Thursday, March 23, 2017

Psalm 94

The world had a hopeful beginning,

But man spoiled his chances by sinning.
We trust that the story will end in God’s glory,
But at present the other side is winning. —author unknown

Old folks in every generation have told us that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but, by golly, this time they may be right: It does indeed seem that "the other side is winning." Who will be our champion? "Who will rise up against the wicked? Who will stand up against evildoers?" (94:16).

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Martin Luther King said. The saying is true, not because history necessarily bends  toward justice, but because God is in control of the moral universe and He determines history's course and outcome. He is our hero!

Evil does seem to have the upper hand these days, but that's only the appearance of things. In reality, wicked men and women are even now suffering the consequences of their wrong-doing—sin leads to misery—and in due time God will "wipe them out" (94:23). Kaput!

But we must wait...

Meanwhile there is a promise imbedded in the psalm, a beatitude that calms us in our waiting: "Blessed is the man... You teach out of your law, to give him relief in days of trouble until a pit is dug for the wicked" (Psalm 94:13). 

The word translated “relief” means "to be quiet and undisturbed"—to be at peace while we wait for justice on the earth. The Jerusalem Bible translates, “His mind is at peace though things are bad" —a calming word in these unsettled and unsettling times. May the Lord teach us and give us "relief" as we wait.

David Roper


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Try, Try again!
Psalm 60

Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom (Psalm 60:9).

David's main force was with him on the Euphrates, fighting the Syrian army when the Edomites launched a sneak attack on Judah from the south. David dispatched Joab and a portion of the army to put a stop to Edom's advance, but reports from this second front indicated that the battle was not going well. David laments that God seems to have abandoned them: "Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go forth, O God, with our armies" (60:10). 

David's lament ends in a plea for renewed help: Oh, grant us help against the foe..." (50:12).

Joab and his army eventually drove the Edomites from Judah, though the campaign was lengthy and bloody and final victory was hard-earned.

Here’s the take-away: When we fall we can always ask for God’s help and begin again. C. S. Lewis wrote, 

“You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again. For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven” (Mere Christianity).

Despite failure—even repeated failure—you are God's "beloved" (60:5). He is on your side, fighting with you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!

David Roper

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Our Defense
Psalm 59

My defense is God himself—
The God who loves me (Psalm 59:17).

The verse reads like a koan. Or a tweet. Terse, punchy phrases. A nimble response to a vicious attack.

David describes his adversaries as a pack of ravenous, feral dogs:

Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs 
and prowling about the city,
Human predators, snarling invectives,
drawn daggers in their teeth.
They think they'll never get caught (59:6,7).

I can't think of a better description of contemporary social media in which cowardly internet trolls hide behind anonymous online identities, spewing out poisonous screeds. Their bullying can kill.

But David had a ready response: He replied to each "tweet" with one of his own: "God loves me!"

Who cares what others say!

David Roper

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

From Carolyn

Just For You
The Blessing in the Battle—3.7.17
It happened this way. God’s people were feeling vulnerable and distressed as news came that an overwhelming enemy was advancing to take them out.  Danger was on the move. Jehoshaphat got the news first and he “was afraid.” At this point he gathered the people and did the responsible and wise thing. He “turned his attention to seek the Lord.” He cried out to the Lord in his distress, acknowledging God’s power and might and His past faithfulness to deliver His people. Then came the familiar words that are often so relevant to me and to you. “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”
At this point the Spirit of the Lord instructed Jahaziel to address His people. His first word to the people was, “Listen! The Lord has a word for you.” Yes, there would be a battle. Yes, the enemy was mighty, too mighty for them.  Nevertheless, they need not fear or be dismayed.

Really? Put away our flight or fight mechanisms? Really? How can this be?

And here is the blessing in the battle. The Lord also said, “The battle is not yours. The battle is the Lord’s!” The battle is the Lord’s. The battle is the Lord’s.
Some days ago this became my mantra for all the “enemies” facing me in the big picture of my life and in the daily days. As I wrote a note for my Blessing Box that day, I counted as a huge blessing this promise: The battle is the Lord’s. I decided right then to ask the Lord to help me remember this truth in four broad areas where my enemies pop-up: Health, Family, Feelings, Aging.

Each area has various facets but none are too big for the Lord. Nor are any too small. Some of my “enemy” thoughts in different areas have been, “What do we do next?” “That hurt!” “Will she be okay?” “I don’t think I have the strength for….” “I need to forgive.” “I’m burdened about his spiritual health.” “One more daily detail seems overwhelming.” “I’m feeling impatient.” “Fear is crouching at the door about….” “How does ministry fit in here?”

So often our battles begin in our distressing thoughts, don’t they? For at root all our battles are spiritual battles. Especially then I want to remember the battle is the Lord’s. It’s His battle to calm my thoughts as I ask Him to do so. I certainly can repeat His promises and that can help. But ultimately the battle is the Lord’s. I count on Him to show me His ways, enable me to think right and to do right. Then I can rest on a platform of peace. Often a lot of waiting is involved. Sometimes I am like Winnie-the-Pooh and have a bit of fluff in my ears and don’t readily hear the words of the Lord. I sometimes don’t focus on Scripture. But the One who is mighty is the One who so loves me and is infinitely patient and always available when I turn to Him for help.

The same is true when I think of those I love and the “enemies” they face. Whether family or friends the battle is the Lord’s! I do not have to helicopter in with my plans to rescue them. I can love and I can call on the Lord to help them as I pray for them. I can listen if He directs and leads me in His paths to help but praying and waiting are often the most real help I can give. He will show me His ways. My love can care and reach out in ways the Lord directs but it cannot control. The battle is the Lord’s.

I encourage you to remember that whatever enemy you or those you love face the battle is the Lord’s. Certainly there will be skirmishes and I will have to continually come back to my mantra, my battle cry. Still, I can have peace in the process as I remember and count on the battle is the Lord’s.
I can also do as these folks did and go out singing and praising God for who He is and what He will do. The battle will not always go as I think it should. But then I can rest in God’s mysterious love that moves Him to be at work on my behalf, often in ways I cannot fathom.

The battle is the Lord’s. Will you please pray for me to embrace this truth today and each day? I will pray the same for you because I care about you and I know He cares about you even more.

With love and hope and praises,

FYI 2 Chronicles 20: 1-25 records the account of this battle

Monday, March 6, 2017

Home Sweet Home

"Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names" —Psalm 49:11

A few years ago Carolyn and I bought two lots at Dry Creek Cemetery, a wind-swept hill overlooking the city of Boise. One for me and one for her. Mine is about 4’ wide and 8' long—32 square feet in all. I laid down on it—much to Carolyn's chagrin—to see if I fit. I did. Just barely.

Some people acquire vast estates and some have continents named after them, folks like Amerigo Vespucci, but the only piece of real estate any of us will ever truly own is our grave. Not much to show for a lifetime of effort.

That's the problem with a "this world" perspective. No matter what you acquire or accomplish in this life you can't take it with you. As Israel's poet put it, you die and "leave everything to others" (49:10). This calls for "understanding” (49:3,20), an insight, a perspective on reality: There is another dimension of reality, an unseen realm in which earthly notions of the good life are irrelevant. This present world is tangible but transient; the unseen world is forever and ever. It's toward that invisible, eternal realm that our predominant thoughts, time and energy ought to go. “Seek first the Kingdom of God,” Jesus said.

I'm reminded of a story I heard years ago about a stock broker who encountered a genie and given the requisite wish. "A copy of the Wall Street Journal one year hence," the man replied. Thereupon, paper in hand, he turned to the market report for that day anticipating a killing. But his eye fell first on his picture on the opposite page accompanied by his obituary.

The killing he anticipated was his own.

David Roper

Saturday, March 4, 2017

'Til We Have Faces

"More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause... O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done." —Psalm 69:1,5

The psalmist laments the unjust way in which others have treated him, but as the complaints tumble out of his mouth he begins see his own "folly—the wrong he has done.

Thus, in our laments, we may be brought face to face with our own wrong-doing, our proud, defensive reactions, our words not entirely true, our missed opportunities to show forbearance and grace—a largely unremarked premise C.S. Lewis' develops in his fantasy, 'Till We Have Faces.

The main character, Orual, has been taking angry mental notes throughout her life, bitter at the injustice visited upon her. Finally, deciding to put her complaints in writing, she describes each instance in which she believes she has been wronged. But as she does so she sees her own "face" her own wrong-doing. In a flash of insight, she asks, "How can the gods meet us face to face, 'til we have faces?"

As we stand before God lamenting the ways in which others have sinned against us, may He open our eyes to see our own "face," i. e., our own wrong-doing and the ways in which we have grieved God, our sisters and brothers.

Then, God helping us, may we respond with keener insight, greater humility and mercy toward who that have wronged us (Matthew 7:3-5).

David Roper

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Blessings in Disguise

You, O God, have tested us;
You have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
You laid a crushing burden on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads.
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to abundance.

—Psalm 66:10-12

“You…You…You…You…You…You." The psalmist sees God in every ordeal. Temptations, trials, strictures, crushing burdens, people riding roughshod over us, fire and rain—all these crises are mediated through God's hands.

Here lies an enigma: Though others afflict us, or we afflict ourselves, God takes responsibility for all that befalls us. Scripture affirms it. I cannot explain it. I can only state it.

One of the most startling statements in the Bible occurs on an occasion in which Satan, having done his worst to torment Job, appears a second time before God, who takes the blame for all that happened to Job: "You incited me to act against (Job)" (Job 2:3).

If all events are random the world becomes a very scary place, but if goodness and love order all that happens to us here, we can assume there's a reason for it all.

We may not know the reason, indeed we cannot, but, despite our troubles we can trust God's love. The result is tranquility and a satisfying quality of life the biblical writers call "blessedness"—a sense of spiritual well-being that transcends our best efforts to explain it, a point the psalm makes as well: "You bring us out (of suffering) to abundance"[1] (66:12). It's the word David uses in his Shepherd Psalm: "My cup overflows" (Psalm 23:5).

Good when He gives, supremely good;
Nor less when He denies:
Afflictions, from His sovereign hand,
Are blessings in disguise. —author unknown
David Roper3.1.17

[1] The Hebrew word means "saturation"—complete satisfaction.