Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Merry Christmas!


Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)

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Scratching the Surface


of

Christmas

(A Brief and Incomplete Look at the Difference Between Like/Is)

Albert Einstein was a familiar face at Princeton Theological Seminary.  While teaching at the university, he was a frequent guest lecturer at the seminary.

Although one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, he was very forgetful.

It wasn’t unusual to spot him strolling across the seminary campus without one of his socks or both of his shoes!

There is one story of how the university switchboard received a call asking for Dr. Einstein’s address.  The operator said, “I’m sorry, but Dr. Einstein has made it clear to us that we are not to give out his address to anyone.”  “But,” the voice whispered after a short pause, “This is Dr. Einstein.”

It is important to know who you are.

Buuuuuuut it is even more important to know who Jesus is.

That’s why Constantine called the bishops to Nicaea in the first quarter of the 4th century.

Arius had confused people with his Biblically illiterate nonsense about Jesus being kinda like God but not really true God.

There is a difference between like and is.

That’s what the Council of Nicaea was all about.  It was called to declare definitively if Jesus was like God or is God.

Relying on Biblical revelation (e.g., John 1, Colossians 1, Hebrews 1), the answer was unmistakable: “We believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”

Simply, Jesus is not like God.  Jesus is God.

Jesus is Emmanuel or God-with-us – the incarnation/enfleshment of God.

Or as one child exclaimed upon finally figuring Him out, “Jesus is God with skin on.”

That’s why the earliest confession of the church was so clear, concise, and conclusive: “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

Jesus is God.

The message of Christmas is God’s incarnation/enfleshment in Jesus with the intent of enabling our confident living and eternal life through faith in Him as Lord and Savior.

Here’s a letter for parents about the real meaning of Christmas:

Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s hard to believe Christmas is just around the corner.  Tree lots are springing up and McDonald’s is selling movies again; though I’m not sure what their selections have to do with the season.  But in some strange way, all of it gets me pretty excited.

I know you’re wondering what to give the kids this year.  It seems nobody remembers what you gave them last year.  There aren’t many things that don’t wear out, get thrown out, or become played out.  That’s why I’m writing.  I’ve got an idea that can change all of that.

Do you remember when your babies were born?  Do you remember how you were lost in wonder, love, and praise?  Do you remember when they were baptized?  You promised to tell them about Jesus.  Do you remember those first Christmas Eve services when their faces seemed to glow even more than the candles in their little hands?  Do you remember listening to them sing about that “Silent Night, Holy Night” for the first time?  I know you remember when they saw the manger scene and exclaimed with such innocent joy, “There’s baby Jesus!”

I know you know what to give them for Christmas.

I’m not one of those Scrooge-like posing “Christians” who make holidays look like a bad case of hemorrhoids.  I like popcorn balls, candy canes, cookies with sprinkles, eggnog, mistletoe, and even the funny man in the red suit.  They help to make the season bright.

I just want you to remember why we’re always excited; and not just around this time of the year.

It’s all about a baby.  Jesus.  Emmanuel.

So give Jesus to the kids!  He is the only gift that last forever!



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Blessings and Love!

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

Shatter the sound of silence!

Salt! Shine! Leavenate!




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Thursday, December 13, 2018

How 42 and 45 Treat Women


Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)

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How 42 and 45 Treat Women


About half of our citizens are rooting for Herr Mueller to accomplish in 2019 what the political elites could not in 2016.

With champagne on ice as Stormy and Spartacus preen to pop the cork and propel the plethora of people who hate our current President for good, bad, and otherwise to Maxine’s mantra – “Impeach 45!” – into nirvana or at least a strong buzz, this seems as good a time as any to unsettle idolaters with a reminder of how 42 and 45 treated women.

While I’m not a lawyer, I’ve been told by ‘em that 42 and 45 have sooooooo much in common when it comes to misogynistic behavior warranting conviction.

BTW, I’m not sure if this is past or present tense; though Solomon raises this suspicion about both: “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”

Be that as it may be, both have proven to be, uh, pigs when it comes to women.

Indeed, I have a very, very, very conservative friend who left the church because I wasn’t conservative enough who said before the last run for the White House, “I can’t vote for Hillary because she’s a lying criminal who left our boys to die in Libya and sold the stuff that makes nukes to the Russians and is in a convenience marriage to a serial sex fiend; and I can’t vote for Trump because I have daughters and heard what he said about women on that tape.”

Putting our political partisanships aside for a moment, let’s be honest about Bill and Donald.

Bill groped, molested, and raped women with the enabling of a wife who would be America’s Queen if it weren’t for the wisdom of our founders who came up with that Electoral College.  Pretending to be a champion for women that gives new definition to hypocrisy, Hillary did her worst to destroy the victims of her sexual predator husband.  

Bill abused women.  

Hillary enabled him.  

Harold always told me,  “The most dangerous people in the world are people without shame.”

That’s why I could never vote for Hillary and why I’m so glad Bill ain’t near the Lincoln bedroom.

Besides, I have a friend who got into the White House back in those days who whispered, “Bill wants to bed anyone in a skirt.  Hillary is a poster child for the ___ word and among the most wicked women that I’ve ever met.  Strangely, it makes sense that he sought something outside of his marriage.”

45 has rivaled Solomon when it comes to wives, paramours, prostitutes, and male chauvinism.

While 42 stole sexual favors from women, 45 paid for ‘em and has tried to buy the silence of his formerly willing playmates since setting his eyes and ego on the planet’s biggest prize.

42 had sex with the willing and unwilling without spending a nickel.

45 had sex with more than a few professionals, paid for it, and paid for ‘em not to talk about it because he was running for P and then beat another Howard Cosell of politics.

Geez.

What a country.

Of course, I suspect idolaters of 42 and 45 will cry foul in the face of veracity and offer more lame excuses for the aforementioned than an 8th grader with Hustler in the bathroom.

As the colonel said, “You…[they]…can’t handle the truth!”

God knows idolatry has always been a big problem; which is why it’s listed in the big ten and Jesus along with Paul talked about it so much.

I guess if you like 42, you think 45 is worse; and vice versa.

Sigh.

On the other hand, if they’re confessional and repentant, we gotta forgive ‘em.

That’s what Jesus said.

On the backhand, they’ve not said anything remotely confessional and repentant.

Oops.

I guess 42 and 45 have a lot more in common than their idolaters will admit.



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Blessings and Love!

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

Shatter the sound of silence!

Salt! Shine! Leavenate!



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Monday, December 10, 2018

Scratching the Surface of the Psalms - 34


Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)

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Scratching the Surface of the Psalms

#34

“Larger than Life”

Everyone around my age agrees, “Life begins at 50 and then it’s patch, patch, patch.”

Unless you’ve got Jesus in your head, heart, and gut, the piling up of prescriptions, pills, and referrals that range from preventive to critical to padding another MD’s bank account when winding down can be so overwhelming, disconcerting, unsettling, and depressing that the overrated twilight years seem like a death watch.

Yes, the inevitable is, uh, inevitable and nobody escapes the last breath in time.

I’ll get back to that and how Jesus changes that horror show into calming, certain, courageous, confident, and triumphantly living anticipation of His best life after this life when He, again, is in your head, heart, and gut.

Pero, for now, let me share what’s coming for those of you who are under 50 as you see the nods and hear the affirming yet agonizing groans of those who are over 50.

Ever hear of a colonoscopy?

That’s a thrill.

Just ask someone about the 24 hours before they stick that big hose with snippers up…

I’ll never forget my first one that comes as a birthday present when you reach 50.  Just before we got going, I asked, “Do yu’uns wash those things between patients?”

Yeah, like you, more snickers than laughs.

Well, I got through that one at 50…and 60…and I’ve got another one coming in around 4 years.

In the meantime, because I had one fainting spell back in the fall of 2018 and told my wife and primary care physician about it, I got to do a mini-version of a colonoscopy called cologuard.
Another thrill.

They send you a kit and you, uh, poop in a can and hope there’s a local UPS store to ship it off in 24 hours to some laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin so you can wait to find out if there’s been more padding of someone’s pocket or you’re about to cash in.

And then…

Enough.

Get the picture?

If you’re under 50, you don’t; but just ask anyone over 50 and they’ll scare the hell out of you which is good because you’re going to have to have heaven in your soul when the patching commences.

Mike comes to mind.

Many months before he went home to Jesus, we met at Starbucks and discussed then prayed about a very bad doctor’s report.

“I’m going to beat this,” he said.

I responded, “Yes, you are, Mike.  One way or the other, you are going to beat it.”

Then we began many months of trips to the table of Holy Communion and conversations about what Jesus is ultimately all about.

Just as a reminder, Jesus is ultimately all about eternal life after this life that is so much better than the best that this life can offer that Jesus describes it as paradise.

That’s why all believers are larger than life.

So many of our conversations reminded me of Psalm 34.

While commentators are convinced 1 Samuel 21 is the historical background for this psalm – you can read it sometime – it doesn’t really matter because the meaning of the psalm transcends any particular historical moment to the blessed assurance of knowing for certain that we are eternal and heaven-bound for paradise after the last breath in time.

Believers like Mike and you and me join David to praise and thank God because He helps us to endure and overcome the meanness, madness, misery, and miscreance of life in our world: “I praise God every chance I get!  His love for me is always on the tip of my tongue!  Whenever I think things aren’t going well or there’s a daunting challenge, I remember He has always delivered me from tight spots.  He did it before and He’ll do it again.”

Then David provides the key to unlocking this safety and security and salvation in the meantime: “Worship God if you want His best.  Worship opens the door to all His goodness.”

Psst.

That’s not occasional, irregular, sometimes, only if you don’t have something “better” to do, irresponsible, disrespectful, ungrateful, trifling with God worship.

That’s worship as the first priority of your life.

That’s worship because you’re so thankful that He helps you to overcome the meantime as preface to the best time that lasts forever in heaven.

Again, David sings out with gusto, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.  How happy are people who take refuge in Him.”

David concludes with a warning to unbelievers and promise to believers.

To the unbelievers: “The wicked commit slow suicide.  God won’t put up with rebels.”

To the believers: “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.  The righteous cry out to God and He hears them and delivers them from all their troubles.  No one who runs to God loses out sooner or later, usually sooner than later, and definitely in the end.”

Getting back to Mike, he beat cancer because cancer has no eternal hold on a believer.

God has an eternal hold on believers.

Believers are larger than life.

Let’s be more specific about what comes the first nano-second after the last breath.

Surely, I shared the good news with Mike as I’ve always shared the good news with anyone who needs good news and is willing to hear it.

Jesus, of course, put it/Him best: “God loved the world so much that He came in the flesh in the Messiah; so that whoever believes in Him will not vanish from reality but have eternal life in the pure and perfect place of personal peace where there is no more crying or pain or tears or anything negative.  Paradise!”

Yet after over four decades of repeating that good news, Mike was the first to ask, “What will I see first?”

“Well, Mike,” I said, “I don’t know.  I haven’t been there yet.  But from what I’ve read in the Bible and know from faith and anyone who has ever witnessed to what comes after the last breath, it sounds pretty good…I can’t wrap my head around that, but it sounds pretty good.”

I added during another of our sacred moments together: “Mike, I’ve been thinking more about your question – “What will I see first?” – and while I’m sure you’re going to see mom and dad and…the apostle says you’re going to see face to face and know completely what you only knew in part before.  That sounds pretty good to me.  I can’t wrap my head around paradise and knowing completely what we only knew in part before, but it sounds good to me.”

“Me too,” he said.

Well, we had one more discussion about his question in the last clear conversation that we had before he went home to Jesus.

It was sparked by a dream that I had that I know was inspired by his question.

“Mike,” I began, “I asked God to be more specific about what you will see.  I had a dream and was blessed with a taste of heaven.  I don’t know if anybody else but you can understand this dream because it’s about the refreshment and restoration and forgiveness and healing and harmony and perfecting of all renewed and reborn and restored relationships in heaven.”

Then I shared the dream: “I was in a large barracks with bunks side by side.  Separated from me by one bunk was a woman who loved me a lot long before I met my wife.  I didn’t love her back and ended the relationship.  We weren’t meant for each other. “

I went on, “Well, she reached out to me from my bunk; but I did not reach back.  For some reason, I got up and went into a room filled with the whitest white light that I’ve ever experienced; upset with myself for not reaching out to someone who loved me in time but who I, well, uh, did not love back to her satisfaction.”

“All of a sudden,” I continued, “the door to the room burst open, she runs in, embraces me in a hug that transcends any human definition and, though my face is pointing one way and hers is pointing another way, I can see her face filled with peace, calm, total joy and forgiveness, healing, and every other emotion and thought and longing and…that cannot be articulated.”

It was heavenly.

A taste.

No more wouldas or couldas or shouldas.

No more wasted time.

It was total final forever reconciliation…refreshingly regained time.

I asked Mike if he understood the dream.

“Yes,” he said.

“That’s what you are going to see first, my brother, and I won’t be too far behind you…That’s our taste…Enjoy the full course, amigo!”

Then Mike and I shared a final strong, manly, confident, certain, and calm fist pump.

As I walked out of his room, I said, “I’ll see you later.”

He said, “I know.”

“I’m gonna beat this,” he said months before that moment.

He did!

He did because believers are larger than life!

The apostle put it/Him this way: “I consider any suffering in time not worth comparing to the glory that comes in heaven by grace through faith in Jesus.”

David knew it.
Mike knew it.

If Jesus is in our heads and hearts and guts, we know it.

Believers are larger than life.

Life begins and never ends as soon as Jesus is invited into the head, heart, and gut as Lord and Savior.


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Blessings and Love!

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

Shatter the sound of silence!

Salt! Shine! Leavenate!


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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Scratching the Surface of the Psalms - 33


Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)

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Scratching the Surface of the Psalms


#33

“Your Church’s Future”

Not long apr├Ęs the inaugural Pentecost sometime around A.D. 30, Karen McClenthen began her ministry at our family of faith occasionally known as First Presbyterian Church on the corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere, Illinois.

While she will always be a year older than me and has Benedictine stability in that she has never served in any other ecclesiastical capacity, I’ve been ordained a few more years than she’s been employed at First.

Well into the second decade of ministry avec her, I know my place as highlighted by a letter printed in our December 2018 newsletter: “A big thank you to Karen McClenthen and Mary Taylor for the beautiful luncheon at the bazaar and for all their hard work putting on the lunch after the concert.  What will we do without them?”

Nobody has ever written anything like that about me in a newsletter; though I think the sentiment goes something like this: “What will we do with him?”

Actually, I’ve known my place in the lives of pewsitters and other church-dwellers since my first session meeting not long after May 8, 1977: “If I die on Sunday afternoon, there will be ham and cole slaw in Fellowship Hall on Wednesday and people lining up on Sunday to get on the pastor search committee so they can get the pastor they really wanted before I arrived.”

Getting back to that first session meeting, I’ll never forget an elder’s reaction to my first pastor’s report that included recommendations for the church’s future: “If you think we’re going to do any of that, you’re crazy!”

Getting back to my boss, I think I’ve only had one really, uh, challenging moment with her over the years.

Karen was, uh, commenting on how hard it is to get volunteers for some things and how some of our own family members don’t show up for special stuff and…

Catch the drift?

Well, I said we’ve got to stop longing for the way things never were

or maybe were but are no more: “You know, Karen, all churches are having a hard time paying the bills and filling the pews and getting volunteers and dealing with inflated egos and my-way-or-the-highway types, irregulars, irascibles, irreconcilables, and…I work with a lot of churches and pastors and, really, we’re doing a lot better than most and…”

Kindly, she interrupted me and lamented, “But this is our church.”

Ah, yes.

My heart ached for her…and me…and you…and anyone who remembers when…

Truth is Jesus and church and worship and…just ain’t what He used to be to most Americans these days.

Not speaking dispensationally, the church age is over.

American churches are becoming like churches in Europe - an afterthought except when someone dies or wants to get married or wants to get little Johnny or Susie done aka baptism or there’s a terrorist act or tornado or flood or…

That really hit home for me when I went home for Thanksgiving and preached at the Forty Fort United Presbyterian Church across the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (11/25/18).

Despite one of the most faithful and humble pastors that I’ve ever met – William Lukesh – the church is farther down the road in the concerns raised by Karen about what’s becoming increasingly challenging on the corner of Lincoln and Main.

Pastor Bill loves Jesus by the book and preaches to 5-7 folks on Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. in a church about a mile from his and then leads worship for another 2-10 saints on Sunday at 9:00 a.m. in a church about ten miles from his before doing the same for my parents and maybe 25 more in Forty Fort at 10:30 a.m.

Again, I work with a lot of churches and talk to a lot of pastors and it’s all the same regardless of franchise, ideology, theology, socioeconomics, demographics, and so on.

Churches in America are dying; and from the latest reports, well over a thousand are closing their doors every month.

It’s not about trying to find a different way to do church.

It’s about doing church when most people don’t want to do it anymore.

Yes, there are exceptions to the rule; yet exceptions to the rule are called exceptions to the rule because they occur so infrequently that they are called exceptions to the rule which means it is prudent to play by the
rules even while acknowledging the exceptions.

Psalm 33 is helpful in approaching the future of your church in a cultural environment when church just isn’t as important as it used to be.

Psalm 33 is about being church as the Korean and WWII generations go home to Jesus and younger generations aren’t inclined or able to pay the bills if they come at all.

Specifically, Psalm 33 reminds us of the church’s continuing purpose regardless of the cultural response.

Simply, the church will always exist to praise God from whom all blessings flow. 

Whether the times are good, bad, or otherwise for the church, people who get Him - understand who He is and who we are as His and what He has done for us and our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus – will praise Him as creative Father, sustaining Spirit, and saving Son.

The primary purpose of the Church is to worship God with all of its ministries fueled by worship.

The most mission-minded churches in the world are the most worshipful ones; for being close to God is expressed through feeding souls and bodies.

Matthew 25 ministries come supernaturally to those who worship God.

Getting closer to God makes us more Godly; and when we’re more Godly, we’re more involved in the kinda things that He modeled in Jesus with grace, mercy, forgiveness, and agape as exclamation marks of fidelity.

God inspired David to write Psalm 33 for “righteous ones” and “the upright” or those who are intimate with God and want to please Him in all things at all times in all places with all people.

That’s what defines a saint – a person who knows God and wants to make Him known by confession, conduct, and countenance.

This psalm encourages saints to “sing for joy in the Lord…give thanks to the Lord…sing praises to Him.”

Peterson’s paraphrase of the opening verses of the psalm are spot on: “Good people, cheer God!  Right-living people sound best when praising.”

David highlights some of the reasons why we praise God.

We praise Him for the beauty and splendor of His creation: “The skies were made by God…He breathed the word and the stars popped out.  He scooped the sea into His jug…He spoke and there it was, in place the moment He said so.”

We praise God for being God and history being His story: “God takes the wind out of Babel pretense.  He shoots down the world’s power-schemes.  God’s plan for the world stands up.  All of His designs are made to last.  Blessed is the country with God for God.”

We praise God for saving the faithful: “Watch this!  God’s eye is on those who respect Him, the ones who are looking for His love.  He’s ready to come to their rescue in bad times.  He keeps us together, body and soul, in lean times.”

We praise God because all blessings flow from Him: “We’re depending on God.  He’s everything we need. “

When we understand those reasons for worshipping God, every worship service is a privilege as well as necessity and responsibility.

When we understand we worship God because He so obviously is to be worshipped as God our creative Father, sustaining Spirit, and saving Son, every worship service is filled with attention, allegiance, affection, energy, excitement, and anticipation of existential graces to overcome whatever the world throws at us and eternal assurances of paradise immediately after the last breath.

The music and message and all of the rest come to life in Him as soon as He is alive in us; and David said that means worship among the authentically faithful is never tired or old or ignored or taken for granted because it seems like “a new song” as refreshingly repeated by the repentant and redeemed.

Alexis de Tocqueville was a 19th century French diplomat who traveled across America to find the cause of our strength and reached this conclusion in Democracy in America (1835): “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there.  I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there.  I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there.  I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her public school system and her institutions of learning, and it was not there.  I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution, and it was not there.”

His punch line: “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.  America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

In short, as David sang and every honest observer has had to conclude, a people’s peace and prosperity are inextricably woven into the fabric of faith expressed in praising God from whom all blessings flow.

Only the dimwitted or demonically oppressed to possessed cannot see America’s decline is linked directly to the decline of America’s churches.

America’s renewal depends upon the renewal of her churches.

Your church’s future will go a long way in determining America’s future.

I’ll never forget how humbled I felt when I heard about Pastor Bill Lukesh’s Saturday and Sunday worship schedules.

I’ll never forget how hopeful I became when I overheard him pray from the balcony as he walked alone through the sanctuary below not long before worship, “I thank You for this day to worship You.  I thank and praise You for…”

Your church’s future depends on your passionate participation in worship.

Everything else that your church does will be fueled by the vitality of your worship or starved by your inattention to worship.

Your church’s future depends on worship.

So does your country.

That’s what Karen, Pastor Lukesh, and David have been trying to tell us.



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Blessings and Love!

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

Shatter the sound of silence!

Salt! Shine! Leavenate!

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