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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 180ยบ 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

Saturday, May 14, 2016

From Carolyn...
Morning by Morning
5.14.2016
Hallmark Days

Mother’s Day was last Sunday and Father’s Day is on the horizon. It is a good thing to honor our parents. I miss my mother and have discovered I never regret one moment of care and love in which I gave myself to her. Not just in words but in deeds, especially as she grew older and her needs were greater. Others tell me that I cared for her well and that was certainly my intention. However, at times a tiny voice reminds me of moments I could have been more understanding or given more of myself. I know the truth that God in His higher purposes can and will bring good out of my mistakes and they are each paid for by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. And so I don’t dwell on these missteps but use them as data to give thanks to God for His mercy. I also use these memories to ask Him to make me aware of other folks in my life to love, and when and how. But again, I never regret the times I followed God’s love in obedience and demonstrated my love for Mother by my actions and words.


It’s also a joy to receive the care our sons give me or David. Listening, doing, being-with and sacrificing time for us. Care is an evidence of love when freely given and often speaks louder than words. Certainly however,  the words “I love you” when followed by caring actions are both a huge boon and a blessing, not to be taken lightly. Something big to thank God for.

As I think of these parental Hallmark Days, I think of John’s words that he had no greater joy than to see  his children walk in the truth ( 3rd John 1:4).  The truth John spoke of was Jesus, all He was, all He had given and how He asked that we walk in His sacrificial love for others. He desired we take on the Father’s trait of love as we give our lives to Him, fully and freely. And as we love His other children sacrificially. 
As good as it is to celebrate this familial love on special days, I also think of some whose hearts break for a variety of reasons on such days. First, some did not have a loving environment in which to grow. Even as one grieves this loss, these special days can be a time to remember and count on the fact that we are cradled in the steadfast love of a Perfect Parent who wastes nothing. Even our less-than-perfect relationships are fodder for His healing and for our usefulness. Even their less-than-perfect parenting. Even our less-than-perfect parenting!

Ruth Bell Graham addresses two other circumstances that cause heartache for some on Hallmark Days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Both of these poems have provided insight and strength for me at different times in my parenting. And these poems have been challenging.  Both can be found in Prodigals and Those Who Love Them by Ruth Bell Graham. I encourage you to take some moments to let the truths in Graham’s well-chosen words soak into your soul and do Gods work there.

They Felt Good Eyes Upon Them
They felt good eyes upon them 
and shrank within –undone; 
good  parents had good children 
and they – a wandering one. 
The good folk never meant 
to act smug or condemn, 
but having prodigals 
just “wasn’t  done” with them. 
Remind them gently, Lord, 
how You 
have trouble with  Your children, 
too.

*********

Whether thinking about a wandering child of one’s own or looking at others whose child is wandering, it is good to remember that while good parenting is called for and can influence a child toward God, there is another factor. Children have choices. All of God’s children have choices including all of mine and all of yours. 

Another sadness on these special days can be when storms and stresses abound in a child’s life. When we implore and agonize over their situations—the job, the relationship, the health issue, the......you fill in the blank. When we pray and pray. When we “know” what is best for that dear one. This next poem by Ruth Graham gives a wider perspective. Not that we stop praying but that we realize something else also. Someone else is on the move. And the story is not over yet.

Had I Been Joseph's Mother
 Had I been Joseph's mother
I'd have prayed protection from his brothers
"God, keep him safe.
He is so young, so different from the others.”
Mercifully,
she never knew there would be slavery and prison, too.
Had I been Moses’ mother
I'd have wept to keep my little son:
praying she might forget 
the babe drawn from the water of the Nile.
Had I not kept him for her nursing him the while?
Was he not mine,
and she 
but Pharaoh's daughter'
Had I been Daniel's mother
I should have pled 
"Give victory!
this Babylonian horde—
godless and cruel—
don't let them take him captive
better dead,
Almighty Lord!”
Had I been Mary,
Oh, had I been she,
I would have cried 
as never mother cried,
"...Anything, O God, 
anything...
but crucified.”
God, how fortunate
Infinite Wisdom
Should prevail!

**********

Whether in our role as a child or a parent may we remember the One Perfect Parent and thank Him for His self-giving love and His resurrection power in our lives and in the lives of those we care about. Then may we walk in rest and joy even on Hallmark Days that are tinged with sorrow.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God who so loves each of us,                     
Carolyn

Monday, May 9, 2016

Courage!

"With God we shall do valiantly; for He it is who will tread down our foes."—Psalm 108:13

As a child I loved The Wizard of Oz and being a rather small and timid chap was drawn to the Cowardly Lion. In the end, as you know, the lion was given a medal for bravery. “Look what it says," he exclaimed, "'COURAGE!’ Ain’t it the truth, ain’t it the truth!”

Physical courage is one thing; moral courage is another. Sometimes the hardest battles are fought within. Emily Dickinson wrote, "To fight aloud is very brave, but gallanter, I know, who charge within the bosom, the cavalry of woe..." Fortitude is the name we give to this virtue. 

Fortitude is not simply one of the virtues, it's the virtue that gives strength to all the others. Chastity, honesty, patience, mercy are hard-earned virtues in a world like ours. It's fortitude that enables us to endure, to stand immovable in the midst of danger.

Fortitude is "a long obedience in the right direction"; it is doing the right thing over the long haul despite the consequences. Fortitude is sticking with a hard marriage; staying in a small place when prominence beckons; refusing to betray a moral principle just to get along or to get ahead. We can be brave and do the right thing for God is with us in the battle and “He it is who will tread down our foes.”  (108:13).

I think of a scene in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle: One of the children, Jill Pole asks, “What do you think is inside the stable?” “Who knows?” Tirian replied.  “Two Calormenes with drawn swords, as likely as not, one on each side of the door... There’s no knowing. But courage, child. We are all between the paws of the true Aslan."

Ain't it the truth! Ain’t it the truth!

David
5/9/16 

Monday, May 2, 2016

HOME


Most of my boyhood was spent in the cedar breaks in North Texas. The countryside is built up now, but back then it was mostly ranchland—rolling chalk hills redolent with cedar trees and junipers. The woods were a boy’s paradise with wonderful places to explore. At night, when I was in bed on our screened-in-porch, I’d listen to the coyotes howl and exult in the fact that I was home rather than out in the dark where the wild things were.

One of my favorite daytime pastimes was walking the creek. It was a special stream, an oasis in a dry land. The brook ran clear most of the year and supported lush stands of cottonwoods and willows. When I think about that creek today, I think of deep shade, long walks, solitude and friendly dogs. I have memories of leaving home early in the morning with my yellow hound, my single-shot .410, a bag lunch that my mother made, and walking to the springhead or downstream to where the creek emptied into the lake.

Those hikes were high adventure for me—at least I made them adventure. There were rocks to skip, birds to watch, dams to build, tracks to follow, squirrels to flush along the way. And then if I made it to the mouth of the creek, my dog and I would sit and share our lunch while we watched the biplanes land across the lake.

We’d linger as long as we could, but only so long, for my father wanted me home before the sun went down. The shadows grew long and the hollows got dark fast in the cedar breaks. I’d be wishing along the way that I was home. Though weary, I’d trudge on. It was the hope of going home that kept me going.

Our house sat on a hill behind some trees, but I could always see the light on the porch as I made my way through the woods in the gathering dusk. The light was always on until all the family was in. Often my father would be sitting on the back porch, reading the newspaper, waiting for me. “How did it go?” he’d ask. “Pretty good,” I’d say. “But it sure is good to be home.”

It’s been a long time since I walked that creek, but the memories live on and fill me with what Mole called “divine discontent and longing.” They make me think of another long and arduous journey—the one I’m making now. But I know that at the end of the trail there’s a caring Father and my eternal home. I'm a little weary these days, but it's the thought of going home that keeps me going. 

As I look back on my life I must say that it has had its ups and downs. Like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim, I’ve gone on “sometimes comfortably, sometimes sighingly,” but taken as a whole t's been a pretty good trip. One of these days, though, it’ll start to get dark and I’ll head for home. I’m expected there. The light is on and my Father is waiting for me. How did it go? He’ll ask, “Pretty good,” I’ll say. “But it sure is good to be home.”

David Roper

Monday, April 18, 2016

SAUNTERING

"I am old and move slowly"

-Socrates

When I was a much younger man I used to run several miles a day. When my knees gave out I began to walk, first aerobically and then slowly. Now I saunter.

Henry David Thoreau, in an essay on walking, explains the origins of the word "saunter." He says the term comes from the Middle Ages, when wandering pilgrims would beg for alms to finance their journey to "la Sainte Terre," the Holy Land. Such people became known as "saint-terrers," or "saunterers."

I can't vouch for the etymology of the word, and I understand Thoreau's theory is in doubt these days, but I like his explanation better than any I've heard, for I myself am a saunterer, a wandering pilgrim, begging for grace, making my way toward the City of God. 

Let's hear it for sauntering! My dictionary defines the word as, "to wander or walk about idly and in a leisurely or lazy manner; to lounge; to stroll; to loiter." That's me: God's loiterer, in no particular hurry, taking time to see the world around me and sample it along the way.

Very few people saunter these days. Most folks are in a hurry—speed-walking, or racing around on mountain bikes, rollerblades and skate boards. I wonder where they're going, or if they know why. An old song by Alabama comes to mind:

I'm in a hurry to get things done 
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun 
All I really gotta do is live and die 
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why. 

The same can be said for those who follow Christ. So many seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere and do something, running off to this meeting or that, signing up for one course or another, frantically working out their own salvation, sanctification and service for God as though everything depends on them. I wish they knew how to saunter. 

Sauntering is an art. It grows out of our conviction that "all things are from God” (2 Corinthians 5:18). It’s rest and peace to know that every aspect of our pilgrimage is in His hands. He has freed us from past sin and guilt and is freeing us now from its power. Our destiny is not riding on anything we do, or have done, or have failed to do. It rests on the work of One who is faithful to the end.

Trappist monk Thomas Merton suggests that we, ”Go for walks, live in peace, let change come quietly and invisibly on the inside.”  

I find Merton's words reassuring. We can trust God to bring completion to the process he has begun. Whatever change takes place in us will come quietly, slowly, occurring in some secret, hidden part of us and often imperceptible except in retrospect. It may be years later that we see what God has been doing all along.

In the meantime, while we saunter toward heaven and home, we can begin to pay attention to those around us. We can take every occasion to listen, to love and to pray, knowing that we don't have to rush about and make things happen; God himself is preparing good works for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). 

Thoreau often wrote with luminous insight. Thus he concludes his essay on sauntering: "So we saunter toward the Holy Land; till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, so warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in autumn." 

Thoreau was wiser than he knew: Someday soon "the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2). Then the Son "shall shine more brightly than ever He has done, shall shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, so warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in autumn..."

And then we shall settle into a perfect pace.


David Roper