Monthly Archives: October 2013

Our Shepherd Gave His Life for His Sheep

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In this fallen world we are accustomed to hearing stories of selfishness and greed, but, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Wash your ears out with this!”

When Wake Forest freshman baseball outfielder (and 19th round draft pick for the New York Yankees) Kevin Jordan became ill in April of 2010, he was diagnosed with a disease that eventually caused his kidneys to fail. Family members all failed to be matches for a kidney transplant, but Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter asked to be tested, and was found to be a match.

In February 2011, Walter donated a kidney to Jordan, giving him quite literally a new lease on life. Coach Walter was quoted as saying that the decision was a “no-brainer.”

He went on to say, “I would do anything to help any one of my players or any of my family members. Anything in my power to help them have a better quality of life is something that I want to do.”

One thing is sure: while other coaches might speak such words, Coach Walter backed up his words with actions which his team and family would never forget.

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Good words, those, but they are more than just words. Our Lord, our Shepherd, when faced with the deep need of his flock, backed up his words by going to the cross so that all of our sin and guilt might truly be atoned for and dealt with forever.

When we consider the physical pain of Christ’s suffering and death, we are amazed at such sacrificial love, and rightly so.

But I wonder if we can even begin to imagine the deep pain and the true cost to the Sinless One as he quite literally took on himself and away from us forever all of the sin and guilt of the world. As the Apostle Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

What a “transplant”! Filthy and dying souls are exchanged for souls spotlessly clean and filled with the very life of Christ!

For us, the gift is free as we say, “Yes!” and open our hearts and hands to the One willingly laying down his life, but for the Giver, no gift was ever more costly.

Far more terrible even than living life chained to a dialysis machine, we were, apart from Christ’s gift, chained to our sins and condemned to eternal death. Now healed and whole because of his gift, how can we but live each moment of our lives with joyful thanksgiving to the Giver, the Good Shepherd who willingly lay down his life for the sheep?

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 
Copyright 2013 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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God, Grumbling, and a Snake on a Stick

 

As John 3 begins, we have the account of Jesus’ amazing words to Nicodemus the Pharisee about being “born again.”numbers21

Just a few verses later, the Lord refers to a snaky incident recorded in Numbers 21. Unlike Nicodemus, we modern Christians have heard the term “born again” enough that it no longer properly surprises us. What does catch us by surprise is the story from Numbers 21, with which Nicodemus would have been very familiar.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Moses, we know. The wilderness, okay. What, pray tell, about this snake? What was Moses doing with a snake in the wilderness? Ah, it’s an amazing story!

If we want to find out what God thinks about grumbling, we need look no further than Numbers 21:4-8. The people of Israel are being led by God “the long way around” Edom on their way to the Promised Land, but they are already tired of the trip. They also are fed up with what they call “this detestable food.” The food (which the KJV calls “light bread”) was manna from heaven. If you’re a modern child and have never been so persecuted by your parents that you have had to eat something you don’t like, you won’t understand this story. Let’s just say that God has little use for grumbling and grumbles, and he doesn’t appreciate having his cooking criticized.

To punish the grumbling people, an angry God sends “fiery serpents” among the people, poisonous snakes known both for the fire of their venom and also, some say, for the color of their skin. Many Israelites are bitten, and many die.

When the people quickly deem repentance to be prudent, Moses prays for them, and God directs him to build a fiery serpent of his own! Moses is to fashion a serpent of brass, affix it atop a pole, and God promises that anyone who is bitten but who fixes his gaze upon that snake will be healed, and it was so.

That’s amazing, but what does that “souped up” serpent of brass in the wilderness have to do with Jesus? Much!

As the brass serpent was lifted up on the pole in the wilderness, so the Son of God was “lifted up” on the cross (and because of his sacrifice, “highly exalted,” lifted up, by his Father). Those Israelites envenomated by the poisonous serpents simply looked up to that serpent on the pole and lived. (Notice that they looked at the serpent, but that act showed their faith not in the serpent but in the God who had directed them to look.)

Likewise, we who have been poisoned by sin are invited to “look up” in faith to our crucified Lord that we may receive his mercy, healing, and life. Like the snake-bitten Israelites in the wilderness, we face a choice: Will we look up to God in faith and live?

 

   You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com

 
Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Persecution Is a Faith-test, But So Is Freedom and Ease

 

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It was 27 years ago when Pavel Poloz, a recent exile from Russia, observed, “In Russia, Christians are tested by hardship, but in America you are tested by freedom. And testing by freedom is much harder.”

He went on: “Nobody pressures you about your religion. So you relax and are not concentrated on Christ, on his teaching, how he wants you to live” (Moody Monthly, April 1989).

That would hurt less were it not so obviously true. The worst danger American Christians have faced for generations has not been persecution; it has been that our faith die as we sleep.

It’s nothing new. The church has always been strongest during times of persecution and weakest during times of ease. Ironically, the church thrived during the days when Roman emperors were martyring Christians; it faced a more serious threat when in A.D. 313 the Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Don’t think I’m longing for persecution, just perspective. My default point of view is that of a small church pastor who not only loves the church universal but treasures the quality of relationship found in churches where people have faces and pastors live life with the flock, know them by name and need, and aren’t just beamed down from on high to a plastic screen.

I know Christ’s church will triumph. If, as the Lord has said, even the “gates of hell” will not prevail against his church, I doubt that ease and prosperity, increasing secularism, and consumer “church-lite” will prevail either.

But I do see serious challenges on the horizon, some that I suspect will be more than a serious bump in the business plan even for Religion 500-style churches.

For example, I’ve yet to meet a respected colleague in ministry who doesn’t see the loss of the World War II generation as a serious challenge. For decades, churches have been able to count on the attendance, the giving, the commitment of those amazing people. Lots of church doors have been literally kept open by the very practical commitment of a generation of folks whose genuine faith meant being at church when it wasn’t convenient and giving not just what they could spare with no sacrifice.

Thank the Lord for those who, following such an example, are picking up the baton and running the race. More had better.

Some real faith challenges are not glitzy, but they say a lot. If we fail in the everyday “rubber meets the road” faith-building disciplines such as being at church often enough we’re missed when we’re not there, and giving more than we can easily spare . . . If our commitment won’t even stretch to such baby steps, why should we think our faith would endure persecution?

As far as our local churches go, if we don’t “show up” in any real sense, it matters not at all how good our excuses are. The end is the same, and cut-rate commitment may accomplish locally what the “gates of hell” will never accomplish universally. If we falter in faith by meaning well very weakly, lots of little churches will be shutting their doors, and our land will have lost a large blessing.

I’d love to be wrong about that.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com. (Check out the free song download while you’re there!)

 

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Wisdom Is One of God’s Favorite Tools

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We often talk about how hard it is to know God’s will for our lives, but let’s get real. Knowing God’s will is rarely the hard part; what’s hard is doing the part of God’s will we already know but pretend that we don’t. And then, hurting ourselves and others, we ignore a hundred warning signs, step on the gas, and drive right over a cliff. We’ve all done it. We say we want God’s wisdom; then we ignore the ways he sends it.

A few years ago I decided to build a shed. I had in mind a shed/greenhouse, twelve feet by sixteen feet, rustic, an old “saltbox” style barn. Simple. Nothing fancy. Fine, but I couldn’t keep it simple.

I bought books and perused plans, tacked together what I liked best, scribbled notes in a yellow pad. Each time I got a section designed, I’d add to the “materials list” what I’d need to nail together the flagship of this pastor’s attempts to impersonate a carpenter.

I soon made the happy discovery that in addition to building materials, I’d need a few new tools. The most important was one I could hardly wait to get my hands on: a framing nail gun. A man’s machine if there ever was one, it was without doubt the finest and most efficient tool of the project, which was finally completed and has become a shed/greenhouse/man-cave/magic castle for grandkids/sermon-factory all in one.

It boggles my mind to try to imagine the infinite and eternal Creator planning the world in which he would nestle and nurture his soon-to-be-created children. Before the world was created and set spinning, our mighty Creator planned its oceans and their boundaries. Before he flung the stars across the sky, God knew where he would sculpt the ocean canyons and call forth springs. In his plan, God saw every particle of dust, every vast mountain range. The greatest Architect of all, God “marked out” the foundations of the earth.

But before God called into being even one molecule of this world, Proverbs 8 tells us that he “brought forth” the greatest “tool,” the “wisdom” with which he would fashion all things. Wisdom would not only be his tool for all of creation, wisdom would be the “craftsman” by his side completely delighting in his work and “rejoicing always before him.”

When God created in his own image the human children he fashioned to be the climax of creation and the objects of his deepest love, wisdom was there and “delighted in mankind.”

When I was building my shed, one of my sons helped me raise its frame, and it was a joy to see him wield my favorite tool with real skill. One of the most wonderful truths of Proverbs 8 is that God the Creator invites us, his children, to share in his joy as we seek, use, and are blessed by his favorite tool, wisdom. God built the universe with that tool, and he promises his children that if we heed his instruction and trust his plan, we can always use the best of his tools, his wisdom, to build our lives. If we refuse to use it and leave it in the box, . . .

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! I’ve added sample tracks from the new Christmas CD as well as pics of the recording process–and a free download. Hope you enjoy it! 

Copyright 2013 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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