Thursday, February 5, 2015


Odd, this twisted form
       should be the work of God.
God, who makes, without mistakes,
       the happy norm, the status quo—
the usual—made me, you know.

The Royal Palm He made;
       and, too, the stunted pine.
With joy I see the lovely shapes;
       with pride I live in mine.
No accident I am:
       a Master Craftsman's plan.

—Ruth Bell Graham

I came across a tortured, twisted pine tree some years ago, high on a ridge—an ugly, misshapen thing at first glance. But I looked again and saw something deeper and better and thought of those whose deformities are overwhelmed by rare beauty. 

Appearance is overrated, a mere sensation in the eyes (or brain) produced by shape, color and motion and conditioned a good deal by society and association. (In some cultures, foot-long ear lobes and distended lips are thought to be the essence of loveliness.)

A philosopher–friend of mine once pointed out to me that objects cannot be beautiful in themselves for they’re only arrangements of colorless, shapeless, invisible atoms. We can’t see them, but if we could, they would bring us no delight or satisfaction.

There is a spiritual beauty, however, that is much deeper and more enduring than anything we can see with our natural eyes. It is the symmetry and splendor that God brings to his children, what scripture calls “the beauty of holiness.”
Our present culture turns the phrase upside down, worshipping outward appearance and the holiness of beauty.[1] But that’s a terrible mistake, for it leads us to vanity—the desire to exceed the limits God has appointed for us—and is the means by which pride and self–preoccupation enter in and we miss the highest good. Preoccupation with our bodies, as even pagan philosophers affirm, unavoidably leads to the diminishment of our souls. Plato in his dialogue, Phaedro, argues that we can love wisdom, or we can love our bodies, but we cannot, at the same time, love both.

We must be satisfied, then, with the way God has formed us. Our disabilities and deformities are not a mistake, but part of God’s eternal plan. His way of dealing with them is not to remove them, but to endow them with godlike strength, dignity and beauty and put them to his intended use—as they are.

McGuffey had it exactly right…

Beautiful faces are they that wear,
The light of a pleasant spirit there;
Beautiful hands are they that do,
Deeds that are noble, good and true;
Beautiful feet are they that go,
Swiftly to lighten another’s woe.

McGuffey’s Second Reader

Has aging or accident brought humiliating disfigurement? Do you consider yourself an eyesore, too ugly to be of use?

No, you are “(God’s) workmanship” created as you are for good works (Ephesians 2:10). You are his special creation, designed from birth to manifest God’s loveliness in a unique way. The Craftsman’s plan surpasses the material.
Your countenance, though wrinkled and blemished, can be adorned with the joy of the Lord and made lovely with his kindness and compassion. Your body, be it ever so humble and lumpish, can be graceful in unselfish service and love. This is “grace beyond reach of art,” human ugliness hidden in divine loveliness, beauty at its very best.

And, of course, this is not all that will be. On ahead lies the redemption of our bodies. One day soon we will be made new: “We are as God has made us, but we are not as God will make us. We will be made over again and everything will once for all be set right” (George MacDonald).

And so, I pray, may the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.


[1] I’m reminded here of the character on “Saturday Night Live” that always ended his monologue with the reminder: “Looking good is better than being good.”

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Thunder rolls and crashes across the Sawtooths, echoing through the peaks and canyons around us, shaking the ground—a celestial sonic boom! My old dog cuts and runs. I stand amazed and delighted.

Scientists tell us that thunder is a natural phenomenon, nothing more than the sudden expansion of super-heated air around a lightning bolt's path..The biblical poets inform us that thunder is more than natural, naked force; It is the voice of God:

The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
—Psalm 29:3-5

And again:

”The skies give forth thunder;
    your arrows flash on every side.
The crash of your thunder is in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings light up the world;
    the earth trembles and shakes” 

—Psalms 77:7, 8

Several of the psalms refer to a thunderstorm that overshadowed Israel as she made her way through the Red Sea—thunder that spelled doom for the Egyptians, but deliverance to God's people. Each resounding clap was a comforting voice assuring those  He loved and had come to save.

It thundered again when Jesus asked his Father to glorify His name. A voice answered from heaven with this assurance: "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd said it thundered; Jesus, with better hearing, heard the voice of God (John 12:28,29).

Are you troubled today? Call out to God. He will answer you from "the place of thunder" (Psalm 81:7). You may not hear the thunder roll, but it will rumble and reverberate throughout the heavens. God may not deliver you from your circumstances, but He will speak peace to your heart of hearts and deliver you from all your fears. He "will give strength to his people! He will bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:11).

There's no need to be afraid of thunder. Children should know this, young and old. It is one of ways God reminds us of his mighty power to save.

David Roper

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Set Aside

There comes a time when we must ante up for the things we did to our bodies when they were young. After numerous surgeries on back, knees, shoulders and other parts of my anatomy I'm now facing radical back surgery, a procedure that will take four or five months out of my life. Benched, I said to myself. Set aside.

Then, this morning I opened a copy of Mrs. Cowman's devotional, Streams in the Desert, and read the entry for the day: January 22. (Actually, this is January 20, but I’m a bit addled these days.)

The devotional for the day contained John Ruskin's poem, "Called Aside."

Called aside—
From the glad working of your busy life,
From the worlds ceaseless stir of care and strife,
Into the shade and stillness by your Heavenly Guide
For a brief time you have been called aside. ​

Called aside—
Perhaps into a desert garden dim;
And yet not alone, when you have been with Him,
And heard His voice in sweetest accents say:
“Child, will you not with Me this still hour stay?”

Called aside—
In hidden paths with Christ your Lord to tread,
Deeper to drink at the sweet Fountainhead,
Closer in fellowship with Him to roam,
Nearer, perhaps, to feel your Heavenly Home.

Called aside—
Oh, knowledge deeper grows with Him alone;
In secret oft His deeper love is shown,
And learned in many an hour of dark distress
Some rare, sweet lesson of His tenderness.

Called aside—
We thank You for the stillness and the shade;
We thank You for the hidden paths Your love has made,
And, so that we have wept and watched with Thee,
We thank You for our dark Gethsemane.

Called aside—
O restful thought—He doeth all things well;
O blessed sense, with Christ alone to dwell;
So in the shadow of Your cross to hide,
We thank You, Lord, to have been called aside.

~ John Ruskin

Joy can come from the simplest and most attainable things, not the least of which is a new way of thinking: Not set aside. Called aside. ​


Friday, January 16, 2015

How to Carve a Duck

Carolyn and I met Phipps Festus Bourne in 1995 in his shop in Mabry Hill, Virginia. Bourne, who died in 2002, was a master wood carver whose carvings are almost exact replicas of real objects.

When asked how he managed to carve such lifelike ducks, Bourne replied,  “Carving a duck is simple. You just look at a piece of wood, get it in your head what a duck looks like and then cut off everything that doesn’t look like it.”

So it is with God. He looks at you and me, envisions what a gracious, God-like woman or man looks like and then begins to painstakingly carve away everything that does not conform to that image.  If we could but see ourselves when God is finished with his artistry, it would take our breath away.

But first we must put ourselves in his hands. We must give ourselves to Him fully without reservation, nothing withheld, our wills conformed to his own. In practice that means we must be willing to do the very next thing he asks us to do. If we accept the task he will give us the grace to comply. “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (2 Thessalonians 5:).

Then he will give us another task and then another. I don’t know what he will ask you to do, but it will be the very best thing you could do and in due time you will begin to think and act as he does.

Do you long for that likeness? Put yourself in the Master Carver’s hands.


Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me—
All his wonderful passion and purity!
O Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine,
Til the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.

                                —Tom Jones

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Living Up To The Name

“Be a man; be made strong”[1] (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Some years ago I found myself in a hospital elevator with a couple of other men. It was late at night and we all looked exhausted.

The elevator came to a stop and an outsized Owyhee County buckaroo ambled in, wearing a battered Stetson, boot jeans, an old, stained sheepskin coat and run–down logger boots. He looked around the elevator, met our eyes and growled, “Good evening, men.” All of us straightened up. We were trying to live up to the name.

“Living up to the name” is what men are mostly about. We want to be strong, tough, and independent. As Shakespeare put it, we aim “to pass for a man.”

But the truth is, God fears our strength. Men who are strong in their own strength are bothersome—rushing about on their own, overly optimist about their abilities, fearless, invincible, all-knowing, blatantly self-generating, and generally getting in God’s way. They never amount to much in God’s scheme of things.

Real men realize that it takes God to make a man. Apart from him human strength is useless. Paul’s philosophy of life, “We are weak,” is not pious palaver. It’s a humbling fact.

So put yourself into God’s hands to be made into a real man. Give him your heart’s affection. Ask him to shape you to be like Jesus, the manliest man that ever lived. He’s faithful and he’ll do it!

David Roper

[1] The verb is passive!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bang–ups and Hang-Ups

Im sorry to say so
But, sadly its true
That bang-ups and hang-ups
Will happen to you.
—Dr. Seuss

I’m not a bird-watcher as such, but I like to watch birds at song and play and some years ago I built a sanctuary in our backyard to attract them. I put in bird feeders, birdbaths and places to nest and for several months I enjoyed the sight of our feathered friends feeding and flitting about…
…until this fellow showed up—a young Cooper’s Hawk that made my bird refuge his private hunting reserve.

Ah, such is life: Our safe places are seldom safe. Just about the time we think we’re past the hard stuff of life and settle down to take our ease, something or someone comes along to disrupt our cozy nest. Fractious families, financial losses, health problems, the frets of old age and a host of other predations assail us. And as an older, wiser saint once warned me, “Sometimes the harder tests are farther along.”

Having lived for a while, I must agree. Life is hard and sometimes gets harder. Any other outlook is ingenuous. Why, we ask, must so much of life be a vale of tears?

I think I’ve heard most of the answers to that old question, but lately I’m satisfied with just one: “All the discipline of the world is to make men children that God may be revealed to them” (George MacDonald, Life Essential). Sadness comes that we may become little children, resting in the love of our Father in heaven, seeking to know and to do his will and to be like him.

And we have this assurance: In a little while sorrow and sadness will come to an end; the path of sorrow will have led us to a land where sorrow is unknown. There, God “will wipe every tear from (our) eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain...” (Revelation 2:4).

English poet George Herbert put it all together in a poem describing a dream in which he saw a globe of the earth, “On whose meridian was engraven, ‘These seas are tears, and heaven the haven.’”[1]

Can we not rejoice in sorrow with such an end in view?

David Roper

[1] “The Size” (1633)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mild He Lays His Glory By

I have a piece of old plaster on my desk at home. It comes from the ancient site of Herodium in Israel.

Herodium was Herod's summer palace, located on an artificially heightened mountain about three miles southeast of the little town of Bethlehem. There's nothing there but rubble these days, but at the turn of the first century it was the location of a lavish royal residence that served as Herod's summer palace, district capital, fortress, tomb estate, and monument to his penchant for self-aggrandizement.

According to Josephus and other ancient historians the palace was encircled by two concentric walls with four defense towers that soared five stories or more above the complex. Two hundred polished marble steps led from the bottom of the mountain through the walls and into the interior to a villa with opulent apartments furnished for the royal family and their prominent guests.

A lower campus, at the foot of the mountain, boasted a Roman bath with hot, cold and lukewarm pools, surrounded by colonnaded gardens. Not far from the bath was an elaborate banquet hall with frescoed walls (from which my piece of plaster came) and exotic mosaic floors. This was a home for the rich and famous.

Herod built his palace, we're told, to commemorate a victory over a Hasmonean prince in 40 B.C., but perhaps he had another purpose in mind. Herod was not a Jew (he was Idumean), but he knew the Jewish scriptures. He was aware that Israel's Messiah would be born in Bethlehem as Micah predicted: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:1). Perhaps he hoped the Coming King would be born in his palace.

God, however, is not so grandiose. He announced his birth not to glitterati but to lowly shepherds, the outcasts of Israel. He chose to be born, not to royalty but to poverty; not in a castle but in a cave. It was there in a hole in the ground that the little Lord Jesus was born, a helpless infant. An easy thing it was to love him.

All through the Old Testament we read that God has been doing his best to get next to us, humbling himself to make himself known. German theologian Gerhard von Rad, whose thinking has dominated Old Testament studies for fifty years or more, describes these efforts as "irruptions," a word that means "to break in." (It's the exact opposite of the more familiar word "eruption," "to break out.") Christmas, whatever else it may be, is God's supreme effort to "break in" to this world and show us the measure of his love. This is the humility of God, an aspect of his character we rarely think about these days. More’s the pity.

One writer, Fredrick Buechner, put it this way: "The child is born among beasts. The sweet breath and steaming dung of beasts. And nothing is ever the same again. Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear, or to what lengths he will go, or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of mankind... For those who believe in God his birth means that God himself is never safe from us, and maybe that is the dark side of Christmas, the terror of the silence. He comes in such a way that we can always turn him down, as we would crack a baby's skull like an eggshell or nail him up when he gets too big for that" (The Hungering Dark).

Now I ask you: who can be afraid of a God like that?