Saturday, October 21, 2017

Numbering Our Days

"Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands" —Psalm 90:17.

Moses reflects on the brevity of life and our mortality: We live 80 years or so and then we "fly away" (90:10)—in which case, Moses cautions us against taking life lightly: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (90:12). 

We have a few days to live and then we're gone, so we need to get life right the first and only time we go around. As educator Walker Percy said, it's possible to get all A's and flunk life. It would be tragic indeed to live one's entire life and miss the point of living. 

What are the things that matter and make our lives meaningful? The "beauty of the Lord" and "works" that endure forever (90:17). This is the “wisdom” we gain from numbering our days. 

The "beauty of the Lord" is His matchless beauty, manifest in us through His Holy Spirit. Put another way, it is the fruit of His Spirit growing in us, a quality of life that is patient, joyful, gentle, faithful, tranquil, merciful and strong.

"Enduring works" are those works that are done in Jesus' name and for His sake. It's not a particular thing that we do, but the manner in which we do everything. It can be teaching, counseling, coaching, attending a class, reading a book, cleaning house, chopping wood, preparing a spreadsheet, or writing up a report. But if done for Jesus' sake and as He would do it, it will endure forever. 

The character of Jesus and works done in His name. These are the things we take with us when we "fly." John heard a voice from Heaven saying, "Blessed are those who die in the Lord…for their deeds go with them" (Revelation 14:13). Everything else gets left behind.

How can I accomplish these things? Only by God's grace and through prayer: "Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands" (Psalm 90:17).


David Roper

Friday, October 20, 2017

True Greatness

How know I if thou shoulds’t me raise
That I would there raise Thee?
Perhaps great places and great praise 
Do not so well agree. —George Herbert

“I wrote something along this line to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, did not welcome my counsel” (3John 1:9).

If God chooses to exalt us we should be grateful, but we should never seek exaltation. "Do you seek greatness for yourself?” Jeremiah asks. “Don’t seek it” (Jeremiah 45:5). 

Selfish ambition is a ruinous trait, one that dulls our spiritual senses. "Ambition dulls the prophet-eye; It casts the unseen out,” George MacDonald said (The Mother of Zebedee’s Children). 

There's a remarkably relevant New Testament text describing a day on which the Apostles fell into a debate over the question, "Who's the greatest of us all" (Mark 9:33-37). Later that evening, having reached their destination, Jesus asked his disciples what they were arguing about along the way. They lapsed into silence, ashamed of the question, as anyone should be. 

Jesus then gave his disciples the secret of true greatness: If you want to be great make it your ambition to love and serve those that cannot advance your ends, that have no power or influence at all. 

Just then a dirty, street urchin ran through the room—or so I imagine the scene. Jesus, caught him by his shirttail, wrestled him onto His lap and cradled him in his arms close to His heart.1 "This is greatness," he said.

David Roper 
2.11.17


 1. Gk. enagkalisamenos: lit. "holding him in the crook of his arm"


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Poor Wise Man

""It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit" (Harry S. Truman).

There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siege works against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. Nevertheless, I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man's wisdom is despised and his words are not heard (Ecclesiastes 9:15,16).

Martin Luther, in his commentary on this verse, cites as an example the story of Themistocles, the Athenian soldier and statesman who commanded the Athenian squadron and through his strategy won the Battle of Salamis, drove the Persian army from Greek soil and saved his city. A few years later he was ostracized by his countrymen and banished from Athens. “Thus, Luther concludes, “Themistocles did much good for his city, but received much ingratitude," another confirmation of the ancient adage that no good deed goes unpunished. 

The crowd, for some perverse reason, will always prefer proud fools to humble, wise woman and men, and will quickly forget the good they have done. No matter. “Wisdom is (still) better than might” even if “the wisdom of the humble man is despised" (vs. 16). It’s better to be a humble, simple sage who, though forgotten, leaves much good behind, than a swaggering, vociferous fool who, though many applaud him, “destroys much good” (vs. 18).

Accordingly, what matters in the end is not the recognition and gratitude we receive for the work we’ve done, but the eternal souls of those in whom we’ve sown the seeds of righteousness. Jesus put it this way: “Wisdom is vindicated by the children she leaves behind.” (Luke 7:35). 

David Roper 

10.19.17

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Death Thou Shalt Die!

Surely, this God is our God forever and ever. He will lead us through death (Psalm 48:14).

Psalm 48 is a national anthem praising Jerusalem, Judah’s capitol city. Jerusalem was a safe place, isolated on a mountain plateau, protected on three sides by steep ravines, enclosed and guarded by massive walls, towers and ramparts.

But the strength of the city lay not in her defense systems, but in the knowledge that God was “in the city” (48:1). New York City is known for her buildings, Seattle for her Sound. Jerusalem was known for the fact that God was there. Israel’s enemies looked at Jerusalem, saw God, panicked and ran away! (48:4-7).

The poet invites us to tour the city and take note of her strength and beauty: “Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, that you may tell the next generation the story of God” (48:12,13).

And what is "the story of God"? "Surely, this God is our God forever and ever. He will lead us through death” (48:14).

What a strange conclusion to an otherwise straightforward poem about Jerusalem and her ramparts, but not when we understand that we are the citadel in which the eternal God dwells and will, in the end, deliver us from death, our last enemy. One glance at Him and death is shattered (48:4-7).

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me... 
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die! —John Donne

David Roper

10.17.17

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Light Without Love

Read: 1 John 4:10

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34).

Old John Keble writes of "the withering blasts of error" that swept through England like a chilling wind, but there was a greater deceit coming:

A fouler vision yet; an age of light,
Light without love, glares on the aching sight.

Keble was an early 19th century Oxford don and one of the founders of the Oxford Movement, an effort to turn the Church of England away from the rationalism that grew out of the Enlightenment and back to the biblical traditions of faith, hope and love. His phrase, "an age of light," is a direct reference to the Enlightenment and his indictment of it—“light without love”—and aptly defines the mood of the post-enlightenment world in which we live. 

The upside advances of the Enlightenment have greatly enhanced and brightened our lives, but they cannot touch that elusive sadness that forms the background music in our souls. Science and technology "glare on the aching sight" (cast harsh light on our unhappy condition) precisely because they can only enlighten us. They cannot love us. Light without love: the pathos of our age.

So then, what can satisfy our discontent and loneliness? The discovery of a new sub-atomic particle or a hitherto unknown galaxy? A gesture–based computer mouse; the next iteration of the IPhone? 

Nothing but the lavish, unconditional love of Jesus.


David Roper

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ever Green

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever green and full of sap.

Psalm 92:12-14

"Tell me this," said Peter: "why do people talk about going down hill when they begin to get old? It seems to me that first they begin to go up hill." —Curdle and the Princess, George Macdonald

Exactly. The last mile is straight up. 

Yet, aging can be perfectly fine, despite arthritis, tendinitis, presbyopia, neuropathy and the other concomitants of old age—if we’re "planted in the house of the Lord."

The "house of the Lord" is not the churchyard; some Sundays our bodies just can't answer the call. No, the house of the Lord is that secret place in our heart of hearts where we meet with God in quiet worship, where we listen to Him speak to us through His Word and talk things over with Him. That's where we come to know Him and call Him "Old Friend."

I love the picture the poet draws of those that are growing old with God. Imagine the towering majesty and beauty of a palm tree, the massive strength of a giant sequoia. 

Beauty and strength—the attributes of those that are planted in the house of the Lord, rooted in God and His love, bearing the fruit of His Spirit—love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, et. al.

Other trees, when they get old, stop bearing, but not God’s trees. They "flourish." They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap!

David Roper
10.10.17


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Indirection

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6).

"Seasoned with salt" meant “witty” in Classical Greek usage and suggests language that is pithy, interesting and well chosen. British theologian, G. B. Caird, commenting on this verse, suggests that every person we address should be "treated as an end in himself and not subjected to a stock harangue."
Case in point: I have a friend—his name was Matt—who was invited to a dinner party in which he discovered that he had been set up, brought in to witness to a man who loved to bait Christians. 

Throughout the evening the man harangued Matt mercilessly about the evils of Christendom, citing the Crusades, pogroms against the Jews, Apartheid, colonialism, the Ku Klux Klan, the Inquisition, the Aryan Nation and churchmen throughout history burning one another at the stake to the glory of God.

In each case Matt rolled with the punch and calmly replied, ”That’s an interesting point of view. Tell me what do you do in your spare time?“ Or he interjected some other query, showing genuine interest in the man and deflecting the discussion away from the dividing issue. (Sadly, under attack, like Peter defending his Lord, we sometimes go straight for the jugular.)
As the two men were walking out the door at the end of the evening the man fired one last salvo, at which point Matt put his arm around the other man’s shoulders, chuckled and said, ”My friend, all night long, you’ve been trying to talk to me about God. Are you some kind of religious nut?“ The man’s animosity dissolved into laughter.

Jesus was remarkably oblique in his witness, using indirection, plying his listeners with metaphors, analogies and whimsical comments that surprised them, subverted their minds and went straight to their hearts. His practice bears imitation. 

David Roper

10.7.17

Friday, October 6, 2017

Straight to the Father's Knee

"Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for 
his steadfast love endures forever!" (Psalm 107:1) 

This poem revolves around four human predicaments: "Some wandered in desert wastes" (4). "Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death" (13). "Some were fools through their sinful ways " (17). ”Some went down to the sea in ships" and encountered gut-wrenching storms (23).  
                   
Loneliness, depression, guilt, anxiety. In each situation, the answer is the same: “They cried out to the LORD and he delivered them from their distress" (6,13,19,28). 

Prayer is the spontaneous, irrepressible, and sometimes inarticulate, cry of a heart under duress. "God, help me!" is our primal prayer. When our troubles overwhelm us, when our resources fail us, when our hearts are broken, "the natural thing is straight to the Father's knee" (George MacDonald). 

There we are given what no other person, place or thing can deliver: God’s relentless love (107:1,8,15,21,31,43). 

David Roper 
10.6.17

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Open Wide!

I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. —Psalm 81:10

I read this verse today and thought of mornings long ago when our boys were very small and we spoon fed them. (Failing that, though each child tried very hard to get the meal into his mouth, most of it wound up smeared all over his face, in his hair, in his ears, on his tray, on the floor or all over us.) Here, I picture God picking up a spoon and saying, "Here comes the little train down the little track; Choo. Choo. Choo. Open wide."

If first two lines of the verse sound familiar it's because they're a direct quote from the preamble to the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt..." The commandments follow: "Thou shalt not; thou shalt not; thou not..." (Exodus 20:2). 

Here in this psalm, however, where we expect to find another set of rules, God makes this offer: “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it."

Israel's history, like mine, is a tale of underachievement, yet God does not call for greater effort. He rather asks us to lay our "doing" down, open our hearts wide and receive what He longs to give us.

Trying to keep a bunch of rules and make ourselves better is a losing cause. I know because I tried it for years. God alone is the source of goodness for God alone is good. We must ask for his righteousness and keep on asking. "Ask and it will be given to you" Jesus said (Matthew 7:7). It's a promise. 

Long, long ago, on the cross, Jesus did away with our wrong-doing. Now He lives to make us good children. If we "open our mouths wide" He will, in His time, fill us with love, joy, peace, patience, and all the virtues we admire in Jesus and seek for ourselves. He will feed us with the "finest of wheat," and satisfy us with "honey from the rock" (Psalm 81:16). 

Cream of wheat and honey. YUM. Open wide!

Weary, working, burdened one,
Wherefore toil you so?
Cease your doing; all was done
Long, long ago.

—James Proctor

David Roper
10.3.17


Monday, October 2, 2017

The Weak and the Fatherless

God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?" Selah (Psalm 82:1).

Nothing stings so sharply as injustice and nothing should. How can I "rescue the weak and the needy (and) deliver them from the hand of the wicked?" (82:4). Shall I stand in solidarity with those that are oppressed? Shall I take a knee? 

Asaph's insight is huge. Earthly oppression is just the tip of the iceberg! There's a great mass of darkness lying underneath the power structures of this world. The real powers—“gods" Asaph calls them—Satan and his minions—are the efficient cause of racial and social injustice and inequality in our society.

So… the task of bringing justice to the world is much bigger than I. Old Satan is too powerful for old David. How can I, a very small person in a very small place, be an agent of justice in the world? 

Certainly, there are lawful and appropriate ways to protest injustice and I as an American citizen and as a Christian can take advantage of these counter measures, but before I take to the streets, there are ever-important “first things” to do.

For starters, I must myself "give justice to the weak and the fatherless; and maintain the rights of the afflicted and the destitute" (82:3). I must sit in judgment on the racial and social injustice I find in me. I have no right to judge an oppressor until I have challenged every vestige of tyranny and abuse in me!

Second, I can share the good news of God's love with those that are downtrodden, for their oppression is more profound than they know. They are groping for light and moral certainty: "They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness" (82:5). I can show them the One who has freed us from spiritual darkness, the most egregious oppression of all. 

Finally, I can be part of God's plan to bring righteousness to the earth by "taking a knee"—by praying for justice every day. Asaph ends his poem with a short, incisive prayer: ”Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations" (82:8). [So much for the devil’s claim: “I give it (the world) to whom I will” (Luke 4:6).] 

Injustice cries out for an hour of reckoning and it will come. God is the  loftiest of the powers that be! He has "taken a stand in the divine council." He is even now "judging the gods” (82:1). He is taking notes and collecting evidence. The sentence has been handed down. The gods and those they influence will “perish like ordinary men” (82:7). It’s just a matter of time.

David Roper

10.2.17

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Walking into the Darkness

Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God. 

Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Who walk by the light of your fire,
and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
you shall lie down in anguish. —Isaiah 50:10, 11

It’s very difficult to prophesy, especially with regard to the future. Indeed, the more I try to delve into things to come the more mysterious they become and the more anxious I become. That’s why I must trust the Lord and rely solely on Him.

The word translated “rely” means “to lean on," and is the same verb used in Proverbs 3:5,6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding."

I ask myself: "How will I house, clothe, feed and otherwise provide for myself and my family going forward?” I have no light on the future and so I must lean on one who does. The alternative is to rely on my own understanding—“walk by the light of my own fire, and by the torches that I have kindled”—an expedient that leads to greater and greater uncertainty and “anguish” (Isaiah 50:11).

There is a better way: To “trust in the name of the Lord” and lean solely on Him. I am known and loved by One who knows what the future holds and who will be with me as it unfolds. The darkness is not dark to Him; "The night is as bright as the day" (Psalm 139:12). 


David Roper
8.5.17

Saturday, September 23, 2017

'Till We Have Faces

Help me, O God...
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
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." —Psalm 69:1-5

The psalmist sets out to pray, lamenting the wrong that others have done to him. But, as the complaints tumble out of his mouth, he begins to see his own "folly," the wrong he has done to others. 

Prayer works like that: It changes us, a largely unremarked premise C.S. Lewis' develops in his fantasy, 'Till We Have Faces.

The main character, Orual, has been taking angry mental notes throughout her life, bitter at others and the way they have treated her. Finally, deciding to put her complaints in writing, she describes each instance in which she believes she has been wronged. But as she does so she sees her own "face" (her "self"). In a flash of insight, Orual asks, "How can the gods meet us face to face, 'til we have faces?"[1]

So, God helping me, I hope someday to see my "face" as it is. Then, perhaps, I will begin to respond to those that have wronged me with greater insight, humility, mercy and grace (cf, Matthew 7:1-5).

David Roper
9.23.17

[1] Till We Have Faces is set in a pagan culture 



Friday, September 22, 2017

Rain

You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water…

—Psalm 65:9



I looked at the weather app on my iPhone this morning: “Snow in the mountains; 42˚and rain in the valley.”  Good! I love rain. It makes me want to find a quiet place, pick up a book and idle the hours away.

David saw something more: Rain is a sign and a sacrament, pointing us to God's eternal love for growing things. Rain is God "visiting the earth" to water and enrich it (65:9).

Showers sweep across the plowed ground, "watering it's furrows, settling it's ridges, softening the dirt clods, blessing it with growth." Rain is God, "walking" through the earth like Johnny Appleseed, leaving behind His bounty: "The paths on which He walks overflow with goodness" (65:10, 11).

Here's a dimension of truth most folks have lost. It is a vision, a perspective, a way of looking at things. Put simply, it is the capacity to see through things rather than at them.

Nature is a signpost pointing to God, but tragically, most people only look at the sign. C.S. Lewis described our foolishness as a "dog-like" way of seeing. If, for example, you point at your dog's food dish and say "Eat," he will stare at your finger, confusing the sign with the thing signified. 

A little thing like rain reveals the face of God if we have eyes to see it. The little hills, the pastures, the valleys take in God's love and "shout for joy!" (65:13). 

So do I!

Sweet the rain’s new fall
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dew fall
On the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness
Of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness
Where His feet pass.

—Eleanor Farjeon

David Roper
9.22.17

Numbering Our Days "Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us, And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the ...