Thursday, May 21, 2015

Reflection on Psalm 130[1]

“Are the gods not the gods just?”
"Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?”

― C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Psalm 130 is an ascent psalm, a psalm to get us up and get us going—especially on those days when we cry "out of the depths" of our troubled, sin-ridden souls, knowing that we will sin again—and again (130:1).

If God “kept a record of sins”—if he were solely just—what would become of us? (130:3). But—and here’s a lovely Old Testament grace note—with him “there is forgiveness,” for in due time God himself bore our sins, past, present and future, in his body on the Cross.[2] What can I say but “Awesome!” (130:4).

Thus, forgiven for all time and eternity, we await our final redemption from sin: ”I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I my hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning" (130:5,6).

Morning is a sure thing and so is our ultimate salvation, but we must wait. There is no final deliverance from sin in this world, though there should be and will be progress in righteousness. But the promise holds: “With the Lord there is unfailing love (now) and with him is full [and final] redemption” (then) (130:7).

Now we are enveloped in his sure and certain love, and very soon, when he comes for us or we go to him, “he himself will redeem [us] from all our sins” (130:8). When we see him we shall be like him!

When Julian of Norwich asked God why sin entered world, she replied, "Sin is necessary, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Lift up your heads. Your redemption is nigh!

David Roper

[1] It would be helpful to have the psalm in front of you.
[2] God’s forgiveness is based on the Cross, an event in time with timeless implications. Jesus “is the lamb having been slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fool’s Gold

“All that is gold does not glitter.” —J.R.R. Tolkien

Back in the 1860s a prospector named Captain Tom Morgan filed a claim on a hard–to–find drainage in the mountains northeast of Boise and rode into town claiming he had discovered over $50,000 worth of gold. After a legendary spending spree his “gold” was discovered to be chemically enhanced iron pyrite—fool’s gold.

Captain Morgan was never caught, nor was he ever seen again, but his skullduggery is memorialized in the name the site bears to this day, Bogus Basin, and proves again that Shakespeare was right: “All that glitters is not gold.”

We know the proverb and we know the truth, for we’ve all been fooled by those who shimmer and shine, but whose hearts are dark and deceitful. We’ve learned that outward beauty can be an overlay, a fa├žade, an affectation that conceals evil, self–serving motives. It’s good to be wary of those who look too good to be true, for too often they are!

J.R.R. Tolkien, howevert, turns that proverb upside down and finds an equal and opposite truth: “All that is gold does not glitter.” As ugliness can be cloaked in beauty, so goodness and beauty can be hidden in an unattractive presence.

The phrase occurs in a letter delivered to the hobbit Frodo at The Prancing Pony, an inn to which Frodo and his halfling friends had come after a long journey through the Misty Mountains.

Riders had come from the south the day before, strange, suspicious looking men who were now lodged in the inn. But the strangest of all was a tall, dark man who sat in a shadowy corner, wrapped in a cloak with a hood that hid his face.

He was a Ranger, the inn–keeper Barliman said, a solitary wanderer who came and went at will and whose business was shrouded in mystery. His presence was grim and forbidding.

Then old Barliman remembered a letter from Gandalf in which the wizard informed Frodo that he might meet a friend at the inn: “A Man, lean, dark, tall, by some called Strider. He knows our business and will help you.”

In a postscript to the letter, Gandalf inserts this poem…

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken;
The crownless again shall be king.

Who could have guessed that the dark rider was in fact a nobleman, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, a “crownless” king, an ancient warrior with deep wisdom who would become a fast friend, faithful guide and guardian to the travelers—which is Tolkien’s point: an unappealing presence can conceal a heart of gold. 

The media and other elements of our culture have taught us to court the buffed, the best–dressed, and the beautiful and attribute worth to them. The old, the dull, the dowdy, the homely are discounted.

But Wisdom speaks otherwise: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). It leads us to go beyond appearance and look within the soul of every man and woman for virtue and the beauty of holiness, for authentic worth lies just there.

Our Lord: “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised…and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2,3). Yet his heart was pure gold.

And so I ask myself, “On what basis do I evaluate others? What kind of fool am I?”

David Roper

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Frailty and Its Works

“Who has not seen, as the infirmities of age grow upon old men, the haughty, self-reliant spirit that had neglected, if not despised the gentle ministrations of love, grow as it were a little scared, and begin to look about for some kindness; begin to return the warm pressure of the hand, and to submit to be waited upon by the anxiety of love?" (George MaDonald, Adela Cathcart, vol. 3, ch. 7).

I was hobbling up to the door of my gym some months ago, when a young man brushed past me, almost knocking me down. At first I thought it was merely the thoughtless behavior so often characteristic of the young, but to my surprise he wanted to reach the door before I did so he could open it for me. It was an act of great kindness.

But it wounded my pride. "Am I not man enough to open my own doors?" I thought. I smiled and thanked him, but underneath I was troubled.

I’ve always found it hard to accept help from others. I was raised that way: My father thought you should never ask others to do for you what you can do for yourself.

Thus, frailty humiliates me. I want to be strong in old age, go out in a blaze of glory, exit in full prime, but weakness and neediness is a good thing for in it I am learning to “submit to be waited upon by the anxiety of love” (love that is anxious to serve). So the Amish believe, "God permits infirmity so others can learn to care."

I think of the lesson of Pope John Paul II who refused to give up public appearances even when be was obviously uncomfortable and weak. He wanted people to see his pain, because, as he once wrote, “Suffering stirs the heart to act with compassion; it unleashes love.”

David Roper


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Day by Day

The U.S. Army's "hoo-ah" is a guttural response barked when troops voice approval or acknowledgement. (Marines say, "hoo-rah.) It's original meaning is lost to history, but some say it is derived from an old acronym "HUA"—Heard, Understood and Acknowledged. I first heard the exclamation in basic training.

Many years later it found it's way into my vocabulary again when I and a number of men began to meet on Wednesday mornings to study the scriptures and think of ways to inculcate God's word into our lives.

One morning, one of the men in the group—a former member of the 82nd Airborne Division—was reading one of the psalms and came to the notation selah that occurs throughout the psalter. Instead of reading selah however, he growled, "hoo-ah!" and that became our word for selah ever after.

No one knows what selah actually means. Some say it is only a musical notation, but it often appears after a truth that calls for a visceral response of acknowledgement and thanksgiving. In that sense hoo-ah works for me

This morning I read Psalm 68:19 "Blessed be the Lord, who daily (day to day) bears us up; God is our salvation. Selah"

How about that! Every single morning God "loads us up" on his shoulders (the meaning of the verb "to bear up") and carries us all through the day. He is our salvation. Thus safe and secure in him, "I've no cause for worry or for fear." HOOOOO-AH! I say.


Day by day and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my troubles here.
Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment,
I've no cause for worry or for fear.

Russ Taff's clip, "Day by Day":

Friday, April 24, 2015

For “Himself”

I recall certain Pygmalion stories—Shaw's “My Fair Lady” for example—in which a benefactor finds a miserable wretch, lifts her out of her helplessness and defilement and gives her a new life. All this he does not only for her sake, but also for his.

God is  that benefactor, lifting us out of sin and squalor, recreating us in his image for our good. But more than that—for His!

All through our lives God has been wooing us, nurturing us, investing his infinite resources to refine our passions, molding, shaping, revising us with His love.

And why? So we can enjoy him? Indeed! But more than that: God is changing us so He may enjoy us forever!         

Robert Browning has written a poem employing the figure of a potter molding a cup that wonderfully expresses this idea:[1]

He fixed thee 'mid this dance
         Of plastic circumstance,
This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
         Machinery just meant
         To give thy soul its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.

         Look not thou down but up!
         To uses of a cup,
The festel board, lamps flash and trumpet's peal,
         The new wine’s foaming flow,
         The Master's lips aglow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup,
         what need'st thou with earth's wheel?

         But I need, now as then,
         Thee God, who mouldest men;
And since, not even while the whirl was worst,
         Did I—to the wheel of life
         With shapes and colors rife,
Bound dizzily—mistake my end: to slake Thy thirst!

—Robert Browning

Or as David would say, “Always keep this thought in mind: The Lord has set apart the godly[2] for Himself” (Psalm 4:3).

David Roper

[1] “Rabbi Ben Ezra”
[2] The “godly” are not a class of super–saints, but “those who are characterized by love for God and neighbor”—the end product of the Potter’s wheel. They are the true “hasidim,” the plural form of the noun hesed, that rich Old Testament word for covenant love.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Waiting Place

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait on the LORD shall inherit the land. —Psalm 37:8,9

“Waiting is never easy and haste is ever the sin of Adam.” —Carlo Carretto

In his children's book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss, writes of "the waiting place"—a useless place where people are just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a yes or no
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

In the realm of extraneous factoids, I've read that if we live to be seventy years old we will spend a minimum of three years waiting. Just waiting. Scientists have actually studied the phenomenon and discovered what we already know: We hate to wait! We twiddle our thumbs, shuffle our feet, stifle our yawns and fret inwardly in frustration. “Haven’t I borne this situation long enough?” we ask. “Isn’t it time to move on?” And still we wait.

That's because waiting is an integral part of the process by which God is perfecting us. It’s one of the ways by which God effects the ends on which he has set his heart. Without it he could never make the most of us.

Waiting is a time to develop humility, patience, endurance, and persistence in well-doing. These quieter virtues take the longest to learn, are the last to be learned and, it seems to me, can only be learned through waiting, the very circumstance we’re most inclined to resist.

And so we must wait before we make any change: before we give notice to a difficult employer, before we walk out on a hard marriage, before we end a disappointing friendship or make some other irrevocable decision. We must "just wait." We’ll know when it’s time to make the next move. God will let us know. As someone has said, "God is never in a hurry, but he is always on time."

In the meantime, while we wait, we should look into each delay for its disciplines, learning its deeper lessons of faith and obedience and yielding to God’s efforts to change us rather than our circumstances. The extent to which we do so will determine the extent to which his purposes are achieved in us.

F. B. Meyers writes, “What searching of the heart, what analyzing of motives, what uplifting of the soul.... All these are associated with these weary days of waiting which are, nevertheless, big with spiritual destiny.”

David Roper

Friday, April 17, 2015

His Patient Smile

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” —Luke 23:43

Old John Keble writes...

Where'er Thou roam'st, one happy soul, we know,
      Seen at Thy side in woe,
   Waits on Thy triumphs—even as all the blest
      With him and Thee shall rest.
   Each on his cross; by Thee we hang a while,
      Watching Thy patient smile,
   Till we have learned to say, "'Tis justly done,
Only in glory, LORD, Thy sinful servant own."

Keble is thinking of the repentant thief, "one happy soul," hanging on his cross at Jesus' side in pain and sorrow,  awaiting Jesus' triumph. The poet sees us with him ("each and all the blest") as we "hang a while," each on our own cross, humbly accepting our suffering as "justly done," yet clinging to Jesus' promise, despite our sin: "Truly I say to you, you will be with me in Paradise."

Thus may we wear his "patient smile," humbly accepting our suffering as "justly done" and waiting a while till he receives us into glory.

David Roper