Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Snug As A Bug in a Rug!

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).

When I was a child my family lived for several years in a house my father built in the cedar-breaks west of Duncanville, Texas.

Our house had four rooms: a small kitchen-dinette area, two bedrooms, one on either end of the house, and a "great room" with a large stone fireplace in which we burned two-foot-long cedar logs. The fireplace was the sole source of heat in the house and the place we gathered in the evening. It was the center of physical warmth in our home.

There were five people in our family: my father and mother; my sister, Pug; my cousin, Pally; and me. As I mentioned, we had only two bedrooms. My father and mother occupied one bedroom, my sister and Pally the other. I slept year-round on a screened-in porch with canvas screens that rolled down to the floor. Summers were delightful; winters were bitter cold.

"Poor child," you say, but I loved it. I can remember dashing from the warmth of our living room through the double-doors that opened onto the porch, tip-toeing across a frost-covered wooden plank floor in my bare feet, leaping into bed and burrowing under a great mountain of blankets. Then, though rain, hail, sleet and snow lashed our house and the wind howled through the eves like a pack of wolves, there in my "chamber blest," safe from the world where the wild things are, I snuggled down in sheltered rest. "Snug as a bug in a rug," my mother used to say. I doubt that any child ever felt so warm and secure.

Now I have the greater reality: God himself. He has become my shelter from the wintery storms that now encircle me. Now, ensconced in Him and enveloped in the warmth of his love, Im "safe and secure from all alarms." Snug as a bug in a rug.

David Roper

Read: Ps 91:1-16

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pie Crust Promises

"Will you stay if we promise to be good?"
"That's a pie-crust promise. Easily made, easily broken!"

-Mary Poppins

I'm usually unsatisfied with my behavior no matter what time of the year it is. Nevertheless I make no New Year's resolutions, for such promises, easily made, are easily broken. David learned that lesson well when on one occasion he resolved to hold his tongue...and couldn't do it.

David was angry with God, yet he knew he shouldn't vent his anger in the presence of God's enemies. (It's always wrong to speak against a friend, especially in the presence of his enemies.) So he resolved not to speak. "I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin," he vowed. "I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence."

For a short time he was able to restrain himself, but "the fire burned," David fumed and erupted.

"Show me...my end, and the number of my days," he lamented. "Let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath." Thus failed resolve leads us to consider the brevity of human existence and its frailty. 

We are eternal creatures with perfection in our hearts, and the perennial desire to move toward it. Yet we exist in time and space as imperfect, flawed human beings, utterly unable to keep our promises. "The Spirit is willing, but the flesh (our unaided humanity) is weak." That's why our resolve breaks down and we fall back to old habits and patterns of behavior.

There is only one way to make any real progress toward righteousness: it is to know our limitations. So David prays, "Cause me to know my end," literally, "my boundary" (vs. 4). Change begins with humility and the awareness that our resolve is mere "breath" (vs. 5). We voice our resolutions and they dissipate like breath into thin air.

Enduring change does not come by vows, decrees, New Year resolutions and strong resolve, but solely by the grace of God. Our part is to want righteousness and to pray for it. God's part is to bring it about in his own time and way. "Man proposes; God disposes, an older generation of Christians used to say.

This too David learned: "Now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions... (Then) I was silent; I did not open my mouth, for you did it!" (vs. 7-9).

There is an echo in Paul's promise: "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it!" (1 Thessalonians 5:24).


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

                                             Just Like Me

                                  Little Jesus wast Thou shy
                                  Once and just as small as I?
                                  And what did it feel to be
                                  Out of Heaven and just like me?

                                         -Francis Thompson

The Incarnation "is the central miracle asserted by Christians," C. S. Lewis said. "They say that God became Man." This is not myth or legend. It happened though it can scarcely be imagined. "The Word became flesh and dwelled among us" (John 1:14).

Matthew and Luke explain the process in terms of a virgin birth, or more accurately, a virgin conception, for Jesus' birth was normal in almost every way that matters. It was his conception that was unique: Mary was his mother, but he had no human father. As the old text puts it, Mary "had known no man." This was the virgin conception. (Not to be confused with the "Immaculate Conception," the Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary was free from original sin, or the "Immaculate Reception," a Franco Harris catch in a play-off game against Oakland in 1972.)

Mary herself was concerned with this question, for nothing in the Old Testament necessarily led to the expectation that the Messiah would be virgin born: "How can this be?" she asked the angel, who then explained, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:34, 35).

This is mystery. Once, for a very special purpose, God dispensed with long line of descendents. With his naked hand he touched Mary and made a tiny child that was...well, himself. "The Father became the daughter's son" (John Donne).

How can this be? I do not know. All I can say is what the first writers said: the child was "conceived by the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20). This was inexplicable then as now, and yet was acceptable, a staunch belief enshrined in the earliest creeds. Today it stands at the heart of our faith.

But does it matter? Of course it does. "All this took place," Matthew informs us, "to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'-which means (Matthew translates), 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23).

This is an answer to the question that plagues us from time to time: Does God care? Does disease, pain, infirmity, handicap and death overwhelm him as much as it does us? Does God weep? Does it matter to him that little children, who have nothing to do with the evil in this world, so often suffer and die? Dostoyevsky's cynic, Ivan, asks of human suffering, "What do the children have to do with it? Does God give a rip?

One answer is the Incarnation, the birth of the God-Man, for in him God entered fully into our suffering. Pain was his lot in the slow ascent from a struggling, kicking embryo to an utterly dependent baby; through gangling, awkward adolescent to become "the man of sorrows." Through all, he was "acquainted with grief." "In all our afflictions he was afflicted." He understands. He cares.

Dorothy Sayers says it far better than I: "For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is-limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death-He had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever the game he is playing with His creation, He has kept his own rules and played fair.  He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself.  He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death.  When He was a man, He played the man.  He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile."

Jesus' conception, though one of a kind, is timelessly typical of what is eternally true of God. He "never undoes anything but evil, never does good to undo it again. The union between God and (human) nature in the person of Christ admits no divorce. He will not go out of nature again..."  (C. S. Lewis, Miracles, p. 123). He is, and has always been, Immanuel: "God with us: so much unlike us and yet so much like us. Thus he understands and cares.


Friday, December 13, 2013


“Everything opens to something better: the acorn to the oak; the rose bud to the rose; the chrysalis to the butterfly.“


“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20,21).

Creation abounds in picturesque similes and metaphors hidden in nature for our instruction and encouragement—if we have eyes to see them.  “Tut, tut, child,” said the Duchess. “Everything’s got a moral if only you can find it”  (Alice in Wonderland).

The problem, however, is that having “found” the moral of a parable it’s almost impossible to describe the powerful sensations, impressions and feelings that accompany our discoveries. They are “better felt than telt."

Consider, for example, the butterfly:

Butterflies begin as caterpillars, though some may insist that they begin as butterflies, evoking the ancient enigma of the chicken and the egg. Generally, however, we think first of the caterpillar, those homely, creeping, earth-bound worms with which horrid little boys tease and torment little girls. How can these paragons of unsightliness—caterpillars that is; not little boys—become objects of winged, luminous splendor?

Well, butterflies happen like this: caterpillars, having lived out their lifespans and grown old and weary, weave and spin themselves into their little shrouds to wait in the hope of the redemption of their bodies. Then, transformed, caterpillars emerge as butterflies in breathtaking beauty. No one understands the process. It's all very mysterious!

So we too must enter into death, for our lowly, time-worn bodies cannot in any other way experience that redemption of the body for which our redeemed souls sigh. (George MacDonald suggests that “death exists for the sake of the resurrection.) Through death and only then, can a new being emerge. It rises from the ruins of the old, bearing not one of the marks and stains of the former life, but bearing "the image of the heavenly Man!" (1 Corinthians 15:49)—“ourselves" yet made far better, transformed and conformed to the likeness of God's own Son.

John put it simply: "We shall be like Him!" (1 John 3:2).

Then shall this groveling worm
    find his wings, and soar as fast and free;
As his transfigured Lord with lightning form
       and snowy vest—such grace He made for thee.


Putting Us Right “An’ noo, for a’ oor wrang-duins (wrong-doings) an’ ill-min’ins (misjudgments), for a’ oor sins and tre...