Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Looking Up

My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD;

In the morning I will direct it to You,

And I will look up. —Psalm 5:3


"Poor little bird, you can't fly!"   

"No, but I can look up!" —George MacDonald


My morning routine has been the same for years: I complete my morning ablutions, snatch up a cup of coffee and my iPad and get my news brief for the day. Then I settle in to meet with the Lord.


No longer. I'm learning—first thing—to "look up.”


Looking out and about is unnerving: our country is circling down the drain. Pundits and prophets report the end of civilization as we know it and the scene on the ground confirms it. The world’s in a hand basket, as the old folks like to say, and we have a pretty good idea where it's going.


Given the spin we're in, it's better to "look up," to lift up our voices first thing in the morning and "direct" our thoughts to the LORD; to take the worries off our minds, where they have no business being, and put them into his hands where they belong. 


And then, with hearts at rest we can sally forth to meet the day, or shelter safely at home.


There's an old saying: “To make a beginning is the whole," and prayer is the best way to begin. Perhaps I can do little more—my sphere of influence is very small—but I can certainly do nothing better. 


David Roper

1.19.20

Friday, January 15, 2021

Holy Laughter

"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, 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). 

When Martin Luther taught young pastors this text he delivered it as a rousing sermon: "It is not just ourselves the world is so bitterly against," he declared, "but God himself. Instead of being afraid, we should be laughing at this crazy effort of the world to think it can fight against God."


And so it is: God's enemies plot to frustrate his plan to bring salvation to the earth and holy laughter rends the skies... 


We, on the other hand, seem to have lost our sense of humor. 


Anxious eyes, furrowed brows and worry lines cloud our faces. Like Chicken Little we swear that the sky is falling. But the enemy's efforts to topple the Church can't really be taken seriously; they rather deserve a guffaw. 


The arrogance of God's opponents is, of course, the laughing matter and not the suffering it engenders. The damage to human souls is incalculable. We weep for ourselves and for those who weep. 


And, of necessity, we must respond to assaults on the gospel with faith, truth, love, prayer and personal righteousness—the mighty spiritual weapons that God has placed at our disposal.


But we can do so in good humor, for we know the end of the story: the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ, and the sorrows of this life will become the eternal laughter of Heaven. "Life goes on and we haven't seen the best of it," Carlo Carretto said. We rejoice even now in things to come.


So when the world, the flesh and the devil plot mischief this year, don't fret. Just chuckle. God is laughing and so should we. 


David Roper

1.14.21


Post hoc...


It has always amused me that while Israel's prophets considered idolatry (the worship of idols) the essence of evil they poked fun at idols. They describe pagan worshippers spending prodigious amounts of money and expending great effort to find the right tree and choose the right artisan to carve the idol and embellish it with gold leaf and silver. But then they have to nail its feet to the floor lest it tip over! (Isaiah 40,18-20). They even made up humorous, albeit indelicate, names for idols, one being gilluliym—"little balls of dung” (Ezekiel 30:13).

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

True North

 

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may... gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
 
“There’s something about north, something that sets it apart from all other directions” (E.B. White).
 
I’ve always loved E.B. White’s children’s stories and Stuart Little (not to be confused with Chicken Little) is my favorite. (Charlottes Web is another.)

Stuart Little, as you probably know,  was a mouse. Well, sort of. White never said he was a mouse, but only that he “looked very much like a mouse in every way.” I believe Stuart Little is Everyman.
 
I thought of Stuart again a few days ago when I read a review of the book in The Wall Street Journal. The reviewer wrote, “When I first read E.B. White’s, 'Stuart Little' as a child, the ending disturbed me. The title character has left his New York City home in search of a bird, Margalo, whom he loves dearly. Does Stuart find her? We never find out. All we learn is that ‘he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction.’” 
 
The reviewer was disappointed that the story had no conclusion, but White himself explained in an essay in the New York Times that being “headed in the right direction," is the conclusion. When asked to clarify, he stated that "He was searching for beauty." 
 
I believe the book is what some would call a muthos, a myth that enshrines truth, goodness and beauty, an example of the only literature Plato permitted children in his republic to read. Having seen “truth” in myth, he reasoned, they would recognize it later on. (That was C.S. Lewis’ rationale for writing the Narnia Tales: He hoped that children, as they read the myths, would come to love Aslan and so would love Jesus when they encountered him.)
 
At one point in Stuart’s journey he meets a repairman who muses: “There’s something about north, something that sets it apart from all other directions. A person who is heading north is not making any mistake, in my opinion.” “That’s the way I look at it,” said Stuart. “I rather expect that from now on I shall be traveling north until the end of my days.” “Worse things than that could happen to a person,” said the repairman.
 
There’s something about north, something that sets it apart from all other directions. For George MacDonald it is a beautiful place “at the back of the North Wind,” where there is no sorrow or loss, where “everyone is happy and looks like they will be even happier tomorrow.” North is the invisible realm of reality, above and beyond us, "where Christ is" (Colossians 3:1). 

Stuart, like the rest of us, was traveling north to find beauty, that for which his heart ached. Those who seek will find it, or better yet, they will find a man—Jesus“No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it, C.S. Lewis wrote. "Those who seek find” (The Great Divorce).

If you’re traveling north this year, you’re not making a mistake. Worse things than that could happen to a person.

David Roper
1.5.21


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Sitting With My Staff In My Hand

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand for they have lived many days'" (Zechariah 8:4). 

On January 1, 2021 I will have lived "many days"—about 31,765 to be precise.  I must admit that many of those days, especially of late, have been spent sitting.

 

Oh, on occasion I have taught the scriptures, shared my faith with a few non-Christians, helped some new believers get on their feet and scribbled off a few books, but to be honest, I don't consider these activities more praiseworthy than “sitting” for I'm learning that what I am at all times is just as important and, in some situations, more important, than what I’m doing. Malachi the prophet said this of Levi the priest: “He walked with (God) in peace and righteousness, and turned many away from iniquity” (Malachi 2:6).That's a splendid truth to grasp as I look into the New Year and see myself sitting on our back porch with my staff in my hand.

 

But, some will say, the world is dying; "Tempus fugit! You must be up and doing!" Perhaps. On occasion. But Peter has another word:  Since the universe and everything in it is passing away, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness…" (2 Peter 3:11). 

 

David Roper

12.21.20

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Growing Old With God

“My life is light, waiting for the death wind...”


T. S. Eliot.


Anna was elderly and frail, waiting for the death wind to carry her away. She had lived with a husband for seven years and then, after his death, as a widow until she was eighty-four. Now she spent her days in in the temple, "speaking of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem"(Luke 2:36–38).


Old age is often overclouded by losses—separation, bereavement, physical and mental decline. These blows can fall on us at any time, but they seem to fall heaviest in our latter years. There’s no way to shield ourselves from the difficulties we encounter as we age, but our last years can be happy, productive years if we grow old with God.. 


Age breaks down our strength and energy and strips us of energy and busyness so we have more time to develop intimacy with God. Without the limitations of old age we might never make the most of our lives. Poet Edmund Waller (1606-1687) wrote, 


The soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd,

Lets in new light through chinks that Time has made;

Stronger by weakness, wiser, men become

As they draw near their eternal home


A friend of mine once mused that years of weakness and failing health had made his life worth living. “How awful it would have been if, instead of getting old, I’d been extinguished in middle age without learning what God has to offer.” 


The senior years can be viewed as a pleasantly useless era where we qualify for Social Security, AARP, senior discounts and have a lot of free time to spend on ourselves, or they can be a time of great usefulness to God. 


First off, we can serve as mentors and conservators of wisdom and virtue, the essential role elders play in society. We can point out the ancient paths and show others how to walk them (cf., Jeremiah 6:16).


Furthermore, there is the power of an ordinary life lived with an awareness of God’s presence, seeing him in everything and doing all things for him—Teresa of Avila in her kitchen working among the pots and pans; Brother Lawrence in a monastic scullery. This is the mark of a mature soul, quietly, humbly going about his or her homely business, living in joy and leaving behind the sweet fragrance of Jesus.


Izaak Walton, the olde angler, wrote of a companion: “How comforting it is to see a cheerful and contented old age…after being tempest–tossed through life, safely moored in a snug and quiet harbor in the evening of his days! His happiness sprung from within himself and was independent of external circumstances, for he had that inexhaustible good nature which is the most precious gift of Heaven, spreading itself like oil over the troubled sea of thought, and keeping the mind smooth and equable in the roughest weather" (The Compleat Angler). 


And when our journey leads to illness and weakness and we’re confined to our homes, our years of fruitful activity are not over. Like Anna, we can worship and pray. 


And we can love. Love remains our last and best gift to God and others. As St. John of the Cross wrote in retirement, “Now I guard no flock, nor have I any office. Now my work is in loving alone” (A Spiritual Canticle). 


Prayer and love—the mighty works of the aged.


And finally, on ahead, there is what ancient spiritual writers called the  athanasias pharmakon (the medicine of immortality), God’s cure for all that ails us. This is God’s loving provision for us beyond earthly existence—“that when this mildew age, has dried away, our hearts will beat again as young and strong and gay” (George MacDonald).


This is my hope and, I must say, the most cherished article of my creed.


David Roper 

12.23.20



Sunday, December 20, 2020

Two Caves

“David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father's household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him”  (1 Samuel 22:1-3).

English novelist Thomas Hardy writes of Mixen Lane, a low district in the city of Castlebridge in Ireland, as “the Adullam of all the surrounding villages. It was the hiding place for those who were in distress, and debt, and trouble of every kind” (The Mayor of Castlebridge). 

He was thinking of a biblical place, a cave near the city of Adullam in Israel’s lowlands, a safe place to which David fled from the rage of King Saul (1 Samuel 22:1,2). 


As the story goes, word of David’s refuge spread rapidly and mysteriously through Israel and in time “every one who was in distress, and every one who was in debt, and every one who was discontented, gathered to him; and he became a prince over them.” 


It was a restless crowd that found David, filled with their own trouble, frightened, faint–hearted, stressed out, burdened and embittered by what they had endured.


So David took them in and taught them what God had taught him through long years of adversity. He read his poems to them, sang of God’s covenant love (Psalm 89:1) and taught them to fight the battles of the Lord. The outcasts found a new center of life in David, and he in turn became their “prince.” 


This once–motley crew became the core of David’s mighty men, brave warriors, “ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains” (1 Chronicles 12:8). 


They were Israel’s border guard protecting her flanks against the Philistines and Amalakites, a wall to Israel “by day and by night.” They became the nucleus of the greatest fighting force of that day, an army that carried the standard of Israel from the Tigris to the River of Egypt…  All of which suggests another cave not too far away, near Bethlehem in Judea, a stable in the earth into which shepherds drove their flocks at night. There the Prince of Peace was born, that other “David” whom the prophet foretold: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says,” ‘…my servant David will be a prince among them’” (Ezekiel 34:23–24).


There, to that cave, the weary and heavy–laden still gather. Some come in deep distress, worn down by worry and fear. Others come burdened with debt, owing much to many. Others are downcast by an unhappy childhood, a failed marriage, a cruel death that snatched love away. Still others come starved for want of something they cannot name. 


There in that lowly cave (one must stoop very low to get in) they find a Prince who sings to them in their misery and weakness, who tells his stories and strengthens them with his love. There, as they sit at his feet, they learn to be mighty men and women once more. 


David Roper

12.20.20

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Into My Heart

We’re celebrating Christmas–lite this year: No Christmas tree. Only some bright poinsettias and a few of Carolyn’s “set-arounds” in our living room., 

It was my job again this year to set up the small olive-wood crèche we bought in Bethlehem years ago and arrange it on our living room coffee table. As I unwrapped each piece I came across the tiny carving of the Christ-child and remembered a Christmas, long, long ago, when our granddaughter, Melanie, was very small. 

Melanie was wandering and “wondering” her way around our living room, gazing intently at Carolyn’s decorations, when she came to the little, olive wood crèche. She stood transfixed for a moment. Then she reached out, picked up the carving of the little Lord Jesus and drew it to her heart. She closed her eyes and whispered softly, “Baby Jesus, sleep,” and rocked the little figure in her hands. 
 
Tears sprang to my eyes. 

I could not have told you then what I was feeling, or why I was moved so deeply, but I knew that something profoundly stirring had occurred. Later I realized why my heart was so deeply touched by her simple gesture: it was symbolic of that childlike act in which we take up the wonderful gift of God’s love, our Lord Jesus, and draw him into our hearts. 

There is a song that children sing, and adults too, once they get over their fear of being childlike:

Into my heart, into my heart;
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today; come in to stay;
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. 

And so it is today: “Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

David Roper
12.16.20

Looking Up

My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up. —Psalm 5:3 "Poor little bir...