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Saturday, August 27, 2016

The World’s Last Night

“What if this present were the world's last night?”
—John Donne

The Owyhee Avalanche, May 4, 1867, carried this report: “James Fraser was shot and killed by Indians last Friday evening between sunset and dark.” Fraser was a prospector working a gulch below Wagontown in the Owyhee Mountains of Idaho, closing in on pay dirt. He didn’t plan to die that day.

You never know…

Death “meets us everywhere and enters in at many doors,” Jeremy Taylor wrote. “It enters by the fall of a chariot and the stumbling at a stone; by a full meal or an empty stomach; by watching at the wine or by watching at prayers; by the sun or the moon; by a heat or a cold; by sleepless nights or sleeping days; by water frozen into the hardness and sharpness of a dagger, or water thawed into the floods of a river; by a hair or a raisin; by violent motion or sitting still; by severity or slow dissolution; by everything in nature and everything in chance.” 

Peter agrees: “The end of all things is near.” This may indeed be the world’s last night—at least for me. I may go to God this day, or he may come for me. 

That said, I ask myself: How should I invest the time that remains? What activities and attitudes should fill my final hours? Is there some magnificent gesture, some grand and glorious performance to mark the end of my days?  Peter supplies the answer.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore (1) be serious and watchful in your prayers.  (2) And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (3) Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.  (4) As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:7-11).

First off, I must be a praying man (4:7). Prayer is my access to God, the way by which I stay in touch with him. It’s not that prayer moves God, but that it moves me, aligns me more closely with what He is doing, and conforms me to His will. I must bring sobriety to prayer, Peter tells me. It’s not that prayer should be joyless, for it can be whimsical, light–hearted, musical, full of mirth. No, what Peter inveighs against is superficiality. I must take seriously the need to fill my days with prayer for that is the secret of a useful life, the means by which God can fill me and use me for the highest good. Without prayer I will accomplish nothing.

I must be a loving man. I must love with great care and determination, “for love covers a multitude of sins” (4:8). Love and forgiveness mark me as God’s child and remind others of his love. “No one can see God,” John said, but they can see me. Perhaps I can do nothing for a difficult neighbor, a struggling brother, a suffering friend, but I can love. A smile, a note, a kind word, a prayer, a brief touch can the greatest thing in the world, when offered in love. And even when my journey leads into illness, weakness and infirmity my work can be in loving, which in the end will be my greatest gift to God and to others.

I must be a gracious man, “giving hospitality to others without complaining” (4:9). I can open my home and my heart to those in need; I can be available to anyone who happens to comes my way, for I would never know the right people to invite. “Who is my neighbor?” I ask. Jesus answers: the next needy person I meet. I must welcome all comers.

I must be a serving man, “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (4:10). The gifts I have been given and the work I am called to do are from one mind. The God who made me made my path. For whatever days God gives me I must put into practice his special design and purpose for me so I may live in loving service to him and to others.

And finally, I must do all things “with the strength God provides” (4:11). God must put into me all that he wants to take out of me. I am nothing; He is everything. To him be the glory—not me.

Prayer, love, hospitality and humble service. How simple and how satisfying—to do these things as the last things; to do them lovingly, faithfully, patiently this day and the next day and the next day—and thus the last day will take care of itself. 

It’s never too late to get started. “I must begin today,”
a phrase John Wesley often quoted to himself.”


David Roper

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Our Father’s Face

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved! —Psalm 80:3

Asaph, the author of this psalm, looked north from his vantage point in Jerusalem and saw Judah's sister state, Israel, collapse under the weight of the Assyrian Empire. With her buffer state gone, Judah was vulnerable to invasion from all sides—Assyria from the north, Egypt from the south and the Arab nations from the east. She was out-numbered, out-matched, out-gunned. 

Asaph gathers up his fears in a prayer, three times repeated (80:3,7,18), "Let your face shine that we may be saved." (“Let me see your smile.”)

Faces are us. A frown, a sullen look, a smile and crinkly eyes—reveal what we feel about others. Our faces are our "tell."

I remember my father's face. It was hard to read. (He was a kind man, but stoic and self-contained.) As a child, I often searched his face, looking for a smile, or other show of affection. 

It's good to look away from our fears and search our Heavenly Father's face, though it too is not always easy to read. The best way to see God’s face is to look at the Cross, and "the man of His right hand, the son of man whom He made strong!" (80:17). The Cross is His "tell" (John 3:16). Good Friday is God's smile writ large! 

So know this: When your Father looks at you, he has a great big smile on His face. You're very safe!

As, hungering for his father's face and eyes, 
The child throws wide the door, back to the wall,
I run to Thee, the refuge from poor lies...
George MacDonald, The Diary of an Old Soul, December 15

David Roper
8/25/16

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Portent

The old poet laments: "I have become a 'portent' to many" (Psalm 71:7).

A portent is a sign that something unpleasant is about to happen. That’s what old folks are to the young—an ominous sign that foreshadows their own destiny: Someday, barring an accident, they too will be old.

That's a terrible shock to the cult of youth and beauty.

A number of years ago a friend told me about a conversation he had with a very attractive young woman. In the course of their exchange he said to her, You have remarkable poise for a young person. To what do you attribute that trait?” “Oh,” she responded, I’m pretty.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” my friend replied with great wisdom. Sorry!” she exclaimed. Sorry for what?”  He paused and replied, Because someday, you won’t be pretty.”

Since everyone we meet is aging, it occurs to me that one of the duties of the elderly must be to show young folks that growing old can a good thing—if they grow old with God. The elderly poet writes, “I have become as a portent to many, but You are my strong refuge (Psalm 71:7).

The strength of grace does not fail with the passage of time. "The best is yet to be..." Our last days can be our best days and our last work can be our best work if we go in the strength of the One who is our "continual" refuge and joy (Psalm 71:3,6).

Lord, what I once had done with youthful might,
Had I been from the first true to the truth,
Grant me, now old, to do—with better sight,
And humbler heart, if not the brain of youth.

George MacDonald

David Roper

8/22/16
Rain

www.joshuaroperphotography.com

You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water...

—Psalm 65:9

Rain. We take it for granted. Or it's a nuisance if we have something planned. ("Who'll stop the rain?")

But David saw rain as a sign and a sacrament, pointing us to God's eternal love for growing things. Rain is God "visiting the earth" to water and enrich it (65:9).

Showers sweep across the plowed ground, "watering its furrows, settling its ridges, softening the clods of dirt, blessing it with growth." Rain is God, "walking" through the earth like Johnny Appleseed, leaving behind His bounty: "The paths on which He walks overflow with goodness" (65:10, 11).

Here's a dimension of truth that most folks have lost. It’s a vision, a perspective, a way of looking at things. It’s  the capacity to see through things rather than at them.

Nature is a signpost pointing to God, but tragically, most people only look at the sign. C.S. Lewis described our foolishness as a "dog-like" way of seeing. If, for example, you point at your dog's food dish and say "Eat," he will stare at your finger, confusing the sign with the thing signified.

Rain reveals the face of God if we have eyes to see it. The little hills, the pastures, the valleys take in God's love and "shout for joy!" (65:13).

So do I!

Sweet the rain’s new fall
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dew fall
On the first grass.

Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden,
Sprung in completness
Where His feet pass.

—Eleanor Farjeon

David Roper
8/22/16

Friday, August 19, 2016

Voices Low and Gentle

"The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness." — Proverbs 16:31:

I read Old John Keble's meditation for the "25th Sunday after Trinity" this morning and thought of you folks that shepherd God's flock. Here are Keble's thoughts and my glosses: 

Pride of the dewy morning! 
The swain's experienced eye 
From thee takes timely warning, 
Nor trusts the gorgeous sky. 

For well he knows, such dawnings gay 
Bring noons of storm and shower, 
And travelers linger on the way 
Beside the sheltering bower. 

Country folk know that bright, beautiful mornings can deteriorate and become clouded with "storm and shower." They don't presume that a day that begins well, will end well. 

E'en so, in hope and trembling 
Should watchful shepherd view 
His little lambs assembling, 
With glance both kind and true; 

'Tis not the eye of keenest blaze, 
Nor the quick-swelling breast, 
That soonest thrills at touch of praise-
These do not please him best. 

Good Shepherds are delighted when God's "little lambs" make a good beginning, but must wait and watch over them as they mature and never presume that they will ever grow beyond the point where they will no longer need pastoral care.

But voices low and gentle, 
And timid glances shy, 
That seem for aid parental  
To sue all wistfully, 

Still pressing, longing to be right, 
Yet fearing to be wrong, 
In these the Pastor dares delight, 
A lamb-like, Christ-like throng. 

These in Life's distant even 
Shall shine serenely bright, 
As in th' autumnal heaven 
Mild rainbow tints at night,

Sheep, as they grow older, still long ("sue") for parental, pastoral care. Good shepherds will take delight in those aging sheep that are pressing, longing for righteousness at "life's distant even." 

We take delight in young folks and their spiritual progress. In our enthusiasm for these lambs, however, we may think that older, more mature sheep, having made a good beginning, can make it on their own. 

But the hardest tests often lie in the "even" of our lives. Older believers, though well established in their faith, remain "a lamb-like throng." They will always need a loving pastor to help them run the race with endurance and finish well. 

Let's not forget them. 

David Roper

8/18/16

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spider

(God) takes no pleasure in the legs of a man. —Psalm 147:10b

My track coach in high school dubbed me "Spider" because I had skinny legs. The moniker stuck with me until I went off to college. I was glad to leave it behind. 

It delights me to know that God is not impressed by the size and strength of my legs, especially now that I'm old and my "youthful hose, well saved, are a world too wide for (my) shrunk shank." In fact, though God loves me, He isn’t impressed with any attribute or ability that I possess.

Psalm 147, the poem in which this verse is imbedded, is all about what God is doing: He builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel; He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds; He counts the number of the stars; He calls them by name; He covers the heavens with clouds; He provides rain for the earth; He  makes grass grow on the mountains; He gives food to wild animals and the young ravens that cry (147:2-4; 8,9). God does all these things by Himself; He doesn't need anything from me to get His work done (147:10). Out of His love and mercy He offers to use me, but it's not "as though He needs anything at all" (Acts 17:25).

You may recall a story I've told more than once about a day on which I returned to Boise having been away for a week or so. I was praying with Carolyn that evening, thanking God for taking care of things while I was gone. Carolyn chuckled. “What’s up?" I asked. "Well," she replied, with a twinkle in her eye: "Who do you think takes care of things while you're here?" 

Exactly. 

David Roper
7/14/16

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Quickness

My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle,
They come to an end as the thread runs out. —Job 7:6 NEB

As I look back on my 83 years of life I'm impressed by the swiftness with which these years have flitted by. It seems but yesterday that I was young and now I am old. 

Sages have described our life-span as a shadow, a dream, a moving mist, a spray of flowers that promptly withers, an m-dash between the birth and death dates on our gravestones. a bird in flight—“as though a sparrow flew swiftly through the hall, coming in by one door and out by the other" (the Venerable Bede). Job states the truth baldly: "Life is short and full of trouble" (14:1). (A friend of mine adds, “You have to eat to keep up your strength.”)

It’s not the troubles of life that concern me, however; it's the thought that my life will be finished before I am. So many things on my bucket list are yet uncompleted, so many projects undone. As Job put it, the thread will run out before the fabric I’m weaving is done. 

There's a bit of a problem with the text because no one knows the meaning of the word with which Job ends his comparison. Parallelism suggests that the word usually translated "without hope" is part of the illustration taken from weaving. Hence the New English Bible translates, ‘My days … come to an end as the thread runs out.” Peterson paraphrases, "My days come and go swifter than the click of knitting needles and then the yarn runs out—an unfinished life!" (Job 7:6 The Message).

Indeed. So many trout streams I’ve scouted that Ill never fish. So many trails I’ve traced on contour maps that I’ll never walk. So many projects that Carolyn and I have dreamed about that we’ll never complete. So much to do; so little time to do it.

But I have achieved the one thing for which I was created, the thing without which nothing else matters: I have come to know and believe the love that God has for me (1 John 4:16).

Poet Henry Vaughn writes, 

Thou art a toilsome mole, or less;
A moving mist;
But life is what none can express:
A quickness which my God hath kissed. 

David Roper
8/2/16