Monday, April 21, 2014

On Caring For Your Horse

“And so in gymnastics, if a man takes violent exercise and is a great feeder, at first the high condition of his body fills him with confidence and spirit, and he becomes twice the man that he was.” —Plato, The Republic

I was a physical education major in college and have always had an interest in personal fitness. When I was a young man I took a lot of "violent exercise,” and tried to be a "great feeder." I’m a bit stove–in now, but I still manage a little dog–walking, light lifting and Carolyn manages my diet. I find these efforts "beneficial" to use Paul's modest word (1 Timothy 4:8). 

I don’t exercise to extend my life span, for such things are determined in the counsels of heaven, nor am I concerned so much with quality of life issues, though exercise does reduce stress and can produce a happier frame of mind. I exercise to take care of my “horse.” 

I'm thinking here of a remark David Brainerd made to a friend. Brainerd, as you may know, devoted himself to missionary work among Native Americans and drove himself relentlessly and without thought for his health. He died at age 29, having worn out his body. "I have killed my horse," he said "and cannot continue my journey." 

I wouldn't disparage Brainerd's zeal for a moment, for his efforts and diary have turned many to serve God here and abroad. Furthermore, he was driven by the love of Christ and there can be no higher motivation.  But I can't help but wonder what he might have done if he had taken better care of his horse. 

The Wise Man provides some balance: "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory is from the Lord" (Proverbs 21:31). There’s no spiritual power in physical exercise; it’s just a practical consideration.

I think Paul would agree and would recommend walking. He did a lot of it in his time. 


Monday, March 31, 2014


“The wearer of Grandmother’s (Lady Wisdom’s) clothes never thinks about how he or she looks, but thinks how handsome other people are” (George MacDonald, The Golden Key. p. 16).

I read today that “(Barzalel) made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women…” (Exodus 38:8).

Bezalel was the artisan that made the articles of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Here we’re told that certain “ministering women” gave up their precious copper mirrors to form the material for the bronze basin he was constructing.

“Giving up” our mirrors can be equally costly, but it can be a very good thing—for men as well as women. To be sure, we have to see that our faces are in place each morning, but too much scrutiny and self–examination can be disconcerting, especially as we age. Furthermore, it can be disorienting: It can make us think too much about ourselves, and not enough about others.

We should forget about our own faces just as soon as we can, remembering that God loves us as we are—in all our imperfection—and bring other’s faces to mind, thinking more about them than we do about ourselves (Philippians 2:4).

Augustine said that we get lost in loving ourselves, but found in loving others (Sermon 96:1). Put another way, the secret of happiness is not getting our face right but giving our hearts away, giving our lives away, giving our selves away, in love.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

One Day Nearer Home!
Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
It was more than fifty years ago: A friend and I set out to climb Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower forty-eight. We arrived at Whitney Portal late one evening, rolled out our sleeping bags at base camp and tried to get some sleep before we began our ascent at first light. [As those of you who’ve climbed Mt. Whitney know, it’s not a technical climb but rather a long, weary walk—11 hard miles to the summit.] 
The ascent was exhilarating, with stunning vistas, cerulean lakes and lush meadows along the way, but the trail was long and wearisome, a test for legs and lungs. I thought of turning back as the shadows grew long and the trail seemed to stretch endlessly before me.
Occasionally, however, I caught a glimpse of the summit and I realized that each step was bringing me one step closer. If I just kept walking, one foot up and one foot down, I would get there. That was the thought that kept me going.   
Paul assures us: “(Our ultimate) salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Every day brings us one day closer to that great day when we shall “summit” and see our Savior’s face.
It’s not long now. If I keep walking with Jesus, one foot up and one foot down, I shall get there someday. That’s the thought that keeps me going.
Just one day nearer Home as shadows of the night descend;
Just one day less to roam as fading twilight colors blend.
Beneath the starry dome I’ll rest beside my Guide and Friend;
With each day’s tramping, nightly camping, one day nearer Home!
—Author unknown

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Even to Old Age

Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save" (Isaiah. 46:4).

Some of my younger-older friends lament the fact that they're over the hill. "Believe me,” I say, “it only gets worse,” for in my experience, going "over the hill" is not steady, slow descent; it's more like falling off a cliff:  “One woe doth tread upon another’s heel so fast they follow," Hamlet said. Dealing with those cascading woes is the spiritual challenge for us in our latter years, I believe. 

Philosopher Emanuel Kant somewhere said that age wants to be looked upon as meritorious and stand as a good example. It strikes me that one ministry of the aged is simply that: to be a good example and show younger Christians how to age, for barring an early demise, every young person will someday be old.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Do not let the young people catch you indulging in melancholy, sitting in your chimney–corner, grumbling and growling, but go about cheerful and happy, and they will think how blessed it is to be a Christian. If you are surly and fretful, they will think the Lord has forsaken you; but keep a smiling countenance, and they will think the promise is fulfilled, "Even to old age I will carry you; I will carry and will save." Children run away from a surly old man, but there is not a child in the world but loves his grandpapa if he is cheerful and happy. You can lead us to heaven if you have got heaven’s sunlight on your face…for so will you prove to us that even to old age God is with you, and that when your strength fails, he is still your salvation.“

The strength of grace does not fail with the passage of time. Our last days can be our best days and our last work our best work if we rest each day on the One who is our righteousness. If we ask Him, He will carry us and He will save.

So, we pray “Even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake (us) until (we) proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come" (Psalm 71:18).

David Roper


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fresh Starts

I like things like mornings and Mondays and September, times of new beginnings and fresh starts. I like times like that—usually!

Lately, though, I've been thinking about those other times. Times when I don't want to jump in and have another go at things. And I've been considering what makes the difference. Why is it that sometimes I'd rather "get on the bus, go to another state and live in the woods and eat berries,"as school-bound Lucy puts it in one "Peanuts"episode? (Charlie Brown gets to the core of the matter by asking, "Having trouble with fractions again, huh?")

What are the "fractions"in my life that take the fizz out, that get me trapped in malaise and wanting to say, "I think I'll pass on that opportunity"? What makes me not want to serve another, work on a relationship, chair a committee, parent a child, lead a study or get involved at any level?
In taking an informal survey of some people I know and looking way down deep in my own heart, l've identified several reasons I might want to opt out - or to not opt in.

The first reason I might not want to start again is the vacation syndrome. A five week vacation in the woods this summer was like Turkish Delight to me. I developed a taste for it and wanted more. Coming back was hard to do. It involved a choice to believe Jesus was right when He said, "The one who loses his life shall find it."As I believed His word I could then choose to accept the responsibilities that He'd given me, knowing that in doing so I'd find life-more than on the open road.

Another reason I've identified for wanting to pull back is an awareness of inadequacy. Looking at the task and thinking "I can't do that!"or "I can't do that as well as she/he can."l empathize with Moses: "Here am l. Send Aaron!"But the Creator says to me as He did to Moses "I called you. I want you. I'll be with you. Because you are weak, the glory will go to Me in the end."Again the choice is mine. Will I take Him at His word?

Not being noticed or taken seriously seems one more reason to fold up my tent and back away. But Jesus said, "Take the lower seat."So why should I mind when someone gives it to me? Instead, I can ignore secondary causes, and inwardly say, "Thank you, Jesus, for giving me this chance to follow You, this chance to take the lower seat. I know You don't give stones when I need bread."I then can get on with what He's called me to do.

These things-–a vacation mentality, an awareness of inadequacy, and a sense of not being noticed are all things that can (and do at times) make it hard for me to step into the realities of my responsibilities. But as hard as these make it, there is one thing that for me makes it even harder. Failure. Not the inability to get the job done, but rather the failure to do it His way. Sin and it's inevitable harvest of guilt and shame can more than anything discredit me in my own eyes to the extent that checking out seems the only option open. I once put it this way:
The feeling's back.
It hurts a lot.
And this is what it says,
"You've done that thing,
The very thing,
You said
You'd never do again.
Shame, shame.
Shame all over you."
The "thing" can be being out of control with my kids or in a meeting. Or one-on-one saying hurtful things, rather than speaking words that heal. Maybe I've had a failure in courage or in courtesy. Maybe I've been flirting with the world and made some bad moves. Any of these, sneaking up on me for the umpteenth time, can make me say with David, "My vitality was drained away as with the fever-heat of summer"(Psalm 32:4). I mean, it's bad enough to realize I had it in me in the first place, but to see it come out again can be overwhelming. Humbling even.

Over the years the Lord has been teaching me a few principles about my failures—my sin.

1. I need to take a good, hard look at these death spots in my life and acknowledge them . Even though it's humbling and it hurts, I can look without fear because God only reveals these to me so that He can heal me. He's not playing "Gotcha!"

2. 1 am learning to let my failures lead me to say, "Amazing grace, that saved a wretch like me."And to mean it! As I then confess my sin and turn from it toward God, I can worship Him more genuinely. I know I'm forgiven much, and so I love Him much.

3. Too, by disclosing to me the bond I have with each other sinning person, Jesus is increasingly tenderizing me. I see how I thrive under His forgiveness and understanding and I want to pass it on.

4. A while back, though, I was stumped. I couldn't figure out how a sinless God could understand the shame and guilt that issued from my failure. Even the great passage in Hebrews four that assures me Jesus understands my struggles, says He is without sin. "So how can You understand?"I asked Him. With a bold stroke He reminded me of His cross. His word came quietly to my thoughts: "He who knew no sin became sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God"(2 Cor. 5:21). He had felt sin's burden of guilt and shame. He does understand. He is a merciful high priest who can offer both help and sympathy in even this.

Because I'm learning to look at my failure the way God does, I'm energized to welcome the opportunities that come with September and Mondays and mornings. It's becoming freshly real that "His mercies are new every morning."And I can start again. So can you!

Carolyn Roper

Saturday, February 15, 2014


"You shall be witnesses (martures) to Me...” (Acts 2:8)

I read of martyrs today, zealots that seek death in glorious, once-in-a-lifetime offerings. But true martyrdom is something altogether different. The term comes from a Greek noun, martus, that means "a witness," and in that sense I can and should become a martyr every day.

If I bear calamity and suffering patiently and calmly, even that suffering I’ve brought upon myself...

If I accept the difficulties of life as the righteous judgment of God on sinful humanity and repent of my part in it in humility and shame...

If I turn from my restless impatience in my troubles and bow in hopeful submission to God's will...

If I see no purpose in my pain and yet trust my Father's love and "wise bestowment"...

If others see in me that cheerfulness that is seldom seen in this world—a quiet joy in the face of deep sorrow and loss...

Then I have become a martyr, a "witness" to Christ’s invisible presence in me.

This is the "martyrdom" I seek and for which I pray.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

While We Sleep"

In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he gives to those he loves while they sleep (Psalm 127:2).

Author Lauren Winner was asked how we as followers of Jesus can be more counterculture. Her answer? Get more sleep.

Miss Winter admitted the curious nature of her comment. "Surely one could come up with something more other-directed, more sacrificial, less self-serving, she wrote.  Still, she reasoned, a night of good sleepa week, or month, or year of good sleeptestifies to a countercultural embrace of sleep (that) bears witness to values higher than the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things.’”[1]

Israels poet anticipated her thoughts: In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he gives to those he loves while they sleep.

Theres something wonderfully significant about this psalm, something easily missed unless we understand that Israels day began in the evening and not in the morning.

We begin our day when the sun comes up. We leap out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, wolf down an energy bar and rush out the door to begin our work. Only when our work is done do we rest, and our work is never done.  Theres always one more e-mail to answer, one more phone call to return, one more errand to run.

Israels sequence of evening and morning pictures the attitude we should embrace toward all our efforts: We must begin with restrest in a God of infinite resources. When we awaken to begin our work, we rise to join Him in a work in progress, for he does not slumber nor sleep.

Its useless to drive ourselves in anxious frenzy, the psalmist pleads, as if success depends on our efforts. We must work hard and we must be faithful in all we do, but everything depends upon God. He has been working throughout eternity to gain our highest good. Thus in simple faith we rest that He, who knows and loves, will do the best.

Maker of all, the Lord,
And Ruler of the height,
Who, robing day in light, hast poured
Soft slumbers oer the night,
That to our limbs the power
Of toil may be renewd,
And hearts be raisd that sink and cower,
And sorrows be subdud.

Saint Ambrose


[1] Lauren Winner, Books & Culture, January/February 2006, Vol. 12, No. 1, Page 7.