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Monday, March 30, 2015

On My Eighty-Second Birthday

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come (Psalm 71:17,18).

I vaguely recall George Carlin's routine about aging and how we "make" it to 60 years and "hit" 70. I think he ran out of verbs at age 80, but today I can say that I have been "given" 82 years. I am here solely by the grace of God.

It is literally true that God has taught me from my youth. I was raised in a home where Jesus was honored and I cannot think of a day when I did not love him. I can say with John that I know and believe the love he has for me. "Blessed be the Lord who has shown me the wonders of his love."

I live today in a spirit of thanksgiving to God for the years he has given me. I don't know why God has granted these bonus years to me; most of my contemporaries have already shuffled off this mortal coil. But there must be a reason, for God has a reason for everything that he does.

One thing I know: I can continue to grow. There are parts of me that are still unconverted, vast areas to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. I want to continue to hear his word each day and ask for his help while he finishes the work he has begun.

I look to many of my aging friends for encouragement. Their strength in weakness, their endurance in illness and  pain, their love despite
sorrow and weariness, their faith and hope and confidence in the face of death—encourage me to become like them when I too am grown.

And I know God has other things for me to do. Certainly to love and to pray for these are the works of the aged. And much can be said for just "being" and resting in the love of God. Perhaps in these and other ways I can "proclaim God's might to the next generation; his power to all that are to come."

In the meantime, God has promised that he will never forsake me. He has been my shepherd now for 82 years, holding me with his strong hand, guiding me with his wise counsel, and one day he will receive me into glory (Cf., Psalm 72:23,24).

"Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow." Who could ask for anything more?

Growing old but not retiring,
For the battle still is on;
Going on without relenting
Till the final victory’s won.  —Anon.

David Roper

Sunday, March 29, 2015

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The Log

More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

Psalm 69:4,5

Prayer changes us. It is "working with God, as Dallas Willard put it, to make us more like Jesus.

The prayer above is a case in point. Here, the psalmist begins with a rush of emotion, railing against the sins of his enemies, at which point we expect a harsh imprecation: "May God judge my foes and justify me!

But in the act of praying the psalmist's heart is subverted and humbled and he becomes aware of his own "folly" and the "wrongs" he has done. Thus, he reckons with his own depravity for, in one way or another, we are always in the wrong.

Jesus said, Why do you see the speck that is in your brothers eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye. How can you say to your brother, Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye, when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brothers eye" (Luke 6:41,42). This is the path that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation.[1]

English poet Percy Shelley wrote:

I will not complain, and though chill'd is affection,
With me no corroding resentment shall live;
My bosom is calmed by the simple reflection,
That both may be wrong,and that both should forgive.

DHR


[1] One caveat: We can be incredibly astute about the shortcomings of others but have no insight into ourselves at all. That's why David's prayer must be on our lips: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me..." (Psalm 139:23,24).

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

For His Time

As most of you know I had back surgery in early February and since then have been under "house arrest" while recovering. My surgeon told me it will be six months to a year before I "feel like myself again," whatever that means. Right now the only feeling I have is that I'm ready to climb the walls! I've always been a very physically active person and inactivity is hard for me to accept.

One upside of my incarceration, however, is that I've had a lot of time to read.

In course of my reading I came across a reference to South African pastor Andrew Murray, one of my favorite writers, and discovered that he too had a bad back. The only treatment in his day was bed rest, equally troublesome for him since he too was a very active man.

On one occasion while he was recuperating in the home of some friends his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any counsel for her. Murray handed her a paper he had been writing and said, “Give her this advice I'm writing down for myself. It may be that she'll find it helpful.”

This is what Murray wrote:

In time of trouble, say, “He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.”

Next, “He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.”

Then say, “He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.”

And last, say, “In His good time He can bring me out again. How, and when, He knows.”

Therefore say, "I am here by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time."

As for me, I want the sudden solution, the quick fix, but some things cannot be disposed of so readily. A year of obsolescence? What frustration! No, I must remember that God in his wisdom brought me here, he will keep me here, and in his time he will bring me out again. This (my present condition) is God's good, acceptable and perfect will for me. In this, by his grace, I must rest.

DHR

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Sound of Silence

"Ultimate peace is silent through the density of life,"

-C. S. Lewis

What is the sound of one hand clapping? The "sound of silence" comes to mind–one answer to this ancient koan.

Silence, I've come to believe, is the answer to many of life's contradictions. I'm learning to say less these days. It was Jesus' way. In the face of severe provocation he was "silent and did not reply" (Mark 14:61). Jesus could have answered his critics, but, "like a sheep before its shearers is silent, He did not open his mouth," as one of the prophets said.

There is awesome power in silence, especially in those overwhelmingly bad situations in which we are subject to harsh words from those we greatly love. There, silence is most difficult for loved ones have the greatest power to wound us. But there it is most essential, for we owe our own homes the greatest measure of gentleness and forbearance.

Silence forestalls angry reactions and bitter words that we may later regret and others may never forget. Silence gives us time to slow our thoughts and reorder them, perhaps to remind ourselves that the one who wounded us is weary, or worried and otherwise out of sorts. Or we may quickly forgive for they may not know what they're doing. We should always forgive anything the moment there is anything to forgive for there is no better time.

Silence is a means by which we may help others see themselves, for their voices reverberate in the quietness we offer, and in it they may hear their unkind words and regret them. When we step aside and wait in stillness, we give God an opportunity to work through us. When we take up our own cause we may frustrate his ultimate intention to use us to bring spiritual healing and health to others.

Silence can be the gentle answer that turns away anger. Defensive reactions make things worse: they "stir up wrath"(Proverbs 15:1). Restraint and silence relieve tension and restore peace. When we thus "make peace," we "sow a seed whose fruit is righteousness"(James 3:18). Others begin to grow toward goodness through our example.

Finally, calm, unruffled silence is an eloquent and gracious reflection of God's unconditional love. Clement, a first century Christian, wrote, "Let (those who belong to Christ) demonstrate by silence the gentleness of their tongue; (thus) let them show His love" (1 Clement 21:7).

And so we pray for a silence that "swallows up the waves of wrong and never throws them back to swell the commotion of the angry sea from whence they came" (George MacDonald). Oh, for grace to annihilate wrong in this way. 



Home Sweet Home

"Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names" —Psalm 49:11

A few years ago Carolyn and I bought two lots at Dry Creek Cemetery, a wind-swept hill overlooking the city of Boise. One for me and one for her. Mine is about 4’ wide and 8' long—32 square feet in all. I laid down on it—much to Carolyn's chagrin—to see if I fit. I did. Just barely. It Isn't much to see, but it's mine.

Some people acquire vast estates and some have lands named after them, like Amerigo, Vespucci, but it occurs to me that the only piece of real estate any of us will ever truly "own" is our grave. Not much to show for a lifetime of effort.

That's the problem with a "this world" perspective. No matter what you acquire or accomplish in this life you can't take it with you. As Israel's poet put it, you die and "leave everything to others"  (49:10). This calls for "understanding” (49:3,20), knowledge that there is another dimension of reality, an unseen realm in which earthly notions of the good life are irrelevant. This present world is tangible but transient; the unseen world is forever and forever. It's toward that invisible, eternal realm that our predominant thoughts, time and energy must go. That's what it means to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." Everything else is a wasting asset—an investment that will  inexorably and irreversibly decline in value over time.

I'm reminded here of a story I heard years ago about a stock broker that encountered a genie who granted the obligatory wish. "A copy of the Wall Street Journal one year hence," the man replied. Thereupon, paper in hand, he turned to the market report for that day anticipating a killing. But his eye fell first on his picture on the opposite page accompanied by his obituary. The killing he anticipated was his own.

David Roper






Monday, March 9, 2015

OBSCURITY

I've always been fond of certain lines by that strange and solitary poet, Emily Dickinson: "I'm nobody. Who are you? Oh-are you nobody too?" I ask myself: Am I willing to be nobody? Will I run that risk for Jesus' sake?

There is a dark side to leadership. Personal dysfunction, in one form or another, can serve as the driving force behind our desire to achieve success as a leader.  It can be disguised and couched in spiritual language (the need to fulfill the Great Commission and grow the church), and go undetected and unchallenged.

We pray for power in our ministries. Our prayers seem sincere, godly and without ulterior motive, yet I know the dark desires in my own heart. I know that under my prayers and fervor there’s a good deal of personal ambition, a craving for importance and the desire to be thought of as a spiritual leader. There's very little brokenness and humility in me.

"Do you seek great things for yourself?" Jeremiah asks, "Seek them not." I need to take his counsel to heart.

If God catapults us into fame we should be thankful, but we shouldn't seek it for ourselves. We must wait for advancement until God brings it to us.

Personal ambition is a terrible trait, manifesting itself in an ugly passion for the "best seats"--insisting on recognition, wanting to be noticed, longing to be prominent, smarting when we're not consulted or advised, dominating social situations, telling our stories rather than listening to others, wanting to be seen, gravitating to the center rather than serving unnoticed on the edge.

It displays itself in our tendencies to resist authority, to become angry and defensive when crossed or challenged, to harbor grudges, nurse grievances and wallow in self-pity. It's the drive behind our desire to associate with the rich and famous rather than with the little people that make up most of our ministry.

Authentic leadership, on the other hand, means being led downward to a cross. It means being content when others are elevated above us and advanced at our own expense. It means being glad when someone else is preferred or gets the credit for something we've done. It means accepting every humiliation and looking upon every person who demeans us as a disguised grace. God accepts such humbling as the proof that our whole being wants it.

The beginning place for you and me is to learn humility from Jesus: He was "meek and humble in heart," not the least concerned about protecting his dignity or position. By coming again and again to him and asking for his help, we'll become more like him and we'll find that rest of which he speaks—rest from all the posturing, affectation and ambitious striving that makes us so weary and ill at ease.

"Seek obscurity," Francois Fenelon said. We must be willing to be unknown and unnoticed, to serve quietly in a hidden place where no one but God knows what we're doing.

DHR