Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bro Job

Beginning in January of this year, trouble began falling on me like bricks tumbling out of a dump truck one after another.  I won't bore you with the details except to say that I've had nine months of pain and aggravation and now enjoy a certain kinship with Brother Job.

Job is one of my patron saints. I see him—a man bereaved, humiliated and stripped of all this life has to offer; his skin is blistered and festering and his nerves are on fire. I ask, "How will this best of all men respond?" "What great truth can I learn from him?"

"After this Job opened his mouth and cursed..." (Job 3:3)

Job is my kind of man.

I haven't always thought that way. I stand in a long tradition that confused the Christian virtue of endurance with the pagan ethic of stoicism. I was taught to curb my emotions, or at least the outward expression of them, and to never complain. Ours was the virtue of the stiff upper lip. It's little wonder that I never took well to Job, his overmastering sorrow, his angry outbursts of frustration. Job was a whiner.

I've been told that stoicism found it's way into Western thought via the Renaissance and the notion that reason must override passion, but the Renaissance is not our mother. We go back to an older, richer, inspired tradition: The lament psalms in which Israel's poets pour out their emotions with groans and loud complaints.

Biblical endurance, the chief virtue in times of testing, is something quite different from stoicism. It has to do with steadfast trust in God's goodness and love despite all counter-indications, but it says nothing about our emotional state while doing so.

Job is no Stoic, striving to be pure mind with no passion. Job's was not the strength of stones or of bronze (6:14). The man is an emotional wreck. The Lord’s testing is not to find out if Job can sit unmoved like a block of wood, but will he continue to hope in God despite his suffering and the emotional turmoil that surrounded it.

The example of Jesus should forever silence those who criticize emotional outbursts and consider them to be sinful or signs of immaturity: ”In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears..." (Hebrews 5:7)

Jesus experienced the whole range of human emotions, yet he did not sin. His strongest desire, even in agony, was to surrender himself wholly to his Father.

We are drawn by our suffering to that same point of giving in to our Lord. Going through a wrestling match with God is not an indication of spiritual weakness, but of the intensity of our desire for wholeness. We have a God who lets us be angry at him and accepts our emotional pain as his own. It's okay to fume and fret o'er our troubles; okay to wish they were gone.

What I long for, pray for, therefore, is not bland, vapid, phlegmatic calm, but absolute and undoubting confidence in the love of God in the face of all my troubles—and someday to say with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust him."

David Roper

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Where is Heaven?

Now suppose youre Paul, good at mixing your metaphors, and you try to say all those things at once within the biblical cosmology, which uses upstairs/downstairs language for heaven and earth, even though the writers know perfectly well that heaven is not a location in our space-time universe but rather a different kind of space that intersects with ours in complex and interesting ways.” —N.T. Wright

Recently Carolyn and I watched a movie in which two men were arguing about Timbuktu. One thought it was a “made up place”; the other insisted it was a real city, but neither man knew where it was.

So it is with Heaven. It resides in our thoughts like Timbuktu, Kuala Lumpur or Katmandu—far-away places with strange sounding names —a real place

But, where is it?

In ancient times when people spoke of Heaven they pointed up at the sky. Heaven was “up there,” way beyond the blue. But what if Heaven is not up there somewhere, but everywhere?

Studies in quantum mechanics support that thesis: Physicists argue that there must be an unobservable, parallel universe lying in and around our own. The theory is so weird and counter-intuitive that nobody understands it, but it’s the only hypothesis that fully accounts for physical phenomena, as we know it.[1] Could it be that this “unobservable, parallel universe lying in and around our own” is Heaven?

Consider the varied “appearances” of Jesus after His resurrection: In every instance he did not descend from Heaven but simply “appeared”…and then “disappeared,” or to quote Luke exactly, “became invisible” (Luke 24:31; 24:36). On the Mount of Transfiguration, while Jesus was talking to the Apostles, Moses and Elijah, long-time citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, suddenly “appeared” (Matthew 17:1-9). As Stephan was dying he saw Heaven “standing open” (Acts 7:56). In each case Heaven and all its citizens, though invisible, seems to be, well…next door.[2]

But, you ask, is there a point to this wondering? Indeed. Faith tells me that I’m not alone in the little study in which I write. The room is crammed with Heaven—Jesus, reaching out to me in lovingkindness and compassion; legions of angels watching over me;[3] and perhaps my family and friends that have gone on before me,[4] cheering me on, watching in anticipation when I’m tempted, bursting into applause on those occasions when the world, the flesh and the devil go down in defeat. I cannot see these heavenly helpers but surely they are there.

Faith is the means by which we gain access to this invisible world. It “gives substance to things that are not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It is, to the spiritual realm, what the five senses are to the natural: the means by which we grasp spiritual reality and bring it into the realm of our experience.

G. K. Chesterton was once asked by a reporter what he would say if Jesus were standing beside him. He is,” Chesterton replied with calm assurance.

David Roper
November 4, 2015

[1] See Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.
[2] Additionally, there is the story of Elisha and his servant in the city of Dothan (2 Kings 6). Surrounded by a massive Assyrian army, Elisha insists that there was a greater force on their side. Elisha’s servant eyes were opened and he “saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around”—an angelic army of inestimable size, present, but invisible to human eyes.
[3] Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:13)
[4]Can our loved ones in heaven see us? I answer, “Why not?” Angels are watching the story of redemption unfold (1Peter 1:12). Why not the saints? Is there any compelling reason why they shouldn’t, or wouldn’t want to see how their loved ones are faring?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Seeing Beyond the End of the World

“For now they saw something not only behind the wave but behind the sun. They could not have seen even the sun if their eyes had not been strengthened by the water of the Last Sea. But now they could look at the rising sun and see it clearly and see things beyond it. What they saw—eastward, beyond the sun—was a range of mountains. It was so high that either they never saw the top of it or they forgot it. None of them remembers seeing any sky in that direction. And the mountains must really have been outside the world. For any mountains even a quarter of a twentieth of that height ought to have had ice and snow on them. But these were warm and green and full of forests and waterfalls however high you looked. And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them. It lasted only a second or so but what it brought them in that second none of those three children will ever forget. It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound. Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterward. Lucy could only say, It would break your heart.” “Why,” said I, was it so sad?” “Sad!! No,” said Lucy. No one in that boat doubted that they were seeing beyond the End of the World into Aslan’s country.” —C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Some years ago, Carolyn and I were flying to a pastors' conference in a mountain community in northern Idaho with that rare, old saint, Dr. Oswald Sanders. We were in a small plane and sitting knee to knee with Dr. Sanders, watching him scribble on a yellow legal pad.

"What are you doing?" I asked. "Writing about my next destination," he said. "Which is?"  I prompted. "Heaven," he replied with an impish grin. A few months later he reached his final destination and the notes he made that day found their way into a book entitled, Heaven, Better by Far (Discovery House Publishers).

Since I'm now much closer to the end of my life than it's beginning I too am beginning to wonder about my "next destination" and what awaits me there. In his dialogue Phaedo Plato gives us Socrates’ last words shortly before he drank the hemlock cup:Perhaps it most becoming for one who is about to travel there (beyond this world), to inquire and speculate about the journey thither, what kind we think it is.” What follows thus, in this E-musing and others to come, are some of the thoughts that have gone up my mind,” as Emily Dickinson would say, an inquiry and speculation about the journey thither, what kind I think it is.

I must admit it is difficult to write about Heaven.[1] The problem is twofold: (1) We have very little biblical data to draw on. The Bible tells us only a few things beyond the unambiguous assurance that Heaven exists. Other than that assertion we have only tantalizing hints and intimations. We must be content to see only a picture of it—a sort of vision of it—and only while you seem to be asleep,” George MacDonald said.

(2) Furthermore, we human beings have no categories to describe Heaven; human thought and language are inadequate to depict its majesty and joy. For that reason no Biblical writer, not even Paul who visited Heaven, supplies a literal description, for we could never grasp it. On the occasion that Paul reported his visit to Heaven words failed him. He saw things he could not describe (2 Corinthians 12:3,4).[2]

However, God, wholly aware of our limitations, has disclosed divine truth in forms we can grasp. The biblical writers use metaphors and draw analogies from things we know. Each of these symbols reveals some aspect of the greater reality to which they point. They are, however, at best, imperfect reflections. The danger lies in pressing these analogies beyond their limits and making them the reality they represent.

When we read about Heaven in scripture, therefore, we must not think that Heaven is "this"; it is rather "like this." That's the best we can do, although I do think it is entirely appropriate to use our God-given imagination to reflect on the implications of these analogies. When guided by revelation imagination can wake up thoughts and feelings within us that mere facts cannot do.  

There’s danger in using our imagination of course. We can go too far, like Charles William’s character, Lilly, who not only could tell you your future; she could make one up for you.” It is my hope, however, that these thoughts will not go beyond what is written,” but will be based on the facts of God’s word and used by His Spirit to evoke in us a longing for the magnificent future God has in store for us” (Romans 8:18, J.B. Phillips, New Testament in Modern English.)

David Roper
October 26, 2016

[1] In recent years authors have fallen into practice of writing the word Heaven” with a lower case h,” as though it’s a common noun like “sky.” But it seems to me that the word should be capitalized because it’s a proper noun and refers to a unique entity like Boston or Boise.
[2] Paul “heard things that cannot be told, which one is not able to speak.  The Greek word he uses, √©xestin, means “to have the power,” and does not mean that it’s inappropriate to speak of Heaven, but rather that it’s impossible to do so.

Monday, October 12, 2015


"I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well" (Psalm 139:14).

One afternoon about twenty years ago I received a mysterious package in the mail: a cardboard cylinder about four feet long. In it I found an aluminum fly rod case with a polished brass cap inscribed with my name. 

The case enclosed an exquisite, custom-made bamboo fly rod, hand-built by one of the premier rod makers in the United States. (For those of you who know about such things, the rod is a 2 piece, 2 tip, 7'6", 5 weight, built on a vintage Lyle Dickerson blank.) Included with the rod was a brief note: "You did something for me once. Now I want to do something for you." The note was anonymous. 

I fished the rod for years with the admiration and delight that comes from possessing a work of fine art until one day I broke off one of the tips and decided to retire the rod lest I damage it further. I hope one day to pass it on to one of our sons.

Recently, I found out that the insurance policy I hold on my fishing equipment covers breakage as well as loss and so contacted the rod maker that bought Dickerson's equipment to see if he could construct another tip, in the course of which I discovered that the little rod is now immensely valuable! Why? Because of its provenance—its source of origin.  

I've built a half dozen fly rods in my time, all of which are worth very little, but this rod has great value for it was made by a master craftsman and every rod that he made is a masterpiece.

Do you know that you too are a masterpiece, "fearfully and wonderfully made." You were conceived in your Creator's mind long before you were conceived in your mother's womb, and lovingly hand-crafted according to a master plan (139:16). Your worth depends on the simple fact that you were made by God. You are valued, not for your body, your clothes, your talent, your intellect, or your personality, but because God thought about you and you became you

If God did not think you worth making would he have bothered to call you into existence for all eternity? You must be immensely valuable indeed...which is why Jesus said we should never call anyone—not even ourselves—a "fool" (the word means "worthless").

David Roper


Monday, October 5, 2015

Morality and a Dirty Shirt

"Some people think it is not proper for a clergyman to dance. I mean to assert my freedom from any such law. If our Lord chose to represent, in His parable of the Prodigal Son, the joy in Heaven over a repentant sinner by the figure of ‘music and dancing,’ I will hearken to Him rather than to men, be they as good as they may. For I had long thought that the way to make indifferent things bad, was for good people not to do them.” —George MacDonald

My mother, if asked, “Is this shirt dirty?” would almost always reply: “If it’s doubtful, it’s dirty.” That may be a passable theory of cleanliness, but as a moral premise, it’s deadly, a hypothesis that breeds paranoia and guilt for you never know if you’ve stepped out of line. 

The “Doubtful if Dirty” moral thesis poses this proposition: “Everything is evil unless I know it is good.”  The biblical theory of morality is the other way ‘round: “Everything is good unless I know it is bad.”  Paul puts it plainly, “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated (put to its intended use) by the Word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4,5).

Satan has never created anything. Not even sin. Evil does not exist as a thing in itself; it is parasitic. It fastens itself to everything beautiful that God has made and twists it into a base and ugly thing through improper use, motive or timing. His deceits are multifarious. Thus we need to prayerful, thoughtfully read God’s Word to discern good and evil. The New Testament (the teachings of Jesus and his Apostles) is our authority in all matters of conduct, a final authoritative answer to the question of the good life—this despite our culture’s insistence that morality is subjective. God draws very few line­s—there was only one forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden—but they are fine lines. What is prohibited is clearly prohibited.

But, what is not prohibited is permissible. Once again: Everything is good unless I know it is evil. 

Now, admittedly, a permissible thing may not be prescribed for me. I may, for good reasons, decide to lay a good thing aside. But the thing in and of its self may not be wrong, nor is it necessarily wrong for others. To insist that it is, is legalism. “Doubtful things” become rules and regulations that go beyond scriptural proscriptions and acquire the force and finality of “biblical” sanctions nowhere found in the Bible (Cf., Colossians 2:20-23; Mark 7:7). 

But the greater concern is that the Doubtful is Dirty premise is counter–productive of righteousness, leading us into greater unrighteousness, causing us to neglect the “weightier matters of the law—goodness, love and faithfulness.”[1]

Let me explain: 

When I was a young boy I was introduced to the “filthy five”: Thou shalt not drink. Thou shalt not smoke. Thou shalt not play cards. Thou shalt not dance. Thou shalt not go to the movies.

There was a sixth proscription, making it an even half-dozen: Thou shalt not engage in mixed bathing! At first I was unsure with what I was not supposed to be mixed. Then I learned it was girls. At summer camp, girls and boys swam at different times, ostensibly, to keep our thoughts pure. It didn’t work. We watched from afar. 

There was security in the system, I must say; I knew where I stood. And, it’s conceivable that in certain circumstances any or all of those sanctions might be valid. Yet even as a young boy I saw the irony in these vetoes: I could refrain from all of them and completely miss the point of authentic goodness! Goodness, like God, is very subtle. 

George MacDonald, in his novella Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood makes the case far better than I. 

He writes of a young cleric who went out to acquaint himself with a parishioner, an elderly Scot named Rogers. He had seen the old man walking through the village, clouds of smoke billowing from his briar pipe, and so purchased a tin of tobacco for him and offered it to him as a gambit: 

“You smoke, don’t you, Rogers?” I said
 “Well, sir, I can’t deny it. It’s not much I spend on baccay, anyhow. Is it, dame?”
 “No, that it bean’t,” answered his wife.
 “You don’t think there’s any harm in smoking a pipe, sir?”
 “Not the least,” I answered, with emphasis.
 “You see, sir,” he went on, not giving me time to prove how far I was from thinking there was any harm in it, “you see, sir, sailors learns many ways they might be better without. I used to take my pan o’grog with the rest of them; but I give that up quite, ‘cause as how I don’t want it now.”
 “Cause as how,” interrupted his wife, “you spend the money on tea for me, instead. You wicked old man to tell stories!”
 “Well, I takes my share of the tea, old woman, and I’m sure it’s a deal better for me. But, to tell the truth, sir, I was a little troubled in my mind about the baccay, not knowing whether I ought to have it or not. For you see, the parson that’s gone didn’t like it, as I could tell when he came in at the door and me a-smokin.’ Not as he said anything; for, ye see, I was an old man, and I daresay that kep him quiet. But I did hear him blow up a young chap i’ the village he came upon with a pipe in his mouth. He did give him a thunderin’ broadside, to be sure! So I was in two minds whether I ought to be on with my pipe or not.”
 “And how did you settle the question, Rogers?”
 “Why, I followed my own old chart, sir.”
 “Quite right. One mustn’t mind too much what other people think.”
 “That’s not exactly what I mean, sir.”
 “What do you mean then? I should like to know.”
 “Well, sir, I mean that I said to myself, ‘Now, Old Rogers, what do you think the Lord would say about this here baccay business?’“
 “And what did you think He would say?”
 “Why, sir, I thought He would say, ‘Old Rogers, have yer baccay; only mind ye don’t grumble when you ‘ain’t got none.’”

“And this is the man I thought I would be able to teach!” the young minister mused.

David Roper
October 5. 2015

[1] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: righteousness and love and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).

Friday, October 2, 2015


I never knew her name.  I don’t know what she was thinking as she got ready for work that morning. I don’t know what joy or sorrow she left behind her front door as she set off for her job. I don’t know how far she had to travel or if she was weary or strong as she moved along.

I do know some of what lay in front of her as she stepped into the skilled nursing facility where she would spend her day. She would mop the floors, gather up soiled towels, empty trash receptacles, and collect and remove used dishes. She would probably face other assigned cleaning details I know nothing about. She was the young cleaning lady who went from room to room cleaning up other’s messes. She was also one who looked on many individuals in distressing situations. She looked and she saw.

Some patients were unresponsive. Some were there for a short stay and others would be there for the rest of their lives. All were in need. One woman in her 90s was there for a specific issue to be cleared up. She was more than a little confused at being moved from her assisted living. She did not understand the routine or how to get help one night as she took a tumble trying to get out of an unknown bed. She was fine but still in the dark and a bit anxious about much in this unfamiliar situation.

And then one day this cleaning lady came in. She attended to her job and greeted the elderly woman warmly. Then as she left, she raised the cheer level in one life tremendously. The young cleaning lady saw an opportunity and took it. As she left the room she said three simple words. She said, “God bless you!” This comment stuck with the needy patient, gave her hope, and made a huge difference in her outlook. I know because when I went to visit that day she told me.  She was my mother.

Today I am challenged to think of the opportunities that lie before me. The first opportunities are right inside my own front door. There will be others when I answer the phone, go to the store or respond to an email. Then there are the thoughts I entertain.  Certainly in my thoughts and in my heart there are many opportunities to think as Jesus did about others. His words will come from me then, as those of the cleaning lady did to Mother. For out of the heart the mouth speaks.

 Being, praying, and doing exactly where I am— these are all opportunities God has appointed for me today. I don’t have to travel abroad or have a big platform from which to speak. I don’t need “a challenge” to do great things. I can take advantage of the opportunities to really see people here and now, people with their needs (we all have them) and to let God bless them as I accept the privilege of letting Him use me. Right where I am.

That dear young cleaning lady never knew how she blessed Mother and gave her hope. We never saw her again. She never knew how God worked through her to bless me as she blessed Mother. But God knew. What an amazing and beautiful thing it is to use our opportunities to love others for His sake and by His empowerment. How beautiful is the Body of Christ!

God bless you!


I was blessed recently by listening to Twila Paris sing How Beautiful Is The Body of Christ. May you be blessed also:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Do Dogs Go To Heaven?

Now, about Rover, the dog—though for roving, I hardly remember him away from my side! ...I almost believe that at one period, had I been set to say who I was, I should have included Rover as an essential part of myself. His tail was my tail; his legs were my legs; his tongue was my tongue!—so much more did I, as we gamboled together, seem conscious of his joy than of my own! Surely, among other and greater mercies, I shall find him again! —George MacDonald, The Flight of the Shadow

We had to put our Westie to sleep last week. Partially blind, deaf, mentally confused and in pain, it was the kindest thing—but I do miss her.

In her last months she seemed bewildered, dogging our steps, never allowing us out of her sight. If I left the room she followed me and found a place on the floor near my feet. She was “an essential part of myself.”

I mentioned several months ago that while recovering from back surgery I exercised by walking up and down the hall. Dolly, though arthritic and in pain, trudged after me dutifully as though we are on our usual outdoor walk. Her loyalty and unconditional love tugged at my heart.

I wonder, will there be dogs in heaven? The simplest answer is: Why not? One day there will be a new heaven (sky) and a new earth  (Revelation 21:1). If a new earth, why a dead earth, like the moon, rather than an earth filled with trees, mountains, rivers, and flowers like our present world? Why would God allow plants and flowers and other aspects of this world, but not animals into heaven? Would He take from us there what He gives us here for our joy? I think not. C.S. Lewis’ speculated that in heaven we will be "between the angels who are our elder brothers and the beasts who are our jesters, servants, and playfellows” (That Hideous Strength).
More to the point, will my dog be in heaven? C.S. Lewis thought so. He believed that our animals are saved because of their association with us. They achieve heaven because they are caught up in our lives, an essential part of ourselves (The Problem of Pain). In another of his works, The Great Divorce, Lewis describes a woman in heaven surrounded by a gaggle of young children, angels, birds and beasts.
“What are all these animals? A cat—two cats—dozens of cats. And all those dogs... Why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
“They are her beasts.”
“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
Would God, who created animals, who preserved them through the Flood, who promised to redeem them, who made us with the capacity to love them and grieve them when they’re gone—would he revoke his decision to put animals once again under our care? I think not. Perhaps then, among other and greater mercies, I shall find Dolly again!

David Roper
Sept 30, 2015