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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 134
January 2002

AN EAR TO THE RAIL


As difficult as it may be to conjure up the image, this writer was once a card-carrying Boy Scout. And a favorite pastime for any young Scout of that bygone era was tramping off to who knows where, shod in his trusty wide calf hiking boots and bearing his well-stocked kit pack filled with outdoor essentials.

Marshalltown--the humble town in which I was born and raised--had many places suitable for such excursions when I was a lad. The bank of the Iowa River, especially behind the Old Soldiers' Home, was a perennial favorite, as were the deep woods located on the far side. One location that has remained firmly fixed in my memory was the rail line leading west out of town toward the hamlet of Albion--a handy five-mile jaunt.

A hike along these tracks was always good for picking up rusted, discarded railroad spikes (good for tent pegs or a poor man's chisel); spotting bewildered pheasants rising out of the brush; and, best yet, meeting up with a passing freight.

The lay of the land between Marshalltown and Albion was mostly flat farmland, but still there were places along the line where we could no longer see very far down the tracks. At such bends in the road, the trick was to press your ear to one of the rails; through the cold steel you could hear the distinct humming and feel the faint vibration of a train approaching even from a considerable distance.

Jesus never prayed for the Father to take us out of this world.

The spirits of this world can approach, as Sandburg's fog, on 'little cat feet,' or they can rage down upon our heads with the subtlety of a belching locomotive. They can please and stroke us, entice and even satisfy for a moment. They can take the form of entertainment, literature, new ideas and fresh concepts, teachers--even pastors. But they are always there, and if we shrink from them or, worse, pretend that they aren't there at all, we deny God His sovereignty and grace, for why sacrifice Your only Son for a world requiring no redemption?

We are to be not necessarily preoccupied, but always vigilant with our ear to the rail, ready for whatever is approaching. We are to examine--we are to test--every breaching of our fragile sphere, be it through the ears, through our eyes, through any sense available to the evil one.

But first, we must test ourselves. Can we verify the presence of Jesus in our lives? If so, we must always be testing our actions and works; we must test what is in our heart, for the intentions of the heart color our perception. Then we must test counsel. What prophets instruct us? What is their source? Are we becoming wise, discerning channels of righteousness--or gullible buckets of slop? Finally, we must test the supernatural influences in our lives. What spirits are we listening to? Are they the spirits of this world, or the next?

 

KEEPING THE WATER STIRRED

The very process of self-examination requires a standard against which we must compare ourselves. Every profession has an acme, a pinnacle of success, against which personal performance is compared: the actor has his Olivier; the preacher, his Spurgeon; the basketball player has his Michael Jordan; and the baseball player, his DiMaggio.

But the Christian cannot choose. The believer has but one standard: Jesus Christ. His perfection makes Him at once the finest and most frustrating standard, for we will never attain, but at least we can say, with the Apostle Paul,

Testing, always testing. Always comparing. How can we accurately interpret the humming of the rail unless we keep the ear finely tuned? There are things bearing down on us--things both mighty and small--approaching just around the bend, just over the next rise. They may blow their whistle in warning, but they may also be atop us before we know it.

How will we react? Will we run screaming into the night, convinced of our doom? Will we stand our ground and hold up a strong hand of personal authority against the puffing behemoth? Will we cower by the roadbed, praying that its pounding steel will safely pass us by?

Reading through Scripture, it would be easy to think that the way to successfully prepare for testing those things around us would be to live a pure and unblemished life--like the life described by David in Psalm 26:

David couldn't truthfully say this about his own life, and neither can we; he did not lead a "blameless life," and neither do we. But even with the impurities in his life, David had a heart for God. And that is where the answer lies--in our heart. By keeping our heart tuned to the heart of God, we are able to discern His will; by keeping the water active and stirred, it will never freeze over, hardening our heart against His way.

I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear, A sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near. Help me the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire; To catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

From Thee that I no more may stray, no more Thy goodness grieve, Grant me the filial awe, I pray, the tender conscience give. Quick as the apple of an eye, O God, my conscience make! Awake my soul when sin is nigh, and keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love, to me Thy power impart; The burden from my soul remove, the hardness from my heart. O may the least omission pain my reawakened soul, And drive me to that grace again, which makes the wounded whole.
                        Charles Wesley

 

TESTING THE SOIL

With each passing year our gardening becomes more meticulous, more scientific. In the beginning Linda bought her seeds at the local Farm & Home: beans, corn, carrots--by the scoop; drop the seeds into the ground and cover them over. Now she plants a specific variety of beans, from a specific source by mail order, and in one plot of ground she plants a certain kind of carrot that is good for fresh eating, while in another plot she plants a different kind of carrot better for canning.

More than that, she's now taken to testing the soil prior to spring planting, to discover what nutrients need to be added. So we have, on occasion, mixed and dropped and shook up little test tubes, comparing samples of soil from the various gardens to colored charts. First we tested the soil's pH level, then each sample of soil had to be 'extracted' by being mixed with distilled water and two tablets. Using other mysterious tablets, the resulting liquid was then tested for levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

Life in Christ is not a solitary event, but a rather messy process. Though God remains the same, we grow and mature, slip and slide our way through our days doing stupid and inexplicable things, barely housebroken, all the while seeking a higher plane nearer to the throne of God. Our lives not only are grossly imperfect, they have an ebb and flow, never remaining the same from one day to the next. One moment of pristine holiness can be followed by abject depravity, then quickly followed again by the exquisite bliss of brokenness.

So our Custodian has His hands full. We can't be trusted to begin at Point A and follow a straight, unaltered path all the way to Point B. The fleshly spirit would rather stumble along being distracted by pretty detours. In a word, we're incorrigible.

Except, that is, through the patient ministrations of God and His Spirit. When we invite Them to come in and do regular testing of the foolishness built up within, we periodically expunge those impurities that have left us for so long fallow. Likewise, in Their wisdom They know precisely what must be added to bring us back up to peak fertility.

And the more often we get tested, the more steady we will be along the path that takes us up to that higher plane--the one resting so close to the throne of God.

 

IF THE TRUTH BE TOLD

Consider the following exercise: Select a typical week and make careful note of every thing and everybody that teaches you during that seven-day period. Don't forget--that list would only begin with your Pastor, Sunday School teacher or regular school teacher; the list would also include parents, children, neighbors, doctors, pharmacists, judges. But it wouldn't stop there. The list would include talking heads on the television: newscasters, reporters, talk-show hosts and their guests, soap opera actors (or the writers that put the words into their mouths). Add to this every commercial you see. And don't forget radio: newscasters, commentators, talk shows, Christian broadcasters, and even more commercials. Make sure you remember the printed word: newspapers, magazines, novels, manuals, and certainly the Bible.

Really, the list would be endless, because not everyone who teaches us announces their intentions--in fact, very few do. We are instructed every day by an endless procession of people and corporations wanting us to think or act in a certain way.

Compiling this list would be quite a project in itself. But if you are really ambitious, make note also of what it is you were being taught by these media. Make two lists: at the top of one write the heading Scripturally Based, and at the top of the other, write the heading Worldly Based. Now, how much are you taking in of each?

What all of this vast wellspring of information represents is a form of prophecy. In Jesus' time, and after, the land was crawling with prophets. Na„ve individuals were repeatedly confronted by prophets and seers claiming to speak for God. Some were guilty of a calculated deception, usually for profit. Others were simply deceived themselves, thinking they were something they were not. Still others--the least populated category--were, indeed, prophets who illumined the word of God for the common man.

We need not be sidetracked in this modern era by the terms 'prophet' or 'prophecy.' Some hold to the belief that there is no form of prophecy at all after the sealing of the Biblical canon. Others assign the role of the prophet in the modern church to pastors and teachers. There is a balanced perspective in the following:

 

UNSIGHTLY GROWTH

The predominant tree around our property is the oak. The many flavors of oak on our land are a messy lot: they make good firewood, and can compose a stately congregation in the full splendor of summer foliage, but their limbs can be twisted and brittle, snapping off easily in storms. They also have a habit of sprouting new growth low on the trunk--growth that requires periodic trimming for the appearance and health of the tree.

When we first moved in, this maintenance hadn't been performed in some time, leaving the outlook from the house dark and foreboding. Rooms were dimmed, and vistas reduced by the clutter of unsightly growth on the oak trees. The removal of this growth brought sunshine and fresh air into the house again, lifting the spirits, as well as improving the appearance of the property.

This same work must be periodically repeated. For seemingly overnight the natural process of growth for the trees will once again leave things dark and foreboding, and it will be time for the unsightly growth to be removed. It will be time to once again raise the canopy to let in more sunshine and fresh air.

The life lived trudging upon the soil of this earth is one that requires periodic removal of those things that are the result of the natural process. As creatures of the soil, lofty goals and holy expectations are not sufficient to halt the spread of unsightly growth that diminishes our outlook.

The one who made and understands it all is the one who must prune and trim away those things for which we have no use. He is the one who removes every encumbrance that threatens the free flow of His fresh air and light. We must periodically present ourselves to Him, and bow before His strong yet tender hand, giving Him the opportunity to remove everything that has become a barrier to His grace.

 

NO GAME OF BADMINTON

Each of these considerations could by itself fill volumes, and none more so than our responsibility to be testing the spirits. In the limited space of this journal, justice cannot be done to the intricacies and convolutions of our relationship with the spirit world swimming about our heads. Were any of us to be privy to what is actually there--substantial yet unseen--we would certainly run screaming into the night, as convinced of our own madness as the ground beneath our feet.

For that is what the darker spirits represent for the Christian: utter madness. And the incessant conflict between the angels of light and dark--good and evil--must surely be something terrible to behold. By God's grace we need not be spectators to this hideous confrontation.

The prophet Daniel came about as close as anyone would like.

Standing before Daniel was a grand and luminescent angel, sent by God to deliver a message in answer to the prophet's three-week period of intensive fasting and prayer over the fate of Israel.

The angel's identification of his antagonist as "the prince of the kingdom of Persia" does not refer to some member of a royal household, but to the satanic angel assigned to the Persian realm. All the while that Daniel had been in the throes of entreaty, God's messenger angel had been on his way to him, but had been delayed by the attack from Satan's angel--in fact, had been overwhelmed by him, requiring the assistance of Michael, one of the Lord's "chief princes."

The icy chill of dread can almost be heard in the angel's voice as he explains that upon leaving Daniel, he must step back into the warfare raging in the spiritual realm. He knows that his adversary will now be joined by the satanic angel assigned to Greece, and he's grateful that at least the angel Michael will be standing by him.

What a horrifying spectacle must be this ongoing war "against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" that even a powerful angel of God would dread returning to it. Whether seen or unseen, these dark spirits are real, and every day they contend for our lives. So we must be vigilant to test everything that comes our way, giving no quarter to any dark evil camouflaged in robes of light.

The relationship we have with this dark spiritual realm is one of warfare. Jesus taught us to be kind and thoughtful to others of our own kind, giving of ourselves, showing compassion at all times. But nowhere do I read that these same considerations are to be extended toward the evil spirits that daily beat upon our lives. To the contrary, we are to


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Issue No. 134
January 2002

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Aspects is Copyright © 2002 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 AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE (Updated Edition), Copyright © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission. Where indicated, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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