Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Stage by Stage

These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord, and these are their stages according to their starting places" Numbers 33:1-3.

And then there follows a long list of placenames tracing Israel's pilgrimage from Egypt to the Transjordan. Note the emphasis of the text: "Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord."

Why these records? No adventurer can retrace the journey on a map or on foot, for most of the locations are lost to history. Yet clearly God intended these  places to be recorded and remembered forever.

Could it be that the list exists as a framework upon which Israelites could retrace the journey in their thoughts and recall God's goodness at each location?

I remember Rephidim. We were dying of thirst, but God directed Moses to take his staff and strike a slab of flintand to my amazement water gushed out of that hard, impervious stone! 'He turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water' (Psalm 114:8). Ill never forget that day! (cf., Numbers 33:14)

Try it: Think through the starting p[laces and stages of your existence and remember the ways in which God showed you his unfailing covenant love. Count your blessings; name them one by one. And it will surpsise you what the Lord has done!

David Roper

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Desert Solitaire

I finished reading Edward Abbey’s book Desert Solitaire last night, a personal history of Abbey’s summers as a seasonal park ranger in what was then Arches National Monument. Desert Solitaire is an American classic, one of the greatest nature narratives of all time and a book worth reading if only for Abbey’s luminous prose and vivid descriptions of the Four Corners region (“…crags and pinnacles of naked rock, the dark cores of ancient volcanoes, a vast and silent emptiness smoldering with heat, color, and indecipherable significance, above which floated a small number of pure, clear, hard-edged clouds.”)

But Abbey, for all his artistry, was a cynical, God–averse contrarian who could see nothing beyond appearance. How sad, I thought, as I closed the covers of the book. Abbey lived his entire life in praise of beauty and missed the point of it all.

Old Testament words came to mind: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...and God said, ‘Isn't that beautiful?'"[1]

Most ancient people had cosmologies, theories of origins enshrined in legend, myth and song. But Israel's cosmology was unique. It tells a story like no other: God created beauty for our childlike delight.

Love thought up the cosmos, spoke it into being and pronounced it "beautiful."  Beautiful to what end? For whom? For us for whom it was made. Then, having created a paradise, Love spoke us into being, placed us in Eden[2] and said, “Enjoy!"

Thomas  Traherne wrote,

From dust I rise,
And out of nothing now awake;
These brighter regions which salute mine eyes,
A gift from God I take.
The earth, the seas, the light, the day, the skies,
The sun and stars are mine if those I prize.

Long time before
I in my mother's womb was born,
A God, preparing, did this glorious store,
The world, for me adorn.
Into this Eden so divine and fair,
So wide and bright, I come His son and heir.

Some, though they see beauty all around them, "do not...give thanks to [God], but become futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts are darkened” (Romans 1:21).

Others see beauty, say "Thank you, Lord” and take one small step toward redemption. Israel’s poet put it this way: The one who is thankful honors God, and makes a way by which He [God] may show him His salvation (cf., Psalm 50:22).

David Roper

[1] Literally, “He saw that it was good.” The Hebrew word "good" can signify esthetic good as well as ethical good. Sarah, for example, was said to be a "good" woman, referring to her beauty.
[2] The garden was "in" Eden, a word that means "delightful." Eden may be the ancient name for the primordial earth and descriptive of its stunning beauty.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

An Evening Prayer

Came across a gem this morning: an evening prayer by Thomas Ken entitled, “Glory to Thee My God This Night.”

Thomas Ken is little known today, but in his day he was a highly regarded Bishop of the Church of England, Chaplain to the Court of William of Orange and Chaplain to the British Navy.

Most interesting to me was his friendship with Izaak Walton, the old angler. (His stepsister, Anne, was married to Walton). He was deeply influenced by the character of that good and gentle man. 

In the course of his life he penned a number of poems, one of which is this nighttime prayer—you’ll be surprised by the last stanza—an alternative perhaps to counting sheep, or “Now I lay me down to sleep…”

All praise to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light!
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings.

Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done,
That with the world, myself and Thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the judgment day.

O may my soul on Thee repose,
And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close,
Sleep that may me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.

When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply;
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.

O when shall I, in endless day,
Forever chase dark sleep away,
And hymns divine with angels sing,
All praise to thee, eternal King?

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

—Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

David Roper

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Growing Eyes 

                          That Thou are nowhere to be found, agree 
                          Wise men, whose eyes are but for surfaces… 

—George MacDonald

Theologians tell us that God is transcendent: existing beyond the range of human perception. But, as they also say, he is immanent: in all things and existing everywhere at the same time. (A remote analogy would be the world’s oceans existing “in” a sunken ship and yet surrounding it.)

That’s cold comfort to me, however, unless I understand God’s immanence to mean that he is everywhere present in and around me, with me wherever I go and involved in all that I do. He is present in the quiet place in which I now write, or in the next difficult and dangerous occasion I face, be it a fractious board meeting, or a firing squad.

Read the story of Elisha at Dothan, how the Syrian army gathered at night to kill him. His servant, awakening, looked over the wall and cried out in panic, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?”

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet replied calmly—then prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see.”

The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw God, and a gazillion angels,[1] guarding the city and protecting Elisha and his servant from harm. Then Elisha said, “See? There are more of us than there are of them.”  
As Yogi Berra said: “You can observe a lot by seeing.”


[1] Aquinas comments on this verse: “God fills (heaven and earth), not like a body fills a place... When God is in a place, others are not excluded from it” (Summa I, 8.3). Aquinas’ point is that while two material bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time, spirits can be co–present with matter. This may be the origin of the famous question, “How many angels (spiritual beings) can dance on the head of a pin (a small space)?” It’s actually a very good question though often used to mock medieval philosophers. The answer? An infinite number of angels inhabit your small place.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Butte Creek Mill

"I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith." —Philippians 1:25 

There’s an old mill on Butte Creek in Eagle Point, Oregon that was built in 1872. It’s weathered and worn by the daily grind, but it’s still going strong, doing the work for which it was made.

You too were made for a purpose: to work for others “progress and joy in the faith.” Even when old and gray you can do the work for which you were created.

Perhaps you wonder why you’ve lingered so long. Like Paul you long to go home and be with the Lord. The reason you “remain and continue” is because you’re still needed—like Paul, you’re “necessary for the sake of others.” There are individuals to touch with the love of God through the words you speak, the counsel you give, the letters you write, the kindness and compassion you show.

“We are immortal,” Augustine said, “until our work is done.” The time of our death is not determined by anything or anybody here on earth—physicians, actuarial tables, or the average human life span. That decision is made in the councils of heaven. When your work is finished, then and only then will God take you home. “When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep…” (Acts 13:36)—and not one second before!

David Roper

Monday, June 1, 2015

Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty

Why have I found favor (grace) in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” —Ruth 2:10

According to legend, American writer Anne Herbert scribbled the phrase "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" on a placemat at a Sausalito, California restaurant in 1982. The sentiment has since been popularized through film and literature and has become a part of our cultural vocabulary.

The missing note is Why?Why should we show kindness to others?

For those who follow Jesus the answer is clear: Whether voiced or unvoiced the purpose of every act of kindness is to show the tender mercy and loving kindness of God. When acts of kindness are done in that spirit theres no end to the good we can do.

Theres an Old Testament analogue of that principle in the story of Ruth, the emigrant from Moab, a foreigner, living in a strange land whose language and culture she did not understand. Furthermore, she was desperately poor, utterly dependent on the charity of a people who took little notice of her

There was one Israelite, however, who showed Ruth grace and spoke to her heartas the Hebrew text puts it (Ruth 2:13). He allowed her to glean in his fields, but more than that simple charity, he showed her by his compassion and tenderness the tender mercy and loving kindness of God, the one under whose wings she could take refuge.

As you know, she became Boazbride and part of the family of God and one in a line of descendants that led to the One who brought salvation to the world (Cf. Matthew 1:1-16).

You never know what one act of kindness, done in Jesusname, will do (Mark 9:38).

David Roper

“You have not fulfilled every duty, unless you have fulfilled that of being
kind” (Charles Buxton).

Thursday, May 28, 2015


“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”  —C.S. Lewis. The Magician’s Nephew

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips;
Let not my heart speak severely.[1]Psalm 141:3

When I was a child I was an ardent reader of L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz books. Id not seen a copy for decades until this week when I came across a
Gutenberg e-book facsimile of Baums Rinkitink in Oz with all the original artwork (

Imagine my delight!

I laughed again at the antics of Baum's portly, ebullient, irrepressible, goodhearted King Rinkitink, of the Kingdom of Rinkitink and was reminded of his downtoearth goodness.
Young Prince Inga describes him best. When Bilbil the goat excoriates Rinkitink as an incompetent fool, Inga replies, But his heart is kind and gentle and that is far better than being wise."

How simple and how sensible! Yet, who of us has not jarred the heart of someone dear to us by a harsh word, a sarcastic remark, an impatient gesture, a displeased look, a disapproving frown. In subtle ways we register displeasure, disturb the peace and quiet of the hour, and undo much of the good we have done that day. "A small unkindness, says Hanna More, is a great offense.

Grief is great. We must be good to one another, by soft endearments in common strife / lightening the load of life (John Keble). In a world in which love has grown cold, kindnessa kindness that comes from the heart of Godis one of the most helpful and healing things we can offer to others.

And heres the good news: Anyone can become kind. We may be incapable of preaching corking good sermons, fielding hard questions, or evangelizing vast numbers, but we can, in time, become kind.

How? As King David did: Through prayer, the only way to soften our “rubbled–over hearts”—Karl Rahner’s apt expression—the source from which severity and all other sins flow. Hard words flow from hard thoughts. Indeed, Lord, “Let not my heart speak severely.”

David Roper

[1] The sense of the Hebrew text (Brown, Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon).