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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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 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 antagonists.) 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, erupted...and lamented: "Show me...my end, and the number of my days. 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 and frailty of our existence. 

We are eternal creatures with perfection in our hearts, and the perennial desire to move toward that perfection. 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 but one way to make any real progress toward goodness: it is to know how frail we are. So David prays, "Cause me to know my end," literally, "my boundaries" (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 earnestly desire righteousness and to pray for it. God's part is to bring it about in His own time and in His own way. "Man proposes; God disposes, an older generation of Christians used to say.

This 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!" (vss. 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).

David Roper


Monday, December 21, 2015

Logos

“The lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song... Polly was finding the song more and more interesting because she thought she was beginning to see the connection between the music and the things that were happening. When a line of dark firs sprang up on a ridge about a hundred yards away she felt that they were connected with a series of deep, prolonged notes which the Lion had sung a second before. And when he burst into a rapid series of lighter notes she was not surprised to see primroses suddenly appearing in every direction. Thus, with an unspeakable thrill, she felt quite certain that all the things were coming (as she said) “out of the Lion’s head.” When you listened to his song you heard the things he was making up: when you looked round you, you saw them” (C.S. Lewis Magicians Nephew p.126).

Plato, the Greek philosopher, reasoned there must be an “idea” (or “form”) in the spiritual world that stands behind every object in the material world, one that preceded its existence. And if that idea exists, there must be a mind that conceived it and spoke it into being. These three transcendent realities—a divine mind, an idea, an utterance—Plato combined into one absolute and named it the “Logos” (the Word).

Plato was very near the truth, so near, in fact, that early Christians referred to him as “one of our own.” But though he caught a glimpse of “the true Light that gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9), he did not fully comprehend it. Something more was needed, something tremendous, something yet to come, something the wisdom of man could not conceive: “The Word (Logos) became flesh and dwelled among us …” (John 1:14). The divine Logos and a mortal man together bore one name: Jesus. This is what Christians call The Incarnation, the final, irrefutable proof that God really, really cares.

American Theologian Frederick Buechner had this to say: “We all want to be certain, we all want proof, but the kind of proof that we tend to want — scientifically or philosophically demonstrable proof that would silence all doubts once and for all — would not, in the long run, I think, answer the fearful depths of our need at all. For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind to keep the whole show going, but that there is a God right there in the thick of our day-to-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars, but who in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world.  It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want, but whether we use religious language for it or not, the experience of God’s presence.  That is the miracle we are really after, and that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get” (Secrets in the Dark, p.16).

All through the Old Testament we read that God has been doing his best to get next to us, humbling himself, condescending to make himself known, but nothing can match what happened that night in the little town of Bethlehem. It was there that the Logos became the little Lord Jesus, a helpless infant with unfocused eyes and uncontrollable limbs, needing to be breast–fed, swaddled, cuddled and cared for, “the infinite made infinitesimally small,” G. K. Chesterton said. That is indeed the miracle we’re really after and the miracle that we got: The Logos become Immanuel: God with us.

John speaks of the Logos in a most personal way: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled—(this was) the Word (the eternal Logos)!” (1 John 1:1).

John was astounded by the thought that he had heard and seen Plato’s Logos, and held him in his hands.[1] The one who made up the universe “out of his head” and spoke it (or sang it) into existence was “pleased as man with men to dwell.” Why did He do it?

It was love—pure and simple.

David Roper


[1] The Greek word translated “handled” suggests something more than a tentative touch. It has the thought of familiarity and affection—perhaps a hug.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Baby

"O come let us adore Him: Christ the Lord."

I was making my way through a department store last week and thought of an old Doonesbury cartoon: Michael J. sits ensconced in his easy chair watching TV. After loud shouts and the sounds of gun fighting the announcer says, “This concludes our regular broadcast day. Stay tuned for film clips of the Marines, a story from the life of Jesus and our National Anthem.” Doonesbury gets to his feet and joins in the singing of the anthem.

There you have it: the good, old American way: Equal time for everything and everybody. Nothing is special any more, not even Jesus, who, if we acknowledge at all, we place in a cluster of traditions.

Especially at Christmas. We keep the Christ–child around to grace an occasional manger, but he’s merely one symbol among many: Rudolph, Scrooge, St. Nicholas and his elves, toy soldiers, little drummer boys, shepherds, angels, Christmas trees, Yule logs and Jesus, all vie for our attention; everything alongside everything else. The Son of God gets lost in the Yuletide clutter.

Melissa knows better. She’s one our grandchildren. She’s grown up now, but many years ago, when she was very small, Carolyn and I took her to the Festival of the Trees, an event here Boise in which businesses and organizations decorate Christmas trees, competing with one another in various categories. The display is magnificent.

We were enchanted by the grandeur of the hall as we moved from one tree to the next, pointing and exclaiming. But Melissa soon lost interest, surfeited by splendor, until she came to a small manger scene and there she paused transfixed.

Nothing else mattered—not the magnificently decorated trees, not Santa Claus who was nearby and beckoning and not even an incredible talking tree.  She was captivated by the Child.

We tried our best to urge her on—we wanted to see the trees—but she lingered behind, wanting to hold the baby, pressing closer to him despite the ribbon stretched around the cradle, keeping her away 

Finally, she agreed to leave, albeit reluctantly, looking back over her shoulder to get a glimpse of the crèche through the trees. As we were leaving the building she tugged on my sleeve and asked once again  “Papa, can we go see the baby?” We went back to the manger and waited while she gazed long and longingly at the Child. 

As Melissa adored Him, I marveled at her simplicity. Unlike her, I often fail to see Jesus for the trees.

“There are some things worth being a child to get hold of again,” George MacDonald said. “Make me a child again,” I prayed, “at least for tonight.”

David Roper