Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Photon’s (Almost) Forgotten Story

John’s story of the woman caught in adultery is a “puzzlement” as Winnie the Pooh would say—not the story itself but the question of its inclusion in the Gospel of John. Some of the oldest manuscripts don't contain the account, or, if they do include it, append it at the end of the book. Recent translations put the story in brackets, relegate it to a footnote, print it at the end of the Gospel of John, or omit it altogether.

The Church Fathers, however, attest to the authenticity of the event and it has all the marks of an authentic, first–hand account. It may have been inserted by one of John’s followers after the Gospel was written, perhaps one who stood in the gallery that day. I like to think that Photon—her traditional name—asked John to include her story lest it be forgotten

You know the story: Certain men caught this woman in the act of adultery, dragged her into the temple where Jesus was teaching and deposited her, rumpled and humiliated at his feet. “She was caught in the act,” the men said. “The Law says stone her. What do you say?” Jesus knelt and scribbled in the dust, perhaps waiting on an answer from His Father. Then looking up he said, “He who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” The crowd melted away one by one. George MacDonald muses: “The sinners went out and the woman followed Jesus—to sin no more.”

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn't matter how the story got into John's book or where it belongs. Indeed, I think it best that it flits about here and there and floats above the Gospel, for it is perennially like the one who whose kindness calls all of us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

It must be true, for it is so like Jesus through and though.

David Roper

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Hardest Substance on Earth

Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:27).

Until recently the diamond was thought to be the hardest substance on earth, but recent studies have uncovered two minerals that are harder still: wurtzite boron nitride and lonsdaleite. Both materials are four to five times harder than any substance ever measured.

There is one substance even harder—the human heart. It can be the hardest thing on earth.

Do you live with a stubborn spouse, a rebellious teenager, a resentful mother-in-law?  God can create a new heart in that person: He can "remove the heart of stone from them and "give (them) a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).

The heart is that part of us that regulates our desires, thoughts and behavior. It can be redeemed. The most stubborn, obdurate, insensitive heart can become a heart of flesh—soft, reasonable, malleable and responsive.

And how does God melt the human heart? Through His love, a love that can "cause the rocks to flow.” And how does God's love reach our adversaries? Through our love. We have to take His love into our own hearts and then show it to them.

Years ago I saw a cartoon by Charles Addams on the cover of the New Yorker Magazine depicting an old curmudgeon, clad in rumpled pajamas and robe, barricaded in his room. He had just secured the door for the night with four locks, two deadbolts and a chain latch. Only after the last lock was fastened did he notice a small envelope that had been slipped beneath the door. On the envelope was a large sticker in the shape of a heart. Someone broke through his defenses with a valentine! Love found a way.

Ah, you say, you don't know the heart of the one I live with. He has a heart of stone.

No, I don't know that heart, but I do know this: God once drew enough water for millions of people from a slab of flint (Psalm 114:8). “Nothing is too hard for the Lord” (Jeremiah 32:17).

Having written that may I issue a caveat: I have framed my thoughts in an optative mood, for we can only be hopeful, not certain. God can soften any heart, but He has granted each of us the dignity of self-determination. We can resist His will.

Pharaoh “hardened his heart,” “hardened his heart,” “hardened His heart” (8:15,32), and so God “hardened his heart” (Exodus 9:12), a judicial hardening for which there was no remedy (Proverbs 9:21). God will plead with us, he will wait on us, but if we long resist His wise and loving will, He will give us what we desire. But, in consequence, He will send a swelling emptiness into our souls (Psalm 106:14).

David Roper

1 1.25.16

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Heart’s True Home

“(God) has put eternity into man's heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

We lived with a Westie for a number of years—a west highland terrier that looked a lot like the white dog on Dewar’s commercials. 

Wasties are tough little dudes, bred to kill badgers and other critters deemed pestiferous by the Scots. They were taught to tunnel into varmint holes and engage the enemy in its lair. Little Vietnam tunnel rats, they were. Bred to search and destroy. 

Our Westie was many generations removed from her origins, but she still retained that instinct. She hated “meeces to pieces”—rats, squirrels, rodents of all kinds, an instinct put into her through years of breeding. She couldn’t get that notion out of her head.

On one occasion she became obsessed by some critter under a rock in our back yard. She didn’t know what it was; we didn’t know what it was. No matter, nothing could dissuade her. She dug and dug until she tunneled under the rock. She would have forsworn meals and sleep if we hadn’t dragged her out of the hole and into the house each night. 

Now I ask you: Why do we busy ourselves with our compulsions? Why do we have to climb unclimbed mountains, ski near-vertical slopes? Run class-5 rapids, challenge the forces of nature? Why must we pursue, pursue, pursue that one existential break–through? What is it but an instinct for God. It has been bred into us. We cannot not want to find God. Eternity resides in our hearts.

We don’t know that, of course. We only know that we long for something.You don’t know what it is you want,” Mark Twain said, “but you want it so much you could almost die.” 

Life, on one level, is very simple: God is our heart’s true home. As Augustine said, in that most famous of all phrases: ”Oh God you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.“ 

And what is the heart? That unexplored, fathomless, mysterious abyss within us that only God can fill.

David Roper

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Little Things

"He brought me to the Temple, and began to measure..." (Ezekiel 41: 1).

Ezekiel 40 and 41 is a precise, detailed description of the size, shape and configuration of an ideal temple. Details. Particulars. Minutia. It's difficult to read these chapters and harder still to apply them. What's the prophet's purpose in setting forth this assiduously detailed plan?

Some folks say that these are the plans for a literal Millenial temple to be constructed in Jerusalem. Others say it is a symbolic representation of the perfection of God’s plan for his restored people. I tend toward the latter explanation, because I have trouble squaring the idea of a renewed Old Covenant sacrificial system with the book of Hebrews. But I leave that one up to the experts.

One thought I had this morning is the notion that God has a detailed plan for my life, one that is thought out in Heaven and recorded for all time and eternity. This, it seems, is "God's will" for me—one I long to see realized.

But, I ask, how will I know what God has in mind for me today? Simply put, I must do the things He is asking me to do right now: quell a sinful thought; forgive a slight; love my neighbor; go the second mile, show hospitality to a stranger; listen to someone in crisis; pray with someone in need. The are the little things that God is asking me to do this minute. In so doing, His will will be worked out in me.

Paul writes, "This is the will of God: your sanctification (a holy life)" (1Thessalonians 4:3). This is the starting point for me.

David Roper


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