Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Page from an Old Sermon Stands the Test of Time

 

For a lover of the Word and words, a preacher-type who loves anything good and beautiful set in type, you just couldn’t find a better Christmas gift than one I received over a decade ago and am still loving.

The gift I want to describe is a beautifully-framed actual page from a book of sermons on Deuteronomy written by the great Reformation preacher John Calvin.

The sermon that begins on this particular page is labeled as the “16th Sermon [in the book] which is the Second upon the Third Chapter [of Deuteronomy],” and it was preached on Wednesday, the 8th of May, 1555. It was translated “out of French” by Arthur Golding and printed by “Henry Middleton for George Bishop, London [the publisher] in 1583.” All of which means that this page has been around for well over 400 years. I’m amazed it’s still here, and I’m even more amazed to have it.

I learn some things just by looking at this page from John Calvin’s old sermon. Some of what I learn is just interesting.

The typeface catches my attention. A final “s” looks like an “s” but an “s” in the middle of a word looks like an “f.” A “u” is often but not always printed as a “v” and uice uersa. I mean “vice versa.” For example, “Nowe let vs kneele downe in the prefence of our good God . . . vntil he haue ioyned vs fullye and perfectly to himfelfe.”

And, yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a bookworm. The page’s character is enhanced by a number of small round holes. Bookworms of the necessarily illiterate variety evidently found this work of literature absolutely delicious. (It tasted like chicken?)

I doubt that anything we put on electronic media—disks, DVDs, CDs (a painful realization since I just recorded a music CD)—will be around a fraction of the time this old page has been.

I barely remember what I preached on last Sunday, but here is proof positive that some sermons last longer than a week. (At least, if you’re John Calvin.)

And, no surprise, some preachers on paper or in the pulpit can be long-winded. This one book on Deuteronomy went on for 1200 pages.

More importantly, this page is also silent evidence that fashions and fads and empty philosophies may come and go, but even good words about God’s Word may partake in a bit of its timelessness.

Theologically, I’m not a Calvinist, though I don’t doubt the man was a giant who had more sense and scholarship and sheer courage in his little finger than you’ll find in a big boatload of pastoral pygmies like me who sit around, drink coffee, and authoritatively discuss Calvinism.

But that which unites me to John Calvin and to the many millions of much less famous and, to me, mostly faceless citizens of God’s kingdom, dead or alive but alive with God’s life just the same, is faith in the Living Word. That Word is the Christ of whom Calvin wrote and preached, and to whom every page of God’s written word, be it printed in 1583 or yesterday, truly points.

 

 

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.

Advertisements

“Be Still, and Know That I Am God”

 

Be still, and know that I am God.”

Has our Father ever asked us to do anything that we fail at more spectacularly than this simple command?

For a long time, I didn’t know these words were from Psalm 46. But I knew them. During all my growing up years, my mom papered the wall around our bathroom sink and medicine cabinet with inspirational clippings thumb-tacked into prominence. No wonder four of us became pastors. We’d never brushed our teeth without receiving an unspoken sermon in the process.

The clipping I’ve always remembered best was a yellowed and water- (and  probably toothpaste) spattered copy of a poem by “Doran” entitled, “Quietness.” I don’t know who Doran was, but a quick Google search makes it very clear which Doran the poet wasn’t.

The poem is not the kind presently in favor. It actually rhymes and is uplifting. Unlike much modern poetry which is completely full of itself, always takes itself in deadly earnest, drips and droops with existential angst and nihilistic navel-gazing (and should only be used to line bird cages if your bird is on heavy doses of anti-depressants), this poem encouraged us to look beyond ourselves, to look upward.

“‘Be still and know that I am God,’ / That I who made and gave thee life / will lead thy faltering steps aright; / That I who see each sparrow’s fall / will hear and heed thy earnest call. / I am God.

“‘Be still and know that I am God,’ / When aching burdens crush thy heart / then know I formed thee for thy part / and purpose in the plan I hold. / Trust in God.

“‘Be still and know that I am God,’ / Who made the atom’s tiny span / and set it moving to My plan, / That I who guide the stars above / will guide and keep thee in My love. / Be Thou still.”

Well, my mom didn’t tack the poem to the wall because it was world-class poetry, even in those days. She just liked it. Mostly, she thought it pointed her family in the right direction. I think so, too.

I wonder if there is any way to calculate how terribly our inability to ever “be still” actually hurts us and the people around us? Even God rested on the seventh day of creation. And I seem to remember a big commandment given to remind us that it’s not only good to stop occasionally, it’s imperative if we would honor God and lead a balanced life.

When we take time to “be still,” we stop frantically rowing our little boats and comically hyperventilating as we huff and puff trying to power our own crafts. Then we’re able to acknowledge that God’s Spirit is truly the One who empowers us and fills our sails. If we’re regularly “still,” then when we sail on, we find renewed direction and meaning and energy for the journey, and we have honored the Captain of our souls.

Should we be surprised? “Be still and know . . .” are not just the poet’s words to us, they are God’s. And that command was written in stone on Sinai a long time before Mom tacked it up near our medicine cabinet. It’s good medicine—still.

 

 

 

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.

 


Genuine Faith Never Comes Easily or Cheaply

 

Some things just can’t be rushed.

No matter how badly you want it, you’ll not be able to enjoy the shade from a 75-year-old oak tree unless someone 75 years ago took the trouble and had the foresight to plant it.

Strong faith is much like that old oak tree (and I think it was the late Wes Reagan, well-respected pastor and mentor, who I first heard use this good analogy). Lots of us want the blessings and the stability that can come during life’s storms only through a deep and abiding faith. I want those blessings, too. But I must understand that though salvation is, thank the Lord indeed, a free gift bought by the blood of Christ, faith that is strong enough to stand the tests of time and adversity cannot be easily had or quickly grown. Faith that is in its own way as strong and comforting as a 75-year-old oak tree cannot spring forth full grown in the space of a heartbeat, no matter how badly we need it or want it.

If we want strong faith, we must ask God help us have his power to do what it takes to make it strong. Some of those things seem mundane. None of them has anything to do with the kind of glitzy cut-rate feel-good “spirituality” presently so popular.

Some of these things are just plain hard. Things like really making an effort to forgive someone who has deeply, unfairly hurt you. (Loving enemies is a very warm concept—until you actually have one.) Like using our dollars to help others and not just ourselves. (Our check books write a very accurate picture of our priorities.) Like taking the time and effort to be a genuine part of a church family of faith. (Not just a nominal “Christmas & Easter” member who could never be “convicted” of membership on the basis of such “evidence” as attendance or giving.) Like developing a relationship with God in prayer and by reading his word. Like devoting each day to him and doing whatever we do to his glory, not as a person who is pious or “religious” but as a person who knows that all of life is lived in the gracious presence of the divine Author of all life and joy. Like being a person for whom following Christ is not just a choice, but THE choice that drives all others.

If we want genuine and strong faith, we can have it. Possessing that kind of faith will be a blessing of untold value. But if we think it is a blessing religious consumers can have almost by accident and without any effort, we are seriously self-deluded, and we’ve not learned the truth of Christ’s words, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:24).

I think what Christ is saying is that, contrary to our world’s “wisdom,” the way to real satisfaction, joy, and deep contentment both here and hereafter, the way to faith that will stand the storms we’ll certainly face, is to truly want God more than we want anything else.

That’s faith. The real thing.

 

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.


“He Can Lick Stamps with My Head on Them!”

 

I love the Olympics. And I’ve enjoyed the London Games particularly as the Brits have done, it seems to me, a jolly good job. (I’m glad they’re racking up some pretty impressive medal success, too. Give me free games in a free land any day over even the most impressive games hosted by Communist thugs.)

I’ve found myself pondering some of the historical reflections of the Crown’s most famous subject, Winston Churchill. In The Gathering Storm Churchill writes that, in 1932, Adolf Hitler, that malignant little pustule of a human being (Churchill calls him “the Corporal”), had beguiled thirteen million German voters. What that says about the collective wisdom of the fickle masses is not flattering, and I personally doubt that the masses in most other times and most other lands can lay claim to much better judgment than the Germans of 1932.

I know little about the style of government in Germany in 1932, and I think I’m almost as ignorant about the style of our own (a fact I’m about to prove). Certainly many other factors conspired to darken history’s pages with the likes of Hitler.

But I find myself immensely thankful that we are a republic and not a pure democracy. In theory, at least, our people elect the best and brightest among us to represent us in government and enact the laws that govern our land. If we get bad laws and ineffective government, it’s because “we the people” have elected too many of the wrong people to represent us.

Our system certainly has its flaws, but, in my opinion, it is immeasurably better than a pure democracy. I suppose in our modern technological society we could adopt some system where each voter in our land voted for officials and laws simply by pressing a button on his/her computer. Away with Congress! We could run the land ourselves. (Look at most politicians and tell me that’s not tempting!)

We’d certainly do away with the electoral college in presidential elections, and the masses in big cities would always and forever trump the less populous masses in rural America.

Were we ever to become a “pure democracy,” I’d be on the first boat back to England and “God save the Queen!”

Back to the story.

Churchill says that in 1932 when Germany’s old Field Marshal von Hindenburg saw Hitler, he said, “That man for Chancellor? I’ll make him a postmaster and he can lick stamps with my head on them.” The Field Marshal recognized a pygmy when he saw one, but the people had spoken, very poorly. Every vote would become a vote cast for misery, murder, and bloodshed, but in 1933, “the Corporal” became Chancellor of Germany. So much for the wisdom of the masses.

And what about the church? How should God’s people be governed?

It was another of England’s prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher, who supposedly said, “When God’s people come together to take counsel, it is not to determine the will of the majority. It is to ascertain what is the will of the Holy Spirit.”

Speaking in Texan, not the King’s English, I’d just say, “There’s a passel of wisdom in that.”

 

 

 

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.

 


%d bloggers like this: