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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

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Think of It No More


In C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, Aslan, the figure of Christ, appears to the children: "’I have come,’ said a deep voice behind them. And in less time than it takes to breathe Jill… remembered how she had made Eustace fall over the cliff, and how she had helped to muff nearly all the signs, and about all the snappings and quarrellings. And she wanted to say “I’m sorry” but she could not speak. Then the Lion drew them toward him with his eyes, and bent down and touched their pale faces with his tongue, and said: “Think of it no more."[1]

Early in my Christian life I was led to believe that shortly after entering Heaven all my “snapping’s and quarrellings,” would be portrayed on a giant screen for all the world to see. Now I know that God does not remember even one of my transgressions. “There is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 5:1). Every sin has been buried in the deepest sea, never to be exhumed and examined again. God has said, “Think of it no more!”

Amy Carmichael wrote, “A day or two ago I was thinking rather sadly of the past—so many sins and failures and lapses of every kind. I was reading Isaiah 43, and in verse 24 I saw myself: ‘Thou hast wearied me with your many iniquities.’ And then for the first time I noticed that there is no space between v. 24 and v. 25, ‘I, even I, am He that has blotted out your transgressions for my own sake; and I will not remember your sins.’”

Indeed, when our Lord comes back he will "bring to light the things hidden in darkness and he will disclose the purposes of the heart.” But then “each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5). On that day, he will see only what he has done in and through us. All else will be forgotten. 

So, as for my sin… I will “think of it no more!”

David Roper
4/9/16

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair, New York: Macmillan, 1953, p. 202.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

On My Eighty-third Birthday

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come (Psalm 71:17,18).

I vaguely recall George Carlin's routine about aging—how we "make it" to 60 years and then we "hit" 70. I think he ran out of verbs at age 80, but today I can say that I have been "given" 83 years. I’m here solely by the grace of God.

God has indeed taught me from my youth. I was raised in a home where Jesus was honored and I cannot think of a day when I did not love him. I can say with John that I know and believe the love he has for me.

I live today in a spirit of thanksgiving to God for the years he has given me. “Most people my age are dead these days,” as Yogi Berra famously said. There must be a reason for me to hang around, for God has a good reason for everything that he does. 

One thing I know: I can continue to grow. There are parts of me that are unconverted, vast areas to be conformed to the likeness of God's Son. I want to continue to hear his word every day and ask for his help while he finishes the work he has begun. 

I look to many of my aging friends for encouragement. Their strength in weakness, their endurance in illness and  pain, their love despite sorrow and weariness, their faith and hope in the face of death—encourage me to become like them when I’m grown. 

And I know God has other things for me to do. Certainly to love and to pray, for these have long been the works of the aged. And much can be said for just "being" and resting in the love of God. Perhaps in these and other ways I can "proclaim God's might to the next generation; his power to all that are to come." 

In the meantime, God has promised that he will never forsake me. He has been my shepherd for 83 years now, holding me with his strong hand, guiding me with his wise counsel, and one day soon he’ll “receive me into glory” (Cf., Psalm 72:23,24). 

"Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow." Who could ask for anything more?

Growing old but not retiring,
For the battle still is on;
Going on without relenting
Till the final victory’s won.  —Anon.

David Roper
3/30/2016


Monday, March 14, 2016

Check Your Knots

"Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall"(1 Corinthians 10:12).

I have a friend who roams the Pacific Northwest looking for lunker trout. I got this note from him a few months ago:

I just returned from a few days at Henry's Fork, at Harriman’s State Park. The challenge of hooking a fish there is great. You scan the water looking for feeding fish. If there is one and you decide to go for it, you carefully wade out and position yourself up stream to make a dead drift down to the feeding fish. Presentation is everything at Henry's Fork.  All the changing, shifting currents, and boiling water makes it quite difficult to get the fly over the fish where it is feeding. Observing the fish’s feeding pattern and what it is taking is a skill in itself. Several insects may be on the waters surface at the same time. Selecting the right fly for the moment is key. One may only have a short window of time to select the right fly before the fish stops feeding. Time is of the essence. If you select the wrong one and present it well you still might put the fish down. If you are fortunate to present the right fly, at the right place, at the right time and the fish takes it, I have often pulled it out the fish’s mouth in the moment of excitement or set the hook too hard and broke him off.  Relax, Relax on the hook setting. Controlled set, wait just long enough for the fish to take it, set the hook but not too hard, especially with a larger fish. If all goes well it's fish on and playing and landing him is a story itself.

I know all the above is not new for you. You have been there a thousand times. It never seems to get dull or tiresome hunting for that "big" lunker. I had one really nice fish take my fly. The hook was set and within an instant he was off. When I checked my leader, I discovered a faulty leader knot. I felt like a school boy. Back to the basics. Check your knots for stress.

Indeed, I thought. What areas of my life are easily broken? What are the situations that bring me to the breaking point? Where am I most apt to fall?

“Temptations are sure to come,” Jesus said. It is better to know my weakness than to stumble on it in mock–strength only to fall into greater folly.

Better check my knots for stress.

David Roper  

3/7/16

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Acton's Axiom

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” —Lord Acton

This is probably one of the most–invoked, but least understood lines in literature. Acton truly believed that power corrupts, but his more important point is that power also corrupts those who are enamored of the powerful.  

The quote occurs in a letter Acton wrote to Anglican bishop Mandell Creighton. Creighton had asked Acton to review a history book he was writing, in which he was sympathetic to the Reformation era popes, most of whom were very bad men. Acton wrote in response…

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely… 

There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. Here (in the papacy of that day) are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice… The inflexible integrity of the moral code is, to me, the secret of  authority. If we debase the currency for the sake of genius, or success, or rank, or reputation… we serve the worst cause rather than the purest.

In other words, we should not excuse moral failure because that person is prominent or powerful. It is beyond absurd to say that what one believes about good and evil has nothing to do with his or her ability to lead. Character matters. Therefore, we can and should hold kings, priests, popes, politicians, pastors, and others in positions of authority, to what Acton called “the inflexible integrity of the moral code.”

I think of certain athletes whose off–field behavior is reprehensible, yet they get a pass because they “get it done” on the field of play. 

And I think of certain celebrities and politicians whose personal lives are fetid and foul, yet they likewise get a pass because they “get it done” in their field of endeavor. 

In both cases it is those who approve them that are corrupted—absolutely. 

David Roper

3/9/16

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Kind of Bodies?

What kind of bodies will we have in Heaved? Will we hum and hover six inches off the ground? Will we wear haloes? Will we sprout wings and fly? 

It occurs to me that when we get to Heaven we won’t care what we look like for our eyes will be on others as they should be here on earth. Nevertheless we do wonder, "How are the dead raised and with what body do they come?"
Paul supplies an answer, citing the miracle of the harvest: a seed is planted and is raised with a new and glorious body: “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body”—1 Corinthians 15:42-44
Our wrinkled, wizened frames will be given prodigious strength, breathtaking beauty and immortality. Tired (and sometimes tiresome) minds will be filled with wisdom and wit. We will have “spirit” bodies, bodies that are equal to the desires and demands of our spirits. Here “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” In Heaven our bodies will be able to do what our spirits ask them to do. (I’ve always wanted to fly!) 
Paul’s image of a seed “sown” and "raised" (same seed, same body) also suggests continuity, an organic connection between what we are now and what we shall be. Could our new bodies simply be a new unfolding of the DNA that now resides in us and determines who we are and what we look like? In other words will we look somewhat like we look right now? 
Paul argues in another place that our transformed bodies will be like Jesus' in His “glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). For that reason it’s worth pondering those texts that describe His post-resurrection appearances (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24; John 20,21; Acts 1).
When I read those reports, I'm impressed by how ordinary Jesus was. He looked and acted as...Himself.  He was immediately recognizable as the "old" Jesus; no one seemed shocked or awed by his appearance. He walked, talked and ate with His disciples and informed them that He was not a ghost, but a man of "flesh and bone" (Luke 24:43). 
He looked like an ordinary man, but He was...well, different. He didn't always walk from place to place; sometimes he simply “became visible." He seemed to move through time and space with speed of thought. Could this be true of us in Heaven? (Won’t that be a hoot!)
What age will we be in Heaven? If I go home this year will I be eighty–three? If a child dies at 10 years of age will he or she be a child? 
Medieval theologians thought that we will all be about age thirty, Jesus’ age when He rose from the dead—fully mature, in the prime of life. If so, babies that die in infancy and children destroyed in the womb will be grown-up sons and daughters. Frail, old men and women will have put on immortality and will be filled with the verve and vitality of youth. 
Actually, I like to think we’ll be both young and old: young in strength and beauty; old in wisdom and virtue. ”Ever ancient; ever new.“

What of injuries and deformities? They’ll be healed, of course: damaged limbs will be corrected; deranged minds will be restored. When Bunyan’s Mr. Ready–Halt came to the brink of the river, he said, “Now I shall have no more need of these crutches…” and left them behind for others to use. We too will park our canes, walkers, braces and wheelchairs on the this side of the river and walk (or sprint) into the new world on our own, for we'll have no use for these contraptions on the other side. 

But, will all the marks of this world be removed? I think not. Jesus still bore His wounds. Ancient Christians thought that the martyr’s wounds will glow like gold in Heaven. Perhaps the afflictions we’ve borne with patience here on earth will be badges of honor in Heaven. It’s comforting to think so. 

What of those who are burned, frozen, decomposed, covered with dirt, buried in the sea, or in mass graves. What about those that choose cremation and have their ashes scattered by the wind? How will God find all the atoms of their bodies?

In one of his sermons, John Donne addresses this concern by ruminating on the various places our atoms might be found: “In what wrinkle, in what furrow, in what bowel of the earth lie all the grains of the ashes of a body burnt a thousand years since?”  

Donne then reassures his parishioners that God will duly remember each particle and gather up our “separated bodies” in the end:  “As he puts all thy tears into his bottles, so he puts all the grains of thy dust into his cabinet, and the winds that scatter, the waters that wash them away carry them not out of his sight.”

I have no idea how God will find all my particles, and gather them up, but if he remembers all my tears, can he not collect my dust? "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

The twelfth century Book of the Dunn Cow—so called because the cover of the book was made from the hide of a cow—argues that the various parts of of our bodies, though scattered to the ends of the earth will be “recast into a more beautiful form.” I like the simplicity of that idea. Whether God gathers all our parts and reassembles them, or creates them ex nihilo, He will “recast” them into an exquisitely beautiful form. Paul says that our bodies will be “glorious,” a word that suggests stupendous beauty. That says it all: We’ll be beautiful inside and out—beyond anything we can imagine.

This idea has feedback to the present, or so it seems to me. C. S. Lewis wrote, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…” (The Weight of Glory).
That helps me to see my family and friends, and even my enemies in a new light. I should view them, not as they are now, but as they shall be, if they are found in Christ and have been perfected by His love. I should love them now as I shall love them in Heaven. 
Love is what we’ve been created for and what we’ll be doing for the rest of our lives. We might as well get started right now. 
David Roper
2/16/16

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Morning by Morning   
The Blessing Box 
2.3.2016

It was 1996 and summer time. Brian and Jill drove their family from their home on the Olympic Peninsula to our home in Boise for some anticipated family togetherness and fun.  The trip was long, hot and arduous, especially in a mini-van with three kids six and under.  David and I were delighted when the van rolled up in the early evening and our three grandchildren tumbled out of the car, a bit rumpled and a lot weary and ready to stretch their legs. Greetings and hugs were passed around and the bags were lugged in. Then Brian and a very tired and not-too-sparkly Sarah, who was six at the time, headed with me for a look around our backyard.

I was feeling a bit sorry for Sarah since was she was hot, tired and travel-worn from having been trapped in the van all day, and trapped with two undoubtedly squirmy younger siblings.  Just then, and before I could do much coddling, Brian (our son who is a basketball coach) called out in an upbeat voice, “Sarah, how’s your attitude?” In what might be called a droopy reply, Sarah answered with the memorized script, “Boy, am I enthusiastic.”  Then the even more upbeat, insistent question came again, “Sarah, how’s your attitude?”  And now from Sarah a more emphatic answer, “BOY, AM I ENTHUSIASTIC!”

I can often identify with that travel-worn six-year old. I tumble out of bed in the morning and head for my coffee, my prayer chair and my time with the Lord.  Often my thoughts start going in a sagging direction.  Things like the cares of my world, the desire for other things and the lure of what I don’t have pull me down. Possibly my temperament tugs me in the wrong direction. But that is not an excuse to stay down. I remember our friend Howard Hendricks telling of a man who was asked how he was doing. The man answered, “I am doing alright, under the circumstances.” The questioner’s reply was “What in the world are you doing under there?” Of course a lifting-up is always a gift from God, another evidence of His grace as we seek His face. And the timing is His. 

These days I am using a box as an aid to starting my day with an enthusiastic outlook.  Some time ago, a friend gave me a gift in a beautiful, colorful box. I kept this  lovely box and in it I put three smaller boxes, each of which I marked. 

One is my Mystery Box, one is my Offering Box and one is my Blessing Box. I write on small pieces of paper what might come to mind, date it and put it in the box, after talking to my Father about each item.

In my Mystery Box I put theological paradoxes or personal things I just don’t understand in my life or the life of a friend. God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts and some things are a mystery to me. I am comfortable with that. I am not supposed to be able to figure out everything.  However, I like what a friend calls Umbrella Theology. All of these mysteries are under the umbrella of His love. A God of covenant love is the God Scripture shows me from Genesis to Revelation and especially in the Cross—sacrificial love at it’s zenith.

In my Offering Box I put my attitudes or actions that are not consistent with a Jesus life. These are attitudes I want to offer Him in exchange for thinking His thoughts, in following in His footsteps. Again, by His grace. I might write down situations that are beyond my strength but ones I am called to enter into and give it my all. I might mention my brokenness as an offering. In essence, I offer Him my heart and life as He shows me in what ways He desires me to follow Him.

My two boxes mentioned above are “sometimes” boxes. I use them when the Lord nudges me in that direction. But for months now I have used my Blessing Box each morning before I do more praying or reading. It’s my “first-thing-to-think-box.” I take a small note pad, or a scrap of paper and write down things I am grateful for, gifts a good God has given me. As I write I pray and thank God for these things, simple and profound gifts I might overlook were I not intentional about noticing them. When done, I put the small papers in the box.

I might thank Him for my window that looks out on the gathering light, the eraser on my pencil (I make a lot of mistakes!), the ability to walk, the Costco Express (friends who often call and ask me if I need something as they head that way), the steam coming off my morning coffee, my many books (especially those that are "old friends"), my faithful and loving husband in the next room, the gift of a new day to “serve the Lord with gladness.” Wow! Even in my writing and certainly in my praying, I am humbled and grateful. Boy, am I enthusiastic!!!

This is not to say there are not times of profound sadness in my life and the lives of friends I care about deeply. However, I am learning it is not either/or (either sadness or joy) but it is both/and. Even in the extremes of loss and disappointment there will be gifts along the way to notice and acknowledge as blessings from God.

Our friends Rob and Teresa Zaklan are living reminders to me of this both/and truth. Rob is a pastor friend who is on hospice care at home and growing weaker rapidly.  The Zaklans have four sons, three still at home and the youngest is twelve.  Teresa has, by God’s grace she says, determined to be aware of the blessings along this way of sadness and letting go of her beloved husband. She and Rob have set small goals, and looked for God’s blessings as they move through this difficult journey together. Some are things any of us might take for granted or even grumble about along the way. One blessing she noted on their Caringbridge page describes the frigid night Teresa and the boys were able to bundle Rob up and somehow get him into their van to take a drive and see the Christmas lights together.  Teresa knows now is the time, even in the midst of their sadness, to notice the blessings God is giving them. What good memories these dear ones are making. 

You may not want a Blessing Box. There is no magic in the box. It just works for me. The box is a tool that gives me a way to remember first thing each morning to rejoice in God’s faithfulness as I both recount to Him and to myself my many blessings of the day and the blessings of many yesterdays.

When I hear God asking me, “Carolyn, how’s your attitude?” I know I have the opportunity to be enthusiastic about the day as each morning, first thing, “I count my many blessings, name them one by one.” Not random blessings mind you, but the blessings a loving God has graciously provided. Boy, am I enthusiastic!

Gratefully and enthusiastically,

Carolyn Roper


A word about Sarah—Sarah is in her 20s now, and is doing well as she finishes up an intensive one-year nursing program in Pittsburg. She is an enthusiastic hard worker with a great attitude. She and her husband Brad make a terrific pair.