Monday, November 26, 2018

Home for Thanksgiving

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)


Home for Thanksgiving

“Give thanks in everything…Thank God no matter what happens.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

          Ordained in its sanctuary on May 8, 1977, I preached at the Forty Fort United Presbyterian Church on November 25, 2018.

          I hadn’t preached there in over four decades.

          So many memories.

          David Meeker and I used to fill in the o’s in the bulletin to make it through the services.

          Mrs. Mante would march into the service with children in tow within seconds of the call to worship; preparing me for worshippers who must feel it’s rude to be on time.

          Her husband who endured me in Confirmation Class before enduring David and me working on our God and Country Award as part of Danny Evans’ Troop 122 before guiding me through college and seminary to ordination always yelled out, “Blessings on you!  Keep the faith!”  When I asked Rev. Mante what he meant by that, he said with a smile, “I want God to bless you even though you don’t deserve it and I want you to stay faithful in gratitude for those blessings.”

          Then there was Miss Grace Blanchard who taught a boys only Sunday School class until she was 104 and convinced me that retirement is only for those who can’t or won’t anymore.  She’d say once a month, “O.K., boys, today is SOS Sunday!  Same old stuff!”

          Today, they have a wonderfully faithful pastor, The Rev. William Lukesh, who is a part of the remnant still believing in Jesus by the book.  I am so thankful for him being my parents’ pastor.

          Not long after ordination, I went to New Jersey as pastor of Clark’s Osceola Presbyterian Church.  Aside from the officers, staff, and membership only being rivaled by our family of faith on the corner of Lincoln and Main when it comes to loving Jesus, loving America, and praying and working to make America Godly again, there were two sacred moments that have shaped my undershepherding-to-the-Good-Shepherd ministry.

          The first was a meeting of clergy and rabbis about the uproar generated by a local public library that put a manger scene in front of its lawn sign from just before Thanksgiving to just after Christmas.

          Not long after the meeting started, I got up and said, “We’ve got to be honest before we’re going to get anywhere on this.  We’ve got an irreconcilable difference in this room.  Christian clergy believe Jesus is Lord and rabbis don’t.”

          An old rabbi stood after I spoke and said, “My young Christian friend is right and I’ll be damned if he’s right.  But I’m betting my soul that he’s wrong just as much as he’s betting his soul that he’s right.”

          It cleared the air and we negotiated coexistence.

          The second shaping moment occurred during the Community Thanksgiving Service at the Cranford Presbyterian Church in 1979.

          Because I was the new kid in town, I had to preach.

          With rabbis and other non-Christians present, I said, “Well, I’m all for Thanksgiving as a national holiday.  I love America and what we stand for.  I like health and wealth and all of that stuff.  But everybody knows health and wealth and even our country could disappear overnight.  So I guess I’m going to reserve my highest thanksgiving for eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus that can never be taken away from us and helps us to overcome anything that life throws at us.”

          It was a big hit with the Christians in attendance.

          Come to think of it, I was never invited to preach at another community service.

          Can you guess why?

          Well, I haven’t changed over the years.

          I still love the advantages of living in America with so many freedoms and opportunities and those Bill of Rights.

          I’m glad Massachusetts Governor William Bradford made that first Thanksgiving Proclamation back in 1623: “Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest…spared us from pestilence and disease…granted us freedom to worship God…listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

          I’m glad President George Washington proclaimed November 26 as a National Day of Thanksgiving in response to God’s granting American independence from the English.

          I’m glad President Abraham Lincoln revived the national observance of Thanksgiving in 1863.

          I’m glad the United States Congress sealed the deal in 1941 and decreed the 4th Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving to God from whom all blessings flow.

          Pero I know Thanksgiving is shallow if it’s just about heath, wealth, nationalism, and other stuff that can become dust in the wind so quickly.

          Thanksgiving only means something if its about Someone who provides an eternal cause for praise and thanks that no one nor no thing can take away from us.

          No matter what happens to us in time, we have cause to praise and thank God for eternal life in paradise by grace through faith in Jesus that lasts infinitely longer than any accumulation or advantage fixed in time.

          That’s why Paul wrote, “Give thanks in everything…Thank God no matter what happens.”

          No matter what happens in time, it ends.

          No matter what happens in time, it does not change our heavenly inheritance by grace through faith in Jesus.

          Paul was right: “I consider that our present sufferings…[or treasures that expire when time’s up!]…are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

          While I may be wrong but wouldn’t say it if I thought I could be wrong, it seems to make a lot more sense to praise and thank God for eternity with Him in paradise than 70 or 80 or even over 100 years of the best that life affords.

          I spent a week with Eugene Peterson back in October 2011.

          I’ll never forget how he said, “Churches don’t need motivational speakers because you don’t have to motivate Christians.”

          Well, Eugene went home to Jesus on October 22, 2018.

          Not long before graduating, his son Eric asked how he felt about having only a few months left on earth; and Eugene said with that calming, certain, and infectious smile, “I feel good about that.”

          I am reminded of how David Redding explained our blessed assurance: “Anyone who feels sorry for a dead Christian, as though the poor chap were missing something, is himself missing the transfiguring promotion involved.”

          So, yes, let’s celebrate Thanksgiving.

          Let’s eat turkey and stuffing and cranberry relish and watch football until our eyes are glazed and we drift off to sleep.

          Most of all, while praising and thanking God for every blessing in time, let’s reserve our highest praise and thanks for the ultimate blessing of faith in Jesus.



          By grace through faith in Jesus, everybody goes home for thanksgiving.


Blessings and Love!


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

Shatter the sound of silence!

Salt! Shine! Leavenate!



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Scratching the Surface of the Psalms - 32

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)


Scratching the Surface of the Psalms


“How Churches Could Be More Convincing”

For the first nine years or so on the corner of Lincoln and Main, I’d often say during messages, “Please don’t tell anyone that I’m your pastor because I don’t want anyone to think you got what you got from me.”

Part of it was only staff members Karen, Mona, Jeremy, and Murph were welcoming and nice to me when I landed; and part of it was Belvidere’s First Presbyterian Church had a reputation for being snobby, snotty, grudge-holding, and disrespectful to each other as well as clergy.

After some additions and subtractions – revival sometimes don’t mean bringing people in but getting the people out who don’t love Jesus and all of His children – I haven’t said that too much over the past five years.

Of course, every once in a while when the wolf is at the door…

Truth is at least 95% of the folks on the corner of Lincoln and Main have always been better than worse; pero just a few fleas can make a big dog itch and just a few irregulars, irascibles, and irreconcilables can taint a church’s reputation and, if not held accountable to confession and repentance as prerequisite to restoration, make things more miserable than merry.

Mark Twain’s conclusion about too many churches remains chastening: “The church is always trying to get other people to reform.  It might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little by way of example.”

Pointedly, churches could – ah, let’s say should - be a lot more convincing to the unchurched who are like the churched who need Jesus to feel existentially loved and eternally secure.

Specifically, churches could be a lot more convincing if they were known exclusively for agape expressed through mercy, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Sadly, too many churches have really bad reputations; especially when it comes to the lack of forgiveness among its pulpiteers and pewsitters.

It seems too many churches talk a lot about it without knowing and making known what forgiveness means, how to do it, and why it’s so important to Jesus and people who say they love Jesus.

Forgiveness is really important to God.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Yeah, debts, debtors, trespasses, and trespassers are synonyms for sins and sinners though sins and sinners are a lot more literal to the original languages of the Bible not to mention original sin.

You say potato, I say…

Moretheless, that part of what we call The Lord’s Prayer is the only part of the prayer that Jesus explained immediately after finishing the prayer: “For if you forgive others when they sin against you, God will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, God will not forgive you.”



It’s really hard to say this but Jesus is saying our forgiveness from God is conditional upon our forgiving others.

Forgiving = forgiven.

Unforgiving = unforgiven.



I’m reminded of Karen McCoy who went home to Jesus on June 24, 2015.

A few days before graduation, she said, “If people won’t forgive, hell with them; and, Pastor Bob, I didn’t say that.  Jesus said that!”



Herbert Lockyer is sobering about the connection between forgiveness and God’s favor in Everything Jesus Taught: “There is one sin…[that]…Jesus said a forgiving God cannot forgive.  It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…the willful, conscious, and final rejection of the pardon God offers in Christ…God cannot forgive such a soul for such a soul is unable to receive and appreciate forgiveness.  It has gone too far ever to return.”



Lockyer goes on, “Jesus emphasized the relationship between the two aspects of forgiveness, namely, God’s forgiveness of man, and man’s forgiveness of man…At the heart of the teaching of Jesus was the insistence that the human who would not forgive the human could never be forgiven by God…Jesus seems to say, ‘How dare you ask God to forgive you when you refuse your forgiveness to a brother?’”

He concludes, “We must do to others as we wish God to do to us.  If we refuse to forgive, our own forgiveness is denied.”



I think of a conversation between John Wesley and an unforgiving man.

When Wesley asked him to forgive someone, he said, “It’s no use, Mr. Wesley.  You know, sir, I never forgive.”

Wesley snapped, “I hope you know you will never be forgiven; or else I hope you have never sinned.”

So there it/He is.

Our forgiveness from God is indisputably and eternally connected to our forgiveness of others.

Forgiveness is really important to Jesus and eternally consequential to us as it makes things a lot more merry than miserable in the meantime.

I was really miserable about all of this for the longest time because nobody really explained the meaning of forgiveness to me.

I’ll never forget my third grade Sunday School teacher who said, “If you can’t forget, you can’t forgive and you’ve heard what Jesus said about that.”



I thought I was going to hell for sure.

I mean I have a pretty good hard drive and don’t forget too much.

Told that if I could pull up the sins from the past from my noodle’s files, it meant I was not forgetting ergo not forgiving and therefore damned.

It was a lot to take for a third grader.

With thanks to God for people who spend a little more time in the Bible than others, I learned the meaning of forgiveness as intended by Jesus.

He used words that meant forgiveness is kinda like forgetting in that we don’t hold the past against each other.

We forgive.

We kinda forget even if our divinely designed noodles can recall the infractions of the past.

Biblically, forgiveness occurs when the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual barriers of the past are torn down and the past no longer inhibits present and future relationships.

That’s what God has done for us by grace through faith in Jesus and that’s what God expects from us for others: “Love each other just as much as I love you.”

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we like people who have caused problems in our lives or trust them or want to go to the movies with them.

It means we are not out to hurt them or retaliate against them while using the past as rationale for not trying to get along now and then and forever.

Nobody is suggesting it’s easy.

Heaven, Jesus went to the cross over it.

It’s not easy.

It’s necessary.

It’s freedom from the resentments, grudges, and other emotional dung-holes that weigh us down.

Forgiveness yields freedom from manipulators and mean-spirited and hateful and hurtful and other miscreants.

Being forgiven by God and each other is almost paradise.

It’s a taste of heaven.

While grudge-holders are gravediggers with the only graves being dug being theirs, the forgiving and forgiven by God and each other know unparalleled peace and calm.

Forgiveness transforms misery into merry and glum into glad.

It lightens the step because the load has been lifted.

David sang about the joys of forgiveness in Psalm 32: “How happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered…How happy we are to get a fresh start and clean slate…Reconciled with God and each other sparks joyous celebration.”

David cautioned against holding onto sin: “When I kept it all inside, the stress and pressure never let up…All the juices of my life dried up.”

Then David moved to the formula for forgiveness from God and each other that was echoed in 1 John 1:5-10.  Here’s the apostle’s punch line: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  David put it this way: “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my sins to the Lord, and You took away the guilt of my sin.’”

I like Peterson’s paraphrase: “I said, ‘I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God’…Suddenly, the pressure was gone…my guilt dissolved…my sin disappeared.”

Nota bene.

That formula for forgiveness from God is supposed to be our formula for forgiveness with each other; and God has made it clear that if we don’t exercise that formula in our relationships with each other, we forfeit it in our relationship with Him.



The rest of the psalm reiterates the most common theme of Holy Scripture: “Trust and obey!  For there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey!”

It doesn’t take much discernment to know David most likely wrote this psalm after getting caught in the sack with Bathsheba and then knocking off her husband so he could stay in the sack with her and then experiencing God’s forgiveness after confession and repentance.

That’s the usual formula.

Confession and repentance are prerequisite to restoration between us and God and each other.

Yet – and it’s a very big yeeeeeeet.  A yet that I’m still praying about and reading about as I continue to scratch the surface of my relationship with God by the book – I’m still trying to understand how our incarnate Lord’s last act of forgiveness could/should impact our relationships with others who have not confessed sin nor made any attempt to repent from sin.

The crucified Christ said from the cross in the presence of those who were among the most guilty of denying, torturing, and murdering Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is among the most unpredictably astounding things that Jesus ever said.  He is asking Father God not to hold the sins of everyone culpable for His passion and death against them; but rather to forgive them as ignorant.  

How often have we heard ignorance is no excuse?

One of our Lord’s last words disagrees with that sentiment; and there’s no way on earth to understand such forgiveness.

All we can do is praise and thank Him for forgiving our unconsciously and even consciously ignorant unconfessed and unrepented sins: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Maybe, as Twain suggested, we could/should model Him a little bit better with each other as others watch us.

Maybe we could be a lot more convincing if we took our forgiveness to the next level.



Blessings and Love!


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

Shatter the sound of silence!

Salt!  Shine!  Leavenate!



Thursday, November 8, 2018

Scratching the Surface of the Psalms #31

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)


Scratching the Surface of the Psalms


“A Shared Hatred Born of Love”

Knowing so many people were having my home pastor for lunch if you know what I mean, I never wanted to be a pastor.

I didn’t want to be paid to be holy and abused and had known from a very early age that being a pastor is like wearing a deerskin and walking through the woods on the first day of hunting season.

Pero Dr. Felmeth called me into his seminary VP office and told me that I was going to be the “temporary supply” – technical term back then for pastor-on-the-cheap for churches that can’t/won’t fork over for a full-time and fully credentialed cleric – of the Delaware Presbyterian Church near the Water Gap on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

When I said I was going to be a homiletics or theology professor not an ecclesiastical grunt, gofer, and “errand boy for the wandering desires” of people with a coincidental religion about Jesus (Bob Dylan), he reminded me that I was on a full scholarship and would do what he told me to do.

Actually, he not me knew I was called to be a pastor.

That’s why he sent me to the church against my wishes; and Mary Williams, a dear old saint who sat in the front pew every Sunday and would always nod and whisper affirmations when I preached, confirmed the VP’s discernment of irresistible providence in my life.

Approaching five decades later with a passion that grows for pastoral ministry, I confess they were right and I was wrong.

Of course, call and comfort don’t always go together.

Jesus said people who really love Him will be hated for really loving Him because they pray and try to follow Him instead of agreeing with the last person that they’ve talked to like bad sentences ending in prepositions.

Jesus said disciples will catch everything but heaven for loving people enough – that means pointing ‘em to Jesus by the book without watering down any part of the message and not pandering to people who only want to hear about the parts of the Bible that they like – not to be liked by them.

Jesus said believers know they’re going to spend a lot longer time with Him than anybody else which means they don’t have a hard time establishing life’s priorities.

Pero, again, that doesn’t always translate to every day being a hot fudge sundae; or as I like to tell young women and men who are Biblically faithful ergo foolish enough to follow Jesus, “Yeah, I know you want to be just like Jesus except for the crucifixion part.”

Fortunately, the final chapter goes like this in His words, “If you go to the cross with Me, you will wear the crown with Me.  If you give up this life to be Mine, You will live with Me forever in paradise.”

Sooooooo while I was called to do what I’ve been doing ever since, there have been moments when I should have taken the advice of Luther’s dad and gone to law school; or stayed in the ivy tower and become like those other professors who never practice what they preach.

I’ll never forget my very first trial as pastor of the Delaware Presbyterian Church.

I noticed someone had doctored The Apostles’ Creed in the church’s hymnbooks.  Specifically, someone had crossed out “The Holy Catholic Church” and penned in “The Holy Christian Church” in every hymnbook!

Sooooooo I said, “I don’t know who defaced our hymnbooks with an improper rendering of the creed.  Only a really ignorant person would do that.  Only someone who really has no clue about our heritage would change the wording.  Anyone who is remotely literate knows catholic means universal and doesn’t refer to any particular part of the Church.  I know some folks have an ignorant bias about our sisters and brothers in the RCC that feeds this illiteracy; yet it has nothing to do with a part of the Kingdom but everything to do with the whole Church: ‘The Holy Catholic Church.’  So we’re going to say it the right way.”

After the worship service, Mary pulled me aside and said, “Everybody knows you’re right; but you’re gonna catch it.  Dr. Wilbur Thrush, our pastor for over thirty years, did it.”


I survived.

My friend in Metuchen, New Jersey did not.

He removed a bust of his predecessor from the sanctuary that had been donated to the church.

It reminds me of the beautiful brass sign with my name on it that was put out front on the beautiful stone sign of Kansas City’s Second Presbyterian Church.

I got it changed to “Jesus Christ – Our Lord and Savior.”

Before the change, I got the ball rolling by saying in worship, “If this church is ever going to get going, we’ve got to get back to Jesus.  The first thing that we need to do is go out front and take down the pastor’s name and lift up the name of Jesus!”

While greeting folks after worship, a woman who looked redder than a stadium filled with Husker fans yelled at me, “How dare you take down the name of our beloved pastor Dr. ____!  He was a much better pastor than you’ll ever be!  I’m going to session to make sure that his name stays right where it’s always been!”

“Uh,” I said in the midst of an uncomfortable scene, “his name was taken down when I came.  The only name that will come off the sign is mine.”

She marched off.

I survived.

Check out Psalm 91 and you’ll figure out how/why I survived like so many before, with, and to come after moi.

I’ve been battling denominational, liturgical, architectural, academic, and countless other cultural and ecclesiastical idolatries since Dr. Felmeth forced me to go to that church.

I hate idolatry.

Idolatry is anything or anyone distracting from the allegiance and affection due God alone.

I got that hatred of idolatry from God.

He gave commandments to us about it.

The prophets preached against it.

Jesus cautioned us about it.

The apostles wrote about it.

It’s a shared hatred born of love.

God’s hatred of idolatry is shared by anyone who knows Him and wants to make His saving Lordship known.

Idolatry distracts people from the only One who can save ‘em.

That’s why David wrote so uncompromisingly in Psalm 31, “I hate those devoted to worthless idols, but I trust in the Lord.”

I really like Peterson’s paraphrase: “I hate all this silly religion, but You, God, I trust.”

Of course, picking on people’s idolatries can be problematic.

It doesn’t do a lot for job security.

Ask pastors like…

Ask the prophets.

Ask Jesus.

You can get nailed for picking on people’s idols.

Psalm 31 returns to a consistent theme in David’s prayers and songs.

God is our only shelter from the storms of life.

God is our only deliverer from the meanness, madness, misery, and miscreance of a world that keeps falling.

Jesus Himself quoted this psalm while on His cross: “Into Your hands, I entrust My spirit…I’ve put my life in Your hands.  You won’t drop Me.  You’ll never let me down.”

I believe David returned to this theme of God’s saving Lordship so much because we need to hear it so much in a world that threatens our sanity, stability, and safety so much; especially when we take on its idols.

It’s good to be reminded He saves: “I seek refuge in You…You are my rock and my fortress…You will free me from the net that is secretly set for me…You are my refuge!”

It’s good to be reminded we will live triumphantly now and forever: “Love the Lord, all His faithful ones.  The Lord protects the loyal…Be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord.”

That’s why David wrote so many psalms about God coming through for us as Savior in time and forever.

Jesus put it so simply and eternally satisfyingly: “You will be hated by everyone because of My name.  But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.”

Let me put it another way.

Idols become dust in the wind.

With Jesus as our foundation, focus, and filter, we’re part of the family that lives forever.

Let me put it another way.

Don’t be like Aaron and exchange eternal security breeding existential calm for nothing more than idolatry that’s never more than a little bull.

We’re part of “The Holy Catholic Church” believing in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit along with “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”



Blessings and Love!


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

Shatter the sound of silence!

Salt!  Shine!  Leavenate!



Monday, November 5, 2018

Vote for Jesus!

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)


    "So whadddya think, Pastor Bob," came the inquiry with a smirk more than smile, "about that hysterically screaming female Presbyterian pastor in Pittsburgh who welcomed everybody into her neighborhood but the President of the United States of America?  That's just what we need.  Another pastor giving a bad name to our denomination."

    Parenthetically, google "in good standing" Minister of the Word and Sacrament Susan "Reverend Suz" Rothenberg of Pittsburgh Presbytery for context.

    "Well," I responded, "I don't think our reputation can be any worse than it already is; pero I do think she resurrects Maxine, Rosie, Samantha, Joy, and Hillary as role models for women."


    O.K., November 6 is Election Day and we're less than 24 hours away from some kinda wave.

    Though bullets aren't flying around yet, we're in our second Civil War for the soul of America.


    The bullets are flying around.

    It will probably get worse before it gets better because the women and men running for offices fail to recognize the only One who can save the republic.

    As Luther taught us to sing, "Dost ask who that may be?  Christ Jesus, it is He!"

    Of course, ya rarely hear politicians talking about Jesus these days.

    Come to think of it, I've been told lots of pastors don't talk about Him by name either.

    We've even got Senators from California and Illinois who think faith should disqualify somebody/anybody from becoming a federal judge.

    They're on tape!

    After thinking about it for a while, I know why our politicians and too many pastors don't talk about Jesus as the answer to what's ailing America.

    They don't believe Jesus is the answer to what's ailing America.


    If they did, they would.

    Because they don't, they won't.

    Matthew 5:13-16 quickly comes to mind.


    Cliff Mansley, a remnant pastor in Kansas City, blurted out during a Pittsburgh Presbytery meeting so many years ago during an election, "Vote for Jesus!"

    I don't know if "Reverend Suz" was there.

    I do remember why he said that.

    The only answer to what's ailing America and her churches is Jesus.



    Sooooooo, as best as I can discern, I'm not going to vote for the lesser of two evils anymore.


    The lesser of two evils is still evil.

    Nah, while I may be wrong when I drop that ballot, I'm going to pray and ask Holy Spirit guidance to vote for women and men who believe in Jesus and know He is the answer to what's ailing America.

    After all is said and done, the Church that still knows Him isn't shy about heralding Him as Lord and Savior.

    God knows America needs saving.


Blessings and Love!


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

Shatter the sound of silence!

Salt!  Shine!  Leavenate!