Friday, August 16, 2019
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“When You’re Behind the 8 Ball”
All of our worship services on the corner of Lincoln and Main are intended to honor God and help people in honoring God; knowing people are always helped when God is honored.
Our Sunday morning services are a little different from each other and it’s for me not to know and for you to find out for yourself.
Our Wednesday evening service is very, very, very simple and intended for those that want to go deeper into the Word and Sacrament with no distractions and also for those who’ve been turned off by churches and just want to be as alone with God as possible at the table.
If any of that sounds cryptic or even a little crude, contentious, or completely incomprehensible, I’m just trying to say worship services hit people in different ways and you’ve got to experience ‘em for yourself to decide what suits ya.
Getting back to the best liturgical intentions, faith-filled worship services honor God and help people in honoring God; again, knowing people are always helped when God is honored.
Samuel: “God honors those who honor Him.”
The corollary being people/churches/countries that don’t honor God are going to…
Well, that sentence is completed by self-determination.
Getting back to honoring God and getting helped by God along the way, everybody gets behind the 8 ball of life every now and then.
People like me and you spend a lot of time with people behind the 8 ball of life; and, sometimes, we’re the ones behind it.
We like to fix things.
Of course, when I say that, my wife thinks I’m talking about somebody else not me fixing things.
Here’s a typical exchange in our house.
Wife: “We have water coming in through the basement.”
Me acting like George Jefferson: “Uh, so why you telling me?”
Actually, I might ask, “Are you looking for sympathy or a solution?”
Pero I do like to fix things; especially relationships.
Specifically, I like to explain how God can fix broken relationships.
Confessionally, I’ve reached a humbling conclusion.
I can’t fix broken relationships in our world, America, churches, or even my own…
I can’t fix Islam to treat women and gays as the children of God that they are.
I can’t fix churches that make Jesus puke – Hey, hey, hey, read Revelation 3 if that image offends you! – because they don’t walk the talk of grace, mercy, and forgiveness wrapped in love that Jesus said would distinguish His followers from the rest of the world.
I can’t fix people that say they’re Christians then act more like faith-vacuous Democrats and Republicans by their pontifications and practices; appearing remotely related to Jesus by the book.
I can’t fix denominations that are more about self-perpetuating pyramid schemes than advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I can’t even fix myself.
Didn’t think so.
We are so much alike; especially when it comes to needing a Savior named Jesus.
As Francis Chan likes to say, “I’m having a hard enough time getting my act together. How do you expect me to get yours together?”
When it comes to fixing things, my personal batting average is even lower than the collective average of the White Sox.
But, thank God, we have God who specializes in fixing us; and as we honor Him in worship as Father God, Savior Jesus, and sustaining and enabling Holy Spirit, we are helped.
God saves us when we’re behind the 8 ball of life.
Psalm 62 comes to mind.
It’s David’s “fixer-upper” psalm.
Just think of it as 6+2>8.
Everybody’s behind the 8 ball of life every now and then; and when that happens, 6+2>8. 62 beats 8! Psalm 62 is God’s plan to fix up our lives when we’re stuck behind those 8 balls.
Quickly, David probably wrote this one while his son Absalom was conspiring with others to dethrone and destroy him.
In other words, David was behind the 8 ball of life and turned to God to get fixed up and survive and thrive.
The prescription for overcoming the 8 balls of life and living victoriously through life is consistent with the basic theme of the Ten Commandments, Beatitudes, and entire Bible.
God alone is Savior!
God alone can be counted upon now and then and in the end and during the meantime!
An undeniable and unavoidable and terribly repetitive truth of life from which no one is immune is everybody experiences adversity and God alone can be trusted to help us meet the challenges and live triumphantly through them to peace in time and paradise after time.
Psalm 62 doesn’t hide the adversity affecting David or anyone else: “So many enemies want to kill me!”
David doesn’t pretend and everyone knows every day isn’t a hot fudge sundae.
Psalm 62 doesn’t put a lot of hope in anyone but God alone to step up to the plate and hit homeruns on our behalf: “People are like a vapor…windbags and blowbags…Oh, yeah, they say, ‘I’m praying for you’ but don’t…They say, ‘I’ve got your back’ but don’t.”
Human loyalties are so frail and false; or as David said, “They bless with their lips.”
People, David is lamenting, are mostly the same: unreliable, untrustworthy, and willfully unable to do anything that’s any heaven good.
So David concludes, “Place no trust in anyone but God” because God is not fickle and failing to help, intervene, intercede, and save.
The bad news is people are incapable of saving us and most of ‘em are unwilling as well as incapable.
The good news is God!
The good news is what God has done and keeps on doing for us and for our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.
God saves and God alone!
So David and people like David have that strong calm sanity in the midst of the meanness, madness, misery, and miscreance of life in the modern world: “I am at rest in God alone…My salvation comes from God alone…God alone…Because of God alone, I will not be shaken. Because of God alone, I am like a tree planted by water…Because of God alone, I survive and rise and live triumphantly and victoriously and positively and confidently and certainly…”
That’s the most basic saving truth of life and eternity.
A favorite story comes to mind.
A guy stands at the gates to heaven and Peter asks for the password before admittance.
Nervous but determined, he quotes Psalm 23.
“Popular,” Peter says, “but wrong.”
Again, he tries and quotes John 3:16.
“Popular,” Peter says, “but wrong.”
Finally, after several more failed attempts, the man exclaims in exasperation, “I give up.”
Peter smiles, opens the gates, and says, “Welcome!”
Everybody’s behind the 8 ball of life every now and then.
It’s true, unavoidable, and no one is immune.
That’s the bad news.
Now here’s the good news.
We can be saved and live happily ever after.
We can be saved by God alone when we become wise like magi at the manger and seek God alone as the way, truth, and life!
If we want to fix ourselves – a good place to start – and others whenever behind that old 8 ball of life, we can’t.
The best that we can do as a church is to be honest and say He can what we can’t.
For anyone by grace through faith in Jesus!
Thursday, August 8, 2019
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“Praise God for the SOS”
While Holy Scripture and the best of Christendom’s allegiance to God as personified perfectly in Jesus caution consistently against temptations to idolatries because they distract from the esteem due only to God and ultimately disappoint us because only God saves existentially and eternally, I’m just like everybody else and have some heroes.
My heroes always pointed me to Jesus and never fed any of my idolatrous instincts.
Parenthetically, Jesus is not my hero.
Jesus is God.
That’s wholly different from human heroes.
Human heroes aren’t pure and perfect in every way, make mistakes, and can be ignored because they make human mistakes when measured to the divine Jesus.
Jesus is Lord and Savior.
He can’t be ignored unless we want to roll the dice with our existential well-being and eternal destiny.
I don’t know if you’re interested pero my heroes are the apostle Paul, Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, my pastor Harold F. Mante, Donald Farmer, grandfathers, dad, mom, sister, wife, sons, and so many resurrected and continuing saints on the corner of Lincoln and Main that I won’t mention because those left out will have another excuse to stop worshiping the divine because of another human omission.
BTW, I’m not going to tell you why those are my heroes; though I know the ones that are still living will ask if they read this.
Yet, Miss Grace Blanchard came to mind as I was reading Psalm 61 where David repeats refrains throughout his songs and prayers as confirmed throughout Holy Scripture.
David cries to God for help: “God, help me!...Pay attention to me!...I’m sinking!...Lead me to Your solid rock foundation!”
David has confidence in God’s help: “You’ve helped me before and I know You will help me again…You will add to my years and keep people who hate me - even my closest relatives and those that pretended to be loyal to me – from taking away the throne entrusted to me.”
David renews his loyalty pledge to God in thanks for His help: “I will never stop singing about You!…How great You are!...My psalms will be all about praising You because You always come through for the faithful sooner or later, usually sooner than later, and definitely in the end!”
Getting back to Miss Blanchard, she was my Sunday School teacher at the Forty Fort United Presbyterian Church that remains across the Susquehanna River from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Though she left a K for me in her will if I went to seminary which still blows me away because she put that in her will, prophetically it seems in retrospect, when most people that knew me would have assumed I’d be in a rock and roll band if I didn’t make it to pinstripes.
Unlike today’s Boy Scouts of America and other gender specificless movements in America that forget God made us “male and female” by design to complete and complement each other, she believed girls and boys need same-gender academic, athletic, recreational, and relational opportunities because any fool can see the genders don’t learn, grow, interact, mature, and all of the rest in exactly the same ways.
Or as I like to say to my boys about one of my other heroes, “Your mom is a much better mother than I can ever be and I am a much better father than she can ever be.”
Miss Blanchard taught a boys only Sunday School class until she was 104.
Along with Mona telling me to “keep going until you can’t,” I think that’s why retirement has never been on my radar. So I’ll never quit until I can’t because I love to talk about Jesus and point people to Him as the only One that really delivers here, now, and forever.
About once a month during Sunday School class, she’d say, “O.K., boys, today is SOS Sunday! Same old stuff!”
Then we’d have a Q&A for an hour or so on Bible facts, figures, and faith.
Here’s an abbreviated summary of SOS Sunday with Miss Blanchard.
GB: “How do you get to heaven, boys?”
Boys: “By grace through faith in Jesus!”
GB: “What does it say in the Bible?”
We’d recite Bible verses like John 1:12-13, 3:16-17, 5:24, 20:31, Romans 10:9, and Ephesians 2:8-9.
GB: “How do I know you’re going to heaven, boys?”
Boys: “We walk the talk, Miss Blanchard!”
GB: “What does it say in the Bible?”
We’d recite Bible verses like Matthew 10:32-33, 25:45-46, John 13:34-35, and Galatians 5:22-23.
GB: “How do you thank God for forgiving your sins so you can go to heaven?”
Boys: “We forgive because we’ve been forgiven.”
GB; “What does it say in the Bible?”
We’d recite Bible verses like Matthew 6:12, 14-15, and 7:1-2.
Same old stuff.
Like David in the psalms.
We cry confidently to God for help, God helps us, and we renew our loyalty pledge to God in thanks for His help.
I think of Karl Barth.
When told by some RC friends that he was the greatest religious thinker of the 20th century according to Pope Pius XII, he said, “Now even I can believe in the Pope’s infallibility.”
Among the most profound theologian of all time, he was asked the greatest truth of Christianity.
He said, “Jesus loves me! This I know! For the Bible tells me so!”
Same old stuff.
Like David in the psalms.
We cry confidently to God for help, God helps us,
and we renew our loyalty pledge to God in thanks for His help.
Praise God for the SOS!
Thursday, August 1, 2019
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“Invited, Welcomed, Included, and Loved When Jesus is Lord”
I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
My confession was triggered by an ad being placed in local newspapers to invite people to our weekly Wednesday worship service at 5:30 p.m.
At the bottom of the ad were the name of our church and my name.
That’s when I asked Karen to call the newspapers and delete “The Reverend” in front of “Dr” as I spilled my guts.
“You see,” I told Karen, “I’ve never felt worthy of the title Reverend. It just seems too much for me. Mirrors don’t lie. I try pero I’m just scratching the surface of my relationship with Jesus and have such a long way to go. The title embarrasses me because I’m just not worthy of being called Reverend. Actually, that’s why I got a doctorate as soon as I could after ordination. I’ve always felt I could handle being called ‘Dr. Kopp’ a lot more than ‘Rev. Kopp’ because the former is about academic accomplishment that is measured by humans and the latter is about character and fidelity measured by God.”
So there you have it because I don’t.
Getting back to the trigger, we have three worship services on the corner of Lincoln and Main. While they are all different in style, the substance is the same. It’s all about Jesus in all of them which is how it should be in churches that advertise themselves as Christian.
The Wednesday evening service is a little different.
The ad that prompted my confession explains the opportunity:
Our family of faith on the corner of Lincoln and Main in Belvidere would like to invite you to the table of Holy Communion on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.
No one will ask for your name, address, telephone number, money, or talk to you about anything.
There is no sermon or “meet and greet” and you will not be approached by anyone before or after the sacrament.
This is a completely safe place for you to go to the table of Holy Communion after a solo song, reading of Holy Scripture, and prayer.
We know many people have been turned off by church.
Too many churches are religiously tribal, exclusive, condescending, ‘holier than thou’ and insult our Lord’s high priestly prayer in John 17. But don’t blame Jesus for some churches that could use a lot more Jesus in them!
Join us at the table in a safe and loving place where religion is shelved for a relationship with Father God, Savior Son Jesus, and sustaining Holy Spirit.
The only qualification for receiving the sacrament on the corner of Lincoln and Main is a love for Jesus and thirst to get closer to Him.
Blessings and Love!”
The truth is many folks for good and bad and other reasons have felt abandoned by God because of churches that have done a bad job of being His ambassadors because of their denominational pride, internal squabbles, shooting their wounded, idolatries masquerading as fidelities, and other stuff mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 15 and 23.
David felt abandoned every now and then by his mentor Saul, son Absalom, and even God.
Psalm 60 expresses those feelings and David’s trust in God when facing life’s challenges.
Sometimes we feel abandoned by God and those that say they are Godly: “God, it feels like You have rejected us…You seem so angry with us and it feels like You’ve abandoned us…Everything is a mess…The country is falling apart…I’m falling apart…Please, for Your sake, God, rescue us!”
Sooner or later, usually sooner than later, and definitely in the end, we join David in the ultimate victory of God and the Godly and live triumphantly in the meantime: “God will lead us out of this mess…God will deliver us from our enemies and take care of us.”
I think of Dick Sheppard and St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church on Trafalgar Square in London, England.
Dick Sheppard was born into the church on September 2, 1880 in Windsor, England. He was the younger son of Edgar Sheppard who served as the resident canon to the Queen of Windsor. He went to Marlborough College and studied at Cambridge.
But then he threw the whole thing out and went to work in the slums of London. During this time, he struggled with the question of whether the institutional church was the best vehicle for helping the downtrodden of the world.
Finally, he decided it was God’s call for him to work within the structure of the Church of England. He finished his preparation for the parish ministry. At the age of 34, he was called to the most prestigious church in London – St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square in 1914.
During his first sermon at St. Martin’s, he preached about his dream for the church: “I stood on the west steps, and saw what this church could be to the life of the people. There passed me, into its warm inside, hundreds and hundreds of all sorts of people, going up to the temple of their Lord, with all their difficulties, trials and sorrows. I saw it full of people dropping in at all hours of the day and night. It was never dark. It was lighted all night and all day and often tired bits of humanity swept in. And I said to them as they passed, ‘Where are you going?’ And they said only one thing: ‘This is our home. This is where we are going to hear the love of Jesus Christ.’ It was all reverent and full of love and they never pushed me behind a pillar because I was poor.”
Day after day and night after night, Dick Sheppard prayed and worked to make the dream come true.
It wasn’t easy.
He hurried about the poor houses with the gospel message of comfort, hope, and eternal life.
He became frustrated by the image of a church caring more for institutional security and survival than the needs of people.
He often said “that the church often failed because it loved the souls of people but not people themselves.”
He fought the pack of bishops and said the only thing that separated people from Jesus was the English church.
He upset the well-heeled of the church; because when they came to occupy their familiar pews, they found them filled with prostitutes, drunks, cons, and all kinds of n’er-do-wells.
The whole idea of reserved pews became a thing of the past.
Parts of the church were turned into overnight lodging for people with nowhere else to go.
Every person living near St. Martin’s was contacted just to let them know St. Martin’s loved them.
Sheppard personally called in the prostitutes to let them know there were some men that could love them not for what they could do for pleasure but because they were real and special and valued.
Laughter was heard in the halls of the church.
Joy radiated from faces.
Biographer Richard Ellis Roberts wrote in 1942: “St. Martin’s became the church of soldiers and the down-and-outs…the church of the classes and masses…the church of fellowship and privacy…the church for the cheerful and the church for the desperate…the church for the healthy and the sick…the young and the old…It was the church in which the congregation was no more shocked at hearing the minister pray for the street-walkers than pray for school teachers, for crooks than for clergy, for blackguards than for bishops…no more shocked than when the vicar laughed and told a funny story in the pulpit. It became a refuge for the unhappy, and the home of the homeless. In short, it was a Christian church.”
Yet during his whole ministry at St. Martin’s, Sheppard was plagued by ill health. Not only was he plagued by people that longed for the way things never were or maybe were but are no more and did not share his dream of an open and inviting and inclusive and welcoming and servant and unconditionally loving church, he was also an asthmatic who cried every day, “Give me this day my daily breath.”
Only a few weeks before his death, his wife left him. He begged her to come back, but she wouldn’t. He died the next day
Before he died, Dick Sheppard would have to be carried into the pulpit through overflowing crowds that sat even at the chancel steps.
And on the day that Dick Sheppard died at the tender age of 57, he got up at four in the morning to take a pair of soft warm gloves to a man whose hands had been burned at work; and in those days before labor unions, it meant a man had to report to work or lose his job. He preached three times. He remembered to send a bouquet of flowers to a friend on his birthday. And after the evening service, he called on a dying man.
The next day, over 100,000 people – poor and prosperous along with princes and prostitutes – waited for his casket.
Yet as he died, Dick Sheppard felt there was so much more to be done.
He felt there was more to do to include everybody, all of God’s children, in the church.
He believed saying you love Jesus and people are not enough.
He believed loving Jesus is no excuse for complacency or contentment or clubbiness or self-righteousness.
He believed loving Jesus is about loving everybody – including yourself – because God in Jesus loves the world.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit in time would never fence the table from anybody that wanted to dine with Him.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit would always walk the extra mile and spend the extra dollar to care for others.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit would never play favorites by color, class, or culture.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit would always give grace, mercy, and forgiveness wrapped in agape.
God in Jesus as Holy Spirit would always invite, welcome, include, and love.
And when people have really invited Jesus into their heads, hearts, and guts, they do the same things.
No need for response, regard, or reward.
Loving like Him to prove being in love with Him.
Blessings and Love!