Monday, June 18, 2018

Putting Us Right

“An’ noo, for a’ oor wrang-duins (wrong-doings) an’ ill-min’ins (misjudgments), for a’ oor sins and trespasses o’ mony sorts, dinna forget them, O God, till thou pits them a’ richt.”

The Prayer of an Old Scot, George MacDonald’sDavid Elginbrod

Benjamin Franklin aspired to become a good man, and accordingly drew up a list of thirteen virtues he deemed “necessary and desirable,” including with each a short explanation. 

1.Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. 2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. 3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. 4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. 5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing. 6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. 7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. 8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty. 9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. 10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleaness in body, clothes, or habitation. 11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. 12. Chastity. Rarely use venery (sexual indulgence) but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation. 13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates. 

Franklin’s intention was to make a habit of these virtues and thus he determined to fix on one character trait at a time, and, when he had mastered it, proceed to the next until he had mastered them all. 

 “I made a little book,” he wrote, “in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I rul’d each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I cross’d these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.” 

In the end, Franklin gave up: “I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined,” he wrote in his diary. So it is: “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good,” C.S. Lewis said.

“In vain you make yourself beautiful…” Israel’s prophet concluded. (Jeremiah 4:30). We cannot adorn ourselves. All we can do is come to God with our lofty ideals (along with our “wrang-duins an’ ill-min’ins”) and ask him to make us braver, stronger, purer, less selfish, and more loving. God himself is our cure. All progress toward a better version of ourselves is based on that premise. 

Paul, who loved a good synthesis, put it this way: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”(Philippians 2:12,13).  “For,” (because), not “although” or “and.” God does the work in us and we enjoy the freedom to will and to do those things that please him.

When British author F. B. Meyer was a very young man he attended a meeting in the house of emancipationist, William Wilberforce. Those gathered were discussing their struggles against impatience and other forms of selfishness. An elderly gentleman listened for awhile and then related this incident: “I was speaking to a number of children last Sunday afternoon; and finding that the flowers and birds outside were attracting them, and they wanted to get away, and that I was fast losing my patience, I turned to Christ and said: 'Lord, my patience is giving out; grant me yours, and, for that moment he gave me patience. I could stand the noise and confusion.’”

Meeting Dr. Meyer the next morning, Mr. Wilberforce said: "What did you think of that?” Dr. Meyer replied: "It has changed my life. From now on, instead of refusing, resisting, struggling against temptation, I shall ask, in the moment of impatience, for Christ’s tranquility, in the moment of impurity, for his purity, in the moment of anxiety, for his direction and wisdom.” 

Setting ourselves right is not self-accusation and resolution, but simply becoming aware of our flawed and failed condition and putting ourselves in God’s hands for his cure—in that moment or in due time. Put another way, “Askwhat you will, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). 

David Roper

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Secrets

"In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. He took away the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house. He took away everything. He also took away all the shields of gold that Solomon had made, and King Rehoboam made in their place shields of bronze, and committed them to the hands of the officers of the guard, who kept the door of the king’s house. And as often as the king went into the house of the LORD, the guard carried them and brought them back to the guardroom"  (1 Kings 14:25–28).

King Shishak besieged Jerusalem in a campaign to gain control of the trade routes through Palestine and the Negeb. King Rehoboam readily submitted to Shishak to spare his people the ravages of a prolonged siege.

Shishak sacked the city and took away the treasures of the temple and the palace, including the fabulous golden shields the king’s body-guard carried on state occasions. Rehoboam substituted shields of bronze to maintain the fiction that things were as they should be. It was a clever cover-up and he thought no one would know. But bronze tend to tarnish after a time.

Secrets (harbored hypocrisies) seriously mess with your mind: You become evasive, devious, deceitful, paranoid—fearful that you'll be exposed. In time others begin to distrust you because you don't ring true.

“Half the misery in the world comes from trying to look, instead of trying to be, what one is not. I would that not God only but all good men and women might see me through and through. They would not be pleased with everything they saw, but then neither am I... No one who loves and chooses a secret can be of the pure in heart that see God” (George MacDonald, The Flight of the Shadow).

David Roper
6.15.18

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Roper's World

This is all He asks of thee;
Be faithful where thou art. 

Jesse Watters, the ever-cheerful political commentator, stands on a street corner in New York City, sweeps his hand in a half-circle to encompass the city and delivers his slogan, "I'm Watters and this is my world."  

I look around at the four walls of our family room, 250 square feet in all, and say to myself: "I’m Roper, and this is my world." Jesus said we're to go into all the worldand announce the good–spiel. This room, at least for today, is my world.

Who knows what plans God has for us today and who will turn up in our "world." A prominent, influential person? Or no one at all.

No matter. God has but one word for us today: "Be faithful where thou art" (cf.Luke 16:10).

Fret not because your place is small,
Your service need not be,
For you canst make it all there is
Of joy and ministry.

In you His mighty hand can show
The wonders of His grace,
And He can make the humblest room
A high and holy place.

His strength upon your weakness waits,
His power for your task.
What more, O child of all His care,
Could any great one ask?

David Roper
6.14.18

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Divine-Human Endeavor

"And the LORD said to him: “I have heard your prayer and your supplication that you have made before Me; I have sanctified this house which you built to put My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually" (1 Kings 9:3 NKJV).

Here is the mystery of divine-human endeavor: Solomon "built" the house: hired skilled artisans and architects from Tyre, gathered exotic building materials from afar, erected the structure, crafted the furniture, embellished the walls and pillars with sheets of hammered gold, but the house was just another house until God made it holy. 

We labor over a text to understand it, utilizing the exegetical tools at our disposal, crafting our thoughts to maintain the integrity of the text, thinking through the needs of our people and linking truth to life. But our words amount to nothing if God does not invest them with holiness.

We envision a mission, impart the vision, train the workers, send them into the field and support them as they carry on the work. But it's wasted effort if God does not invest that work with holiness. 

And how do we bring God's holiness into our work? Through prayer (9:3). Prayer is the highest expression of our utter dependence on God. It is the means by which we work in concert with him and he puts his name on all that we do. Without him labor in vain. 

David Roper

6.12.18

Monday, June 11, 2018

One More Thing

My cell-phone rang and I cringed—visibly. Carolyn asked me, "What's wrong?" "I can't deal with one more thing," I muttered under my breath. 

I find myself responding with something less than alacrity to the demands placed upon me these days. Aging has forced a reluctance to engage.

I rise each morning, brush my teeth, shower, pull on my socks, trousers, shirt and shoes, throw down the pills and potions that keep me alive each day (“Better things for better living through chemistry," as the DuPont people used to say), carry out a few other ready-for-the day chores...and feel like going back to bed. I'm exhausted. 

As I thought about my reluctance to seize the day I've come to realize that it's not one single thing that brings me to my knees. It's the accumulation: "one more thing."

Perhaps you feel the same way

If so, Solomon, the wisest man in the world, has a blessing for you: "May God give you the right stuff for every thing, all through day" (1Kings 8:59, my translation).

Literally Solomon asked God to "make righteousness" (give us righteousness, the right stuff), for "the thing of the day in its day." (For the next "thing" we have to do today when we have to do it.)

You never know what the next "thing" will be, which is why we must arm ourselves each day with our Lord's prayer, "Give us this day our dailybread"—grace this day for the next thing I have to do. 

All of which reminds me of an old hymn my father used to sing as he wandered around the house:

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find, to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day, the Lord Himself is near me
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear, and cheer me,
He Whose Name is Counselor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then in every tribulation
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the promised land. —Karolyna W. Sandell-berg 1865)

David Roper
6.11.18




Thursday, June 7, 2018

To Be Done With Sin

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the LORD surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.
For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest
on the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous stretch out
their hands to do wrong.—Psalm 125:1-3

We were living in Idaho in 1980 when Mount Saint Helens blew her top. We got some of the fallout—ash and other debris—though we are over four-hundred miles away. A year after the eruption I flew over the mountain with a friend and we were astonished at the devastation visited on that majestic peak. In a moment of time titanic, inexorable, underlying forces blew it to smithereens.

Sin is like that, you know. It can destroy our lives in a moment. Is anyone safe?

Indeed. Mount Zion, a symbol of those who put their trust in God, like Mount Zion, cannot be moved; the "scepter of wickedness” cannot rulethere. We are secure, surrounded by God's love "lest we stretch out (our) hands to do unrighteousness," and once for all ruin our lives. 

Surely, we will sin. Temptations to sin are sure to come," Jesus said. We're besieged on every side by inducements to follow the evil impulses that cross our minds. Yet Paul assures us: “Sin will not have dominionover you" (Romans 6:14). We can become like Zion—immutable, fixed, firm, indomitable, un-menaced and undisturbed by evil.

Oh, not all at once and not right away. But, as Peter assures us, “after you have suffered a little while, God Himself... will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10). We will never be perfect in this life, but we can make progress as God’s Spirit makes us over into the image of his Son.

The finale awaits Heaven "When we see him. Then and only then, we shall be like him. Then we be done with sin forever! 

David Roper

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

O Jerusalem!

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
May they be tranquil who love you!
Peace be within your walls
and tranquility within your towers!”
For my brothers and companions’ sake

I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’” (Psalm 122:6-8).

Jerusalem, in David’s day, was a drab little village, newly wrested from the Canaanites. The "house of the Lord" was a patched and threadbare tent. 

But it was the place God chose to gather His people in unity and tranquility. It was a city “bound firmly together” by God’s love (122:3).

Our "Jerusalem" is the Church: We "have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God." Our “house" (122:1) is not a building, but a body of "brothers and companions" in which we find solidarity and rest (122:3-5).

But sadly, congregations can be restless, unhappy aggregations of querulous people, wrangling over trivia, what Thackeray called, "the pigmy spites of the village spire."

What can I do for my brothers and companions?

I can “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Prayer is always the starting place for any human endeavor.

And I can “seek her good” (122:9, which means, among other things, that I, in humility, gentleness, patience and love will set aside my own good “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” for the greater good of my brothers and companions (Ephesians 4:1-3).

David Roper

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Paradox of Power

And they have conquered him (the ancient dragon) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death"(Revelation 12:11).

The weakness of evil is that it cannot overcome weakness. We overcome evil, as Jesus did, through the power of the cross, a symbol of voluntary, loving renunciation of power. 

I'm not a categorical pacifist; I believe, as a national policy, that evil men and women must be contained by force of arms. Paul commends the formation and maintenance of armies of national defense: “He (the state) is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword (an instrument of capital punishment) in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). George Orwell said that "we sleep peacefully in our beds at night only because a few rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf." (Though I did a stint in the U.S. Army I never achieved the sobriquet, "a rough man." I was mostly in charge of a swimming pool.) 

But, to get back on track: It seems to me that everything is about power these days: social, economic, political, coercive power. But in an odd irony the only way any of us can gain power, when personal relationships are disordered,is to give it up. (I’m thinking this morning of tension in our families and with our friends.) Humility, meekness (non-defensiveness), forgiveness, love, and other aspects of personal righteousness forever trump brute force. In a jujitsu-like move, weakness becomes our strength. Paul, as you know, wrote exactly that (2Corinthians 12:10)

Evil in others (and the seven devils that reside in us) cannot touch us when we're willing, like Jesus, to lay down our lives. "In the end the Shadow is only a small and passing thing... righteousness and beauty are ever beyond its reach" (Tolkien).

David Roper
5.30.18

Monday, May 21, 2018

Ferns

Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
—Isaiah 32:2 



Ferns are the "shut-ins" of God's flower kingdom,
Hidden in the mossy dwells and cool retreats
Their lace-like fronds uncurl in fresh, green beauty
Far from the busy world and dusty streets.

They bear no gorgeous flowers of gold or crimson,
No dainty blooms of blue or pearly white;
Their graceful leaves exhale no strong, sweet odor,
Their very seeds are hidden from our sight.

And yet, sometimes, to eyes that tire of brightness,
To senses sated with the rich perfume,
How grateful is the cool green of the fern-leaves
Set in the silence of some shaded room.

Can we not learn from them some blessed lesson,
We, who, like them, are growing in the shade?
Their lovely freshness is a constant beauty,
Dewy and sweet when summer blossoms fade.

When others come, who, dwelling in the sunshine,
Have grown a-weary of the toil and strife,
Can we not share with them our calm and quiet - 
Show them the beauty of a hidden life?

May we not give to them some tender message,
Some of the garnered peace we hold in store,
Some of the songs God giveth in the midnight,
When sleep flies from us and the pain is sore?

They walk with hurrying steps Life's busy highway,
Often the still, small voice they cannot hear;
But we can listen in the restful stillness
Its words of faith and hope and gladsome cheer.

We dwell in safety in our Lord's green pastures,
Our souls at rest the quiet waters by;
Willing to be since we may not be doing,
Living epistles, open to the eye.i

Our frail lives hidden in His strength eternal,
Guarded and shielded from the tempest's shock,
The wild winds pass us by - they cannot harm us
Where we are sheltered by our Fortress Rock.

Sometimes, perhaps, the ferns may long to blossom,
Even as we to see our work's reward;
Impatient of the stillness and the shadow,
Envy the roses on the sunny sward.

"Foolish!" we say, "the dust and heat would kill them,
That sweet, cool shadow is their very life,"
Yes - and, God knows, perhaps our spirit's beauty,
Might, like them, wither in the great world's strife.

So He doth keep us, set apart in shadow,
Far from the lovely garden's sunny sod;
And why He does it we shall know hereafter,
"Be still," He says, "and know that I am God!"

Can we not trust our loving heavenly Father
To do the very best that can be done,
Though one be planted in the glowing sunlight,
Set in the silence and the shadow - one?

Be we content to say our word in secret,
Content to wear our garb of sober green,
And, while the world is praising other workers,
Our tiny seeds cast out, though all unseen.

We may not show our love and zeal by labor,
Our hands are folded, though they tire of rest;
Fettered the feet that fain would run His errands,
Willing and swift. But yet, He knoweth best

Just the conditions which will suit our growing,
Just the environment we best may stand;
For the green ferns the cool depths of the forest,
And for our shade the "shadow of His hand."

—Annie Johnson Flint



Putting Us Right “An’ noo, for a’ oor wrang-duins (wrong-doings) an’ ill-min’ins (misjudgments), for a’ oor sins and tre...