Thursday, January 23, 2014

While We Sleep"

In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he gives to those he loves while they sleep (Psalm 127:2).

Author Lauren Winner was asked how we as followers of Jesus can be more counterculture. Her answer? Get more sleep.

Miss Winter admitted the curious nature of her comment. "Surely one could come up with something more other-directed, more sacrificial, less self-serving, she wrote.  Still, she reasoned, a night of good sleepa week, or month, or year of good sleeptestifies to a countercultural embrace of sleep (that) bears witness to values higher than the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things.’”[1]

Israels poet anticipated her thoughts: In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he gives to those he loves while they sleep.

Theres something wonderfully significant about this psalm, something easily missed unless we understand that Israels day began in the evening and not in the morning.

We begin our day when the sun comes up. We leap out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, wolf down an energy bar and rush out the door to begin our work. Only when our work is done do we rest, and our work is never done.  Theres always one more e-mail to answer, one more phone call to return, one more errand to run.

Israels sequence of evening and morning pictures the attitude we should embrace toward all our efforts: We must begin with restrest in a God of infinite resources. When we awaken to begin our work, we rise to join Him in a work in progress, for he does not slumber nor sleep.

Its useless to drive ourselves in anxious frenzy, the psalmist pleads, as if success depends on our efforts. We must work hard and we must be faithful in all we do, but everything depends upon God. He has been working throughout eternity to gain our highest good. Thus in simple faith we rest that He, who knows and loves, will do the best.

Maker of all, the Lord,
And Ruler of the height,
Who, robing day in light, hast poured
Soft slumbers oer the night,
That to our limbs the power
Of toil may be renewd,
And hearts be raisd that sink and cower,
And sorrows be subdud.

Saint Ambrose


[1] Lauren Winner, Books & Culture, January/February 2006, Vol. 12, No. 1, Page 7.

Monday, January 20, 2014

What God Has Prepared!

"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9).

My friend Gus passed away a few weeks ago. Gus was a fellow trout fisherman. Weekends usually found him in his little boat on a nearby lake, casting for fish.

I got a letter from his daughter Heidi the other day. She told me she's been talking about heaven with her grandkids since Gus went home. Her 6 year old grandson, who also loves to fish, explained what Heaven is like and what Great-Grandpa Gus is doing: "It's really beautiful,” he mused, "and Jesus is showing Grandpa Gus where the best fishing holes are."  

Isn’t it odd that we know so little about Heaven? Why should we be told almost nothing about our next destination?

Perhaps it’s that we human beings have no categories to comprehend it. On one occasion, when Paul reported his visit to Heaven, words failed him. He saw things that “cannot be told” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). He didn’t mean that it’s improper to speak about Heaven, but that it’s impossible to do so. There are no words by which the facts of Heaven can be imparted to our senses.

But having said that I think the problem lies deeper than mere inadequacy of human language and comprehension. Strange to say, to know more than we know might harm us.

What I mean is this: We might gain a little comfort from knowing the details of Heaven but it would not be the highest comfort, for it is not the knowledge of Heaven that comforts and assures us, but the knowledge of God Himself. Because I know Him and I know how good He is, I can leave this life and everything in it with utter confidence that Heaven will be “a wonderful place, full of glory and grace.” It will be “really beautiful” and Jesus will show me where the best fishing holes are, because, I must say, that’s the sort of God that He is!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Things Above

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” —Colossians 3:1

Our valley can be very cold in the winter. Clouds and fog roll in and blanket the ground, trapping frigid air under warmer layers above.

It’s cloudy and cold in the valley, but you can rise above it. There’s a road nearby, Bogus Basin Road, that winds up the flank of Shafer Butte, a 7500’ mountain that rises out of the valley. A few minutes of driving and you break out of the fog and emerge into the warmth and brilliance of a sunlit day. You can look down on the clouds that shroud the valley and see it from a different point of view.

You can’t make yourself happy in conditions that are contrary to happiness, but you can rise above them. Little by little you can learn to withdraw from them, refusing to allow your thoughts and actions to be governed by them. You can climb up out of your misery and gloom, sit for a time on the hillside and look at things from God’s point of view. You can remind yourself that the sun is always shining even if it has not been shining on you and that everything in the valley will soon pass away. And though you can only stay for a moment you will have gained a perspective that only the mountain can know.

This is faith—the means by which we rise above our circumstances and find courage and calmness for the day.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Death Watch

"In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die” (Isaiah 38:1).

I read this morning about a new gadget, the Tikker Death Watch, a wristwatch that ticks off the seconds until you die. The watch-wearer fills out a questionnaire, inputs age and the countdown begins. (The watch employs a logarithm used by the federal government to estimate life expectancy.)

Swiss inventor, Fredrick Colting, a former grave digger it should be noted, got the idea for the watch when his grandfather died: “It made me think about death and the transience of life, and I realized that nothing matters when you are dead. Instead, what matters is what we do when we are alive.” (One potential customer quipped that he would "Blast some Ethel Merman one last time while sipping latte.")   

King Hezekiah of Judah had a "Death Watch" of sorts: He was gravely ill and the prophet Isaiah said the countdown had begun. The king, who was the only 38 years old at the time, begged for additional days. God in his mercy gave him fifteen years. Sad to say, Hezekiah squandered those years, exposing Judah's treasure to the Babylonians, a self-serving decision that led to the Babylonian Captivity some years later. He also fathered Manasseh, an awful man that led the nation of Judah into moral ruin.

St. Peter had a “Death Watch” as well: "The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self- controlled and sober- minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace..." (1 Peter 4:7-10).

What can we do with the moments that remain? Fret about them or fritter them away?  Here’s Peter’s guidance: Pray, love those inside and outside of God’s family and use your spiritual gifts to serve others. Put another way, do the things that have eternal significance.

In the words of a plaque that hung on the wall of my boyhood home:

Only one life will soon be past;

only what's done for Christ will last.

And when I am dying how glad I will be,

that the lamp of my life has blazed out for Thee.

David Roper


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Far from The Madding Crowd

"But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God..." Psalm 73:16,17

Some years ago my son Brian and I agreed to haul some equipment into an isolated Idaho backcountry ranch for a friend. There are no roads into the area, at least none that my truck could negotiate, so the ranch manager, a young man named Ralph, met us at road's end with a wagon hitched to a brace of mules.

On the way into the ranch, Ralph and I started chatting and I learned that he lived on the property year-around and rarely ventured outside. "What do you do in the winter," I asked, knowing that winters in the high country were long and bitter. I also knew the ranch had no electricity, radio or telephone service other than a satellite radio. I wondered what Ralph did when the snow piled up to his cabin's eves.

Dont you get lonely, I asked. Nope, he replied. "How do you endure the isolation? I asked. "Actually," he drawled. "I find it right peaceable."  

Solitude is not loneliness. Loneliness is the result of inadequate intimacy and meaningful activity. John Milton, I think it was, pointed out that loneliness is the first thing God saw that wasn't good.

Solitude is something else. It is a matter of finding a quiet place far from the crowd. Sometimes our hard-pressed souls long for isolation more than anything else. There's too much noise in the air, too many sounds, too loud, too near. Our ears ache; our bodies tense. Where can we find the solitude that our hearts crave?

Somewhere I came across this odd little haiku:

I wish that
I could enter in
And close the door
Of my small house
To dwell alone
As little shellfish do.

Me too...

But how can I "dwell alone" in my crowded, buzzing, noisy, busy world. "Not here. There is not enough silence" (Eliot).

I came across a story the other day that gave me an idea: I have a namesake, David 1 of Scotland, whos mostly unknown to us these days. In his day he was one of the most powerful and influential kings of his age, though he was better known for his godliness and wisdom. His gentle rule "softened the barbarity of the nation." (If you know anything about Scottish Highlanders that's saying a lot!) One of his courtiers wrote, "I confess that I found in the king a monk, in the court a cloister."

I like that idea: a monk and his cloister. Caught up in the dangerous conditions of his time and harried on every side by violent warlords, Davids mindset was that of a contemplative monk. The contentious court was his cloister: Even in that dangerous environment he could withdraw for moments of contemplation and prayer from which he emerged to bring peace to his nation.

We can do that. In the midst of our pressure-filled, densepacked days we can withdraw into our hearts for a moment or two to reflect upon God's loving kindness and mercy. We can stay in that quiet place until the noise around us fades away and a sense of Gods presence envelops us. We will find in that quiet God-filled place the peace that the world has taken away. Our hearts will be quieted and stilled.

Then we can bring that peace with us into the world.


Thou mak'st a secret chamber, holy-dim,
Where thou wilt come to help my deepest prayer.

MacDonald, George. “A Diary of an Old Soul

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