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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Waiting

"God, deliver me! Lord, help me! Hurry!" —Psalm 70:1

God is never in a hurry; He has all the time in the world to get His work done. Therefore, we wait...and wait.

Waiting is hard. Why must we live in this awkward circumstance, with this difficult person, with this embarrassing behavior, with this health issue that will not go away? "So how come history takes such a long, long time
when you're waiting for a miracle?" Bruce Cockburn asks. Why doesn't God comes through? 

Sometimes, the answer is, “Just wait awhile."

Waiting is one of life's greatest teachers in that in it we learn the virtue of...well, waiting. Waiting while God works in and for us. It's in waiting that we develop endurance, the ability to trust God's goodness, even when things aren't going our way (70:5). It's one of the hardest lessons to learn, one of the last lessons to be learned, and can best be learned through waiting. Consider Job, at the end of his long ordeal: "Even if you slay me, yet will I trust you!"

But that's not the end of the story. Endurance is not dreary, tooth-clenched resignation. We can "rejoice and be glad" while we wait (70:4), knowing that God will deliver us in due time—in this world or in the next. God is never in a hurry, but He's always on time.

LORD! Show mercy and be merciless to my foe my flesh;
make straight my path ignore my whimpering self-pity; 
starve my hunger until the sharp pain of raging need
becomes the dull ache of wanting now the feast that comes later. 
LORD! Show mercy and give me hope to wait. 

—Karen Dabaghian

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Running Ahead

Everyone who runs ahead and does not abide in the teaching of (about) Christ, does not have God (2 John 1:9).

On April 23, 1985 Coca-Cola introduced New Coke, which, as you know, was a marketing disaster, spawning consumer angst the likes of which no business has ever seen. I read somewhere that Mr. Goizueta, the president of Coke at the time,  received a letter addressed to “The Chief Dodo, The Coca-Cola Company." (He often said he was more upset that it was actually delivered to him!) 

Coke had fallen into one of the oldest logical fallacies of all: an appeal to novelty, the idea that newness is of itself a virtue. 

But the newness of a thing does not necessarily make it better. (Old trees and old friends come to mind.) Nor does it make it valid. The question to ask of any idea is not, "Is it new?" but, "Is it true?"

John, in his second epistle, writes of teachers who wanted to correct outmoded, passé views of Jesus and replace them with new convictions. They rejected the traditions passed down by Jesus’ apostles and opted for a more up-to-date version of the gospel, one in keeping with contemporary philosophical thought. (This was a the origin of Gnosticism and every other “Christian” cult.)

No, John insists again and again: “Let that which was from the beginning. remain in you.”[1] Here John is appealing to the past, not to creation, but to the beginning of the gospel. He is stating the principle by which we evaluate any set of beliefs about Jesus: Any statements about Him must rest on and be informed by the eye-witness, first-hand reports of those who "saw and heard" him (1 John 1:1-4). They are the authorities on Jesus; their’s is the last word. 

Christian faith is not avant-garde; we do not "run ahead" (2 John 1:9). We go back—back  to the foundation laid by the apostles and the prophets (Ephesians 2:20). There is no "new" Jesus. He ”is the same, yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).[2]

[1] John 2:24. Also 1 John 1:1; 2:7, 13, 14; 3:8, 11; 2 John 5, 6)
[2]  Note the context: "Remember those...who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines."

David Roper
6/19/16

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

“Juice”

"For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power" (1Corinthians 4:20).

When I was a youngster we lived for a time in a house my father built on a wooded hill overlooking a small meadow. Our well and water system was located on the edge of the meadow. A small pump house stood over the well, housing a jet pump driven by a 220 volts electric motor.

It was a long push up the hill and on occasion the motor overheated and blew the fuse. I often accompanied my father as he trudged down the hill to replace it.

The fuse was a cylinder about three inches long with copper electrodes on each end, designed to slide into clips. My father would pry out the old fuse with a large screwdriver and replace it with a new one. "Lots of juice there," he said more than once, pointing his screwdriver at the fuse box. 

On one occasion, when my father was away, the fuse blew, and I, wanting to show my mother how grown-up I had become, slipped off without telling her, to replace the fuse on my own.I inserted the screwdriver into fuse box, as I had seen my father do many times and…

That's all I remember. When I came to a few minutes later I was lying flat on my back, several feet from the pump house, tingling from head to toe, holding a screwdriver in my hand that was bent in the shape of an inverted U. I learned about “juice” that day.

I've since learned of a greater “juice,” the infinite power of God, unseen but always available, activated by prayer.

I think of certain intractable folks—a colleague, a parishioner, an elder, an adolescent daughter or son. Some problems can be worked out with words; some cannot.  There's nothing left to say...

But, we can pray. Lots of “juice” there!

David Roper
6/21/16

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Wood Lot

"The mountain country shall be yours. Although it is wooded, you shall cut it down, and its farthest extent shall be yours" (Joshua 17:18).

My father bought a ten-acre bottom-glade of mixed cedar and oak trees with the idea that someday he would clear the oak trees from the grove. I was in college at the time and needed extra money so I offered to harvest the trees if he would give me the wood. He agreed and I set to work.

The following winter I spent many evenings and most weekends felling the trees, bucking them into 24" lengths and trucking them into town where I split, stacked and sold them for firewood. ($75 a cord as I recall.)

I was a young man then and the work seemed like nothing at all. I get worn out now just thinking about it. 

Some projects loom impossibly large as we age, not the least of which is dealing with habits that have been growing unheeded and unhindered throughout the years: thoughts not wholly honorable, feelings not entirely kind, impatience, intolerance, ingratitude—a tangled thicket of wrong–doing.

These days I have neither the strength nor the energy to clear this patch of old growth. All I can do is give the job to Jesus—without telling Him how and when to do it. He waits with eager arms to take it on.  

I come—Thine open arms enfold 
And welcome me within—
Let others work to bring their gold, 
I only bring my sin.

—Ter Steegen

David Roper

7/3/16

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Minding My Own Business

“But we urge you, brothers...to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own business…” (1 Thessalonians 4:10,11).

Some years ago our son Josh and I were making our way up a mountain trail when we spied a cloud of dust rising in the air ahead of us. We crept forward and discovered a grizzled old badger busy digging a den in a dirt bank by the trail. 

He had his head and shoulders in the hole and was vigorously digging with his front paws and kicking the dirt out of the hole with his hind feet. He was so engaged in his work he didn't hear us. 

I couldn't resist. 

I spied a slender lodgepole pine about 15' long lying on the ground nearby, picked it up and gently prodded him in the rump. 

True story: That badger leaped straight up in the air, turned 180º in mid-air, gnashed his teeth, and started running toward us before his feet even hit the ground. (He looked for all the world like one of those cartoon characters whose feet and legs seem to whirl.) Josh and I set new world records for the hundred meter cross-country dash. 

I learned something from my brashness: I need to stay out of other people’s business.

Why do I meddle in other people's lives? I need to quiet my anxieties over their progress, or lack thereof, and stop trying to manage their affairs.  Jeremy Taylor said, “We should enjoy more peace, if we did not busy our selves with the words and deeds of other men, which appertain not to our charge.” 

That's especially true in spiritual matters. We can pray for and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can seek by God's grace to exemplify the truth as we learn it. We may have opportunities to pass on something of God's word when it's appropriate todo so. And, on the odd occasion, we may be called upon to offer a gentle word of correction. But the direction our brothers and sisters are going (unless they’re going wrong) and the speed with which they are growing is the Lord's business. 

Paul writes, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4).

David Roper
6/26/16






Saturday, June 25, 2016

The End of a Thing

"Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit." —Ecclesiastes 7:8

Mentor’s koan invites a good deal of thought: In what sense is the end of a thing better than it’s beginning? Let’s puzzle it out…

The Hebrew noun here translated "end" literally means "afterward" and refers to an end-product, or the outcome of an action. I would translate the couplet this way: 

Outcomes are better than beginnings; 
patience is better than pride.

If we think about God’s outcomes, they are always better, for, as Paul reminds us, "all things work together for good." The phrase "all things" refers to...well, all things, even the things that annoy us. The “good” He envisions for us is the best possible good: the eternal purpose for which we were created, to show forth the goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-30).

The antithesis “patient/proud” in the second line of the verse is surprising; You would expect the parallel to be “patience/impatience.”  The juxtaposition of patient and proud suggests that impatience is actually pride—prideful presumption. We think, if God would give us a chance to shape our own destiny, we would do a better job of it than he. 

So…every time I grumble about my lot; every time I'm displeased, hurt, or resentful when things don't go my way; every time I show impatience in the face of delay, I'm thinking that I have a a better plan and purpose for my life than that which God has envisioned for me. 

Is it not better to rest in God's wisdom and love and say to Him in every situation, "Let it be to me according to your word." Then God can continue to work toward the outcome He has envisioned from the beginning.

BTW: The word here translated “end” (afterward) often means the after-life in the Old Testament. And that, of course, is the best outcome of all. 

David Roper
6/25/16

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Pulling an Eddie

Certain sports figures have forever endeared themselves to us. One is British ski jumper, Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards, who competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and whose lunacy captured our hearts.

Millions of viewers watched with their hearts in their mouths as Eddie careened down the 90–meter hill and wind–milled into space. I’m told that Eddie’s birthday, December 5th, is still celebrated in casualty departments around the world.

Eddie has his very own entry in the Oxford Book of Words and Phrases. “Pulling an Eddie” is defined as “doing something extremely badly, and doing it in the most embarrassing manner possible.”

Nevertheless, Eddie went for it—that’s the important thing—and actually got better, competing in later years with greater ability, which leads me to the thought that "doing extremely badly" is the one of the ways we grow. Ask Peter, who tried to walk on water.

Peter’s story is gospel, but also a parable about risk, failure, and growing. The story, as Matthew tells it, takes place on the Sea of Galilee one stormy night. The disciples were in their fishing boats, rowing against a stiff wind when Jesus walked by them—on the water!

According to the story, the disciples were at first frightened, thinking they were seeing an apparition. Then, when assured it was Jesus, Peter cried out, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Peter could have stayed in the boat, safe from wind and waves, but God had placed in Peter, as he has placed in us, a hunger for high adventure. So, when Jesus called out to Peter: “Come!” Peter leaped out of the boat and began to walk toward Jesus on the crests of the waves.

But, when he realized what he was doing, Peter panicked and began to sink. “Lord, save me,” he cried out. Immediately Jesus reached out, took his hand, pulled him out of the water and they walked together to the boat.

Did Peter do extremely badly? Indeed. Did he do it in the most embarrassing manner possible? Absolutely. But—and here’s the point—Peter walked on water, the only person other than Jesus to do so, and he never forgot the feeling, or the hand that lifted him out of his failure, and sustained him as he walked again.

So, I ask you, what is God calling you to do? You say, “I’m just an ordinary person; my circumstances are restricted; my conditions are commonplace. What can I do and how can I know what God wants me to do or to be?”

He will let you know. It may be to follow your heart’s desire for deeper intimacy with God and personal holiness. It may be to fulfill your longing to teach a child, or to share your faith with a neighbor. It may be to struggle against some sin that you can hardly stand to look at, or to think about—a perverse thing that has defeated you again and again. It may be a godly choice that will result in cruel ridicule, or an act so far beyond you that it seems ridiculous to try. Or it may be to bear a disability with patience.

That drawing in your soul, that dawning of hope is the voice of God himself telling you to come. Get out of your boat and walk—even if at first you don’t succeed. Give it a shot! As a friend of mine says, “If a thing is worth doing it’s worth doing badly.”

David Roper