Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thanksgiving, Winter Storms, Turkey, and Snow

 

IMG_4001Thanksgiving will soon arrive, but the ice and snow of our first winter storm have outpaced the turkey.

So here’s my question as I write on this frosty Saturday evening: When is a weekend snow event simply a meteorological occurrence and when, if ever, is it a test of faith?

After over 30 years in ministry, mostly in areas where we have real seasons and snow (which I love), here’s my vote: Snow’s snow. If you want to elevate the weekend white stuff to test of faith status, be my guest. But as a test of faith, it’s a very poor one—something worse than a paper cut and much less serious than a hemorrhoidal condition. A test of faith? Nah. Not snow.

The church leaders I work with do well with this, I think. Our decision about services tomorrow will be much more about ice than theology.

That said, faith and theology do slide in here a bit. In my experience, folks who most know that they can fully trust Christ’s completed sacrifice on the cross are folks who most often show real faith in practical ways. They attend. They give. They help and encourage. They’re neither too “spiritual” to do real work or too lackadaisical to be counted on. (I’ve seen World War II vintage folks in hospital beds who were just about to flatline who’ve rallied evidently just to write one more tithe check! Committed? Oh, yes!)

But I’ve also noticed that the most faithful folks are often also among the most genuinely thankful for a Sunday when the Lord dumps a ton of snow on us, evidently expecting us to sleep late, toss a log on the fire, use good sense, and praise Him for a real surprise Sabbath rest.

I admit it. I always hope we get buried by a really big weekend snow once a year—so big that the “cancel or not” decision is easy. I figure folks who habitually skip church if the barometric pressure isn’t right or there’s a heat wave in Mozambique get plenty of chances for Sunday sleep. The rest of us deserve one, too. My thanksgiving on that Sunday could hardly be more heartfelt. If you think I’m not religious enough to be a preacher, well, tell me some real news.

It’s probably my carnality that makes me wonder if it’s because we’ve been short of persecution, real tests of faith, that we’d ever see snow as a faith freeze-test: “Neither rain nor sleet nor snow, and I’d probably handle a lion in the Coliseum or being burned at the stake, too. Maybe better than you.” (That last part is Satan’s favorite.)

Persecution may indeed come. If I feel a weird need to rush it, I figure I can always buy a plane ticket and go recite the Lord’s Prayer aloud in a mosque in, say, Iran. That should do it.

But I doubt I need to look that far for faith tests. How about getting up to help my wife do the dishes? Or changing a smelly diaper. Or a stinky attitude. Shoveling snow for a widow. Giving more than I can easily spare. Non-glitzy tests of faith abound. Right here. Right now. No snow required.

I’m fine with whatever decision we make about cancelling services tomorrow. So are our church leaders. No wonder I like working with them.

Snow’s just snow. Unless…I find myself looking down my cold and drippy nose at folks who see the white stuff and make a different decision—either way—than me or mine. Then snow has become a faith test. One that I’ve failed.

 

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

 

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.


“Let Us Not Give Up Meeting Together”

 

thanksgiving 003As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that one of the best blessings enjoyed by the community in which I live is the spirit of goodwill and unity which generally prevails among the churches and pastors in our area. No small blessing, that’s a big reason I like living here.

The community worship opportunities, such as the community Thanksgiving service on the horizon, warm my heart and give me hope. What a witness to believers and unbelievers alike who are sadly accustomed to division in this world but surprised by unity. What a blessing when God’s people come together to celebrate that which unites us.

It may also be a command, by the way. No kidding.

Christians will remember that we are commanded to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4). And, though we treasure the beautiful “Lord’s Prayer,” the prayer of Christ that truly deserves that title is the Lord’s beautiful and poignant prayer for unity in John 17.

Christ was serious about unity. A lot more serious than many of his followers have been. Church history through the ages (and our own sad experience) points to lots of teapot tempests over all sorts of obscure Scriptures, fusses undertaken while the combatants, “biting and devouring each other,” ignored the Lord’s very clear, very plain, plea for unity.

But the passage I have in mind right now is not Ephesians 4 or John 17 or any of the other “landmark” passages on Christian unity. No, it’s Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

You thought that was about going to church, didn’t you? Well, it probably is. I’m quite sure that in principle it applies to our attendance at worship in our own congregations. We’ll bless ourselves and our fellow worshipers by being committed enough to Christ to be serious about being at worship. If we become lax in that regard, our faith is in more serious jeopardy than we might think. (See the next few verses, Hebrews 10:26-31, if you doubt that.)

But, if you do a little study, you’ll find or recall that in those “early church” days, Christians in a given community met in “house churches,” small groups all over the area. (Hmm. I guess in that regard it was a lot like us. No big signs, though.) Did they ever all come together, all of the house churches with each of their pastors (collectively, the “elders” of that city)? I don’t know. It’s an interesting possibility, though. Those whose hard study has earned them a right to a worthwhile opinion say that church history is murky about those details.

But I know it’s good for us to do that once in a while. I wish we did it a lot more often.

It just might be a command. It would certainly be a blessing. Whenever it happens even for a little while, it’s a good thing.

“Let us not give up meeting together.”

 

       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.


A Little Faith on a “Dark and Stormy Night”

 

storm on galilee 01

Fear and faith. Both color our journey in this life.

Down toward the end of Mark 6 comes one of the most famous stories from the life of Christ.

The disciples of Jesus have gotten into a boat to go ahead of the Lord to the village of Bethsaida. Jesus himself has stayed behind to dismiss the crowd of 5,000—a bunch of folks he’d just fed—and to go up on the mountainside to pray. Out on the lake, in the middle of the night, a storm has come up, and the disciples are straining at the oars because “the wind was against them.”

You know the feeling, don’t you? You recognize the boat, don’t you? It’s a vessel you’ve been in yourself, I’ll wager.

Often in our own journeys, the wind seems to be against us. It blows in the form of trials that threaten to swamp us, weaknesses in ourselves or others that cause us pain, bad decisions complete with unpleasant consequences, awful diagnoses, sudden tragedy. Serious tests of faith, all of these things.

Sometimes we’ve steered the wrong course and are in treacherous waters. We should have been wiser sailors. We should have consulted the Captain of our souls, checked his compass, looked at his chart. But now we’re seriously off course and about to flounder in heavy weather.

Sometimes the storm is simply upon us and the most experienced sailor in the world could not have seen it coming. But come it did.

Several of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee that night were experienced sailors who knew its every league, every fathom, every eddy. From the sea they had made their living, but suddenly they were faced with the prospect of dying there.

At around 3:00 in the middle of that dark night, Jesus goes “where no man has gone before” (at least, not without a boat), walking on the water. He hears their cry for help, and he will still the storm. But first, he just gets into the boat.

That’s the Incarnation, folks. That’s the Lord of all seas and the universe itself saying, “Don’t be afraid; I’m with you on the journey.”

On the sea that night, the disciples had lots of fear and precious little faith. Just enough to let their Lord get into the boat. On that day when “a little” was all the faith they had, Christ’s gift to them was that it was all the faith he required. Maybe that’s his gift to us, too.

As we’re tempted to be paralyzed by fear in the face of all that has happened and all that might happen on the journey, the Captain of our souls comes to you and to me and says, “I’ll never ask you to take a journey that I won’t take right by your side. Just let me into your boat.”

       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.


A Few Real Answers Trump a Boatload of Questions

sherlockholmes

The Lord has blessed me with some sons I’m very proud of, and I can tell you some stories from their growing up years that still brings joy to a father’s heart. This is not one of those.

It was a line-up. No, the police were not involved, but I would used a lie detector machine if I’d had access to one.

All four sons had been summoned and were standing “front and center” at attention in what was then a bathroom. I was conducting the investigation and hoping for a confession. I don’t remember if I’d already grilled them one at a time to see if one would crack, but we were past that point by this time.

Exhibit A in my case was a long narrow bare strip on the wall that had once been covered with wallpaper. I hate working with wallpaper, and I hope never again to hang any, but I had painstakingly papered the walls in that bathroom.

Some miscreant—yea, verily, one of my own offspring, I was sure, contemplating life while perched on the porcelain, had found a loose corner of wallpaper and pulled the rip cord, leaving an inch-wide bare streak marring my once-pretty-nearly-perfect wall.

I made a speech to the suspects, threatened, cajoled, considered mild torture, and tried every parenting trick I knew. I even contemplated spanking each one of them, using the punish “them all, God will know his own” approach adopted by crusaders in the 1209 massacre at Béziers, France. After all, I was not even then so naive as to adopt the modern “progressive” and witless notion that humans left to themselves just get better and better. No, humans are inherently sinful and in need of redemption. And I was pretty sure that each of the guys in that line-up already had committed enough unpunished crimes that punishing them all for this one would hardly be as unjust as it would seem. But I’m soft. I didn’t do it.

I never got a confession, and I must admit, I still don’t know the truth; even the guilty party has probably long since forgotten his guilt. The crime is unsolved, and I long ago made peace with the fact that it will remain unsolved.

We do well to approach life with some perspective. We can live with some small unsolved “who-done-its.” Some minor mysteries don’t matter all that much. Some riddles aren’t worth spending much effort to answer. About 90% of the “religious issues” folks have fussed about are a waste of breath and, if the disunity involved wasn’t such a slap in the face of God and a matter for tears, would be more deserving of a belly laugh than an inquisition.

It seems to me that even a few real answers to real questions trump a boatload of lesser questions. And they all boil down to these: Does God exist? Is God completely good? Is God completely loving? I believe we have good reason to answer Yes to all three. With that verdict, those truths, those answers, and faith in the One in whom is focused all the Father’s goodness and love, I’m at peace.

 

    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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