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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 139
June 2002

WITH JESUS VISION


"This is my commandment,
that you love one another,
just as I have loved you."

                        John 15:12

Many years ago I had some surgery performed on my scalp--three times, in all. On three different occasions divots of flesh were excavated from the top of my cranium under local anesthesia, and three times I came forth from surgery looking a bloody mess.

Throughout this period I nonetheless continued to attend such public gatherings as choir practice, but to spare the stomachs of those sitting in the rows behind, I would wear a cap to cover the bandaged wound. As one might guess, there were many who wondered why this overweight baritone was wearing a hat inside the church on a Wednesday night. So the director announced to the choir that I was saving them from having to look at the ugly result of surgery.

After this explanation was offered, generous measures of sympathy were extended me by my choir-mates. They expressed shock and regret that such an ordeal would befall me. Allowances were made for my temporary handicap, and I was, in a number of different ways, encouraged.

At another time, I began displaying the outward behavior of a more emotional and mental problem. This problem was a form of agoraphobia, literally a "fear of the marketplace" (after the Greek agora). This phobia was--and still is, but to a lesser degree--manifested in me in either a general feeling of discomfort, or, sometimes, outright panic when in a crowd of people. It caused me to avoid all together public events such as dinners or banquets, fellowships and parties, or any situation in which there would be people milling about.

This problem--for which I was under the care of a therapist-- would cause me to take curious, even bizarre steps to survive being around people when it was necessary. When I did attend choir practice, I could only do so by sitting in specific chairs, with certain "safe" people stationed on either side. Along with this, it was necessary for me to leave the premises immediately and quickly, once choir practice or worship services were over.

This problem was as real to me as the trauma of having surgery performed on my head, but with only a few exceptions people's responses were quite different. Even when the reason for my behavior was explained to some people, they would still grow quickly impatient, even angry with me. I developed a reputation in the church body for being stuck-up, anti-social, conceited; people assumed I didn't like them because I would leave the church right away without speaking to them. They thought I didn't want to be around them, when the truth was that I simply couldn't be around them.

But this they could not understand, because this time my wound was on the inside.

If there is an entreaty that is always at the top of my list, it is that God would nurture me into having the vision and heart of Jesus, who, in contrast to most of His creation, sees what is inside a person first, and very often ignores totally the outward appearance. Jesus accepts us with our turmoil and doubt. He accepts us with the darkness of our past and the lingering sins of our present. Jesus doesn't assume the worst when we behave strangely. He just loves us.

Jesus lovingly nurtures the potential lying deep inside--a potential that others often choose to ignore.

How very often we fail to see the potential in others by being sidetracked by their appearance or behavior. How easy it is to miss having a relationship with someone because they may have a darkly stained past.

Jesus accepts us with our past stains, and God the Father accepts us as kin because of our relationship with His Son. Neither of them sees us as we were; they only see us as who we are now--and who we will be for eternity.

 

A WOMAN WITH A PAST


 

The woman already had several strikes against her. First, well, she was a woman. In Jesus' time it would have been considered bad manners for a man--and especially a rabbi--to have spoken to a woman in public without her husband present. Second, she was a Samaritan. The Jews considered the Samaritans to be nothing more than "dogs" and would typically journey around Samaria to travel from Galilee to Jerusalem. A Jew would simply not speak to a Samaritan; it was not done. But Jesus not only purposely traveled through Samaria, He stopped in Sychar to rest and be refreshed from Jacob's well. Third, this woman was, to be kind, not of good character. She not only had had many husbands, but was now living with a man to whom she was not wed.

There was a television documentary several years back that had as its subject the congregation and pastor of a small, fundamentalist church in the United States. Two scenes have remained with me. The first scene was of the pastor meeting in a restaurant with the wife or girlfriend of a back-sliding parishioner. The pastor spent a lot of energy berating the woman, blaming her evil ways for the man's spiritual condition. The second scene I have not been able to forget was of several men from the church trying to "save" another man. Hour after hour they brutalized the man with Scripture, with retellings of his evil ways, and with every coercive trick they could muster. Hour after hour the man tried to explain to them that he simply wasn't interested. But they continued, verbally beating the man into submission until finally, exhausted, he broke, and "accepted Christ."

Nowhere in the Gospels do you see Jesus treating people in such a manner. Oh, He got angry from time to time, that's for sure. But whenever He met someone whose eternal soul was of interest to Him, Jesus always treated them with compassion and respect.

Here was a woman who slept around. The Jews shunned her because she was a Samaritan; her own people shunned her because she was a shameless fornicator. Jesus had more than sufficient reason to avoid her all together, and no one would have thought the less of Him. But instead, the sinless One sat down and as much said, "Listen, I know about your past. I know who you are--and I love you anyway."

The truly remarkable thing--remarkable at least in our eyes--is that He didn't stop there. Jesus was not just handing out forgiveness that day at Jacob's well. He was also handing out commissions. This Samaritan adulterer was given the responsibility to take the truth of Jesus Christ to her own people. Because of her, "many of the Samaritans believed in Him." Lives were saved for eternity because Jesus took a few moments out of His day to be kind to an outcast.

But of course, through the eyes of Jesus, there is nothing remarkable about this at all--because He has done the very same thing for each of us. Knowing our past, knowing the vile things we've done, knowing the hidden recesses of our lives that have never been revealed to anyone else--knowing the very worst about us, Jesus showed us the same compassion and forgiveness that He showed that Samaritan woman at the well.

Faith Over Flesh

Hebrews 11 is the classic "Roster of Faith." Here we see a catalogue of individuals who placed their trust in God, and, as a result, were used mightily in His kingdom. But Hebrews 11 is also a roster of normal, imperfect human beings. These were people who were used of God in spite of their failings.

Divide a sheet of paper into three columns. In the first column list all the names you find in the Eleventh chapter of Hebrews--from Abel through Samuel.

Find each person's story in the Bible and in the second column note his or her mistakes, weaknesses or frailties.

Then in the third column, note those things they did that warranted their inclusion in this "Roster of Faith."

 

STONES ON THE GROUND


 

Whenever this story from the gospel of John is considered by a teacher or preacher, the thoughts expressed usually deal with the evil, hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, contrasted with the grace of Jesus.

But consider too: the woman's sin was real. She was caught in the act. Even if she had been set up, baited by the authorities, she (and her companion, by the way) did commit a sin worthy--by God's Law to the Jews--of death by stoning.

The reprehensible motives of the scribes and Pharisees do not diminish the clear fact that the woman had indeed sinned.

We cheapen God's grace, and the blood of Christ, when we forget that it is real sin in our life that has been forgiven. Christ did not suffer and die for "almost-sin"--for little white lies that really don't count anyway. He died for real, dark, despicable actions and thoughts--as well as our basic sin nature.

Jesus took the woman as she was, as she was presented to Him in her public guilt. Nowhere does he argue the woman's case; nowhere does he argue that she really had not sinned. Quite to the contrary, he suggests that not only her, but everyone else was just as guilty. There was plenty of blame to go around.

Absolute sin requires absolute grace. Because there is nothing halfway about our sin, there is nothing halfway about God's forgiveness. He takes us as we are--complete in our sin--without reservation, without condition save the one: Jesus Christ.

So if God, in His absolute purity and holiness, accepts us as we are, not expecting us to, on our own, meet his standards before He will have a relationship with us, why is it we expect more from our brothers and sisters? Why is it we have conditional relationships with each other, when holy God requires less? Are we holier than God? Are we so perfect that we don't dare risk soiling that perfection with the imperfections of others?

When conflicts arise--when some weakness in a brother or sister is becoming an obstacle to a healthy relationship--try this: Just love them. That's all. Don't deny their flaws, for they are certainly as real as your own. Don't send them a book or tape that spells out their failings in no uncertain terms, as if it is something you mastered long ago. Don't encourage them to sign up for the latest 12-step program. Just love them. Accept their flaws, and just love them as family in Christ.

And soon your failings will become as insignificant as theirs.

 

NEVER TOO LATE


 

There are two things about the thief on the cross that have always fascinated me: what he did, and what he didn't.

First, this man was a true low-life. He wasn't hanging from an instrument of crucifixion because he had been caught spitting on the sidewalk. He was not being punished for kicking the neighbor's dog. Crucifixion was a capital punishment reserved only for the worst crimes committed by the worst types. Originally this type of death was reserved for slaves--property, non-people--but it eventually included the lowest criminals from any class. Even then, however, it was never used for Roman citizens; this was a death considered too hideous for even the lowliest citizen of Rome.

The Jews considered death by crucifixion to be shameful. Only the accursed of God would suffer such humiliation.

So, while we don't know his particular crime, it's safe to say that this man did something more than just snatch someone's purse. He was the worst type of criminal, the scum of the earth.

Even more than what he did as a criminal, however, I am fascinated by what he didn't do as a believer. Here was someone whose walk with Christ was compressed into, at best, a few hours. Within that very brief span of time he passed from criminal and condemned sinner, to redeemed believer, to inhabitant of heaven. What things were not accomplished during that brief period?

With touching simplicity the criminal confessed that he was a sinner deserving death, and that Jesus was a sinless king who had the power to save him from that death. And that was enough for Jesus--and who better than He, in the very moment of His sacrifice, to know what was required to be "saved."

We are surrounded by brothers and sisters who have met the requirements of God's grace--but not ours. God, through Christ, has opened his arms to them, saying, "Come to me with all those dark parts of your past; come to me with all your fragility and weakness and ignorance. I welcome the chance to love you."

If that is the Lord's response, how, then, can we require more?

Truth over Tradition

Let me propose an ambitious project. It may very well be a time-consuming, but eye-opening experience. Be diligent and thorough, and the results will be well worth the time--possibly even life-changing.

Begin compiling a list of behaviors and appearances that are expected of people in your church body for them to be "accepted." Notice I didn't say to list those things that are required for them to be official members of the congregation. I'm not talking about salvation or membership, but the standard of social acceptance within the group.

What are the accepted standards in your church--such as standards of dress (what would happen if someone wore shorts to church on a hot August day?), and behavior. How should people behave in your church so as to feel welcome? What are the standards of giving and stewardship of time and belongings? What if someone has never been baptized, never taken communion--and doesn't want to. Would they be made to feel welcome? Would they be included in activities, choir, drama?

Now for the important part of the project. Once you've compiled your list--or even while you're still compiling it--take each item you've listed and back up your church's position with Scripture. Use God's word to verify the validity of each of these standards of acceptance.

Now, what will you do about those items that cannot be substantiated by Scripture?


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Issue No. 139
June 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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