Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Call to Failure

It came as a revelation—
   It was worth the price of the gale—
To know that the souls that conquer,
   Must at first be the souls that fail.
To know that where strength is baffled,
   I have reached the common ground,
Where the highest meet with the lowly;
   Where the heart of man is found.

—George Matheson

History is unrepeatable, but it can be re-lived many times in our memory. Our successes we like to savor; our failures we’d rather forget. I’m gradually learning, however, that failure can be a singular form of success.

Blunders, mistakes, missed opportunities, broken relationships, failed ministries can be a means of grace and great blessing if we accept them as part of our call. “Souls that conquer must at first be the souls that fail.”

Through humiliation our strength is frustrated; we’re disabused of our delusions of grandeur and brought low. There, we learn “to associate with the lowly” (Romans 12:16). Our losses enable us to empathize with those who've fallen; we can accept and love them as no other can.

But first we must let go of regret. As long as we worry over the things we wish had not happened and the mistakes we wish we had not made, part of our heart remains isolated. Brooding over past disasters intimidates us; feelings of inadequacy isolate us. We’re afraid to venture ourselves again.

But when we accept our failures as simple proof that we’re weak, God’s strength is made perfect. We can turn toward to others with greater compassion, sensitivity, wisdom and understanding. Thus our mistakes are redeemed and put to God’s intended purpose.

Failure is not ruinous; we are called to failure and owe much to each day that we fail. The lessons that we learn there, “are worth the price of the gale.”

David Roper
7/30/16

Friday, July 29, 2016

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. Not much to show for a lifetime of effort.

No matter what you acquire or achieve in this life you can't take it with you. As Israel's poet put it, you die and "leave everything to others  (Psalm 49:10). This calls for "understanding” (49:3,20—knowledge that there is another dimension of reality in which earthly notions of the good life are irrelevant. 

This present world is tangible but transient; the unseen world is forever and ever. 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 inexorably and irreversibly declines 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, newspaper 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
7/29/16

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Tyranny of Time

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.  —Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Shortly after they were married, our son Brian and daughter-in law Jill backpacked their way across Europe. One evening they found lodging in a hostel across the street from an old church with a lofty clock tower and a bell that tolled every 15 minutes. The gentle rhythm at first was soothing, but soon became grating—exactly the point “Mentor” is making in these fourteen antitheses.

Twenty-eight times the bell tolls. Time marches on, counting down the hours of our lives.

Time, in ancient myth, is an old man leaning on a scythe, with an hour-glass in his hand, reminding us that time is running out and in due course will mow us down. A world of work and hurry and a sudden end. So much to do; so little time to do it!

Back in the '60s, Pete Seeger wrote a ballad entitled, "Turn, Turn, Turn” that was based on this poem in Ecclesiastes. Seeger took the text as it is and added the last six words: "I swear it's not too late."

Seeger's line rhymed well with the phrase, "a time to hate," but he missed the point of the poem. The author of this litany is not arguing for peace, but for transcendence: The frustrations of time point us to an existence beyond time. Put another way: Time argues for eternity.

Douglas Adams asks, ”Why were we born; why must we die; and why do we spend so much of the intervening time looking at our digital watches” (A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). Why do we feel the relentless pressure of time?

Mentor supplies the answer: "(God) has put eternity in our hearts..." (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We are eternal creatures, caught up in time, restless until we find a timeless purpose for our lives. Clocks and calendars point to something beyond us and push us relentlessly, inexorably toward that end.

Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, For me there has always been… a sense, sometimes enormously vivid, that I was a stranger in a strange land; a visitor, not a native, a displaced person… The only ultimate disaster that can befall us, I have come to realize, is to feel ourselves at home here on earth” (Jesus Rediscovered pp. 47-48).

Time marches on, reminding us that we are creatures of eternity, waiting to make heaven our home.    

David Roper
7/25/16
                                                                                                                                                                     

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Waiting

"God, deliver me! Lord, help me! Hurry!" —Psalm 70:1

God is never in a hurry; He has all the time in the world to get His work done. Therefore, we wait...and wait.

Waiting is hard. Why must we live in this awkward circumstance, with this difficult person, with this embarrassing behavior, with this health issue that will not go away? "So how come history takes such a long, long time
when you're waiting for a miracle?" Bruce Cockburn asks. Why doesn't God comes through? 

Sometimes, the answer is, “Just wait awhile."

Waiting is one of life's greatest teachers in that in it we learn the virtue of...well, waiting. Waiting while God works in and for us. It's in waiting that we develop endurance, the ability to trust God's goodness, even when things aren't going our way (70:5). It's one of the hardest lessons to learn, one of the last lessons to be learned, and can best be learned through waiting. Consider Job, at the end of his long ordeal: "Even if you slay me, yet will I trust you!"

But that's not the end of the story. Endurance is not dreary, tooth-clenched resignation. We can "rejoice and be glad" while we wait (70:4), knowing that God will deliver us in due time—in this world or in the next. God is never in a hurry, but He's always on time.

LORD! Show mercy and be merciless to my foe my flesh;
make straight my path ignore my whimpering self-pity; 
starve my hunger until the sharp pain of raging need
becomes the dull ache of wanting now the feast that comes later. 
LORD! Show mercy and give me hope to wait. 

—Karen Dabaghian

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

“Juice”

"For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power" (1Corinthians 4:20).

When I was a youngster we lived for a time in a house my father built on a wooded hill overlooking a small meadow. Our well and water system was located on the edge of the meadow. A small pump house stood over the well, housing a jet pump driven by a 220 volts electric motor.

It was a long push up the hill and on occasion the motor overheated and blew the fuse. I often accompanied my father as he trudged down the hill to replace it.

The fuse was a cylinder about three inches long with copper electrodes on each end, designed to slide into clips. My father would pry out the old fuse with a large screwdriver and replace it with a new one. "Lots of juice there," he said more than once, pointing his screwdriver at the fuse box. 

On one occasion, when my father was away, the fuse blew, and I, wanting to show my mother how grown-up I had become, slipped off without telling her, to replace the fuse on my own.I inserted the screwdriver into fuse box, as I had seen my father do many times and…

That's all I remember. When I came to a few minutes later I was lying flat on my back, several feet from the pump house, tingling from head to toe, holding a screwdriver in my hand that was bent in the shape of an inverted U. I learned about “juice” that day.

I've since learned of a greater “juice,” the infinite power of God, unseen but always available, activated by prayer.

I think of certain intractable folks—a colleague, a parishioner, an elder, an adolescent daughter or son. Some problems can be worked out with words; some cannot.  There's nothing left to say...

But, we can pray. Lots of “juice” there!

David Roper
6/21/16

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Wood Lot

"The mountain country shall be yours. Although it is wooded, you shall cut it down, and its farthest extent shall be yours" (Joshua 17:18).

My father bought a ten-acre bottom-glade of mixed cedar and oak trees with the idea that someday he would clear the oak trees from the grove. I was in college at the time and needed extra money so I offered to harvest the trees if he would give me the wood. He agreed and I set to work.

The following winter I spent many evenings and most weekends felling the trees, bucking them into 24" lengths and trucking them into town where I split, stacked and sold them for firewood. ($75 a cord as I recall.)

I was a young man then and the work seemed like nothing at all. I get worn out now just thinking about it. 

Some projects loom impossibly large as we age, not the least of which is dealing with habits that have been growing unheeded and unhindered throughout the years: thoughts not wholly honorable, feelings not entirely kind, impatience, intolerance, ingratitude—a tangled thicket of wrong–doing.

These days I have neither the strength nor the energy to clear this patch of old growth. All I can do is give the job to Jesus—without telling Him how and when to do it. He waits with eager arms to take it on.  

I come—Thine open arms enfold 
And welcome me within—
Let others work to bring their gold, 
I only bring my sin.

—Ter Steegen

David Roper

7/3/16

IT You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, A thousand may fall at your side, ten tho...