Saturday, January 19, 2019


Wanderlust



When I was in high school, shortly after the earth’s crust began to cool, I joined a local 4-H Club (“4-H” stands for “Head, Heart, Hands and Health," as I recall.) One of my projects was to raise a small flock of Shropshire sheep.

Shropshires are beautiful animals with jet black faces, ears and feet, and sculptured bodies covered with fine-textured white wool. They’re lovely to look at, but mindnumbingly dumb! Horses are smart; dogs are smarter (I don't know, nor would I say, where cats belong on that continuum), but sheep are just plain DUMB.

Case in point; My father and I spent several weeks fencing off a section of choice bottom land, putting up a stout fence with 36” of hog-wire at the bottom, topped by three strands of barbed wire—all for their sake to provide pasture and protect them from coyotes and roving farm dogs. The pasture was green and lush with a little stream flowing through it that provided pools of quiet water. At night I penned them in a shed where they were sheltered from the weather and safe from predators. My sheep had everything a sheep could want: feed, water, shelter and TLC. But it was never enough. 

Prone to wander, they wriggled under the fence where it crossed the stream, forsook their pasture to go where the wild things were. I spent hours tracking them down and herding them home. 

Or, they forced their heads through the hog-wire to grab a mouthful of weeds on the other side, though the sweet grass on their side of the fence was better—only to find their heads stuck fast in the wire. (One of my evening chores was to walk the fence-line and push their heads back through the mesh.) 

Knee-deep in clover, my sheep were never content. "Morons!" I yelled at them in frustration and rage.

Not so Jesus: "If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:12-15). 

Jesus’ response to our “sheepish” wanderlust? Relentless love. 

David Roper

1.18.19

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Bozo (a Parable) 

It was the summer of 1945, if I remember correctly. My father pulled up to our house driving a 1923 Fordson tractor that he had just purchased from a neighbor. We named the little tractor Bozo. 

Bozo had over-sized, spoked, steel rear wheels with two inch lugs that evoked memories of a WW1 artillery piece. The gas tank was riddled with rust where the paint had worn off and bare metal was exposed. The fenders were pitted, dented and bent.

The little tractor had a four cylinder, inline Ford engine that sputtered and popped and generated great clouds of acrid black smoke that further evoked thoughts of WW I. The engine was rated at a whopping twenty-horsepower, as I recall, and was limited in what it could do. We didn't ask or expect much from Bozo.


The little tractor was hard to start in the summer and harder to start in the winter. It had a magneto and internal coil system and had to be hand-cranked. I recall cold mornings when my father cranked until he was exhausted and Uncle Bob, our neighbor and sometime hired-hand, would take over. (As a boy I wasn’t allowed to help because the crank could break your arm if the engine backfired.) Once started, the little engine had to be coaxed along gently, the spark advanced cautiously, or it would sputter, gasp  and die.

But the old tractor found a place in our hearts. My father used it to plow, pull a few stumps, power a circular saw and carry out a number of small tasks around our place. Bozo was parked in the barn when I left home—antiquated, underpowered, outmoded and outclassed by shiny new tractors, but still useful in my father's hands.

He who has ears to hear let him hear.

David Roper

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Holy Hedonism

"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).

Many, many years ago a young philosopher-friend of ours was reading to our son Josh who was, at the time, about three years old. The book they were reading contained the phrase,"fun is good and good is fun." Jack read the line and said by way of commentary, "Josh, that's hedonism!" The critique was profound, but Josh was unmoved, as far as I could tell. 

Indeed the pursuit of pleasure as the highest good and as a philosophy of life, is hedonism, but today I would have to say that, though not all fun is good, I do believe that good is fun in the sense that pursuing the highest good will always give us the 
highest pleasure. "Happiness happens not by denying our desires and eschewing pleasure but by understanding our desires and turning them in the correct, God-focused direction" (Richard Baxter). 

Put another way, while I do not think we should pursue happiness as a goal, I do believe it¡s a good thing to pursue goodness with the goal of being happy, and, as far as I know, nobody doesn't want to be happy! 😆 

To go further, I would say that the pursuit of God and his goodness produces a happiness unlike any other.. C.S. Lewis wrote, in an oft-quoted passage, "If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased" (The Weight of Glory).

Emmanuel Kant, as you may know, was a dour old German philosopher who believed that the only truly good acts are done from duty and not because they give us pleasure. Kant was a stick in the mud.

David Roper

1.15.19

Saturday, January 12, 2019

 Baccay

"At that time Jesus went through the grain-fields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12:1,2).

[The action of the apostles was not contrary to biblical law (Deuteronomy 23:25), but to the 39 rabbinical additions to it, viz., the forbidden (Sabbath) works: "Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, whitening it, combing it, dyeing it, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying [a knot], untying [a knot], sewing two stitches, tearing for the purpose of sewing two stitches, hunting a deer, slaughtering it, skinning it, salting it, curing its hide, scraping it, cutting it, writing two letters, erasing for the purpose of writing two letters, building, demolishing, extinguishing a flame, lighting a flame, striking with a hammer, carrying from one domain to another. These are the principal "
works. They number forty minus one" (Mishnah Shabbath 7:2).]

***

I read this morning about an interview with one of the oldest men in the America. Asked to what he attributed his longevity, he replied, "God, whiskey and good cigars. Some might find an incongruity there.

We do well to remember, however, that the Bible nowhere proscribes whiskey and cigars. It's wrong to get drunk because intoxication robs us of wisdom (Ephesians 5:18). And cigars stink up the house. But neither cigars nor alcohol are sinful in and of themselves. To prohibit them is to fall into the sin of the Pharisees because we have gone well beyond Jesus’ instruction and added our morality to His. 

Here is the basis for Christian behavior: Activities clearly proscribed by Jesus and his apostles are proscribed. Period. In all other areas we are free. There may be good reasons to avoid certain activities, but we must not add to Jesus' instructions and insist that our rules are His rules and thus are binding on us and others, for legalism, in a profound irony, leads us away from godly behavior. Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness" (Matthew 23:23). 

The scribes and Pharisees erred in that they followed their made-up rules and regulations scrupulously but missed the subtle and winsome righteousness the Law was intended to produce. "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

George MacDonald tells a story in his novel Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood that 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
1.12.19


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Gift of Goodness

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:7-11). 

Verse eleven would be better translated, "How much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good (goodness) to those who ask Him." ("Things" does not appear in the text).

Here "good" is not ease and affluence, the so-called good life, but a quality of life defined by "goodness." In the parallel saying in Luke (11:13) Jesus promises that our heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask, using "Holy Spirit" by metonymy for "goodness," for God's Spirit is the essence and source of all goodness. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness..." 

John reports a similar promise in his Gospel: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit..." (John 15:7–8). "Ask and it will be given." The promise seems like a carte blanche, “Ask for anything and receive it.” But the  promise is qualified by the purpose: "that (in order that) you may bear much fruit" (the fruit of the Spirit).

So, if we want to be good children we must ask God to make us good. "Keep asking." Keep knocking." "Keep seeking." For as a doting father seeks the best good for his children, "how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts (the gift of goodness) to those who ask Him!" 

David Roper
1.8.19



Sunday, December 30, 2018

Taking it Easy

The sacred weeks, with unfelt pace,
    Hath borne us on from grace to grace.
John Keble

My father and I used to fell trees and buck them with a 6’ two-man crosscut saw. (It now adorns one wall of our son Josh's patio.) Being young and energetic I tried to force the saw into the cut. Easy does it,my father would say. Let the saw do the work.

I think of Paul's words; "It is God who is working in you(Philippians 2:13). Easy does it. Let Him do the work.

C. S. Lewis explains the process this way: Put right out of your head the idea thatChristians are to read what Christ said and try to carry it outas a man may read what Plato or Marx said and try to carry it out. They (the Gospel writers) mean something much more than that. They mean that a real Person, Christ, here and now, in that very room where you are saying your prayers, is doing things to yougradually turning you permanently into a different sort of thing; into a new little Christ, a being which, in its own small way, has the same kind of life as God; which shares in His power, joy, knowledge and eternity” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 191-192).

Turning us into a new little Christ,” takes timeactually a lifetimebut God can begin the process today. Sit at the feet of Jesus and His Apostles and take in what they have to say. Say your prayers. "Keep yourself in the love of God" (Jude 20,21), reminding yourself all day long that you are His apple of his eye, resting in the assurance that he is gradually turning you permanently into a different sort of thing.

Shouldn’t we hunger and thirst for righteousness?you ask. Doesnt that desire come naturally? Even the worst of us long to be better. An analogy comes to mind—a small child in Toys “R”Us, holding up his hands, reaching for a gift high on a shelf beyond his reach, his eyes glittering with desire. His Father, sensing that desire, retrieves the gift and brings it down to him

Indeed God will bring change to us, quietly, invisibly, inexorably. He will "complete" us in due time (Psalm 57:2).

Thou sayest, "Fit me, fashion me for Thee."  
Stretch forth thine empty hands, and be thou still;  
O restless soul, thou dost but hinder Me  
By valiant purpose and by steadfast will.  
Behold the summer flowers beneath the sun,  
In stillness his great glory they behold;  
And sweetly thus his mighty work is done,  
And resting in his gladness they unfold.  
So are the sweetness and the joy divine  
Thine, O beloved, and the work is Mine. 

Ter Steegen

The work is his; the sweetness and the joy are ours. Easy does it. We shall get there some day.

David Roper
12.29.18


Friday, December 28, 2018

It’s Impossible!

"Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.’” 

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'If it is marvelous (impossible) in the sight of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous (impossible) in my sight,' declares the LORD of hosts?’" (Zechariah. 8:4–6). 

Jerusalem had been reduced to rubble, like the ruined, bombed-out villages of Anbar Province that we see night after night on newscasts, entire cities completely destroyed by air strikes and urban warfare. Many will never be rebuilt and will be abandoned. Jerusalem, in like measure, was ruined beyond repair.

Yet, as Zechariah assured God's people, the city would be built again and restored: old men and women would gather in the parks and squares of the city to kvetsch and kibitz; little children would once again play unmolested in the streets. 

"Impossible," Zechariah's critics said. “No way, never happen."

But we should never allow reason or common sense to tell us what God can or cannot do. He is the God of the impossible, the one who created perfect order (cosmos) out of primal chaos (Jeremiah 32:25). Nothing is too hard for him! (cf. Genesis 11:14; Job 42:2; Matthew 19:26).

He can reclaim a life that has been ruined beyond reclamation. He can find a prodigal that is irretrievably lost. He can soften hearts that have hardened into stone. He can restore a heart that has been broken beyond repair. 

Indeed, "you will see greater things than this." There is nothing that God cannot do 

David Roper
12.25.18

Wanderlust When I was in high school, shortly after the earth’s crust began to cool, I joined a local 4-H Club (“4-H” stands for “H...