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Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Painful Grace

"But as grace operates, it cannot (save through a miracle of that same grace) be other than painful."

—Francois FĂ©nelon

C. S. Lewis, in his chronicle, The Horse and His Boy, tells the story of a Calormene noblewoman, Aravis, and her conversion from arrogance and selfishness to humble and compassionate nobility. 



The story begins with Aravis’ escape to Narnia and the North to avoid an arranged marriage to Ahoshta Tarkaan, a repulsive, elderly tyrant. To flee, she drugs a servant girl who was in league with her wicked stepmother. 



“And what happened to the girl—the one you drugged?” Shasta, her companion (the “Boy”), asks when he hears her story.



“Doubtless she was beaten for sleeping late,” replies Aravis coldly. “But she was a tool and spy of my stepmother’s. I am very glad they should beat her.”



“I say, that was hardly fair,” Shasta responds in reaction to her indifference to human suffering.



Is it good to be glad that another human being suffers harm, even when they have harmed us? Should we be happy about it? No, because it’s always wrong to repay evil for evil: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing,” an Apostle reminds us, “because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). 



But this is merely the word. How do we come to know this? In Aravis’ case, Aslan himself must teach her that indifference to human suffering is wrong. 


As Lewis tells the story, a great lion attacked Aravis outside the gates of Anvard and “jabbed at Aravis with its right paw. Shasta could see all the terrible claws extended. Aravis screamed and reeled in the saddle. The lion was tearing her shoulders.” Shasta was able to rescue her by driving away the beast, but Aravis’ wounds were deep and painful and required much time to heal.



Much later, when Aravis and Shasta reached Narnia, Aslan called the young princess to him: “Draw near, Aravis my daughter. See! My paws are velveted. You will not be torn this time.”



“This time, sir?” said Aravis.



“It was I who wounded you,” said Asian. “I am the only lion you met in all your journeyings. Do you know why I tore you?



“No, sir.”



”The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.”



It’s always wrong to take pleasure in another person’s suffering, even when that person has wronged us deeply. Aslan does not argue his case; he simply shows Aravis that her gloating is wrong. Now she knows what her servant girl felt like, for she herself has felt great pain. 



This is the mercy of God: In his love he allows us to experience profound suffering that we may grow in humility, tenderness and mercy. Our pain, however severe, is a means of grace: it is meant to make us kinder, more compassionate children. 



David Roper

12.29.16

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How Sweet It Is!

Behold, how good and pleasant it iswhen brothers dwell together…
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Coming down on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing... —Psalm 133 

How sweet it is when "brothers dwell together." How bitter when we don't.

"Why can't we all just get along?" Rodney King’s question still resonates. Roommates, spouses, close associates, long-time friends fuss and fight. Why must relationships unravel?

The solution is found on Mt. Zion, the place where God dwells, for it is “there” that God provides the blessing. Conflicts can be worked out as we humble ourselves in His presence. Put simply, people that pray together tend to stay together.

Occam's Razor is a principle in logic that states: "When you have several competing hypotheses, the simplest solution is the one you should select."

Having trouble working through a relationship? Try praying together. It can't get more simple than that.

David Roper

12.14.16

Monday, December 12, 2016

Stuff

Shel Silverstein, a writer of children’s verses, penned a whimsical poem he entitled, “Hector the Collector.” In it he describes the objects Hector accumulated over the years and how he “loved these things with all his soul, loved them more than shining diamonds, loved them more than glistenin’ gold.” Then Hector called to all the people, “Come and share my treasure trunk.” They, “came and looked…and called it junk.”

Eighty–three years of living have resulted in a plethora of junk in our house. Recently, I determined to get rid of most of it—throw it out or give it away. I found I have at least two of everything and in some cases three or more: “Why does anybody need six fly rods,” I asked myself, “particularly since I can’t fish any more.” And so I began to sort through my equipment, clean out closets and storage bins. I was amazed at the shear amount of “stuff,” most of which I never look at, much less use.

So it is. The stuff we’ve treasured in the past becomes just so much trash. Despite what we’re being told these days, the best things in life aren’t things.

Yet we assiduously seek more “stuff,” for we’ve been deceived into believing that acquisition and accumulation lead to happiness. We gather, harbor and store things until we have no places to put them. Yet we must have more.

There’s no end to our acquisition, a phenomenon a friend of mine calls The Barbie Doll Law: “Accessories once considered optional become mandatory, creating needs and wants never thought of before.” Things that used to be add-ons have become must–haves—a limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities. Yet though we buy (and buy and buy) enough is never enough. We must have one more gadget, or its upgrade, a compulsion that has no cure on earth.

But there is healing from above. The happiness we seek and lose in all our getting is found in intimacy with God. “Oh the happiness of those you bring near. They will be satisfied with good things in your house” (Psalm 65:4). In God’s presence we find the deep satisfaction and joy we sought in acquisition. We can be deeply appreciative of the things money can buy, but content to do without them.

A friend of mine wrote this:

Ask not for one more bobble or bling,
Seek not one more material thing,
Ask not for stones thinking them bread,
Seek not the path of wealth to tread,
Ask for truth, His place to start, 
Seek the treasure of a humble heart,
Ask for each divine attribute,
Seek His guidance as absolute,
Knock on the door and enter in,
Enjoy the gifts you find therein. 

—Mark VanSkiver

To be honest, I don't find it easy to maintain Mark’s perspective. Especially in this season. All day long voices urge me to buy this, spend for that, borrow against tomorrow so I can have what I want today. Generous incentives, rebates, sales packages, low or no interest rates, and other good deals lure me on, creating wants in me that I never imagined. The belief that “just one more thing” will make me happy returns, lingers, and whispers. Oh, that I would hear that other still, small voice calling, “Here I am”; that I would look to God for all I need and abide with him alone.

But I know my proclivities. If there is to be any healing God must take the initiative; he must put forth extraordinary effort to get my attention and draw me into his presence. So I pray with David, that great man of prayer, “Draw me near that I may dwell with you.” Then, and only then, I shall not want.


David Roper