Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Beauty of Holiness

What I hold in my mind will, in time, show up in my face, for as George MacDonald once pointed out, the face is "the surface of the mind.” 

If I cling to bitterness and resentment, if I hold a grudge, if I fail to forgive, my countenance will begin to reflect those moods. My mother used to tell me that a mad look might someday freeze on my face. She was wiser than she knew. 

On the other hand a generous and charitable heart, one filled with unselfishness and kindness, will find its way to the surface, for goodness cannot be hidden. In time it will show itself in kind eyes and a face that is gentle and wise.

So my task is to not to try to fix my face and make it good, for that would be hypocrisy, but to set about killing the ugly things that come out of my heart, "so ugly that they make the very face over them ugly also" (MacDonald). 

Yet, I know my heart, how hard it is, how disinclined to change. No one but God can drive its sullen self-centeredness away. So I must ask him by his power to fulfill every desire for goodness. Then, someday, my face may reflect the holiness he has put into my heart.

I have a friend, a Catholic priest, who served as Mother Teresa's translator when she was in the United States to address the United Nations. I was in his study one day and spied a picture of the two of them standing together on the streets of New York. I marveled again at her ancient, wrinkled, leathered, lined face, utterly unadorned, and thought to myself, "Is there anyone in the world more homely, and more beautiful?”,

Hers was the beauty of holiness. May it be ours as well.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

“Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” 

Our son, Josh, is a commercial salmon fisherman, fishing this summer out of Valdez, Alaska. He took this photograph and sent it to me this week. It reflects my voyage—an old fisherman, sailing into an uncertain future (note the gathering clouds), encircled by the faithfulness of God! (A rainbow, you know, when seen from above, is a perfect circle.)


Photograph by Joshua Roper:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Scaret of Dying

Annie Trumbull Slosson, whose quaint and profound folktales give us a “glimpse of Joy beyond the walls of the world,” writes about a little boy that was “scaret of dying.”

Once there was a boy that was dreadful scaret o’ dyin’. Some folks is that way, you know; they ain’t never done it to know how it feels, and they’re scaret. And this boy was that way. He wa’n’t very rugged, his health was sort o’ slim, and mebbe that made him think about sech things more. ‘Tany rate, he was terr’ble scaret o’ dyin’. ‘Twas a long time ago this was,—the times when posies and creaturs could talk so’s folks could know what they was sayin’.

And one day, as this boy, his name was Reuben,—I forget his other name, —as Reuben was settin’ under a tree, an ellum tree, cryin’, he heerd a little, little bit of a voice,—not squeaky, you know, but small and thin and soft like, —and he see ‘t was a posy talkin’. ‘T was one o’ them posies they call Benjamins, with three-cornered whitey blowths with a mite o’ pink on ‘em, and it talked in a kind o’ pinky-white voice, and it says, “What you cryin’ for, Reuben? “And he says, “‘Cause I’m scaret o’ dyin’,” says he; “I‘m dreadful scaret o’ dyin’.” Well, what do you think? That posy jest laughed, the most cur’us little pinky-white laugh ‘t was,—and it says, the Benjamin says: “Dyin’! Scaret o’ dyin’? Why, I die myself every single year o’ my life.” “Die yourself ! “says Reuben “You ‘re foolin’; you ‘re alive this minute.” “‘Course I be,” says the Benjamin; “but that ‘s neither here nor there,—I’ve died every year sence I can remember.” “Don’t it hurt? “says the boy. “No, it don’t,” says the posy; “it ‘s real nice. You see, you get kind o’ tired a-holdin’ up your head straight and lookin’ peart and wide awake, and tired o’ the sun shinin’ so hot, and the winds blowin’ you to pieces, and the bees a-takin’ your honey. So it’s nice to feel sleepy and kind o’ hang your head down, and get sleepier and sleepier, and then find you ‘re droppin’ off. Then you wake up jest ‘t the nicest time o’ year, and come up and look ‘round, and—why, I like to die, I do.” But someways that didn’t help Reuben much as you ‘d think. “I ain’t a posy,” he think to himself, “and mebbe I wouldn’t come up.”
April showers bring May flowers. They also bring us the stirring of hope. Spring “posies, trees and creaturs” are hints of heaven, for God has planned it that way. But spring alone is not enough. It may only leave us with Reuben’s worry: “I ain’t a posy and mebbe I wouldn’t come up.” Spring’s hope can be an illusion, which is why T. S. Eliot, in his pre–Christian days, thought April was “the cruelest month.”

There is a surer word: Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25,26).

Who said this? One who actually rose from the dead. It’s one thing to make a bold assertion; it’s another to back it up, and back it up Jesus did by rising from the dead, “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

“If you believe that the Son of God died and rose again,” writes George MacDonald, “your whole future is full of the dawn of eternal morning, coming up beyond the hills of life, and full of such hope as the highest imagination for the poet has not a glimmer yet.”

The Son of God died and rose again, and his resurrection is the guarantee that God will bring us up and out of the ground. A thinking, feeling, remembering, recognizable part of us will live forever.

Living forever means living out the thought of eternity that God has placed in our hearts; meeting one’s loved ones lost through separating death; living in a world without blood, sweat and tears; seeing our Lord who loves us and gave everything he had to unite us to him forever.

But there’s another meaning I see: since we go around twice we can live in broken and ruined bodies for time; we can endure poverty and hardship for awhile; we can face loneliness, heartache and pain for a season. We don’t have to have it all on this earth. There is a second birth.

David Roper

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Salty Sermons

The word neither diffident nor ostentatious, An easy commerce of the old and new, The common word exact without vulgarity, The formal word precise but not pedantic, The complete consort dancing together.” ―T. S. Eliot

"Let your speech always be with grace,  seasoned with salt..." (Colossians 4:5,6).
Paul's metaphor, "seasoned with salt" meant ‘witty’ in Classical Greek usage and suggests language that is pithy, interesting and well chosen. British theologian, G. B. Caird commenting on this verse suggests that every person we address should be "treated as an end in himself and not subjected to a stock harangue."
In context, the verse applies to “those that are outside," but it seems to me that the principle applies to preaching as well and argues for discovering new ways to state old truths and manuscripting our sermons so we don't fall back on clich├ęs and cant, worn-out phrases. That’s lazy thinking. As the “Preacher" would say, we should “search to find just the right words….” (Ecclesiastes 12:10).
Writing out our sermons makes us more responsible in our use of language. It helps us avoid shoddy thinking, evangelical argot, technical jargon. It makes our sermons more relevant and memorable. It makes us more exact.
With a prayer for salty sermons...


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