HE SAID, AND THEY DID IT AGAIN. "DO IT A THIRD TIME," HE ORDERED, AND THEY DID IT THE THIRD TIME. THE WATER RAN DOWN AROUND THE ALTAR AND EVEN FILLED THE TRENCH. AT THE TIME OF SACRIFICE, THE PROPHET ELIJAH STEPPED FORWARD AND PRAYED: "O LORD, GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND ISRAEL, LET IT BE KNOWN TODAY THAT YOU ARE GOD IN ISRAEL AND THAT I AM YOUR SERVANT AND HAVE DONE ALL THESE THINGS AT YOUR COMMAND. ANSWER ME, O LORD, ANSWER ME, SO THESE PEOPLE WILL KNOW THAT YOU, O LORD, ARE GOD, AND THAT YOU ARE TURNING THEIR HEARTS BACK AGAIN." THEN THE FIRE OF THE LORD FELL AND BURNED UP THE SACRIFICE, THE WOOD, THE STONES AND THE SOIL, AND ALSO LICKED UP THE WATER IN THE TRENCH. WHEN ALL THE PEOPLE SAW THIS, THEY FELL PROSTRATE AND CRIED, "THE LORD--HE IS GOD! THE LORD--HE IS GOD!" THEN ELIJAH COMMANDED THEM, "SEIZE THE PROPHETS OF BAAL. DON'T LET ANYONE GET AWAY!" THEY SEIZED THEM, AND ELIJAH HAD THEM BROUGHT DOWN TO THE KISHON VALLEY AND SLAUGHTERED THERE. 1 KINGS 18:19-40

1. Romans 1:19.

2. John 4:24.

3. The Cost of Discipleship (Macmillan, 1963), p47f.

4. Luke 18:31-33; John 17:11-13.

5. Romans 8:26.

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1998 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) 1998 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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