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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 137
April 2002

SMALL PEOPLE DOING GREAT THINGS


Once upon a time, in a strange and lovely place where some people go once they've been rid of everything flesh, an elderly woman approached a young man hunched over a huge and rather grand book.

She noticed, first of all, that there was a timeless quality about the man's beauty--for, though of the male persuasion, he was, indeed, quite beautiful beyond anything she had seen before or since. He also was ignoring her, and even when she approached so close as to cast a shadow over his work (though in the brilliance of where she was, shadows of any kind were not at all allowed), the beautiful man remained intent on his work, his long, artfully shaped nose just inches from the printed page.

"Hello?" She ventured timidly. "Hello. Uh, they sent me here." Receiving no response, she tried again. "Is this the right place?"

"That depends," the beautiful man said without bothering to look up.

Gaining confidence, the woman explained, "They said, 'See the one at the table--with the book. Malaki.' Are you Malaki?"

Without changing his stooped posture one little bit, the young man glanced up at the woman and permitted a trace of a smile to toy with the corners of his pursed lips. "In person," he declared with every measure of importance at his disposal.

"I don't get it," the woman said, scratching her head through what was left of her thinning hair. "Wasn't the last guy named Malaki?" She screwed her face into the shape of a question mark as she struggled to gain foothold in an understanding of this strange and magical place.

"Oh, we're all named Malaki," Malaki said. "It's generic--like pharaoh, or Kleenex."

His explanation brought her no closer to understanding, and deep in the pit of her stomach the woman felt an old and dreaded twinge of homesickness--that queasy sensation of being somewhere she didn't belong, set adrift from a place she would rather be. With a long and wearied sigh she said, "Look, I'm trying to find somebody, and they told me you could help."

Malaki drew himself up to his full height--a height that towered over the elderly woman. He inhaled deeply, as if filling his lungs with every bit of importance his office bestowed on him. "I am the Keeper of the Book of Life. In this book," he ran his large hands lovingly over the cream-colored pages before him, "are the names of every person who has given his heart and soul to Jesus Christ." With that declaration, Malaki leaned forward, his face close to the woman's, expecting her to be thoroughly and breathtakingly impressed.

"Here's the thing," she began, dismissing his grandiloquence with a shrug, "my husband died twenty years ago. He was a disciple of Jesus, but not a very important one. Nobody ever knew anything about him; he didn't make any of the written accounts. So I don't know if he would even be in your book."

"Oh my," answered Malaki quickly, "in that case I can guarantee he is in the book. But, ahem," he sniffed, "are you?"

"I did resist for a long time," she confessed. "But just before I died, I believed in Jesus and gave Him my life."

"Just under the wire, huh?" Malaki smirked.

"Now I'm looking for my husband--for old time's sake--you know how it is." She winked.

Malaki glanced back down at his work, embarrassed. "Well, actually, I don't."

The woman leaned over the small, ornate desk. There was urgency in her voice when she said, "Could you tell me where he is? His name is James son of--"

Suddenly Malaki's countenance lit up, and for the first time a broad grin spread across his face, making it even more beautiful than before. "You don't mean the James? Son of Alphaeus? You're kidding!"

"You mean you know him?"

"Know Him! Why, he's one of our leading citizens! Everybody knows James son of Alphaeus."

The woman found this difficult to believe. Her husband had been a good man, but thoroughly and irrefutably ordinary. There were times on market day that she had struggled in vain to locate James--only to be later informed that he had been right there in front of her. Her good husband had been glaringly unremarkable. Surely Malaki was thinking of someone else. "Wait a minute," she said, "short guy, dark curly hair."

Nodding, Malaki said, "Sure. I even know which page he's on." He quickly flipped backward through the book with his delicate fingers, stopping on one of the first pages of the huge volume. With an expansive gesture, Malaki pointed his long, slender index finger to one entry near the top of the page.

The woman leaned over the table. "Five stars?" She gasped.

"Our highest rating," Malaki said, his face beaming with pride.

"But, he was just another guy. Very ordinary."

"Precisely!"

She was now utterly confused. "If that's the case, how do the real biggies live up here? Guys like Moses, Peter, John."

Malaki shrugged. "Just about like everyone else."

"I can't figure this."

"Well, it's not really part of my job description," he sniffed, "but I'll try to explain as best I can. There are no favorites in heaven, you see. God loves all who take their residence here. However, the Father does have a rewards system."

"Rewards?"

"No one can buy their way into heaven. But God's children are apportioned talents and what they accomplish with those talents in His name is remembered by the Father. He rewards the diligent works of everyone belonging to Him."

"Then, as I said," the woman sputtered, "the apostle Peter must have the finest accommodations."

"No, not necessarily." Malaki leaned back into the simple yet elegant chair that sat behind his table. "Peter received so many rewards while on earth: he was a respected leader; a writer, whose teachings will live on till the very end of time. But the Father has a soft spot in His heart for the servant who receives no glory during his earthly life. He has a very special love for those who keep plugging away even when no one notices their labors." He looked at the elderly woman standing at the other side of the table. "Tell me, what did James do while he was 'down there'?"

"Oh," she sighed, "he was kind of forgotten. He always ended up doing the jobs no one else would. Taking out the trash. Sweeping the church floor. Visiting with the beggars."

"And he didn't receive much thanks for his work, did he?"

"Of course not!" The woman said with some anger as she recalled the disappointing anonymity in which her husband served. "No one paid him any mind. Nobody even knew anything about it."

"But he kept on, didn't he," Malaki said patiently. "He kept on with it, never shirking from even the most menial task."

The woman shrugged, "Someone had to do it."

"So James didn't receive much glory while he was on earth?"

"Glory?" She sputtered. "They forgot he was even around!"

Malaki rose and leaned toward the distraught woman. With all of his persuasive power he reassured her. "God didn't. He didn't forget. And now James has been paid in full. He now has all the glory that others received while they were on earth. The difference is, their glory came from men. James' glory is from the Father--in person."

Calming, the woman now realized that she was in a place remarkably dissimilar to earth--a place where a different set of rules and consequences were in place. Smiling, she said, "It sounds as if my husband has finally made a name for himself."

"Oh, he made his name on earth. Now he is reaping the reward."

"But please," she said insistently, "tell me: Where is James?"

"Well now, it would be my pleasure to take you there myself," he said, closing the book. "His palace isn't far. Besides, I'd like to be there when he receives his finest reward."

"What's that?"

"Why, you, of course!" Malaki grinned and took her by the arm. "Twenty years ago he didn't know if he'd ever see you again. And now he will--for eternity."

And the two--one ancient and one newly young again--moved deeper into the brilliance of a place where there is no time, no sorrow or pain. A place where there is only a joyful convocation of those gathered around the throne--a throne surrounded by the blinding glitter of earth-earned crowns happily offered in praise to the One who never forgets the work of His beloved.

 

A VISIONARY WOMAN

Jesus of Nazareth was and still is Deity. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, bearing greatness that throws into shadow the highest greatness the inhabitants of this earth can imagine. But, in keeping with the methods employed by the Godhead from the dim echoes of time, Jesus' earthly heritage was plain, lowly--even contemptible.

The time was about 1406 B.C. The Israelites were just wrapping up their forty-year period of desert exile. It was now time to cross the Jordan River and move from the barrenness of Moab into the relative paradise of Canaan. There was just one tiny detail. The already ancient city-state of Jericho sat on a plane near the western bank of the Jordan; its destruction would have to be the first real campaign of Joshua's push into their Promised Land.

In the heavily fortified city was a prostitute and innkeeper who welcomed strangers of every ilk and nationality. Her house was conveniently situated against the inside of the city wall: convenient for commerce--and convenient for the Israeli spies who would need a fast and private exit from their mission of reconnoitering Jericho for the advancing troops.

Almost immediately their presence in the city was discovered and reported to the king. He demanded that the prostitute Rahab give up her house guests at once, but she lied, saying that they had already departed the city. This was no harmless falsehood; if she had been found out, she certainly would have been punished under the ancient Code of Hammurabi (2123-2081 b.c.), which stated "If felons are banded together in an ale-wife's [prostitute or innkeeper's] house and she has not haled [them] to the palace, that ale-wife shall be put to death."

This woman, however, was not only fearless but wise. She had been paying attention to all the news reports of what the Israelites had been accomplishing in the surrounding regions. She knew that their God--the one who carried them to repeated victories--had to be the one, true God of heaven and earth. She had made the conscious decision to turn her allegiance from the old ways of Canaan to the new ways of Israel, because she knew who would win the coming battle.

So, keeping their agreement with her, the spies subsequently returned and spirited Rahab and her family out of the city even while it was being burned to the ground. She was saved, and continued on with the Jews, eventually settling with them.

Later Rahab, because she was living among the Jews, met a Jewish man and they were wed. This man's name was Salmon, of the house of Judah. One of their sons was Boaz, who lived in Bethlehem and became the grandfather of Jesse. Jesse had a young shepherd son named David who became King of Israel--and of his house would be born Joseph, who would take for his wife a young maiden by the name Mary.

Our God is a God of details. Even in His omnipotent, all-encompassing power, He conducts His will through small--seemingly insignificant, usually flawed--human beings. He works miracles and majestic victories--even salvation itself--through plain, sinful people.

People like you and me.

 

SERVING A NEW GOD

She was without prospects, a widow from a heathen land. She was from the wrong side of the tracks, ignorant of religion and faith. She came hungry and tired, without blood kin, without a future beyond the love she held for her late husband's mother.

Ruth was from Moab, a land that had been at odds with Israel since Lot's son Moab (issue from incestuous union with his eldest daughter) landed there. She had married a Jew living in her own land, but had lost him to death at a relatively early age. So she threw in with her mother-in-law (herself a widow) and returned to her in-law's tribal homeland: Bethlehem, in Judah.

Being now poor, to feed the two of them, Ruth would have to find a sympathetic landowner and glean the leftover grain from his fields. This remainder, left behind after the harvest, was to be made available to the poor (as expressed in the Law), but there was no guarantee that she would find a landowner so courteously disposed. And so begins one of the loveliest love stories in all of literature. Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz, a relative of her late father-in-law and husband, and found favor in his sight, until

So Boaz, son of a Canaanite prostitute, became a wealthy landowner in the land of Judah. Being an honorable man, he redeemed Ruth, and took this Moabitess as a wife. The Lord blessed them with a son, and he was named Obed--who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David. And through the selfless devotion of a young woman who was not even a Jew, the line toward Jesus of Nazareth continued.

 

A RELUCTANT MESSENGER

Saul was on a hunting expedition; his quarry were believers in "the Way." Armed with letters of authority from the Sanhedrin, he was making his way to Damascus, in the Roman province of Syria, to arrest any and all adherents to the teachings of Jesus, then haul them back to Jerusalem.

At some point along the way to Damascus, Jesus had words with Saul.

And Saul was blind. This zealot who had been "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" was led by the hand on to Damascus by his traveling companions, where he sat for three days without eating or drinking, without sight, waiting for the Lord's instructions.

Saul came with quite a reputation. Word of his deeds against those following Jesus had traveled widely throughout the Roman Empire, through the network of synagogues and beyond. Everyone knew this man's occupation. So when the Lord gave traveling orders to poor Ananias, we might paraphrase his response as: "You want me to do what?"

What do we know about this messenger? Not much. He was a Jew, but one who believed in Jesus as the Christ. He was precisely what Saul had come hunting for: what would later be called a "Christ-ian." But being a Christian, he would also be described by Paul, later, as someone "devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there [Damascus]." (Acts 22:12)

At first Ananias protested. With perfectly sound logic, he as much as said: "Hey, with this guy's reputation, you might as well be signing my death warrant!" Notice how Ananias supports his argument by reminding Jesus that it's His people this Saul has been persecuting:

But the Lord was having none of it and insisted that Ananias do the job. To his credit, the disciple obeyed. He paid a call on this blind and, dare we say, thoroughly stunned man and passed along the message from Jesus.

Just moments before Ananias had been happily anonymous, quietly worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ. But he obeyed the call, and thereby became the reluctant spark that ignited the gospel for all Gentiles.

In their own way, these were great people who did very courageous things in the Lord's service. Rahab risked her life for the lives of strangers; Ruth risked security for the unknown; and Ananias risked persecution--even death--to obey the command of Jesus. From each of these people we can learn not just humility, but bravery.


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Issue No. 137
April 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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