Friday, August 10, 2018

Scratching the Surface of the Psalms - 17

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)


Scratching the Surface of the Psalms


“Nobody Likes Chest-Beaters”

          Psalm 17 is tough to swallow.

          Unlike Psalm 51 that we’ll get to in the second term of our President or first term of his successor, this psalm comes off rather holier-than-thou.

          While most commentators can’t tag this psalm to a particular circumstance or moment in David’s life, it must have been written while he was riding high in the saddle; definitely before God confronted him through Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah to enable their coupling.

          Unlike many scholars who have painted this psalm as a confessional struggle with sin, my assessment is it’s not one of his finer moments pero an over-the-top auto-suggestion of self-righteousness, self-justification, and rationalizing judicial argument that David deserves the gracious attention of God.

The faithful yet-still-flawed-in-his-humanity-not-immune-to-original- sin-or-the-instinct-to-sin-no-matter-how-tight-with-God psalmist appears to be beating his chest like the fellah that drew Jesus’ disdain: “God, I thank You that I’m not like other people…I don’t dance.  I don’t chew.  I don’t go with girls who do.”

Listen to his pride-filled claims: “God, you have tested me.  You have found nothing evil in me.  I have avoided the sinful ways of others.  I follow Your lead in everything.  I’ve not slipped up.  I’m a really good guy.  I deserve Your respect and reward.”

A few analogous lines forwarded to me by Gerry Larson come to mind: “Here’s an ironic double standard…The judges who said we don’t need to stand up for the national anthem expect us to stand up when they enter the room.  What do you suppose would happen if a judge came into the courtroom and everyone took a knee?”

David’s deluded sense of being thaaaaaaat much better than everybody else and warranting God’s favor must have made God want to gag: “So I call on You, God, and expect You to display the wonders of Your faithful love to me.  I am the apple of Your eye.  I know You will protect me from my enemies because I am so much better than them.”

Psalm 17 sounds like someone trying to convince God that he deserves credit for what he’s doing so well for the Kingdom and may not even need a Savior because he’s doing such a good job of saving himself.

Nobody likes chest-beaters who like to boast about how much more they’re doing for God than anybody else and how much better they are than anybody else and blah, blah, blah.

According to the Bible, God isn’t real fond of them either: “God lifts up the humble and brings down the proud.”

You know the kind.

They’re the ones who strut around churches as if nobody knows and loves and serves Jesus as much as they do.

They’re the politicians, pastors, professors, moms, dads, sons, daughters, and all the rest who are always telling us how much more they do than anybody else for Him and us and civilization.

They’re so much better than everybody else.

They’re so much more deserving of affirmation, applause, affection, accolades, and adulation.

I mean, really, they act as if God should be honored to have them on His team.

They’re so pure and perfect in every way; except, uh, for pride and pride is a deadly sin because it deludes us into thinking that we may not really need any help or grace or mercy because there’s nothing really to forgive because we’re never wrong and never need to confess and repent and praise God for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.

Really, who needs God in Jesus as enabled by the Holy Spirit when you’re doing fine on your own?

I think of the elder who always came to my study at least once a week to tell me how great she is compared to, uh, everybody else.

She’d come in and rip on him and her and everybody while reminding me of all that she does for the church.

Well, one day, a bad and cranky day for me for some reason, I just interrupted, “You always tell me how awful everybody else is in the church; and I’ve been thinking that you probably tell people how awful I am and how great you are when you’re out of earshot.”

She turned redder than a Cornhusker’s jersey.

She said, “I guess you don’t think I should be an elder anymore.”

I said, “Not unless you stop judging people and start loving them.  Besides, I know you.  You’re like everybody else.  You’ve got sins that are secret as well as this prideful one.  You need Jesus to save you just as much as me and everybody else.”

Come to think of it, that’s the last conversation that we ever had.

Chest-beaters feel entitled and like to be enabled not humbled.

That’s why so many of them are causing anything but heaven around them while strutting down the path to…

Nobody likes chest-beaters.

God loves them and wants to save them; but it’s hard to save people who don’t think they need to be saved.

Carrie Fisher aka Princess Leia of Star Wars fame was right on: “There’s no room for demons when you’re self-possessed.”

For the most part, that’s how Psalm 17 comes across until the last verse: “But I will see Your face in righteousness…I will be satisfied with Your presence.”

Simply, when we’re praying and laboring and trying and wanting to be right with God, we see Him.

It’s like Jesus said in the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart because they see God.”

It’s like Samuel explained the difference between Saul and David: “God wants a man after His own heart.”

It has nothing to do with being pure and perfect in every way.

It has everything to do with praying and laboring and trying and wanting to be right with God.

It has everything to do with praying and laboring and trying and wanting to be increasingly perfecting according to God’s enfleshed Word in Jesus and explained Word in Holy Scripture.

It has everything to do with knowing no one becomes so good that they don’t need salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.

When we’re like the David of Psalm 17:15 and not the preceding verses, we see God.

That’s when we feel and experience God.

When that happens, we’re like David and everyone else who has ever humbled themselves before God as sovereign Father, saving Son, and sustaining Holy Spirit: “I am satisfied in Your presence.”

Or as Augustine confessed for all of us, “You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised.  Great is Your power and to Your wisdom, there is no limit…You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

Nobody, including God, likes chest-beaters because they’re liars: “If we say we have no sin, we are lying and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us, cleanse us, and save us.”

Everybody, except for the children of darkness and their lord, likes the humble who know they need Jesus to save them as much and no more or less than anybody else.

The good news is God likes the humble who know and say and act like they need Him here and now and forever.

The last word comes from Jesus on that: “You will be judged by God in the same way you judge other people…The measure you give will be the measure that you get…The merciful receive mercy.  The forgiving are forgiven.”

If so, so.

If not, not.

I guess it all comes down to this.

It’s better to be lifted up by Jesus than be knocked down and out of the saddle by…ourselves.


Blessings and Love!


Shatter the sound of silence!

Wake up!  Look up!  Stand up!  Speak up!  Act up for Jesus!

Salt!  Shine!  Leavenate!



Sunday, August 5, 2018

Prayer Request

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)


Seminary taught me to script prayers.

I did until God challenged on an early morning during the first worship service about three decades ago, “We went over that on Friday.  It’s Sunday.  Let’s talk.  Let’s be real, not religious.”

It was the first hint of Matthew 15 and 23 in my life.

Parenthetically, I still find myself asking, “Why didn’t I ever hear my professors or presbyters talk about those chapters in the preparation for professional ministry?  How did I miss them in my relationship with Jesus?  What was/is going on in churches and why have we enabled it for so long?”

Anyway, really praying can get ya into trouble with the religious.

Tony told me about the woman who complained, “You are so earthy and colloquial in your prayers.  You offend me.”

He responded, “Listen, lady, I wasn’t talking to you.”

Admittedly, I still take an outline of prayer concerns with me as I preside/participate in worship.

With so much on my mind so much of the time, it helps.

Still, just like I used to tell my homiletics students that heralds really have only One hearer who counts in the end which means it’s better to try to please Him than lessers, several folks have asked for a copy of the 8/5/18 opening prayer on the corner of Lincoln and Main.

While I retrieved the outline from my trash can but know it wasn’t exactly the same in both services and have no idea why it garnered so much attention, here’s the best that I can recall:

We are still, Father, when You are Lord and Savior to us in Jesus as present in the Holy Spirit.

We have strong calm sanity, Father and Son and Holy Spirit when You are personal not religious Lord and Savior.

We are trees planted by the water that shall not be moved when You are really in our heads, hearts, and guts as Lord and Savior.

We are never too down for too long when You are Lord and Savior because up from the grave You arose and reign as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are compelled if not consistent by continuing carnality to agape love – praying and laboring for the highest good of anyone/everyone no matter who, what, when, where, or why without the need or expectation for response, regard, or reward – when You are really our Lord and Savior and we’re not pretending faith and trying to fool everyone including You.

We rarely panic when dark clouds come and we rarely shiver in the presence of darkness because Your Holy Spirit in us is greater than them and they not us flee in confrontation as we quickly overcome and triumph and live victoriously when You are our focus in life and filter for all we think, say, and do.

We aren’t even afraid of the last breath; for we know the last breath is just the last preface to paradise and the worst thing that can happen to us in time is the best thing to happen to us forever.

We are still because You are enough.

You are enough; and while we love our companionships and human couplings, we only, now as well as then, really only need You to be saved…now…forever…world without end…

And in those days when all that we have just prayed does not seem sufficient and we banter and moan and whine and whimper and sulk and pout with tails between the legs while panting with Chicken Little – “The sky is falling!” – that’s when we are reminded we need more of You and less of everyone else even our own ingenuities as we recall, “How makarios/blessed/fortunate/happy/joy-filled are those who depend solely, completely, categorically, existentially, and eternally upon You.

We pray in the way and the truth and the life…Jesus.



Blessings and Love!


Shatter the sound of silence!

Wake up!  Look up!  Stand up!  Speak up!  Act up for Jesus!

Salt!  Shine!  Leavenate!



Sunday, July 29, 2018

Scratching the Surface of the Psalms - 16

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)


Scratching the Surface of the Psalms


“You’ve Got a Friend!”

Walter Scott always attended the first worship service of McMurray, Pennsylvania’s Center Presbyterian Church over 20 years ago.

Just like our first service on the corner of Lincoln and Main, I did my singing nun thing because I like to sing praises to the Lord even if I’m not very good at it.

Anyway, between services one Sunday, Walter knocked on my study’s door, gave the guitar to me that I’ve used ever since, and said, “You don’t play well, but this will make you sound better.”

I cannot begin to tell you how intimidating it was to discover that faithful first service worshipper had played with Annie Hill, Pete Seeger, and many other stringed luminaries.

Parenthetically, that comes to mind on those Sundays on the corner of Lincoln and Main when we are blessed to have Dan Holmes lead worship.

I flew back to preside at Walter’s memorial service a few years later and recalled one of the most sobering things that he ever said to me: “I don’t have many friends because a real friend is someone who will take a bullet for you.”

Certainly, that will come as a shock to Facebook addicts who claim sooooooo many “friends” who enable their insatiable appetite and need to be “liked” for this and that and whatever.

Helllllllooooooo!  Anybody up for a reality check?

Of course, Jesus said, “There is no greater proof of love than giving up one’s life for a friend.”

He did that for you and me; and noted, “If you want to prove that you’re My friends, you will take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Me.”

Paraphrasing some more, “If you are willing to die for Me, that proves you are My friend.”

It all fits together.

He said being a friend of His means being a friend of His family and being a friend of His family is being His friend: “As you do it for others, you do it for Me.  As you don’t do it for others, you don’t do it for Me.”

In other words, when we are willing to take a bullet for Him, we are willing to take a bullet for His family; for taking a bullet for His family is the same as taking a bullet for Him.

That defines friendship according to Walter who got if from Jesus.

If so, so.

If not, not.

It’s sobering.

It puts a big dent in Facebook’s superficial definition of “friends” and the insatiable need of its addicts to be “liked” for this and that and whatever.

That’s why Walter didn’t have many friends.

That’s why – let’s be honest – we don’t have many friends.

That’s why Jesus doesn’t have many friends.

That’s the truth and He/we knows/know it.

The good news of Christianity is we have a friend in Jesus.

He will die for us.

He did.

He will.

More good news is His friends are our friends and are with/for us when the bullets start flying.

Psalm 16 is all about knowing God is our friend.

God has always been that kind of friend and confirmed His friendship beyond any doubts in Jesus who took a bullet for us on the cross.

David knew – and so do we in our sober moments with Walter – only God and the Godly can be trusted completely: “God, I take refuge in You…I have no good besides You…You are my true Father and friend and lover of my soul…and I delight in holy people who are so close to You that I can trust them too.”

David knew – and so do we in our sober moments with Walter – it is a tragic miscalculation to place complete trust in anyone but God and the Godly: “How sad it is for those who consider anyone but God and the Godly to be true friends.”

David knew – and so do we in our sober moments with Walter –
friendship as exemplified best by God and the Godly is among the greatest graces: “Lord, You are my portion and my cup of blessing…Life is good with You and Yours…I have a beautiful inheritance…Because of God and the Godly, I will not be shaken…My heart is glad…My spirit rejoices…I sleep well because I am safe and protected by my greatest friend and His friends who are my friends because we’re family…God and the Godly will never abandon me and will always pick me up from the pits.”

David’s forecast and Walter’s faith declare Messiah Jesus as the perfect incarnation of divine friendship: “You reveal the path of life to me.  In Your presence is abundant joy with eternal pleasures by grace through faith.”

We get to God through Jesus; for as He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one gets to the Father except through Me.”

When someone says bikers are crazy to bikers, bikers know three things.

First, people who say that are a little envious because they don’t have the courage to ride and experience its thrills.

Second, bikers are a little crazy because they know the risks but ride regardless because the rewards are greater than the risks.

Third, not afraid of their own deaths which is highlighted by the Christian symbol of a skull that has always been a part of our faithful tradition because we fear God more than anyone else and don’t fear death because there is eternal life after life by grace through faith in Jesus, bikers have a loyalty to each other accentuated by the ubiquitous hand wave whenever passing each other.

During a recent mandatory ride with some of my favorite bikers, we were reminded of Walter’s definition of true friendship that he got from Jesus.

We recalled a challenge from Jerry Kirk that he always gave to anyone claiming to be God’s friend: “Think of the one thing that you will not give up for God.  That’s the one thing that He wants the most from you.  That’s the one thing that you must give up to prove your faith in Him and receive His greatest blessings for you.”

Surely, as Jesus said, the greatest thing that we can give up for God is our lives – taking a bullet for Him.

It can be as literal as martyrdom.

It’s happened before, is happening now, and will happen again to God’s real friends.

It can be taking abuse, enduring scorn, and losing phony-baloney-pseudo friends for esteeming Jesus by creed, deed, deportment, and countenance.

So I asked my biker buddies, “Would you die for God and the Godly to prove your love for Him and each other?”

That’s what defines friendship.

If so, so.

If not, not.

Walter was right.

He didn’t have many friends.

Jesus didn’t have many friends.

We don’t.

Psalm 16 is ultimately all about needing just One.

Christianity is all about having just One.

He is enough.

As He promised, “If you give up your life for Me…If you take a bullet for Me…If you give up your life for each other which is the same as giving up your life for Me…If you take a bullet for each other which is the same as taking a bullet for Me, you will be blessed here and now and forever.”






Blessings and Love!


Shatter the sound of silence!

Wake up!  Look up!  Stand up!  Speak up!  Act up for Jesus!

Salt!  Shine!  Leavenate!



Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Scratching the Surface of the Psalms - 15

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)


Scratching the Surface of the Psalms


“Who’s Going to Heaven?”

You’ve probably heard this one.

“When you get to heaven or…, you’ll be surprised to see who’s there and who’s not there.”

I can’t help but thinking about Mark Twain who said that the climate is better in heaven but there’s more company in hell.

That’s God’s business.
God judges.

Nobody else.

Good news!

Anybody can go to heaven!

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you, everybody, and I will take care of you…God loves the world so much that He came in Me and whoever believes in Me will go to heaven.”

Bad news!

While anybody can go to heaven, not everybody goes to heaven.


Because it’s a choice!

Remember, He said, “I stand at the door and knock.  If you open the door, we’ll be together.  If not, not!”

Let’s listen, learn, and live as He completes the thought in a familiar line and then lines that are often omitted because it’s the truth that anybody can go to heaven but not everybody goes to heaven because it’s 
a choice; or as C.S. Lewis wrote, “It’s either-or…If we insist on keeping Hell, we shall not see Heaven…If we accept Heaven, we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell” (The Great Divorce): “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life…[Sounds great!]…For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him…[Excellent!]…Whoever believes in His in not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already’…[Whoa!]…(John 3:16ff.).

Just read the red letters.

It’s very, very, very indisputably and categorically clear that Jesus says over and over and over again that anybody can go to heaven but not everybody goes to heaven because it’s a choice.

So how do we know who’s going to heaven?

That’s the Q&A of David in Psalm 15.

Psalm 15 asks the question (Who’s going to heaven?) and answers with indicatives/evidence/signs about the kind of person who’s going to heaven.

Let’s see.

We’ll look at a conventional translation (ESV) and then The Message

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in Your tent?  Who shall dwell on Your holy hill?…God, who gets invited to dinner at Your place?  How do we get on Your guest list?”

That’s the question.  

Existentially, how do we get closer to God in time?

Eternally, how do we live forever with Him and His in heaven?

What kind of person experiences the existential and eternal pleasures of God?

“He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart…Walk straight, act right, tell the truth.”

To paraphrase a popular line from a country that’s tried to get Him right in the past and better get back to Him before it’s too late, God’s people pray and work “for truth, justice, and the Biblically Christocentric way of life.”

I’m reminded of President Jimmy Carter who read Micah 6:8 as the guiding principle of his life from his mother Lillian’s Bible at his inauguration on January 20, 1977: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Simply, love God and be kind to one another.

Love God by being kind to one another.

“…who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change…Don’t hurt your friend, don’t blame your neighbor; despise the despicable.”

Let’s begin with a basic psychospiritual reality.

We are not responsible for what others say and do; but we are completely responsible for what we say and do and how we respond to what others say and do…and whatever we say and do to others it is the same as saying and doing it to Jesus: “As you do it to/for them, you do it to/for Me.”

Simply, when we hurt others, we’re really hurting Jesus.

So, even more simply, don’t do those kinda things if you want to get closer to God!

“…who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent…Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe.”

Sacrificial selflessness not self-aggrandizing selfishness is a dominant trait of people who are getting closer to God.

We give until it helps even if it hurts.

Jesus put it this way, “if you’re really going to follow Me and get closer to Me and experience my best benefits in time and forever, you’ve 
got to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.”

Christians don’t save up when there’s human need around them.

Christians share indiscriminately.

Christians pray and work for everybody’s best no matter who, what, where, when, or why without the need or expectation for response, regard, or reward.

Christians are notorious agape lovers.

I’ll never forget the religious person as opposed to a person with a personal relationship with Jesus who came to me and said, “I’m leaving the church because all you ever talk about is Jesus and love, love, love.”

I said, “That’s probably good.”

Get it?

Churches don’t need any more religious people going through ritualistic and ceremonial riteousness.  

Churches need more people related to Jesus as seen by increasing love for Him in their love for everybody else.

“He who does these things shall never be moved…You’ll never get blacklisted if you live like this.”

Praise the Lord!

Who wants James Spader’s Raymond Reddington coming after them?

I know.

Bad joke.

Aren’t they all?

Some people are all talk.

Their lives are nothing more than gossiping gibberish.

People who are close to God walk the talk; and we know what that means: “And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

At this point, there’s always some pop-theologian who says it’s not about “works righteousness” or working your way into a right and existentially and eternally saving relationship with Jesus.

No kidding.

But anyone who has ever read the Bible knows Jesus expects our belief in Him to backed up behavior for Him.

Deeds confirming creeds.

Christianity is walk confirming talk; and not just all talk.





All of us!

No, we don’t believe in works righteousness; but we believe in works that indicate/express/show our righteousness.

That’s why Luther said, “Good works don’t make a man good; but a good man does good works.”

That’s why Calvin talked about the saved of God showing the signs of their salvation.

They got it from James: “Faith without works is dead…Talk without walk is do-do.”

They got if from Paul who said people who are going to heaven show indications/evidence/signs that they’re going to heaven like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, fidelity, humility, and self-control.

They got it from Jesus who revealed to John in Revelation: “I am coming back.  How happy will be those who have kept the words of the prophecy of this book; for I am going to repay everyone for what they have done.”

We live confidently in knowing we will live forever by grace through faith in Jesus; and anyone who has that blessed assurance acts like it/Him – more than less, increasingly so, and with inevitable fallings and failures that prove no one ever outgrows the need for Jesus to bridge the gap between our humanity and His perfection.

In short, Psalm 15 repeats an irrefutable and undeniable and absolutely necessary prerequisite for knowing we’re going to heaven after we die so that we live with strong, safe, secure, and serene sanity until our last breath.

Here it is.

Believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior is confirmed by praying and working to behave like we believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior; and believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior takes out all of the guesswork of our eternal destiny.


Blessings and Love!


Shatter the sound of silence!

Wake up!  Look up!  Stand up!  Speak up!  Act up for Jesus!

Salt!  Shine!  Leavenate!