Thursday, October 20, 2016


Be sympathetic” (1 Peter 3:8).

The "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator" is a personality test designed to measure personality traits and the ways by which people relate to the world. According to their metric system I’m an I-N-T-J: an introverted, intuitive, thinking, judging person. That’s a fair appraisal of my personality, I suppose, though I must admit, after all these years, I don’t know myself very well.  

There's an upside to my personality type, but the downside is that I-N-T-Js tend to be detached, dispassionate and uncaring, in which case it’s easy for me to excuse my lack of compassion by saying, "That’s just me,” and settle for something less than that which God has in mind for me.

The nub of the matter lies here: I not just an I-N-T-J; I am a S-I-N-N-E-R, and much oF my personality is still unconverted. Myers-Briggs makes no moral judgments, but I must do so. My indifference to pain and suffering is sin and very much unlike Jesus who was said, on many occasions, to be “filled with compassion” (Matthew 9:35 et. al.). I don’t want to be like me; want to be like Him!

That’s a tall order. Can a leopard change his spots? You bet! Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Change doesn’t necessarily come about easily or quickly; it may take place gradually over the course of many years, but God is determined to make new men and women of all of us if we keep asking for His help. John Donne said, “God is the alchemist who has wit (wisdom), and whose spark makes good things of bad.”

Hence my prayer: “And me? I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing: make something of me. You can do it; you’ve got what it takes…” (Psalm 40:17, The Message)

David Roper

Saturday, October 1, 2016


“You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water.” —Psalm 65:9

 Camas Prairie, Idaho, photo by Josh Roper

Creation is a signpost pointing to God, but tragically, many people only look at the sign. C. S. Lewis observed that the modern world conditions us to a “doglike” state of mind. If, for example, you point at your dog’s food dish and say “eat,” he will stare at your finger, confusing the sign with the thing signified.

David saw rain as a sign that points us to God's eternal love for growing things. Rain is God "visiting the earth" to water and enrich it (65:9).

Showers sweep across the plowed ground, "watering its furrows, settling its ridges, softening the clods of dirt, blessing it with growth." Rain is God, "walking" through the earth like Johnny Appleseed (a US pioneer apple farmer and folk hero), leaving behind His bounty: "The paths on which He walks overflow with goodness" (65:10, 11).

Here's a dimension of truth you may have lost. It’s a vision, a perspective, a way of looking at things. It’s the capacity to see through things to what’s behind them rather than just at them.

Rain reveals the hand of God if we have eyes to see it. The little hills, the pastures, the valleys take in God's love and "shout for joy!" (v. 13).

So can we!

David Roper

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Numbers Game

“My people have a law never to speak of sizes or numbers to you…. You do not understand and it makes you do reverence to nothings and pass by what is really great.”

Oyarsa, an angel in C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet.

I recently heard someone say of a mutual friend, “He’s called to greatness,” by which he meant a crowded church, a large budget, a high profile work. I couldn’t help but wonder, what makes us think that God’s call is always upward mobile?

George MacDonald wrote in a letter to his father in 1847: “Perhaps the best thing for me would be a quiet country charge—small enough to enable me to attend thoroughly to all the pastoral duties, and intelligent enough to urge me to use my intellect and holy enough to make us advance each other in holiness. Ambition points to the metropolis—but is not ambition a terrible thing for a motive to the ministry?”

Are there not people in small communities who need to be taught and loved? Why wouldn’t God send some of his best workers to labor an entire lifetime in a small place? He’s not willing that any should perish. Is it not true that when difficulties mount and numbers are scarce a deeper a more lasting work may accrue?

Small churches make up about 80% of all churches here in Idaho. Most number 100 or less. Small is the rule, not the exception. It seems it’s always been that way. Paul, when he wrote to the Romans, mentioned four house churches, small enough to fit in someone's home. Their effectiveness was not hindered by their size.

Think of Jesus’ ministry: it started large—5,000 people or more—and grew smaller every day. “Many left him,” we’re told, a state of affairs that would throw most of us into panic.

Our culture equates size with success. Bigger is better. It takes a strong person to resist that craze, especially if he or she is laboring in a small place. As Piglet says, “Its hard to be brave, especially when you’re Very Small.”

It’s not that numbers don’t matter. The Apostles counted the Church in round numbers. There’s a whole book in the Old Testament that bears that name. Numbers represent unique individuals with eternal needs. We should work and pray for many to enter the kingdom, but we shouldn’t use numbers as a basis for esteem. We should treat them with the attitude of John the Baptist who mused as his congregation dwindled away, “A man can only receive what he has been given from heaven.”

John’s sense of worth did not come from his followers, but from the One whom he followed: “The friend (John) who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine.”

Our Lord does not call us to find joy in the amount of work we do, or the number of people who are a part of that work, but in doing our work—whatever it is—for his sake. Serving him in a small place is not a stepping–stone to greatness. It is greatness. Jesus himself set the example: Nazareth was a little place, and so was Galilee.

Habitual Tenderness

One of the byproducts of aging is an intolerance of others and an irritable, impatient spirit. We can become angry, bitter old curmudgeons.

We should never excuse these bouts of bad behavior for they spread misery around us and wither the souls of those we love. We've not fulfilled our duty toward others until we've learned to be pleasant. 

Poet Hannah More portrays it this way:

Since trifles make the sum of human things,
And half our misery from our foibles springs;
Since life's best joys consist in peace and ease,
And though but few can serve, yet all can please;
Oh, let the ungentle spirit learn from hence,
A small unkindness is a great offence.

Ancient Greek philosophers had a word for the virtue that corrects our irritation—praus, a term that means gentleness and suggests a tender, kind spirit. It was considered the “queen of the virtues” for it governs and blesses all the others. It softens the sterner virtues and makes them more tender and gentle. Like sugar dropped into a cup of tea, it permeates our actions and sweetens all that we do. The author of the book of James, who understood the classical use of the word, describes the consummate good life as deeds done “in the meekness [gentleness, prautes] of wisdom.” 

Gentleness is not weakness or mildness. Jesus was meek but not mild, despite Wesley’s Christmas carol. Gentleness is strength under control. It is the power to be kind and considerate in the face of pain or disruption. It is a willingness to accept our limitations and ailments without taking out our frustrations on others. It is showing gratitude for the smallest service rendered to us and extending patience to those that do not serve us well. 

It is bearing with bothersome people (even noisy, boisterous little children, for kindness to little ones is a crowning mark of a good and gentle soul).  It is speaking softly in the face of provocation. It is even being silent, for calm, unruffled silence is often the most eloquent response to another’s unkind words.

The root of a gentle spirit is humility. We should focus on our own weaknesses rather than the weakness and failures of others. It's said that Israel’s high priests were “able to deal gently with those who were ignorant and were going astray” because they themselves were “subject to weakness.” If I would be gentle and meek with those who disappoint me, I must know that I am as flawed as they.

Since Jesus comes to us “gentle and riding on a donkey,” I must get off my high horse and learn from Him, for He is “gentle [praus] and humble in heart,” and He must create His likeness in me. Then who knows what will happen? Perhaps nothing will change but my own heart, and I will become a more gracious, gentle man. Or it may be that my gentle manner will open the eyes of someone heart, someone who has no gentle Jesus to see. 

“Tones that jar the heart of another, words that make it ache…from such, as from all other sins, Jesus was born to deliver us,” George MacDonald prayed. May we put ourselves into His hands for His healing.

David Roper

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Taking Flight 

A coward will remain, Sir,
Until the fight is done;
But an immortal hero
Will take his hat, and run!

—Emily Dickinson

Some years ago I spent part of a Christmas vacation with our son Josh, who was then a commercial crab fisherman, living in a one–room log cabin in Girdwood, Alaska. 

One very cold morning I was getting dressed, standing as close to the wood-burning stove as possible, while Josh went outside to shovel snow off his driveway. His dog followed him. 

A few moments later I heard Josh shout at the dog and I looked out of the front door to see both of them sprinting for the cabin, hotly pursued by an outraged cow moose whose calf the dog had been pestering. Josh and the dog tumbled through the door and into the cabin in a wild flurry of ice and snow with the aggrieved mother hot on their heels! Fortunately, she skidded to a halt just outside the cabin door. 

In certain situations, it's best to take one's hat and run.

Apropos of which Paul writes: "Flee youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife" (2Timothy 2:22,23).

Verse twenty-two is often quoted vis-a-vis sexual temptation, but the passion of which Paul writes has nothing to do with sex. In context, the text refers to flight from what Paul calls, "quarreling over words (14), "irreverent babble" (vs. 16), and foolish, ignorant controversies" (vs. 23), which things, he warns, "do no good, but only ruin the hearers" (vs. 14). 

Paul is saying something quite striking: We can teach the Bible in such a way that it produces ruin. 

The "youthful passions" to which Paul refers and from which we must flee are the inclinations of youthful (immature) teachers to dissect and debate the intricacies of a biblical text, and go no further. It is teaching that "circles 'round the head," but never pierces the heart. Not only does no good; it does great harm, producing a crop of quarrelsome, restive, contentious and competitive parishioners—devoid of love. [It's worth noting that Milton found the Devils in hell eternally out of sorts with one another, arguing about, "Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, and Fate—Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute, and found no end, in wandering mazes lost."  "Vain wisdom all," he contended (Milton, Paradise Lost: 2.ii.558-190)].

To quote Augustine, “A man who knows that he owns a tree and thanks You for the use he has of it, even though he does not know its exact height or the width of its spread, is better than another who measures it and counts all its branches, but neither knows nor loves its Creator.” Truth, when acquired, should lead us to love God and seek God-likeness. Put another way, the goal of our teaching is not knowledge, per se—that’s gnosticism—but "righteousness, faith, love, and peace" (vs. 22). 

Our hearers may go away understanding the grammar, syntax, historical-cultural background and theology of a biblical text, but if their hearts are untouched by love we have contributed to their ruin. 

From such we must "take our hat and run."

David Roper

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

"Let a man so consider us, as servants (under-rowers) of Christ..." (1 Corinthians 4:1).

I recall a Far Side cartoon depicting two slaves, shackled together on a wharf, awaiting the arrival of a Roman galley. "That's a beautiful ship," one slave says to the other. "I wonder what makes it go?"

Larson’s cartoon calls Paul's analogy to mind. "You should think of Sosthenes (Paul's sidekick) and me as 'under-rowers'—just like the slaves that row Roman galleys." Everyone knew what Paul was writing about; it was a common sight in his day.

Slaves sat on benches facing the rear of the boat, deep in the hold, manning their sweeps and looking up at a helmsman that stood above them on the aft deck with the tiller in his hand. The helmsman's job was to call the cadence of the rowers, and determine the course and speed with which the galley made headway. Like watermen that row one way and look another” their  task was to fix their eyes on the helmsman and row. 

So it is that we serve as Jesus' under-rowers—subject to Him as the helmsman of His Church. He alone can see the horizon. He alone determines the speed with which we make progress and the direction in which we go.

Is this the time for a new direction? A new pace? If so, the helmsman will show me in due time. In the meantime, my job is to fix my eyes on Jesus and row.

David Roper


Saturday, August 27, 2016

The World’s Last Night

“What if this present were the world's last night?”
—John Donne

The Owyhee Avalanche, May 4, 1867, carried this report: “James Fraser was shot and killed by Indians last Friday evening between sunset and dark.” Fraser was a prospector working a gulch below Wagontown in the Owyhee Mountains of Idaho, closing in on pay dirt. He didn’t plan to die that day.

You never know…

Death “meets us everywhere and enters in at many doors,” Jeremy Taylor wrote. “It enters by the fall of a chariot and the stumbling at a stone; by a full meal or an empty stomach; by watching at the wine or by watching at prayers; by the sun or the moon; by a heat or a cold; by sleepless nights or sleeping days; by water frozen into the hardness and sharpness of a dagger, or water thawed into the floods of a river; by a hair or a raisin; by violent motion or sitting still; by severity or slow dissolution; by everything in nature and everything in chance.” 

Peter agrees: “The end of all things is near.” This may indeed be the world’s last night—at least for me. I may go to God this day, or he may come for me. 

That said, I ask myself: How should I invest the time that remains? What activities and attitudes should fill my final hours? Is there some magnificent gesture, some grand and glorious performance to mark the end of my days?  Peter supplies the answer.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore (1) be serious and watchful in your prayers.  (2) And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (3) Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.  (4) As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:7-11).

First off, I must be a praying man (4:7). Prayer is my access to God, the way by which I stay in touch with him. It’s not that prayer moves God, but that it moves me, aligns me more closely with what He is doing, and conforms me to His will. I must bring sobriety to prayer, Peter tells me. It’s not that prayer should be joyless, for it can be whimsical, light–hearted, musical, full of mirth. No, what Peter inveighs against is superficiality. I must take seriously the need to fill my days with prayer for that is the secret of a useful life, the means by which God can fill me and use me for the highest good. Without prayer I will accomplish nothing.

I must be a loving man. I must love with great care and determination, “for love covers a multitude of sins” (4:8). Love and forgiveness mark me as God’s child and remind others of his love. “No one can see God,” John said, but they can see me. Perhaps I can do nothing for a difficult neighbor, a struggling brother, a suffering friend, but I can love. A smile, a note, a kind word, a prayer, a brief touch can the greatest thing in the world, when offered in love. And even when my journey leads into illness, weakness and infirmity my work can be in loving, which in the end will be my greatest gift to God and to others.

I must be a gracious man, “giving hospitality to others without complaining” (4:9). I can open my home and my heart to those in need; I can be available to anyone who happens to comes my way, for I would never know the right people to invite. “Who is my neighbor?” I ask. Jesus answers: the next needy person I meet. I must welcome all comers.

I must be a serving man, “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (4:10). The gifts I have been given and the work I am called to do are from one mind. The God who made me made my path. For whatever days God gives me I must put into practice his special design and purpose for me so I may live in loving service to him and to others.

And finally, I must do all things “with the strength God provides” (4:11). God must put into me all that he wants to take out of me. I am nothing; He is everything. To him be the glory—not me.

Prayer, love, hospitality and humble service. How simple and how satisfying—to do these things as the last things; to do them lovingly, faithfully, patiently this day and the next day and the next day—and thus the last day will take care of itself. 

It’s never too late to get started. “I must begin today,”
a phrase John Wesley often quoted to himself.”

David Roper