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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 116
July 2000

[Editor's Note: In this issue, each article is prefaced by several news excerpts quoted from today's press. These excerpts are indented, to set them off from the original material.]

DWELLING IN TENTS



Our reactions vacillate between shrill anger and slumped defeat. Our emotions roller coaster from the exhilarating ascent of triumph, down through the plummeting abyss of defeat. We feel one day helpless, and the next superior against the foe. We are left disconnected, our sensibilities fragile and shattered, as if just waking from a bad dream in which the world has become inverted and strange.

Every believer dwells as a displaced alien in the place of his birth--an odd arrangement that leaves him feeling homesick for a place he's never seen. Every believer, in varying degrees, feels like a traveler who has awakened after a long night's journey in a strange bed in a strange room, in a country not his own.

In January 1982 Linda and I went on a five-week vacation to Egypt and Kenya. We departed San Diego, California, at 7:30 in the morning on the 19th, and four hours later arrived in Washington, DC. We finally departed for England after a four-hour delay because of snow and ice. About nine hours later we landed in Manchester to refuel, then proceeded to London. After a brief layover, we departed London for Cairo, arriving at 9:00 the evening of the 20th. Out the window of the plane we noticed scruffy looking soldiers sporting machine guns. Linda and I looked at each other and wondered just what we had let ourselves in for. But after a perilous ride from the Cairo airport to the Mena House hotel in Giza, hard against the pyramid plateau, we finally were settled into our room by 10:30 that night.

Without exaggeration, upon rising the next morning, my brain and body not only felt as if they were still in another time zone, but as if I had landed on another planet. The only things familiar were a few pieces of luggage--and the woman with whom I was sharing my room. Everything else was utterly alien to my experience. I fell out of bed and pushed aside the curtain that led out onto the balcony of our room. Rising before my squinted gaze were the massive stone edifices of the great pyramids of Khufu and Khofre, kings of Ancient Egypt's 4th Dynasty (c.2627-2513 BC). My nostrils inhaled the scent of spices and perfumes for which my senses had no reference. Below my balcony passed people speaking in tongues I had never heard.

I was no longer in Kansas, Toto.

Sometimes that is how we feel as believers living on earth. We were born here; we are people of the soil. Our bodies are built for this earth's gravity, our lungs are shaped for the atmosphere we breathe, our senses are tuned to the sights and smells and tactile experiences of this temporal plane.

But as believers in Christ, our bodies have made a home for the Holy Spirit, and we are in the process of being transformed from our earth-likeness into the likeness of His Being. We are caught in that awkward middle ground where, at different times, we can feel estranged from either. And sometimes our joy can be vanquished by despair with the growing realization that though we haven't moved, we now dwell in a land not only foreign, but overtly hostile to what we are becoming.

 

"I AM A STRANGER..."


God can seem to be a long way off in a place like the one in which we live. The sincere believer strains to hear His voice amidst the din and clatter of a fallen, obstinate society. The noise of commerce, the shrill cry of the huckster, the effervescent shriek of the media--all combine to muffle the sweeter music coming from heaven.

In the early moments of our salvation, once we realize that it is only our heart that is floating a few feet off the ground, in our zeal we embrace the challenge of being salt and light to a world wallowing in darkness. We take as our marching orders the words Jesus spoke to His followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

For a while we glory in being different, in being set apart from others around us. Our heart aches with the desire to spread beyond ourselves that which has changed us.

At some point, however--early on for some, later for others, never for a few--the exhilaration from being different wears down to being more of a burden than a badge of honor. At some point we either long to return to the familiar, or long, with even greater zeal, for the unseen--and the uncomfortable dichotomy strains our relationship with both.

Abraham (Abram) knew what it was like to leave everything familiar to dwell in a land not his own. God had moved his father's family out of Ur, in lower Mesopotamia, up the Euphrates River to Haran, in upper Mesopotamia. In both cities his family was steeped in the culture of multiple gods--in fact, Haran was the center for the worship of the aptly named moon-god, Sin, and the family of Terah, Abraham's father, was not set apart from this culture of idol worship.

It is hard for us to put ourselves in his place, for most of us have been raised in a monotheistic culture. Even if we've chosen not to participate, we have been surrounded by the traditions, the worship, and, more importantly, the Word, of Jehovah. And even if we have been an adherent to a faith outside Christianity, Judaism or Islam, we at least have been aware of their existence, and a passing familiarity with their common worship of the one God.

But Abraham had none of these to fall back on. He was born and raised under a religious system detestable to a God he would eventually serve, anathema to a new religious system he would ultimately found. Abraham was not a Jew, but a Chaldean, and had no point of reference--no written word, no traditions, no practical experience--for the voice that suddenly spoke to him.

So at the age of seventy-five, Abraham packed up his family, left the familiarity of the Chaldean culture, and journeyed south, into Canaan, the promised land.

 

ESTABLISHING FAITH


The land God promised Abraham and his descendants was not uninhabited. He and his clan were no latter-day Adams and Eves discovering a virgin territory heretofore unknown. Though from the arrogance of modernity the life of Abraham would seem to be set in the beginnings of time, by then the world was already old. The pyramids Abraham saw in Egypt, when his family moved down there in time of famine, were already almost 1,000 years old.

The principal god of Canaan was El, followed closely by his son, Ba-al (or Baal). Then there were Dagon, Asherah, Astarte (or Ashtoreth), and Anath, followed by a rich and colorful pantheon of lesser deities.

None of this was new to Abraham or his people. They had come out of a religious culture that included these gods and more; he was made of the same stock. Yet Abraham stepped into the bountiful Canaan the bearer of a new faith in an even more ancient God: Jahweh.

Torn between the heritage of his flesh, and obedience to his strong faith, Abraham had to find a way to operate amidst both. It wouldn't work for him to be a hermit; he couldn't be a monk, cloistered within the rock walls of an isolated cell. He was a wealthy man, with people dependent on him. Abraham had responsibilities.

Abraham participated in life. During his time in Canaan he formed alliances with kings, and went to war against others; he traded, and built his wealth; and in the Oriental way, he graciously received and entertained travelers who happened by. With his wealth and prestige, Abraham could have built himself a palace, established a city and become a king. He could have sunk his stone-set foundations deep into the soil of Canaan, giving him stability, and greater authority among his neighbors.

Instead, Abraham remained in his tents. While others about him were establishing dynasties, Abraham was establishing his faith; while others built monuments to themselves, Abraham was building a relationship with God. While others bent their will to the dominance of lesser gods, Abraham--though he knew those other gods well--bent his will, instead, to the Lord of Lords, the one made not of wood or stone, but of Spirit.

 

AS SEEN FROM THE HEIGHTS


Though we are born into this world--though we have the mud of earth clinging to our feet--we, as Christians, are no longer of it. So long as we stubbornly cling to it, we will remain unformed, and unhappy. The Christian has God living inside him, and the more his feet remain stuck in the muck of this earth, the more miserable will be his spirit. The closer we are to God, the more we share His vision. There is no one higher than the Lord, and from His vantage point the view is limitless.

Man's perspective is limited, his frame of reference brief. But God sees around the bends in life, and while it is true that we will never know precisely what lies around the corner, the closer we live to God, the less we will concern ourselves with what is there. God's perspective is at once historic, contemporary, and prescient. He sees yesterday as well as today, and tomorrow as clearly as the day before.

The historian's perspective on current events is always superior to that of the person who lives only in today. This perspective certainly does not guarantee comfort, but it does guarantee context, and a superior foresight regarding the consequences of actions.

The more we keep God at arm's length, the smaller we feel in comparison to Him. Distant from Him, we feel inferior, manipulated, helpless; it becomes easier to think of Him in mechanical terms, like some great and mysterious mechanized beast--uncaring and unknowable. Though supposedly aligned with Him, when our spirit remains detached it becomes easier to think of Him in almost hostile terms.

When tragedy strikes we become angry at God, cursing Him for being so stupid and unfeeling. How dare He be so unfair! How dare He be so wrong! But that response betrays our distance from God; it reveals that we are up to our necks in the muck of this earth and its ways. Distant from God, it is impossible to have His perspective. With our spirit in closer communion with His, we may have just as much pain and loss, but we will be comforted in the moment by the clarity of God's perspective.

Standing at the bottom of God's mountain we can feel only small and insignificant. Gazing upward from our earthbound perspective, His lofty heights appear to lie beyond our grasp. They seem unattainable. If we but begin climbing, however, one stone at a time, we immediately leave the clutching grip of the soil. Though still far away from the peak, we immediately begin to see it draw nearer--and the earth become smaller.

The higher we climb, the more accurate our view becomes, for we are then able to take in a broader sweep. From our higher vantage point, we can see the sturdy rock within reach of the quicksand; we can see the water hole that lies just a few feet beyond the dry desert; and we can see the cool oasis that lies just beyond the next sun-parched dune.

 

LIVING HIGHER


Just about everything about God is reciprocal. Worship Him, and He fills the heart with song; pray to Him, and He brings comfort and consolation; serve Him, and He showers joy and blessings into a life. And, as the prophet tells us, those who find their hope in the Lord will be given new strength with which to walk, to run--to soar ever higher into His presence.

Those who are afraid to dwell in tents--living unsettled, and detached from this world--are afraid that they will lose something valuable by lifting their feet off the familiar soil of earth. In truth, however, they have everything to gain. The one who lives higher gains God's limitless vision and perspective. The one who hopes in the Lord has fewer reasons to hope in anything--or anybody--of this temporal plane.

The reluctance of some to live this way is really not surprising for, after all, what this type of living really entails is surrender, a frightening--even repulsive--contemplation for many. To "wait upon," to "hope in," to "wait for" the Lord means that we surrender our shortsighted, immediate aspirations to His limitless, eternal promises, and some people simply can't wait. We live in a world of immediate gratification--a world in which something's value diminishes exponentially with every minute one must wait for its realization. Most people today haven't the patience to "wait for the Lord."

But God is more generous than that; He doesn't make us wait for everything. This promise is as much for today as it is for tomorrow, and eternity. Those who place their trust in the Lord of heaven receive an immediate result; He is a living God who is surely as alive in this minute as He is in the boundless minutes of our tomorrows. He doesn't want us to only live with Him tomorrow, but today!


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Issue No. 116
July 2000

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

Aspects is Copyright © 2000 David S. Lampel.
Permission is hereby granted for this original material to be reprinted in newsletters, journals, etc., or to be used in spoken form. When used, please include the following line: "From Aspects, by David S. Lampel. Used by permission." 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 Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

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