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Friday, April 24, 2015

For “Himself”

I recall certain Pygmalion stories—Shaw's “My Fair Lady” for example—in which a benefactor finds a miserable wretch, lifts her out of her helplessness and defilement and gives her a new life. All this he does not only for her sake, but also for his.

God is  that benefactor, lifting us out of sin and squalor, recreating us in his image for our good. But more than that—for His!

All through our lives God has been wooing us, nurturing us, investing his infinite resources to refine our passions, molding, shaping, revising us with His love.

And why? So we can enjoy him? Indeed! But more than that: God is changing us so He may enjoy us forever!         

Robert Browning has written a poem employing the figure of a potter molding a cup that wonderfully expresses this idea:[1]

He fixed thee 'mid this dance
         Of plastic circumstance,
This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
         Machinery just meant
         To give thy soul its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.

         Look not thou down but up!
         To uses of a cup,
The festel board, lamps flash and trumpet's peal,
         The new wine’s foaming flow,
         The Master's lips aglow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup,
         what need'st thou with earth's wheel?

         But I need, now as then,
         Thee God, who mouldest men;
And since, not even while the whirl was worst,
         Did I—to the wheel of life
         With shapes and colors rife,
Bound dizzily—mistake my end: to slake Thy thirst!

—Robert Browning

Or as David would say, “Always keep this thought in mind: The Lord has set apart the godly[2] for Himself” (Psalm 4:3).

David Roper


[1] “Rabbi Ben Ezra”
[2] The “godly” are not a class of super–saints, but “those who are characterized by love for God and neighbor”—the end product of the Potter’s wheel. They are the true “hasidim,” the plural form of the noun hesed, that rich Old Testament word for covenant love.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Waiting Place

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait on the LORD shall inherit the land. —Psalm 37:8,9

“Waiting is never easy and haste is ever the sin of Adam.” —Carlo Carretto

In his children's book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss, writes of "the waiting place"—a useless place where people are just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a yes or no
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

In the realm of extraneous factoids, I've read that if we live to be seventy years old we will spend a minimum of three years waiting. Just waiting. Scientists have actually studied the phenomenon and discovered what we already know: We hate to wait! We twiddle our thumbs, shuffle our feet, stifle our yawns and fret inwardly in frustration. “Haven’t I borne this situation long enough?” we ask. “Isn’t it time to move on?” And still we wait.

That's because waiting is an integral part of the process by which God is perfecting us. It’s one of the ways by which God effects the ends on which he has set his heart. Without it he could never make the most of us.

Waiting is a time to develop humility, patience, endurance, and persistence in well-doing. These quieter virtues take the longest to learn, are the last to be learned and, it seems to me, can only be learned through waiting, the very circumstance we’re most inclined to resist.

And so we must wait before we make any change: before we give notice to a difficult employer, before we walk out on a hard marriage, before we end a disappointing friendship or make some other irrevocable decision. We must "just wait." We’ll know when it’s time to make the next move. God will let us know. As someone has said, "God is never in a hurry, but he is always on time."

In the meantime, while we wait, we should look into each delay for its disciplines, learning its deeper lessons of faith and obedience and yielding to God’s efforts to change us rather than our circumstances. The extent to which we do so will determine the extent to which his purposes are achieved in us.

F. B. Meyers writes, “What searching of the heart, what analyzing of motives, what uplifting of the soul.... All these are associated with these weary days of waiting which are, nevertheless, big with spiritual destiny.”

David Roper
4/18/15

Friday, April 17, 2015

His Patient Smile

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” —Luke 23:43

Old John Keble writes...

Where'er Thou roam'st, one happy soul, we know,
      Seen at Thy side in woe,
   Waits on Thy triumphs—even as all the blest
      With him and Thee shall rest.
   Each on his cross; by Thee we hang a while,
      Watching Thy patient smile,
   Till we have learned to say, "'Tis justly done,
Only in glory, LORD, Thy sinful servant own."

Keble is thinking of the repentant thief, "one happy soul," hanging on his cross at Jesus' side in pain and sorrow,  awaiting Jesus' triumph. The poet sees us with him ("each and all the blest") as we "hang a while," each on our own cross, humbly accepting our suffering as "justly done," yet clinging to Jesus' promise, despite our sin: "Truly I say to you, you will be with me in Paradise."

Thus may we wear his "patient smile," humbly accepting our suffering as "justly done" and waiting a while till he receives us into glory.

David Roper
4/17/15

Sunday, April 12, 2015

 On Death and Dying

“Death is Only Natural!”
—King Crimson     
       
 

In a Washington Post article dated April 4, 2015—Easter Eve it should be noted—Ariana Cha, in an article entitled "Tech Titans Defy Death," wrote about the efforts of Pay Pal founder Peter Thiele and other tech moguls to extend human life indefinitely. They're prepared to spend billions on the project.

Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist who gained prominence by doubling the life span of a roundworm, Aubrey de Grey, a British theoretician who had predicted that medical advances would inevitably stop aging, Larry Page, co-founder of Google who believes the answer can be found somewhere in the  terabytes of data Google is collecting—all are allied in the effort to beat death.

Cha writes: ”The entrepreneurs are driven by a certitude that rebuilding, regenerating and reprogramming patients’ organs, limbs, cells and DNA will enable people to live longer and better. The work they are funding includes hunting for the secrets of living organisms with insanely long lives, engineering microscopic nanobots that can fix your body from the inside out, figuring out how to reprogram the DNA you were born with, and exploring ways to digitize your brain based on the theory that your mind could live long after your body expires."

It’s a shame, really—all that effort and all those dollars—for death has already been denied. Jesus said, "whoever believes in me will ’not never’ die."  By a quirk of Greek grammar, Jesus assures us that those who put their trust in him will never, ever, under any circumstances whatever die. Oh, our bodies will die for they are perishable, but the thinking, reasoning, remembering, loving, adventuring part of us will never, ever die.

And here's the best part: It's a gift! All we have to do is receive it. CS Lewis, musing on this notion, describes it as something like “a chuckle in the darkness”—the sense that something that simple is the answer.

But, you say, “It is too simple.” I answer, "If God loves you and wants you to live with him forever, why would he make it hard?"

Death: Let losers talk: yet thou shalt die;
     These arms shall crush thee.
Christian: Spare not, do thy worst.
    I shall be one day better than before:
Thou so much worse, that thou shalt be no more.

—George Herbert

David Roper


Saturday, April 11, 2015

This Gift

Id rather be killed fighting for Narnia than grow old and stupid at home and perhaps go about in a bath-chair and then die in the end just the same (C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle).

A number of years ago I wrote an essay about my collection of canes, staffs, shillelaghs and walking sticks and mused that I might someday graduate to a walker. Well, the day has come. A combination of back issues and peripheral neuropathy has left me pushing a three-wheel walker. I can't hike; I can't fish; I can't do many of the things that used to bring me great joy. My limitations appear severe indeed.

I'm trying to learn, however, that my limitations, whatever they may be, are a gift from God, and it is with this gift, that I am to serve him. This gift and not another. This is true of all of us whether our limits are emotional, physical or intellectual. We can glorify God with whatever limitations we have, be they ever so debilitating. Paul was so bold as to say that he "gloried in his infirmities," for it was in weakness that God's power was revealed in him.

Seeing our so-called liabilities this way enables us to go about our business with alacrity and courage. We won't complain, feel sorry for ourselves or opt out, but make ourselves available to God for his intended purposes.

I have no idea what he has in mind for us, but we shouldn't worry about that because he knows. He has prepared good works for us from eternity and will enable us by his grace to "walk in them."

Perhaps our task today is just to accept things as they are and to be content. This is, in part, what some have called, "the sacrament of the present moment"offering up a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise, knowing that in the love, wisdom and providence of God this moment is okay as it is, in fact, as good as it can possibly be.

David Roper


Monday, March 30, 2015

On My Eighty-Second Birthday

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come (Psalm 71:17,18).

I vaguely recall George Carlin's routine about aging and how we "make" it to 60 years and "hit" 70. I think he ran out of verbs at age 80, but today I can say that I have been "given" 82 years. I am here solely by the grace of God.

It is literally true that God has taught me from my youth. I was raised in a home where Jesus was honored and I cannot think of a day when I did not love him. I can say with John that I know and believe the love he has for me. "Blessed be the Lord who has shown me the wonders of his love."

I live today in a spirit of thanksgiving to God for the years he has given me. I don't know why God has granted these bonus years to me; most of my contemporaries have already shuffled off this mortal coil. But there must be a reason, for God has a reason for everything that he does.

One thing I know: I can continue to grow. There are parts of me that are still unconverted, vast areas to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. I want to continue to hear his word each day and ask for his help while he finishes the work he has begun.

I look to many of my aging friends for encouragement. Their strength in weakness, their endurance in illness and  pain, their love despite
sorrow and weariness, their faith and hope and confidence in the face of death—encourage me to become like them when I too am grown.

And I know God has other things for me to do. Certainly to love and to pray for these are the works of the aged. And much can be said for just "being" and resting in the love of God. Perhaps in these and other ways I can "proclaim God's might to the next generation; his power to all that are to come."

In the meantime, God has promised that he will never forsake me. He has been my shepherd now for 82 years, holding me with his strong hand, guiding me with his wise counsel, and one day he will receive me into glory (Cf., Psalm 72:23,24).

"Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow." Who could ask for anything more?

Growing old but not retiring,
For the battle still is on;
Going on without relenting
Till the final victory’s won.  —Anon.

David Roper

Sunday, March 29, 2015

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The Log

More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Psalm 69:4,5

Prayer changes us. It is "working with God, as Dallas Willard put it, to make us more like Jesus.

The prayer above is a case in point. Here, the psalmist begins with a rush of emotion, railing against the sins of his enemies, at which point we expect a harsh imprecation: "May God judge my foes and justify me!

But in the act of praying the psalmist's heart is subverted and humbled and he becomes aware of his own "folly" and the "wrongs" he has done. Thus, he reckons with his own depravity for, in one way or another, we are always in the wrong.

Jesus said, Why do you see the speck that is in your brothers eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye. How can you say to your brother, Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye, when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brothers eye" (Luke 6:41,42). This is the path that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation.[1]

English poet Percy Shelley wrote:

I will not complain, and though chill'd is affection,
With me no corroding resentment shall live;
My bosom is calmed by the simple reflection,
That both may be wrong,and that both should forgive.

DHR


[1] One caveat: We can be incredibly astute about the shortcomings of others but have no insight into ourselves at all. That's why David's prayer must be on our lips: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me..." (Psalm 139:23,24).