Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Taste and See


Breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, 
and resign yourself to the influences of each. 

—Henry David Thoreau

"Taste and see that the LORD is good! Happy are those who take refuge in him" (Psalm 34:8).

One winter morning when Carolyn and I were at Shepherd's Rest, our place of respite in the mountains, I was sitting in my rocking chair by our patio door, lost in thought—when I felt eyes upon me. I looked down and saw a young fox in the snow on our doorstep, staring up at me. She was as still as a stone. 

Some days before, I had seen her trotting at the edge of the woods, looking anxiously over her shoulder. I went to the kitchen, got an egg from the refrigerator and rolled it toward the place I had last seen her. After a moment or two she darted out of the trees, picked up the egg and rushed back into hiding.

Each morning I placed another egg on the edge of the woods, and each time she ventured out just long enough to pick it up. Then she ran back into the trees. Now she had come on her own to our door, convinced, I suppose, that we were "good."

Carolyn, commenting on the incident, said it reminded her of David’s invitation: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Do you want to know that God is good? Just taste him and you'll see.

But how do you "taste" God? He is pure spirit. He cannot be seen, felt, smelled, heard, or tasted, can he?

Ah, but he can. He can be “tasted” by taking in his Word. Take up the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, and read the stories of Jesus one by one. Ponder them. “There are glories for the eye there, and pleasures for the ear,/ The senses reel with all they feel/And see and taste and hear" (Ella Wheeler Wilcox).

Jesus answers the question, “What would God be like if he visited earth,” for Jesus is the invisible God made visible for all of us to see. "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18 NRSV). 

How can we deny his goodness when we see him taking on human flesh, living the only good life worthy of the name, hanging on a tree, "bearing the blame," the sinless one, made sin for you and me. There, in the gospel you can"taste" the goodness of the Lord. 

Perhaps you’ve been conditioned by nature, experience, fad or failure to dread or distrust him. Don’t be afraid. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, 
   Guilty of dread and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning 
   If I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here! 
   Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah, my dear, 
    I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, 
   “Who made the eyes but I”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame 
   Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?” 
   “My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat,” 
  So I did sit and eat. —George Herbert


David Roper

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Going Light

With a boulder on my shoulder 
Feeling kinda older. —Springsteen

"Thus says the Lord: ‘Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day…’” (Jeremiah 17:21).

The size and weight of the "burden" is not specified, but as we get along in years, most old folks will tell you, every vexation is hard to bear. We don’t have the wherewithal we used to have.

What burden rests on you today? An unfinished task, a difficult relationship, a lingering illness, a struggling child or grandchild, a tenacious sin, a memory that will not go away. Jeremiah’s instruction is to the point: Don’ t carry that burden on the "Sabbath day."

Israel’s Sabbath was one day in the week; our Sabbath is 24/7: Every day, all day we rest in what Jesus has done and is doing for us (Hebrews 4:10). Our Sabbath is like–forever!

“The Lord...daily (literally: day|day or day after day) carries our burdens, the psalmist assures us (68:19). Come to Him, each day, all day each burden bearing. All your anxiety—leave it there!


All your anxiety, all your care,

Bring to the mercy seat, leave it there,
Never a burden He cannot bear,
Never a friend like Jesus.



David Roper

12.4.17

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Gentle Persuasion

"Be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1Peter 3:15).

“At some point one stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and…wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide: ‘I will combat it by humble love.’ Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it” (The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware).

The Puritans were right when they enunciated the principle of consent. Faith can never be foisted on another. Consent must be gained by humble love and gentle persuasion.

Matthew said of Jesus, quoting an Old Testament prophet, “He will not quarrel or cry out...” (Matthew 12:19). The word translated “quarrel” means to “to wrangle” and is used to describe Jesus’ calm, quiet demeanor in contrast to the bitter acrimony of those who opposed him. Discussion and rational debate is one thing; discourtesy and rancor is another. When we resort to anger and abuse we lose our moral and rational force and eventually our audience. 

Philosopher Dallas Willard put the matter well I think: "We should be "simple, humble, and thoughtful as we listen to others and help them come to faith in the One who has given us life." This is what Paul calls fighting the “good (beautiful) fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). [Of the two words for “good” in the Greek language, Paul here uses the one that means “winsome.” ]

In our enthusiasm to give our faith away we must never resort to severity. The good news only sounds good when it’s announced with good manners. 

Yet in my walks it seems to me,
That the grace of God is in courtesy.
—Belloc

David Roper

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

One in Ten

"Then one of them...fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks."—Luke 17:15,16

Years ago Carolyn and I were chatting with a young man about something or other—I've forgotten the content of the conversation—when he made a comment I’ll never forget. Apropos of something Carolyn said, he scoffed and announced, "I don't write little thank-you notes." It was, I thought, a good summation of the ethos of his generation. 

I am learning not to expect too much from folks these days, especially young folks. It’s possible to pour a good deal of energy, expense and time into them and receive no gratitude for our efforts. 

There are a few folks in the world who are truly thankful and we’ll get to hear from them from time to time, but if The Tale of the Ten Lepers means anything at all it suggests that only a few—one out of ten by Jesus' estimate—will thank us. The others will be silent at best. Some will be outraged that we did not meet other needs to which they felt entitled.

Here's the thing: We should never expect to gain from others what God alone can give. Our task is to give and leave the consequences to Him. Jesus said, "Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). 

I'm not sure that I know what it means to be compensated in "good measure"; perhaps it's that wonderful sense of well-being that comes from doing what God has asked us to do. But I do know that someday His “well-done” will echo throughout the universe, and that's the only gratitude that matters in the end.

David Roper
11.27.17

Afterthought:

C. S Lewis, stating the obvious, points out that there’s really only one person in the universe I can do very much about—myself. While I cannot change others I can, by God’s grace, begin to change myself. I can become a more grateful man.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Omri and Ozymandias 

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

—Percy Shelley

"The righteous will...be remembered forever" (Psalm 112:6).

Carolyn asked me what I was doing. “Thinking about Omri,” I said. 

“Who was Omri?”, she replied. Exactly! 

From a historical, political standpoint, Omri was the most notable of Israel’s kings. Ancient Near East monuments remark on his military and political genius and for two hundred years after his death, Israel was known among the nations as “Omri–land.” 

Yet Omri is given only eight verses in the Bible and the historic assessment of his achievements is that, like Shelly's Ozymandias, other than a few pieces of broken pottery, "nothing beside remains” (1Kings 16:21-28).
 
Few things remain in this life it seems, apropos of which a friend of mine once asked me to name: 
  • The five wealthiest men in the world. 
  • The last four Heisman trophy winners.
  • The last three winners of the Miss America contest.
Then he asked me to name…
  • The person who brought me to faith.
  • Two people who have walked with me through dark hours.
  • Three people who have loved me through the years.
These are the men and women who "will be remembered forever." Theirs is the fruit that remains (John 15:16).

David Roper
11.24.17

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Weariness

"Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour [high noon] " (John 4:6)

I have a well-established circadian rhythm. I'm good for the first six to eight hours of the day, but from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. I'm toast. 

I'm in good company, however: I read somewhere that animals, plants and even fungi have a few bad hours every day. 

I'm inclined to feel guilty about my weariness. Shouldn't I be doing something useful: studying, writing, teaching, counseling? Is my apathy a sign of spiritual acedia?

Not necessarily.

Some years ago a few of my friends began wearing bracelets bearing the initials "WWJD," an acronym for "What would Jesus do?" I ask myself, what did Jesus do when he was weary? 

Well, on at least on one occasion, he passed up an opportunity to go into the city of Samaria with his disciples to heal the sick and raise the dead. He stayed by a well outside of town and rested. 

And Jesus wasn't eighty-four years old!

I've always been intrigued by the story of Elijah sitting under his little broom tree. Over-adrenalized by his encounter with the Baal priests on Mount Carmel, frightened out of his wits by the contract Jezebel put on his life, he fled into the desert where the Angel of the Lord found him, weary, dispirited and ready to take his own life.

And what did the Angel of the Lord do? Chide him for his lethargy? No, he fed him a square meal and put him to sleep (1Kings 19:4-8).

Sometimes, the most spiritual thing we can do is to take a nap. 

This weariness of mine, may it not come 
From something that doth need no setting right? 
Shall fruit be blamed if it hang wearily 
A day before it perfected drop plumb 
To the sad earth from off its nursing tree? 
Ripeness must always come with loss of might. 
The weary evening fall before the resting night.

—George MacDonald

David Roper

11.19.17

Friday, November 10, 2017

Pressing On

"Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have arrived; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this attitude..." (Philippians 3:12-15).

Many years ago, when our son Brian was a small child, he came home from kindergarten and proudly announced, “I've learned how to snap and whistle. Now all I have to learn is to tie." 

Snapping his fingers and whistling were important developmental tasks for Brian. When he learned to tie his shoes, he would have mastered all there is to know. 

Some of us think that way: We know the doctrines of the Christian Faith and have our theologies ship shape, tied down, secure and squared away and thus have nothing left to learn. Contrary to Paul's attitude, we're "already perfected."

No, Paul would say. Christian maturity is not knowing stuff (that's Gnosticism), but knowing Jesus and becoming like Him in all that we think, do and say (Philippians 3:8-11), and not one of us has that "developmental task" squared away. 

But we can "press" toward that goal, pursue it with all our mind, heart and will, and that attitude, Paul assures us, is "maturity" (3:15). Progress toward Christ-likeness and not perfection is the goal.

David Roper
11.10.17

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Beyond Need

"There is nothing on earth that I desire besides You" (Psalm 73:25).

I walked into a local fly fishing shop some years ago and marveled at all the gadgets, gimcracks and doodads I could buy to support my fishing habit. The proprietor, who knows me well, sauntered over and asked if he could help. "Oh, I'm just looking to see if I need anything, John.” I said.

"Roper," he drawled, “you're way beyond need." Exactly.

John's answer set me to thinking of all the rods, reels, lines, patterns, vests, wading staffs, shoes and waders that graced my garage and the back of my truck. Brand names like Winston, Sage, Orvis and Simms danced through my mind. Why do I need one more thing?

Odd, the years it has taken me to learn one simple fact, that the next purchase, the next excursion, the next publication—all the things that surely hold the key to my satisfaction—will never suffice. Despite my efforts to find contentment and joy, I will never know complete satiety in this present life. There will always be one more thing to do, or to possess, one more person to know, one more place to go. 

What is this voice that keeps telling me that I need something more?  Well, you may be surprised to know this, but our discontent is actually God’s voice longing for us, calling us. He is both the source and the satisfaction of our deepest needs.

“My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God,” David said (Psalm 42:2). That’s the long and short of it. God and His love is all I need.

David Roper

11.9.17

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Light Dawns

“Darkness cannot see, of course,” George MacDonald, History of Photogen and Nycteris

"Light dawns for the righteous..." —Psalm 97:11

Truth and moral order are imbedded in the universe: "The heavens proclaim (God's) righteousness" (97:6) No one has to teach us the knowledge of good and evil. We know. For that reason, most objections to truth are nothing more than smoke screens to cover our flight from God. 

That's a ruinous expedient, however, for when we turn away from what we know to be true we begin to descend into deeper darkness. And soon there is no end of the evil that we do. (Harvey Weinstein comes to mind.)

On the other hand, "light dawns for the righteous." The more we open our hearts to the truth and seek to obey it, the more truth we will know. Truth eludes those that oppose it, but the simple, the humble, the childlike understand. It's the pure in heart that see God.

Having trouble with God? The place to begin is to ask Him to align your will with His. If you want to do His will you will know (John 7:17). “What you see and what you hear depends a good deal on where you are standing," C.S. Lewis said. "It also depends on what sort of person you are" 


David Roper

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What God Has Promised 

In the day when I cried out, You answered me,
And made me bold with strength in my soul.—Psalm 138:3

"Some folks' lives roll easy as a breeze..." Paul Simon said, but for most of old folks it's more of a push, or a "stumble." 

And, truth be known, there are no biblical promises that life will get easier as we get along in years, that God will, of necessity, transport us to the skies in flower beds of ease. No, in fact, though I'm loath to say it, the harder tests may be further along. That's certainly been my story. I'm not a dispensationalist, but I must say, sometimes old age feels like the Great Tribulation.😋

Here's the thing: God has not promised that you and I will Be delivered from every dire circumstance. But He has promised that He will give us grace to be strong and brave in the face of that circumstance. God, on the basis of His undying love, made David "bold with strength in (his) soul," though, as he later put it, David was still "walking in the midst of trouble" (138:7,8). 

Jesus, in Gethsemane, "offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard..." (Hebrews 5:7). Yet His Father did not save Him from the pain and humiliation of the cross. Instead He gave Him courage to endure it to the end and to think nothing of its shame. 

No...

God has not promised skies always blue, 
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God has not promised sun without rain, 
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

God has not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He has not told us we shall not bear
many a burden, many a care. 

God has not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain rocky and steep,
Never a river turbid and deep

But God has promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above, 
Unfailing sympathy, undying love. —Annie Johnson Flint

David Roper
11.7.17

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tears

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion. —Psalm 137:1

I was raised on the creed of the stiff upper lip, but I've learned that there's no shame or weakness in weeping. The best and manliest of men, on one occasion, burst into tears (John 11:35).

The world is full of happy surprises, but it's also a vale of tears. It's unrealistic to suppress our sorrow. Solomon [and Pete Seeger] aver, "There is a time for weeping" (Ecclesiastes 3:4). 

George MacDonald describes sorrow as "a wandering woman, a kind of gypsy, always  going about the world, and picking up lost things. Nobody likes her, hardly anybody is civil to her; but when she has set anybody down and is gone, there is often a look of affection 
and wonder and gratitude sent after her." 

I don't understand the dynamic, but it seems to be true: Tears can relieve our sorrow. Quite often, MacDonald continues, "tears are the only cure for weeping."

Tears are not forever, however. One day the last teardrop will fall and  sorrow "will be forgot, love’s purest joys restored.” God will have wiped away every single tear.

In the meantime, a little crying might do us some good. 

David Roper

Kept

The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your soul."  —Psalms 121:7

Psalm 121 is a song for pilgrims on their way to the City of God, a journey through mountain passes and perilous places, ambush sites, bandits and brigands all around. Pilgrims need protection! Thus, "keeping" is the theme of this psalm.

The centerpiece of the psalm is verse seven: "The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your soul."  The parallelism establishes the only protection God has promised. He has not said that he will keep me from danger in the coming years but He has promised that He will keep my soul—the part of me that I call "myself," the "me" that is timeless and eternal. As Jesus said with such fine irony (and humor, I suspect): "Some of you will be put to death... But not a hair of your head will perish" (Luke 21:16).

The psalm is very personal. (The pronouns "you" and "your" are singular throughout.) "Hey, YOU," the poet says, "I'm speaking to you. You, the one listening to this song. Hear this: 'The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and forevermore'" (119:8). 

"Forevermore" is just that: From here to eternity. "He is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless, before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 25). 

"Rivers know this,” says Winnie the Pooh. “We shall get there someday."

David Roper
11.5.17

Taste and See Breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit,  and resign yourself to the influences of each.  —Henry David ...