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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Morning by Morning   
The Blessing Box 
2.3.2016

It was 1996 and summer time. Brian and Jill drove their family from their home on the Olympic Peninsula to our home in Boise for some anticipated family togetherness and fun.  The trip was long, hot and arduous, especially in a mini-van with three kids six and under.  David and I were delighted when the van rolled up in the early evening and our three grandchildren tumbled out of the car, a bit rumpled and a lot weary and ready to stretch their legs. Greetings and hugs were passed around and the bags were lugged in. Then Brian and a very tired and not-too-sparkly Sarah, who was six at the time, headed with me for a look around our backyard.

I was feeling a bit sorry for Sarah since was she was hot, tired and travel-worn from having been trapped in the van all day, and trapped with two undoubtedly squirmy younger siblings.  Just then, and before I could do much coddling, Brian (our son who is a basketball coach) called out in an upbeat voice, “Sarah, how’s your attitude?” In what might be called a droopy reply, Sarah answered with the memorized script, “Boy, am I enthusiastic.”  Then the even more upbeat, insistent question came again, “Sarah, how’s your attitude?”  And now from Sarah a more emphatic answer, “BOY, AM I ENTHUSIASTIC!”

I can often identify with that travel-worn six-year old. I tumble out of bed in the morning and head for my coffee, my prayer chair and my time with the Lord.  Often my thoughts start going in a sagging direction.  Things like the cares of my world, the desire for other things and the lure of what I don’t have pull me down. Possibly my temperament tugs me in the wrong direction. But that is not an excuse to stay down. I remember our friend Howard Hendricks telling of a man who was asked how he was doing. The man answered, “I am doing alright, under the circumstances.” The questioner’s reply was “What in the world are you doing under there?” Of course a lifting-up is always a gift from God, another evidence of His grace as we seek His face. And the timing is His. 

These days I am using a box as an aid to starting my day with an enthusiastic outlook.  Some time ago, a friend gave me a gift in a beautiful, colorful box. I kept this  lovely box and in it I put three smaller boxes, each of which I marked. 

One is my Mystery Box, one is my Offering Box and one is my Blessing Box. I write on small pieces of paper what might come to mind, date it and put it in the box, after talking to my Father about each item.

In my Mystery Box I put theological paradoxes or personal things I just don’t understand in my life or the life of a friend. God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts and some things are a mystery to me. I am comfortable with that. I am not supposed to be able to figure out everything.  However, I like what a friend calls Umbrella Theology. All of these mysteries are under the umbrella of His love. A God of covenant love is the God Scripture shows me from Genesis to Revelation and especially in the Cross—sacrificial love at it’s zenith.

In my Offering Box I put my attitudes or actions that are not consistent with a Jesus life. These are attitudes I want to offer Him in exchange for thinking His thoughts, in following in His footsteps. Again, by His grace. I might write down situations that are beyond my strength but ones I am called to enter into and give it my all. I might mention my brokenness as an offering. In essence, I offer Him my heart and life as He shows me in what ways He desires me to follow Him.

My two boxes mentioned above are “sometimes” boxes. I use them when the Lord nudges me in that direction. But for months now I have used my Blessing Box each morning before I do more praying or reading. It’s my “first-thing-to-think-box.” I take a small note pad, or a scrap of paper and write down things I am grateful for, gifts a good God has given me. As I write I pray and thank God for these things, simple and profound gifts I might overlook were I not intentional about noticing them. When done, I put the small papers in the box.

I might thank Him for my window that looks out on the gathering light, the eraser on my pencil (I make a lot of mistakes!), the ability to walk, the Costco Express (friends who often call and ask me if I need something as they head that way), the steam coming off my morning coffee, my many books (especially those that are "old friends"), my faithful and loving husband in the next room, the gift of a new day to “serve the Lord with gladness.” Wow! Even in my writing and certainly in my praying, I am humbled and grateful. Boy, am I enthusiastic!!!

This is not to say there are not times of profound sadness in my life and the lives of friends I care about deeply. However, I am learning it is not either/or (either sadness or joy) but it is both/and. Even in the extremes of loss and disappointment there will be gifts along the way to notice and acknowledge as blessings from God.

Our friends Rob and Teresa Zaklan are living reminders to me of this both/and truth. Rob is a pastor friend who is on hospice care at home and growing weaker rapidly.  The Zaklans have four sons, three still at home and the youngest is twelve.  Teresa has, by God’s grace she says, determined to be aware of the blessings along this way of sadness and letting go of her beloved husband. She and Rob have set small goals, and looked for God’s blessings as they move through this difficult journey together. Some are things any of us might take for granted or even grumble about along the way. One blessing she noted on their Caringbridge page describes the frigid night Teresa and the boys were able to bundle Rob up and somehow get him into their van to take a drive and see the Christmas lights together.  Teresa knows now is the time, even in the midst of their sadness, to notice the blessings God is giving them. What good memories these dear ones are making. 

You may not want a Blessing Box. There is no magic in the box. It just works for me. The box is a tool that gives me a way to remember first thing each morning to rejoice in God’s faithfulness as I both recount to Him and to myself my many blessings of the day and the blessings of many yesterdays.

When I hear God asking me, “Carolyn, how’s your attitude?” I know I have the opportunity to be enthusiastic about the day as each morning, first thing, “I count my many blessings, name them one by one.” Not random blessings mind you, but the blessings a loving God has graciously provided. Boy, am I enthusiastic!

Gratefully and enthusiastically,

Carolyn Roper


A word about Sarah—Sarah is in her 20s now, and is doing well as she finishes up an intensive one-year nursing program in Pittsburg. She is an enthusiastic hard worker with a great attitude. She and her husband Brad make a terrific pair.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

`Will We Know One another in Heaven?

“I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there…cause I wanted him and me to be together.” (In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when Miss Watson tells Huck about “the good place.”)

Will we know our family and friends in Heaven? Our granddaughter Sarah answered that question for me a long time ago, when she was only five: “We don’t take our bodies to Heaven,” she opined, “but our faces will be there.” 
Of course we’ll know one another! “Will we be bigger fools there than we are here on earth?” George MacDonald asks. 
I think of Jesus’ post–resurrection appearances, and those moments of immediate recognition—Mary Magdalene’s “Rabboni” (John 20:16); Thomas’ “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28); Peter's "It is the Lord!" (John 21:7). These folks recognized Jesus immediately. It’s true that the disciples that Jesus accompanied on the road to Emmaus did not at first recognize him for, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16), but on all other occasions Jesus was known straight away. 

Thomas Aquinas makes the point that our earthly bodies are "shaped" by our souls: ”The soul is the form of the body — that which makes us particular human beings.” In other words, our mortal bodies are the outward, visible "form" or expression of our individual, unique, immortal souls. Can it be that our redeemed, heavenly bodies will be similarly formed by our souls and thus will be recognizable.

Furthermore, we are not our bodies, we are our souls and our souls are immortal. We will always be who we are with all of our hopes and dreams, our interests, memories, experiences and loves. We will always be busy being ourselves. “We are assured of our self–identity and shall live to remember the galaxy as an old tale,” C. S.Lewis said.

We will know one another, but in a different way: We will see our friends and neighbors with all their imperfections loved away; when all the ugliness that made them obnoxious and fractious will be converted into luminous beauty. Tenth-century Irish theologian, Adamnan, described those in heaven as, “a gentle folk, most mild, most kindly, lacking in no goodly quality.” John put it more succinctly: “We shall be like (Jesus)” (1John 3:2). 
There will be no animosity or estrangement there. Sins and slights will be forgotten. "Parents will look after their children and children will look up to their parents” (Malachi 4:6 The Message). Dysfunctional families will be made healthy; disordered relationships made whole. 
We will never again be grieved with the thought that we have not loved well, or that our love has not been fully and fondly returned. There will be no unfaithfulness, hypocrisy or insincerity. There will be no secrets there for we shall see one another through and through.
Finally, we will know our loved ones in Heaven and we will love them specially, or so I believe. Jesus had special friends here on earth and so it must be in heaven. We are not created to be solitary mystics, loving God alone. We are relational beings, like God, made to know and enjoy our loved ones, and to do so in a personal and special way.

Our family and special friends will always be our family and special friends. Is there anything wrong with loving our family and friends now? Why would God deprive us of that enjoyment in Heaven? Indeed, that’s one  aspect of Heaven that will make Heaven heavenly for me: I will be forever with the Lord, and also with those whom, I have “loved long since, and lost awhile!”


Addendum:
I cannot end this essay without a nod to one of my favorite reads, George MacDonald’s The Golden Key—a tale of two children, Mossy and Tangle, their love for one another and their journey together to find the door that could be opened with a golden key (Jesus). They fall in love, marry and grow old together and then are lost to one another when Tangle dies. Mossy, old, lonely and foot-weary, comes at last to a great cliff in which he catches sight of a row of small sapphires that surround a little hole in the rock.

He tried the key. It fitted. It turned. A great clang and clash, as of iron bolts on huge brazen caldrons, echoed thunderously within. He drew out the key. The rock in front of him began to fall. He retreated from it as far as the breadth of the platform would allow. A great slab fell at his feet. In front was still the solid rock, with this one slab fallen forward out of it. But the moment he stepped upon it, a second fell, just short of the edge of the first, making the next step of a stair, which thus kept dropping itself before him as he ascended into the heart of the precipice. It led him into a hall fit for such an approach—irregular and rude in formation, but floor, sides, pillars, and vaulted roof, all one mass of shining stones of every color that light can show. In the centre stood seven columns, ranged from red to violet. And on the pedestal of one of them sat a woman, motionless, with her face bowed upon her knees. Seven years had she sat there waiting. She lifted her head as Mossy drew near. It was Tangle. Her hair had grown to her feet, and was rippled like the windless sea on broad sands. Her face was beautiful, like her grandmother’s, and as still and peaceful as that of the Old Man of the Fire. Her form was tall and noble. Yet Mossy knew her at once.

"How beautiful you are, Tangle!” he said, in delight and astonishment.

"Am I?” she returned. "Oh, I have waited for you so long! But you, you are the Old Man of the Sea. No. You are like the Old Man of the Earth. No, no. You are like the oldest man of all. You are like them all. And yet you are my own old Mossy!

What thou didst lose, he keeps it for thee; 
With Him thy lost love thou shalt find; 
And what his hand doth once restore thee, 
That hand to thee will changeless bind.  —Novalis


David H. Roper

Monday, January 25, 2016

Light Without Love

John Keble writes of "the withering blasts of error" that swept through England like a chilling wind, but there was a greater deceit coming:

A fouler vision yet; an age of light,
Light without love, glares on the aching sight.

Keble was an early 19th century Oxford don and one of the founders of the Oxford Movement, an effort to turn the Church of England away from the rationalism that grew out of the Enlightenment and back to biblical traditions of faith, hope and love. His phrase, "an age of light," is a direct reference to the Enlightenment and his indictment—“light without love”—and aptly defines the mood of the post-enlightenment age. 

The upside advances of the Enlightenment have greatly enhanced and brightened our lives, but they cannot touch that elusive sadness that forms the background music in our souls. Science and technology "glare on the aching sight" (cast harsh light on our condition) precisely because they can only enlighten us. They cannot love us. Light without love: the pathos of our age.

So then, what can satisfy our discontent and loneliness? The discovery of a new sub-atomic particle or a hitherto unknown galaxy? The next iteration of the iPhone? 

Nothing but the lavish, unconditional love of Jesus.

David H. Roper

Monday, January 18, 2016

Creation Care

Creatures,” said the strong, happy voice of Aslan, “I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers…” (C. S. Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew).

"The heavens are the LORD's, but the earth he has given to his children" (Psalm 115:16).

It's Autumn (except it's not; I started this essay in October) and the big "browns" are spawning in the Owyhee River, staging to begin their fall nesting ritual. You can see them excavating their redds (nests) in gravel beds. The nests are easy to spot: oval patches two to three feet wide showing gravel that's lighter in color than the surrounding stream bed.   

Wise fishermen know that fish are spawning and try not to disturb them. They avoid walking on gravel bars where they might trample the eggs, or wading upstream from the nests where they might dislodge debris that can smother them. And, they don’t fish for these trout, though it’s tempting to do so: You can see them in the shallows, resting near their redds.


If these precautions seem strange to you, I can assure you that they’re part of an ethic that governs fishing here in the West and elsewhere. But there is a deeper cause. 

The scriptures stress the fact that God has put creation under our care: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend it and care for it" (Genesis 2:15). In the very beginning God called us to care for creation. This was, and continues to be, His will. 

Back in the '70s I came across a remarkable little book entitled Pollution and the Death of Man (1970) in which Philosopher Francis Schaeffer argued that human sin lies behind every ecological disaster. Hosea, Israel's prophet, makes the same point: "(Men and women) break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away" (Hosea 4:4,9,10).

Schaeffer linked environmental stewardship with God's ultimate purpose to get all creation back on track. Scripture tells us that someday the earth will be “delivered from the bondage of corruption and brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Cf., Romans 8:19-21). Schaeffer argued that “(The child of God) should be the one who—with God’s help and in the power of the Holy Spirit—is treating nature now in the direction of the way nature someday will be."

But I have another, more meaningful reason for caring for creation, at least more meaningful for me. Let me explain:

The world is ours to use. God told Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). Creation is ours to use, but, as the old angler, Izaak Walton, put it, "We must use it as those who love it."

I muse on the work of God’s hands: a chukar calling across a canyon, a bull elk bugling up a fight, a grouchy, old bear grubbing for larvae in a rotten log, a peregrine falcon soaring in exuberant flight, a herd of antelope far off in the distance, a brook trout with its kaleidoscopic moles, a snow-white ermine with a tiny black tip on his tail, a busy beaver, dragging aspen branches to her lodge, a curious, young coyote, sitting on his haunches and watching me fish one morning, a mother otter playing in a stream with her pups, a mother fox at my back door, patiently waiting for a handout—I love all these things, for they have been given to me for my delight, out of my Father's great love.

And what I love, I protect. 

David Roper
1/18/17

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Charchemish

Years ago, in my college days, I took a course entitled "Reading Ancient Near Eastern Texts," a seminar that entailed (surprise, surprise) reading ancient Near Eastern texts, one of which was the "Babylonian Chronicles," a set of tablets that record the bloody history of Babylon. 

The text, among other events, describes in some detail the battle of Charchemish, fought in 605 BC between the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar II and that of Pharaoh Necho II of Egypt, a conflict that strategists still study. It is considered one of the greatest battles of all time.

The Chronicle claims that Nebuchadnezzar "crossed the river to go against the Egyptian army which lay in Karchemiš. They fought with each other and the Egyptian army withdrew before him... But the Babylonian troops overtook and annihilated them so that not a single man escaped to his own country."

Those are the facts on the ground.

Jeremiah, however reports another perspective: He writes, "Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah" (Jeremiah 46:2).

Jeremiah pictures the Egyptian army preparing for battle (46:3-4), marching proudly out of Egypt, like the Nile in flood, an army swollen by mercenaries from Africa and Greece (46:7,8), only to suffer a crushing defeat. (You'll note that Jeremiah doesn’t even mention King Nebuchadnezzar.)

  Egypt rises like the Nile,
like rivers whose waters surge.
He said, ‘I will rise, I will cover the earth,
I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.’ 

  Advance, O horses,
and rage, O chariots!
Let the warriors go out:
men of Cush and Put who handle the shield,
men of Lud, skilled in handling the bow. 

             That day is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts,
a day of vengeance,
to avenge himself on his foes.
The sword shall devour and be sated
and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord GOD of hosts is holding a sacrifice.

Historians and war theorists study Nebuchadnezzar's strategy while Jeremiah locates its brilliance in another source: the "day of the Lord," the day in which God takes the events of this world into his own hands and asserts his authority over kingdoms and kings.

What a relief! God, not ISIS, nor any other evil force in this world, will have the final say. 

David Roper
1/16/16


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Psalm 2

The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed (Christ) saying,
"Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us."
He who sits in the heavens laughs... —Psalm 2:2-4

Third century Roman emperor Diocletian set up two large pillars in Spain, one of which reads: "Diocletian Jovian Maximum Hercules Caesares Augusti, for having extended the Roman Empire in the east and west, and having extinguished the name of Christian..." 

The other: "Diocletian Jovian Maximum Hercules Caesares Augusti, for having everywhere abolished the superstition of Christ..."

Some years later Diocletian abdicated—the only emperor to do so— emotionally distraught by the realization that the empire was crumbling. Deep in despair he committed suicide on December 3, AD 311. 

According to historian Edward Gibbon, the Roman Empire ceased to exist in 476; Christ's followers exist and thrive today in every part of the world.

Peter Waldo, an early reformer, represented the history of the Church with a picture of an anvil with many worn-out hammers lying around it. At the bottom of the picture was this inscription: “One Anvil — Many Hammers.”

So, don't panic as you consider current events. Certainly, kings and rulers "have set themselves against the Lord and against his Christ," but God is not rattled. His throne is surrounded by a "sea like glass" (Revelation 15:2). Not a tossing wave, not a ripple there!

God is working out his purpose, 
in spite of all that happens here;
Lawless nations in commotion, 
restless like a storm–tossed ocean,
He controls their rage and fury, 
so his children need not fear.
Let our hearts then turn to heaven, 
where Christ bides his time in peace.
Giving him our heart’s devotion, 
until the present troubles cease. 

—author unknown

David Roper
1/2/16

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

PIE CRUST PROMISES

"Will you stay if we promise to be good?"
"That's a pie-crust promise. Easily made, easily broken!"

-Mary Poppins

I'm usually unsatisfied with my behavior no matter what time of the year it is. Nevertheless I make no resolutions for such promises, easily made, are easily broken. David learned that lesson well when, on one occasion, he resolved to hold his tongue...and couldn't do it.

David was angry with God, yet he knew he shouldn't vent his anger in the presence of God's enemies. (It's always wrong to speak against a friend, especially in the presence of his antagonists.) So he resolved not to speak. "I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin," he vowed. "I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence."

For a short time he was able to restrain himself, but "the fire burned," David fumed, erupted...and lamented: "Show me...my end, and the number of my days. Let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath." Thus failed resolve leads us to consider the brevity and frailty of our existence. 

We are eternal creatures with perfection in our hearts, and the perennial desire to move toward that perfection. Yet we exist in time and space as imperfect, flawed human beings, utterly unable to keep our promises. "The Spirit is willing, but the flesh (our unaided humanity) is weak." That's why our resolve breaks down and we fall back to old habits and patterns of behavior.

There is but one way to make any real progress toward goodness: it is to know how frail we are. So David prays, "Cause me to know my end," literally, "my boundaries" (vs. 4). Change begins with humility and the awareness that our resolve is mere "breath" (vs. 5). We voice our resolutions and they dissipate like breath into thin air.

Enduring change does not come by vows, decrees, New Year resolutions and strong resolve, but solely by the grace of God. Our part is to earnestly desire righteousness and to pray for it. God's part is to bring it about in His own time and in His own way. "Man proposes; God disposes, an older generation of Christians used to say.

This David learned: "Now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions... (Then) I was silent; I did not open my mouth, for you did it!" (vss. 7-9).

There is an echo in Paul's promise: "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it!" (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

David Roper