Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Safe!

Save me from the lion's mouth
And from the horns of the wild oxen...
You have answered Me. —Psalm 22:20,21

Ford stood up. “We’re safe,” he said. “Oh good,” said Arthur. “We’re in a small galley cabin,” said Ford, “in one of the spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet.” “Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'safe' that I wasn't previously aware of" (Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).

David, in Psalm 22, describes the crucifixion of Jesus in astonishing detail, but equally striking is Jesus' prayer from the cross: "Save me," and this assurance, "You have answered me." 

God "answered” Jesus, yet He allowed Him to suffer and die. This is obviously some strange usage of the word "safe" that I wasn't previously aware of.

This odd juxtaposition of ideas shows up in another text: "(Jesus) in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death...was heard because of His godly fear (Hebrews 5:7). Yet, Jesus suffered and died.

Doesn't God save us when we call? 

Indeed He does, but the salvation he brings to us is not necessarily physical deliverance from painful circumstances. "He can calm the storm with a whispered 'Peace be still'; He can settle the sea, but, it doesn’t mean He will." 

More often then not, God's salvation comes in the form of grace to pass through the ordeal—as Jesus did—with trust and tranquility. Jesus "learned obedience by the things He suffered" And so must we. That’s one of the ways we’re “perfected” (Hebrews 5:8,9).

And so it comes to this: Would I rather be saved from my circumstances, or grow in faith, hope and love? The latter of course, for that's where authentic safety lies. 

David Roper

2.28.18

Monday, February 26, 2018


Pressing On

Major General George Picket is best remembered for "Pickett's Charge," his disastrous assault on Union positions on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg. Years later, when asked why his charge failed, Pickett drawled, "Well, I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” 

When we fail at life—and we will—Satan, the enemy of our souls, will have "had something to do with it." He influences our choices and exploits our weaknesses to corrupt and ruin us and, if it were possible, damn us all to hell.

There is no respite. Even old age is unsafe, calling for continual diligence, endurance and bravery. The battle will not end until we die and our Father takes us in. Only then can we rest.  

We will fall in battle. You can count on it. "But it is the man or woman who gets up and fights again that is a true warrior... To feel sorry for oneself is totally inappropriate. Over such a soldier I would pour a bucket of icy water. I would drag him to his feet, kick him in the rear end, put his sword in his hand and shout, "Now fight!" (John White, The Fight).

So... you've fallen—again. Fess up and forget about it. God already has (Isaiah 43:25). Get up, patch yourself up, and press on. The Lord of Hosts is with you, fighting furiously for you. He has promised to guard your faith to the end and He will bring you safely home (1Peter 1:3-6). 

The Confederate war effort never recovered militarily or psychologically from Pickett's defeat, but you can. In Christ, no failure is final. You're fighting a battle that's already won!

David Roper

2.25.18

Friday, February 23, 2018

Playing With Joy

"The fruit of the Spirit is...joy" (Galatians 5:22).

One of our sons, Brian, is a high school basketball coach and his team, as I write, is threading it’s way through the Washington State Basketball Tournament bracket. Well-meaning folks around town ask, "Are you going all  the way?" Both players and coaches feel the pressure, so Brian adopted a mantra: "Play with joy!"

I thought of Paul's last words to the elders at Ephesus: "That I may finish my race with joy..." (Acts 20:24 NKJV).

Some of you, if you look up the verse, will find that the words "with joy" don't occur in the text. That's because some of the earliest manuscripts of the Acts of the Apostles omit it. I leave that argument to the scholars but for myself I take the words as they stand and have made them my mantra and my prayer: "May I finish my race with joy." Or as Brian might say, "May I play with joy!" 

One of the worst concomitants of aging is a tendency to grow ill-tempered and out-of-sorts. An old friend told me his grandkids call him grump-pa for that reason. I don't want to be that way.

Old folks have a lot of good reasons to get grouchy: conditions inhere in aging that make it difficult to be sunny and serene. Nevertheless I believe God can give us old folks a joy that transcends these conditions if we ask Him. We can have what Jesus called, "My joy," as we round the bend (John 15:11).

Joy is the "fruit of the Spirit" of Jesus. So I must remember each morning to ask for it: "May I play with joy!” "To pray is to change. This is the great grace. How good of God to provide a path whereby our lives can be taken over by joy..." (Richard Foster).

David Roper
2.23.18



Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Kosher

“This man has said that the law against living on the Fixed Island is different from the other Laws, because it is not the same for all worlds and because we cannot see the goodness in it. And so far he says well. But then he says that it is thus different in order that you may disobey it. But there might be another reason… I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?” CS Lewis in Perelandra

Leviticus 11:1-47

We are no longer under Israel's dietary laws, but the system remains a puzzlement to me. For starters, why did God allow his people to eat animals that had cloven hooves and chewed the cud, but not animals that chewed the cud and did not have cloven hooves? Why must Israel avoid animals that had cloven hooves and did not chew the cud. On what basis were these animals pure or impure? Scholars have long pondered that question. 

Some suggest that a few creatures are just inherently disgusting. I get that. I’ve never considered owls or eels haute cuisine. 

Others claim that certain animals were off the table for cultic reasons: They were used in Israel's day for pagan worship, or to represent pagan gods. This may be true in some cases–cooking a lamb in it’s mother’s milk is thought to be a pagan ritual—but cattle and sheep were "clean" in Israel, even though they were used in Baal worship.  

Others suggest a hygienic reason for the laws and argue that certain animals were classified as impure because they could cause disease if not properly cooked—pork, for example. But many of the pure animals are equally dangerous if undercooked and why would the New Testament later allow these animals to be eaten (Acts 10:9-16)? If health were a consideration, why would God rescind these laws?

Finally, some sources suggest a symbolic interpretation for the laws: Animals that chewed the cud made the cut because they reminded Israel to meditate on the law. The filthy habits of pigs spoke of the “filth of iniquity.” While most things can be made into metaphors, this approach has always struck me as whimsical and I‘ve never been able to take it seriously.

Why then the dietary laws? 

I've pondered this question for sixty years or more and I've come up with an answer: I don't have a clue! There are just some things God wanted His people to do, for which He did not provide a rationale.

Even so today, curiosity asks, why? Why must I do this thing that God is asking me to do? Love answers, "Just do it, child and trust me. Even if I explained it, you wouldn't understand."

David Roper
2.21.18


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

By Itself

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29)

I remember my father sowing fields by hand. We had a seed drill, but if the plot was small it was hardly worth breaking out the tractor, so he would strap on an old Burpee seed bag, walk the furrows and manually scatter the seed on the ground.

I never saw him lose sleep afterward, pacing the floor, wringing his hands and worrying that a crop might not grow. He knew that life is inherent in the seed and in time the earth would produce "by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear."

Because Carolyn and I have been at this business for awhile, we're sometimes asked how it works. I usually shrug and say, "Beats me"—my version of the saying, "he knows not how." We just love and pray and teach the Word—simply, honestly, humbly, one hopes—and leave the results to God. The harvest, if it comes, will come of itself,  "automatically" to use Mark's word.

"Outcomes are of the Lord," Dallas Willard used to say. Don't  worry about results or how they happen. Just "proclaim the word; do it whether you feel like it or not" (1Timothy 4:2). Scatter the seed hither and yon, and see what God will do. 

David Roper
2.20.18

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Come and Get It

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David. —Isaiah 55:1-3

I peeked over the grape-stake fence that encloses our backyard. There, I saw folks running, jogging, walking, shuffling around the track that surrounds the park behind our home. "I used to do that," I thought. And a wave of dissatisfaction washed over me. 

Later, reading the Lenten passage for the day, I came across the text above and realized again that dissatisfaction (“thirst") is the rule, not the exception in this life. Nothing, not even the good things of life can fully satisfy. If I had legs like a Sherpa something would still be amiss. 

Our culture is always telling us in one way or another that something we do, buy, wear, spray on, roll on or ride in will give us endless pleasure. But that's a lie. You “can’t get no satisfaction” from anything in the here and now, no matter what you do. 

Rather Isaiah invites us to come again and again to God and His Word and hear what he has to say. And what does he say? His love for David of old is everlasting, "steadfast and sure." (55:3). And that goes for old David Roper as well!

Whom have I, Lord, but Thee, 
Soul-thirst to satisfy?
Exhaustless spring! 
The waters free! 
All other streams are dry.

Our hearts by Thee are set
On brighter things above;
Strange that we ever should forget
Thine own most faithful love. —Mary Bowley

David Roper
2.19.18

Friday, February 16, 2018

Without Cause

For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life...
They hate me without cause—35:7,19

Some folks will hate you even though you're trying to do the right thing, indeed because you're trying to do the right thing. That's something wise people have always known.

They repay me evil for good; my soul is bereft. When they were sick I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest. I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother; as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning. But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered; they gathered together against me; wretches whom I did not knowJtore at me without ceasing; like profane mockers at a feast,Thhey gnash at me with their teeth" (35:12-16).

Ingrates! What's the matter with these people? 

Well...what can we say: some people hate goodness. (I think here of Joy Beher's recent, unprovoked attack on Mike Pence's faith, equating it to mental illness.) What then should we do?  

David shot up a prayer, which is always the first thing to do: "Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord! Vindicate me, O LORD, my God according to your righteousness” (35:23,24). Put your case in God's hands for His resolution.

Self-defense is a null set, as math guys say: It amounts to nothing. Let God take up your cause. He is righteous and just and will bring justice in due time (35:17).

Our Heavenly Father "delights" in us (35:27). Why then do we care what others think of us?

David Roper

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Happiness is...

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are, 
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

—W.H. Auden 

David writes, "What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good... Let him turn away from evil and do good."—Psalm 34:12,14. 

The good life is the good life. Happiness is doing the right thing—something wise men and women have always known
The world is constantly telling us, in one way or another, that happiness is doing our thing, but that's a gigantic lie. It only leads to emptiness, anxiety and heartache. 

Happiness is doing God's thing, a fact that can be empirically verified every day. Just try it and you'll see, which is what David meant when he said, "taste and see that the Lord is good” (34:8a).

We say, "Seeing is believing." Show me a proof and I will believe it. That's how we know stuff in this world. 

God puts things the other way 'round. "Believing is seeing" ("Taste and then you will see.") Trust God, take Him at his word, do the very next thing he asks you to do, and you will see good. If you ask for his help he will give you grace to do the right thing and more: He will give you himself, the only source of enduring happiness and peace.

"Oh, the blessedness (happiness) of those who take refuge in Him!" (34:8b)

David Roper

2.13.18

Sunday, February 11, 2018

God’s Eyes

"Behold, the Lord's eyes are on those...who trust in His love." —Psalm 33:18

God finds you fascinating! His eyes find and follow you all day long—like one of those paintings in which the subject’s eyes seem to follow you around the room.

That’s because you, by faith in Jesus, have been adopted into His Father’s family, and like all good fathers, He dotes on His children.

Such devotion would be worrying if you had to do something to deserve it, or earn it, or keep it, but all that God asks of you is that you "trust in His love." Believe it: You are his belovéd. "He loves, though all hate; He delights, though all abhor; He remains, though all forsake."

David Roper

2.10.18

Friday, February 9, 2018

Behind Closed Doors

“What should I do then, mem?” 
“Go your way, laddie … and say your prayers.”

The Fisherman's Lady, by George MacDonald

There was “a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets,” one anonymous, unremarkable woman who became the victim of circumstances beyond her control (2 Kings 4:1-7). 

The woman’s story is one of accumulated grief: her husband died and left her destitute and deeply in debt; then her creditors came knocking at her door, demanding that she pay up, or sell her two sons into slavery to compensate them. 

Immediately, and with sound wisdom, she went to Elisha, the embodiment of God’s presence in the land. She cried out, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.”

Elisha said to the woman, “Go outside, borrow vessels of all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in, and shut the door upon yourself and your sons, and pour into all these vessels; and when one is full, set it aside.” 

When I first read the prophet’s words, “shut the door” I thought of Jesus’ words, “When you pray, go into your room, shut the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). [This room is not a “closet,” but “a room in the interior of a house, normally without doors and windows opening to the outside.” 

Nothing is said about prayer in the Old Testament account, but it’s significant to me that Jesus’ phrase, translated “shut the door,” corresponds roughly to the Greek translation of this Old Testament text, the version Jesus himself read and frequently quoted. [The only difference is that the Septuagint (Greek) translation of 2 Kings 4:4 uses an intensified form of the verb and puts it in the future tense: apokleiseis tân thuran (You shall shut the door tight!). Jesus’ uses the simple form of the same verb and states the action as participle, kleisas tân thuran (“having shut the door…”). ] Could it be that Jesus had this story in mind? 

And so, as the story goes, Elisha directed the widow to “shut the door upon herself and her sons; and as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not another.’ And the oil stopped flowing.” Then the widow sold the oil, paid off her debts, and lived on the remainder. 

Elisha could have met this woman’s need directly, perhaps through a miracle. Instead he gave her a greater gift: he taught her to bring every need to the One who gives “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). He gave her the gift of a lifetime: he taught her to pray. There is no greater service to others.

That’s why I pray with people. I pray with parents who grieve over their children. I pray with couples whose marriages are disintegrating. I’m powerless to “fix” things, but I can pray. 

In so doing I accomplish two purposes: I pray for them, thereby bringing them to the only source of help I know. 

And I have taught them to pray. 

David Roper


Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Tree

"When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There He made a statute and an ordinance for them…” (Exodus 15:3).

Carolyn was her mother's caregiver and now she is mine. As my neurological issues have worsened she has had to devote more time to home care and less to her own work and the women she loves so dearly.

But, as she reminded me this morning, caregiving now is her "vocation," in the original sense of that word—her call. For this season God has ask her to be a caregiver and she has accepted that call. Put another way, Carolyn cast a "tree" into the water and made it sweet.

What is that "tree" but the Cross, the tree on which we die to our own agenda and accept God's will for our lives. It is our imitation of Christ. "For he said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it'" (Luke 23,24).

The Cross, of course, is at odds with everything our culture tells us about self-care, but acceptance of that cross, whatever it may be, is the key to peace and joy, what Jesus called “saving” oneself. In acceptance, each bitter experience becomes sweet.  

David Roper

2.3.18

The Rain "(God) loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning. They (the clouds) turn around and around by...