Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Good Book Sounds an Important Warning

I don’t know how long it took Eugene Peterson to actually write his book The Pastor, but though he’s written around thirty others, it took him almost eighty years to be able to write this one.

An amazing book (Peterson doesn’t write any other kind), what he says for pastors and churches (and Christ’s church as a whole) has never been more important for us to hear. We live in a culture “uncongenial” not only to the vocation of pastors but to what is most truly important in the life of Christ’s Body, the church.

As Peterson says, “The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.” The church has often become just one more business among many, the only difference being that it specializes in religious goods and services.

Congregants become consumers, always shopping for the best deal, the best show. Congregations become competitors instead of outposts of one Kingdom. Pastors, whose idea of “success” is measured only by numbers, jump on a career ladder where God “calls” them to ever larger churches where their “effectiveness can be maximized” and the beautiful term “pastor” loses any meaning. Always on the prowl for more exciting pastures and more promising sheep, they don’t even know the names of the sheep, much less their needs and struggles, hopes and dreams.

In their drive to be religious rock stars, “religious entrepreneurs” have little time for the sacred trust of living life walking beside “ordinary” sheep whose lives are notably short of dazzle and drama. Desperate to orchestrate the next eye-popping program or the next worship explosion, they bow to the very temptation Christ eschewed as Satan cajoled, “Throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple! Play to the crowd!” No addict ever needed cocaine more than they need a crowd.

Much of the religious business marketing could be carried out just as effectively if God had retired. It pays lip service to God’s presence, but almost completely disregards God’s most truly amazing work: his presence in the sacred realm of what we easily disregard as the ordinary—ordinary people and places and events and life.

So much of the modern approach to mega-religion is profoundly disrespectful of sheep and of the Shepherd as it trades the values of the Kingdom of God for those of the kingdom of man. The whole thing becomes impersonal, competitive, and manipulative, functional rather than relational, something to be counted and charted, quantified and graphed, and thus judged valuable or not.

Those “ordinary sheep” are God’s sheep. He loves them and lives in them. What a sacred privilege to walk with them and “be present” together with “what God has done and is doing.”

 

  

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Perceptions and Reality Only Occasionally Line Up

May I state the obvious? People react to other people, situations, and issues on the basis of their perceptions of those people, situations, and issues, and not necessarily on the basis of reality.

I mean no particular disrespect to either breed, human or canine, but in that regard I think we humans generally operate a little below the level of man’s best friend.

If you meet a dog in the park, thrust your hand out to pet the cute little beast, all the while sincerely holding nothing but love, warmth, kindness, and the very best of intentions in your human heart, BUT he nevertheless perceives your action as threatening, you may well draw back a bloody nub. He reacts, you see, not so much to reality as to his perception of reality.

And he may be dead wrong.

If he’s an exceptionally intelligent canine, he may later “learn” that his estimation of you and your intentions was flawed. Maybe you’ll go on to help him reach a more realistic conclusion as you reach down more carefully to pet him with your remaining hand.

Or, probably more likely, he may run over the hill before you have an opportunity to change his mistaken opinion of you, and he may be even quicker to sink his teeth into the next human who quite innocently reaches out her hand. He may well go on to his reward in doggy heaven a decade or two (in dog years) later still firmly wedded to the erroneous opinion that all humans who reach down to pet him are mean, malicious, mutt-haters. Now, he would be absolutely wrong, but he would believe deeply in his error and die not knowing that his perceptions were completely unfounded in reality.

I wish this sort of thing was only a problem with dogs. But I’m afraid that we humans are often just as witless and wrong when we react quickly, and very often poorly, just on the basis of our all-too-fallible perceptions. How hard it is for someone else who doesn’t share our fouled up view of a particular person, situation, or issue to try to help us see reality when everything from our backgrounds, our upbringing, our unfortunate experiences, all the way to our lack of sleep and the state of our digestion, conspires to give us flawed perceptions and, to some degree large or small, blind us to reality.

Then you know what happens, don’t you? We go around biting folks who don’t deserve to be bitten. And then too often they go off and bite someone else.

The fact that we are such poor judges both of reality and of the motives of our neighbors is one significant reason Jesus warned us not to spend time judging and criticizing those around us. You and I are very poor judges.

Our dogs may not always be great judges either, but I personally would trust a dog with a good nose a lot farther than I’d trust a biting, barking, snapping, ill-tempered human.

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


God-making Is Strange But Not Unusual Business

“Make me a god!” It seems like such a strange request—until we realize how often we probably make this same request ourselves.

Israel’s children were waiting in the desert at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses had been summoned up the mountain by God Himself. Jehovah was about to give to Moses to give to His people the tablets of the Law.

But Moses had been gone a good while. Forty days and nights. And Israel’s children were as restless and impatient as a little child waiting on his mama at Cloth World. (And I suppose that is an archaic allusion on almost every level, but . . .) What had happened to Moses? What was taking him so long? Was he even still alive or had that awesome display of power on the mountain unmade him?

At first, perhaps, they were just impatient. But impatience turned into anger, and anger flowered into folly as they accosted Aaron, “Moses is gone. We don’t know what happened to him, but he’s gone. Make us a god!”

Why did they need a god?

Was it because the God who rained plague after plague on their humiliated Egyptian task-masters was somehow away like Moses, off on a long journey?

Was it because the God who had parted the Red Sea and then swallowed Pharaoh’s entire army in swirling death was too weak to somehow help Israel’s children along on the rest of their journey?

Was it because the God who had created this world and who gave them their very lives was not God enough?

Was it because the God who would soon be feeding them with manna and sharing with them His very Presence was less than the answer to their need?

“Make us a god!”

A god you can make. A supposed creator created by his own creatures. Hmm.

What comes first—the chicken or the egg?

What comes first—the creator or the creatures?

I’ve always wondered how mechanistic and naturalistic evolutionists get around the big question: “Who lit the fuse for the Big Bang?” So, they say, life on earth originated from some primordial soup? Well, who made the soup? Where did the stuff of creation come from? It seems to me, you must have a creator, a cook, a pre-existent chef of amazing power, back there somewhere. I guess my faith is not blind enough to believe otherwise.

And now the request comes: Make us a god! And it makes me wonder about the kind of god who can be made by creatures who fashion him in their own liking, set him up on a stand, and then bow down to him, presumably to thank him for life and all good things.

I see a problem here. And it would seem even sillier if we didn’t do the same thing ourselves all the time.

“Make us a god!”

The god that Aaron made for them was gold. Fitting, I suppose. Lots of ours are, too. We bow before Money and what it can buy. We bow before Pleasure. We bow before Success and Prestige.

But the God who redeemed us on a cross is God enough. Let’s bow before Him.

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Naive Leaders Can Be As Dangerous As Evil Ones

You don’t have to be an English major to be amazed by the power of words, but the English major under my hat is still amazed every time I open a really great book and find myself inside the head of a really great person. It’s almost a miracle to be able to sit at the feet of men and women who have long been gone but whose wisdom lives on, if only we sit down and take advantage of it.

I’d nominate Winston Churchill as the most influential leader, and one of the most fascinating people, of the 20th century. The first volume of his Nobel prize-winning The Second World War is entitled The Gathering Storm. Published in 1948, it is filled with the kind of wise perspective any would-be leader would do well to note.

When President Franklin Roosevelt asked Churchill what he thought the war (World War II) should be called, Churchill replied, “The Unnecessary War.” According to Churchill, it would have been completely unnecessary if the winners of the First World War had held their ground and behaved wisely. Instead, war-weary and hungry for peace at any price, they slept at the helm while Hitler took over the ship. Early on, Churchill saw what was happening and with a few others tried to sound the alarm, but to no avail.

The world watched as Hitler gobbled up Austria and showed time and again a complete willingness to break his word and any number of treaties. Corporal Hitler was a very dangerous man, a very evil man.

On the other hand, England’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, was by all accounts—even those of his political adversaries—a good and peace-loving man. Longing for peace, he went to Germany three times to meet with Herr Hitler. Chamberlain led Europe in acceding to Hitler’s demands, even at the price of the honor of Britain and France.

When Hitler cast his eyes toward Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain encouraged France to ignore a treaty obligating them to defend the Czechs, which allowed Britain to sidestep for the time its own obligations to France. Czechoslovakia was thus sacrificed, parceled up, and thrown to the hounds like chunks of old meat. Hitler’s appetite increased even as Chamberlain tried to avoid war by “sweet reasonableness.” Sadly ironic is the fact that Hitler’s generals were planning a coup against him that would likely have been successful but was put off (and never happened) because Chamberlain chose to come to visit Hitler on the very day the coup was to take place.

The Old Testament prophets warn us about those who say, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” And Jesus himself tells us to be “wise as serpents” at the same time as we are “harmless as doves.” Foolish doves live short and unhappy lives. Churchill has convinced me that this world has every bit as much to fear from those who are utterly naive as it does from those who are utterly evil.

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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