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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 106
September 1999

DEATH RATTLE
the dying gasp of integrity


Daring to do what is right, that being the sole reason

It was election night, 1904. Theodore Roosevelt was poised to win the White House by an unprecedented landslide. In that moment, at the height of his political power and popularity, he committed one of history's greatest political blunders.

Roosevelt had come into office upon the assassination of his predecessor, William McKinley. Subsequently he had enjoyed more than three years of a popular term, was robustly healthy and, at forty-six, still in the prime of life. In those years, there was no legal limit to the number of terms a President could serve. The 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution, which would have limited Roosevelt to only one elected term, after he had assumed such a large portion of McKinley's term, would not be ratified until 1951. So, though the tradition had been that a President not run for more than two terms, Roosevelt was free to run for two more full terms--or more.

Yet, that night, with his flabbergasted wife and supporters standing off to the side, the President declared to a roomful of reporters that

With that one sentence he signed his political demise, turning himself into a lame duck President before even beginning his first elected term.

Later, writing to a friend, Roosevelt said he would "cut off his right hand if he could just take back those words". For you see, he had said them, said them publicly, and he would stand by those ill-fated words. Though he may have had moments in which he regretted the utterance, there was never any thought given to reneging on the promise; it simply wasn't an option.

In a letter to his friend, Owen Wister, Roosevelt later wrote:

as good as your word

This kind of integrity has become almost obsolete. It has become nauseatingly commonplace for people to do quite the opposite of what they have promised. From the hardware store clerk to the mail-order catalog company, from the utility service representative to the plumber who reams out your pipes--we live in a world where a person's word is only as good as the lawyer one finds to sue them for breach of contract.

Sadly missing now is the kind of integrity demonstrated by Joseph when he was tempted by the sensual enticements of his master's wife...

...or the forthright commitment to his civic responsibilities shown by Daniel to King Darius.

Even in the simple, more mundane commitments people make every day--"I'll call you tomorrow.", "I'll pick you up at 6:00."--we are a society in which integrity has become something to snicker at--as one would chuckle at the naivetĒ of an unsophisticate. To be only fifteen minutes late is now to be on time; to have something more pressing prevent your arrival all together is not to be rude, but now fashionable.

Jesus taught us to follow through on what we say. He said not to depend on trite, meaningless oaths, but for us to just mean and do what we say.

But for many today, this is asking too much. Commitment and courtesy to others has now been replaced by a commitment to self, courtesy shown only to one's own desires. The standard for all of society has now become that of the high school girl who, at the last minute, breaks her date with the pimple-faced dweeb, because the captain of the football team has just asked her out.

Character and integrity, like all good things, come down from above. They are not built into us from the clay of our substance, but are instilled in us by fathers and mothers, teachers and pastors, and, most of all, by a patient, attentive, righteous God.

DOING WITHOUT
the inconvenient right


There are few institutions more cutthroat and merciless than the American political scene. Advantage is not only exploited when something unseemly is discovered in the life of an opponent, but unseemliness will also be twisted and manufactured out of whole cloth. It's not enough to use a dirty tidbit to reveal a weakness in one's opponent; his record may be distorted beyond all recognition to create the unfavorable impression.

The rules of the game are vicious: When the opponent is down, he may be kicked and pummeled unmercifully. Reputations, even lives are destroyed to advance one's career--all the while touting one's own good name and pristine character. Underlings are fanned out to dredge up anything and everything that might sully the reputation of the opposition, and when something is found, it is "leaked" to the cooperative press--or a ranking lieutenant holds a sad-faced press conference to announce how "disappointed we all are" to have to release this damning evidence.

an honorable opponent

King Saul, the first king of Israel, hated David son of Jesse with a vengeance. The prophet Samuel had anointed David as a replacement for the corrupt Saul. And though he would periodically remember his affection for the young man who was his son's best friend, King Saul was more powerfully motivated by his jealousy of David, and sought every opportunity to do away with him.

Saul's pursuit of David was rooted in his jealousy of him; his jealousy of David was rooted in the favor God expressed for the young man--against the powerful disfavor He expressed for Saul. His reign had been distinguished by gross sin, arrogance and presumption, and outright rebellion against the Lord who had set him on the throne. Not only had the prophet Samuel informed him that he was a marked man, but that his replacement was someone particularly close to the Lord's heart. He told the king, "But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD'S command." (1 Samuel 13:14)

The truth of Samuel's pronouncement was borne out in the behavior of David. Instead of striking back, to rid himself of his persistent nemesis, David repeatedly showed honor and respect for the one God had initially anointed. No matter that Saul was now being rejected by God; He was the king, the Lord's anointed, and David would continue to show the appropriate respect.

It didn't seem like much. Saul didn't even notice that David had crept up silently and cut away a small portion of his robe. He finished his business and went on his way.

But David--because he was a man after God's own heart--knew that what he had done was wrong. He was immediately convicted of his offense.

During Saul's long pursuit of David, the younger man had more than one opportunity to kill the king. But he steadfastly refused to take the advantage. No one would have blamed him, had he followed through on the counsel from his men. From a human perspective David had every right to defend himself from the very real threat of death from the king. But because he walked by God's perspective, instead of man's, David refused to go that route.

TOO THIN
the price of duplicity


Today image is everything. It would seem that no one really cares to know the truth about anyone else--so long as that person looks and sounds good. Character and integrity have become so thin in the human condition that even our national leaders are now elected based not on who they are, or what they have accomplished, but on how they comport themselves before the camera. Do they say all the things we wish to hear? Do they have quick answers that tickle our personal agendas? Well, then by all means, let's vote for them!

No matter how the world conducts itself, God's standards remain the same. The world may now give greater weight to image and sound bites, but God still examines the heart. That's what He said to the prophet Samuel when He sent him to select Israel's second king from the sons of Jesse.

And God was looking at the heart--not the outward appearance--when He passed judgement on two members of the early church: Ananias and Sapphira.

swift judgment

Extravagant generosity was heavy in the air during those first heady days of the Christian church. Luke tells us that "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts." (Acts 2:44-46) More than just trinkets and inconsequentials, the believers were selling even their homes and real estate: "There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." (4:34-35)

But there were some in the church who reckoned that the appearance of sacrifice would suffice, that all they need do was say that they were giving to the church the entire proceeds from the sale of their property.

Their deception bore a heavy consequence. The leader of the church, Peter, knew immediately that they were lying to him and the rest of the church. More than that, they were lying to God and the Holy Spirit. It was God who judged them--and judgement was swift.

Because she was in cahoots with her husband, part of the conspiracy from the beginning, Sapphira met with the same fate.

God's swift judgement seems harsh to us, but that opinion says more about our descending standards, than the standards of an unchanging God.

We say we live in the "New Testament era," an epoch under God's grace--and we do. But who's to say that God's righteous hand no longer carries out justice in this world? Who can say with authority that when someone suddenly drops dead, or experiences a sudden run of 'bad luck,' that he or she has not been visited upon by the judgement of a holy God?

THE REAL THING
people of substance


Our society has become so inured to a life constructed of Styrofoam and tinsel, that when the real thing comes along we're not sure how to react. People have become so accustomed to the paper and balsam wood fronts erected by so many, thinking that construction to be the real thing, that when someone of true substance happens along, they're left feeling ill-at-ease, awkward, wishing only to return quickly to their more comfortable Land of Illusions.

When members of the press--that inbred fraternity so accustomed to hype and spin and well-rehearsed sound bites--are presented with someone of real depth and substance, such as a Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, they trip all over themselves struggling to report the story in their typical fashion. But they're left the fool, since plastic is a poor companion to rich mahogany.

signs and wonders

The early persecution of the young church of the First Century, by such figures as Saul of Tarsus, caused the rapid dissemination of the gospel. As the followers of Christ escaped the intense persecution around Jerusalem, they carried the Good News with them to many who had not yet seen or heard the truth about Jesus.

Leaving Jerusalem, Philip traveled to Samaria, and there began proclaiming Christ, working miracles, and baptizing the new believers. Among them was a magician named Simon who had developed a considerable following in the area.

Through his sorcery and grand showmanship, people regarded him (at his considerable coaxing) as a messiah in his own right--even referring to Simon as the "Great Power of God." But, according to Luke, even this man believed the word about Jesus Christ as preached by Philip, was baptized, and became a camp follower of the disciple.

But there are different shades of 'believing.' The magician was less enamored of Jesus Christ, than of the miracles and crowd-pleasing wonders being performed in His name. Simon may have believed some of what Philip was teaching, but for the most part he was more impressed by the disciple's success in drawing crowds, and thought that if he hung around long enough, he'd discover a way to cash in on the whole enterprise.

That opportunity presented itself when Peter and John arrived in Samaria to complete the conversion process. Though we may not understand--or agree upon--the details, somehow the Samaritan's conversion to Christ had been accomplished without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The two apostles came from Jerusalem to confirm what had been done so far, and to pray that the new believers would now receive the Holy Spirit.

Peter and John began laying hands on the people, and they received the Holy Spirit. And Simon the magician didn't miss a beat. Here at last was his chance to cash in on the spread of this new faith. He had already shown that he could talk the talk, and work slights of hand to pass himself off as someone from God--even God himself--to the gullible in the area. But he knew that on his own he couldn't pull off this business of bestowing the Holy Spirit on new converts. Simon figured people would pay good money for that, and, being a good businessman, he was willing to spend money to make money.

righteous indignation

There's no mistaking Peter's temper in his response to Simon. He, better than anyone else, knew that faith in Jesus Christ was to be total. One could not believe just a little bit, or pick and choose only the best parts. One could not defend Christ one day and betray Him the next, and still consider himself a true believer. And one could not call himself a follower of Christ while selling off the good parts to an ignorant people. It was Jesus who paid the ransom.

In confirmation of the shallow depth of his faith--if any faith at all--Simon's reply was, essentially, "Repent and pray to the Lord? *You* do it." If he couldn't turn a profit on this newfangled 'Christian' stuff, then he wasn't interested.

God is looking for people who are the real thing. The world may be perfectly willing to settle for the glitter and nonsense of a plastic faith, but the Lord God is not so simple-minded. He prefers to work with people of substance, people of good character. Not those who are perfect, by any definition, but those who are willing to live with the consequences of their promises--those who are fully committed to serving Him with integrity.


COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1999 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) 1999 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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