Monthly Archives: June 2015

One Word From the King Trumps the Supreme Court

 

flag stars

The colored lights recently painting the White House, the Obama administration’s anything-but-classy dance in the end zone after the Supreme Court’s incredibly overreaching “legislation” last week, cast the White House flag in a strange and dim light.

I don’t like how some folks have tried to dim and sully rainbows and their breathtaking beauty. I don’t like what the Supreme Court majority, in breathtaking arrogance has tried to do with a flick of the pen to an institution ordained by the Creator of the universe. (That institution, is “marriage,” not “federal power.”)

And I deeply dislike this most recent federal assault on the Constitution and the powers that should remain with the states. Reading Winston Churchill’s amazing A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (Churchill is incredibly astute in his “take” on the Civil War), I was at first surprised to see him using “United States” as the plural term that it originally was. But I soon found such usage amazingly refreshing, a much-needed reminder.

What a sad and putrid river of arrogance, idiocy, and immorality overflowed its banks last week. No wonder the White House flag was painted in a weird and unnatural light.

It will be, I’m afraid, a strange Independence Day this year, particularly for those who’ve held as priceless the words of the First Amendment regarding the “free exercise of religion” and “freedom of speech.” The federal government is a giant step closer to telling pastors who they can unite in marriage. And increasingly in our land, any speech not approved by the majority is easily defined as “hate speech.” One wonders how many “Fourths” will still pass in our land while the First Amendment means anything.

I think—I hope—that I would be willing to die for this nation. I would do the same, by the way, for my state. I’ll fly my nation’s flag on July 4th, as I always have. But I’m tempted to tie a black ribbon around its pole. Some national sorrow. Some national repentance. Some national recognition of shame seems in order.

The recent Supreme Court decision well deserves a boatload of adjectives: shameful, immoral, overreaching, unjust, heavy-handed, illogical, arrogant, pretentious, egotistic. Yet again states and citizens get shoved down their throats a ruling legitimized simply because a majority of nine lawyers choose to cut off public debate and steer us by force in the direction they personally prefer.

Among my respected colleagues in ministry, I know not a single one would be cruel to a homosexual. But I know more than a few who would go to jail before they would willingly preside at a same-sex marriage.

Whatever happens, it is good for American Christians to have to realize what most Christians in most times have always realized: Truth is truth, no matter what the majority believes. “Fiery trials” for Christians are the rule, not the exception. Our hope is in God, not in government. One word from our King trumps the time-bound rulings of a million courts. His victory is assured.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.o

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Genuine Spirituality Never Thinks of Itself as “Spiritual”

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In this world, some laws never change. Gravity always wins. We don’t fall up; we fall down. And this law is almost as trustworthy: It’s the “spiritual” folks you better not turn your back on. (Note the quotation marks. The real thing is beautiful and rich, but the cut-rate version that centers almost completely on itself is a shame and a sham.) Be they religiously “spiritual” or religious about not being religiously spiritual, folks who consider themselves a cut above in the spirituality department can be brutal and feel holy about it.

Of course, “spiritual” in our culture is one of those quivery “Jell-O” words that’s hard to nail down. About all anyone has to do in our culture to be dubbed a very “spiritual” person is feel warm and fuzzy looking at sunsets, pat a dog occasionally, and be “tolerant” of anything at all except anything that seems at all intolerant. Do the above, and prove that you recycle, and you’ll be well on your way to secular sainthood in our society. You’ll seal the deal if you’ll also adopt a condescending attitude toward anyone who thinks spirituality could conceivably include church attendance and the sort of mind-boggling commitment that might issue in writing a check.

“Spiritual” in our culture is a foggy, wispy, vaporous, and vapid thing indeed. Practically, this kind of “spirituality,” almost completely centered on self, doesn’t do much, but it does one thing very efficiently: it confirms its adherents’ already high opinion of themselves as being “good people.”

And what about “good” religious people? Jesus himself warned us about “spirituality” that comes from that direction. The most religious  (“spiritual”) folks of his day had little hesitance in hanging God’s Son from a cross. Take it to the bank: the most religious folks of any time and place would have done exactly the same thing.

I don’t think that truth argues for sleeping in on Sundays and feeling self-righteous about not being self-righteous. Despite massive weaknesses, huge blind spots, and frustrating foibles, God’s people worshiping and working together have always accomplished, by utterly amazing grace, vastly more lasting good than their critics. The real value of worship can’t be charted. Prayers are difficult to weigh or quantify. But the fact remains that skeptics rarely if ever build hospitals. It’s no accident that at scenes of terrible tragedy and pain it’s trucks painted with a red cross that show up and not trucks painted with a red question mark. Besides that, I’ve never been convinced that hypocrisy inside the church is more prevalent than hypocrisy outside the church.

That said, our Lord’s life and the cross itself are strong evidence that we should never be less trustful of our own motives than when we’re feeling most “spiritual” and “religious.” Not only does real spirituality not split churches over styles of music or whether it’s feeling adequately served with all its many needs being met, it is centered on a Lord who went to a cross rather than have his own way. Real spirituality never thinks of itself as being spiritual.

The real thing, as evidenced in the life of Christ, doesn’t think of itself at all.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! Be sure to check out information there about a new CD soon to be available!

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


In Music and in Life, the Last Note Is the Longest

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In music and in life, the last note is always the longest.

Whenever I’m teaching a new audio/video volunteer at church how to punch the buttons, play the songs, set the levels, I always warn them at some point about “audio whiplash.” Punching “stop” or “pause” while the music is still playing does to folks’ ears what slamming on the brakes in a car does to our necks. It hurts! So you always wait for the music to come to a “full and complete stop,” as flight attendants redundantly warn airline passengers, or you slowly fade it out. Either way, you let us land slowly, gently.

Waiting is always hard, and, yes, waiting for that last note to play out is hardest of all. It’s hard for me, too. It’s all I can do to force myself to wait, wait, wait to punch the “stop” button so as not to chop off even the slightest audio reverberation.

I need to talk some good audio engineer friends about this, but I figure they have some descriptive term for that last note, waiting for it, and what happens if you don’t. Maybe cutting it off is such a rookie mistake that professionals aren’t even tempted to, but I would be!

When I’m behind the mike in the sound booth, I know (usually) to be still and wait even after I’ve sung the last note of a song or a phrase or re-take. Wait for the silence. Then wait to hear in my headphones the voices of the engineer and producer from the control room, so I know it’s safe for me to talk, too.

But sitting behind the engineer in the control room as the musicians are recording tracks gives another point of view. I’m utterly amazed at their skill. I’m listening. I’m watching. I’m loving it. Sometimes I’m holding a mike and singing the “scratch track” to serve as a reference and for them to “play to.”

But then comes the last note. My last note ends before the musicians.’ And invariably my eyes go to the computer monitors in front of the engineer. I’m watching the audio wave files on the screens. Though it’s okay to breathe, I’m probably not. Usually, I’m holding my breath, staring a hole through the monitor as that last line levels out and the very last reverberations, echoes, overtones, all fade to silence. And I’m marveling at the engineer’s patience as he waits, waits, waits to stop recording.

It doesn’t matter how long it really is, that last note is the longest of all. Waiting for it to fade takes almost forever.

Dear Lord, give us the strength to wait for that last note to play out. If it’s a note of joy, beauty, love, or laughter, may we take it all in and wait for the sweet silence that will make our whispered “thank you” richer, deeper. If it’s a note of pain and suffering, help us still to drink it in, wait for it to fade, and open our hands to receive what you’ll give us in the silence. Whatever its tone, help us to hear it all, wait for the silence, and find waiting to meet us again your sweet hope, your real presence.

 

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

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


How Much Does God the Father Love All His Children?

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God loves his children so completely that he could not possibly love us more and he will never choose to love us less. We are absolutely secure in that love. Why is that so hard for us to believe?

It’s as if we were an orphan in 18th century England who has been bought out of the poorhouse, taken out of the sweatshop, by the kindest gentleman in the world. We’ve traded our rags for the finest clothes and our swill for the finest food. We’re almost afraid to close our eyes at night for fear that we’ll wake up and find that our redemption from poverty has all been a dream.

We see all the luxuries and privileges that go with what the kind gentleman says is our new position, but it just seems too good to be true. And there are many tell-tale signs that we really don’t even believe it yet ourselves. We sleep on the floor and not in the bed. Surely that bed is too good, too soft, too plush for gutter snipes like us.

But still the kind gentleman urges us to take up our place in the household—to eat his food, ride his horses, sleep in that beautiful bed, read his books, listen to his music, walk in his gardens, and he tells us that as the adopted son in this household and estate, all of these things are not just his, they are ours. We can hardly believe it! We begin to try to think of ways we can earn our keep, but nothing we could do would ever even begin to be enough.

Slowly, though, the gift of sheer mercy and grace and love begins to work its way quietly and deeply in our souls. And we awake one morning to realize that the kind gentleman has sometime in the night lifted us from the floor where we were lying and placed us in the soft bed that he calls ours.

As morning dawns, we’re almost unconsciously smelling breakfast smells. Our eyelids are starting to flutter as the door opens quietly, and, thinking we’re still asleep, he says quietly, “I love you, child.” As we come fully awake, we look into his face and are met with eyes full of pure love, more beautiful than the song of the birds in the garden just outside our window, softer than even the thickest down comforter, warmer than the morning sun streaming through the windows.

We’re almost surprised to hear our own little voice say, “Father.” And suddenly we realize that, though we could never in a lifetime of lifetimes earn the gifts that he has given, we have just given him the only gift we could ever really give, the gift that means more than life itself to this one who has given us new life. We have given him our love.

And though we’ve already felt grateful to him, now since that bright morning, our gratitude is deeper, richer, and more filled with joy. And whenever we eat his food, and ride his horses, and walk in his gardens, we know more deeply than ever before how truly they express to us his love. We know that every glimmer of love and joy and laughter in our lives lights up his heart with joy.

For he loves us so completely that he could not possibly love us more and he will never choose to love us less, and we are absolutely secure in his love.

 

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

  

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


The Owner’s Manual for Life: Refer to the Son

grill

I like seasons, and I’m particularly pleased to live in a place where the seasons are distinctly different. Lest I’m ever accused of being less than politically correct, I hereby affirm that I’m in love with seasonal diversity.

I will say, though, that as much as I like green growing things, I find that grass with snow on top of it is a lot less trouble than the fast-growing stuff. I much prefer skiing to mowing. But ’tain’t the season for skis. They’re shoved lovingly under the bed. The lawn mower is now oiled up. And—I do like this part!—the barbecue grill is ready to go.

That took a little doing this year. When I opened the grill a few weeks ago, stuff started falling off the lid. Rusty stuff. I frugally figured I’d just clean it up, replace some parts, and grill right on. Then I touched a burner pipe. It fell apart. Along with a few burner covers and a grate or two. Okay, more parts required.

But when I put the pencil to it and pondered the engineering necessary to install a few of the new parts, the answer was obvious: “Do Not Resuscitate.” Attempts otherwise would be, to change the metaphor, “perfume on a pig.”

So . . . a new grill. Same brand. Same configuration. Dual gas/charcoal. This time I ponied up for the optional “smoke box” and, with scenes of rust fresh in my mind, also purchased a grill cover.

The nice lady at the store asked if I’d like one already assembled, mentioning with a tired look that it took her two days to put hers together. I was tempted. But such is not the Shelburne way. If something later malfunctions, an explosion ensues, and I make an ash of myself, I’d like to have the satisfaction of knowing that I was the one who blew it. Up, that is.

Assembly did not take me two days. But it did take 33 steps.

The grill was manufactured in China, but the company is obviously owned by somebody with barbecue credentials. And, contrary to what we’ve come to expect, they were smart enough to hire instruction writers who are fluent in English. I even smiled when I saw a label on the smoke stacks: “If you can see this, you’ve put this together wrong. This goes inside.” I’d have felt even more at home and akin to the company owners if it’d said, “Whoa, Pard! If yer readin’ this, that dog won’t hunt! Ya just backed the cow out of the barn south-side first. Try ’er agin!”

Of course, the instructions include the usual lawyer litter. I’m not supposed to attempt putting this together if I’m missing any of my parts. Also, I’m supposed to perform a spray water/detergent leak test every time I light this thing. Right. If you hear of my incineration, you’ll know I forgot. But I’m assured that noticing some smoke is normal.

The Owner’s Manual for our lives is more straightforward. The Author pretty much brings it all down to this: If you have any questions about how your life should be assembled, just look at my Son.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Do You Believe in Prayer?”

reach out

I’m not sure I believe much in prayer.

Now, hold on! Taking that statement out of context might ensure I’m never tapped to be pastor of a mega-church. Good! A blessing for all concerned! And if it shakes up the “Expect a Miracle!” plastic piety crowd whose answers to pain and suffering are strings of pious platitudes, fine. I’ve had my fill of such.

As the umbrella title of this column/blog is “Focus on Faith,” I ask, “Who or what is the focus of our faith?” My answer is, “God.” In that very literal sense, the answer is not “prayer,” it is God.

But I’m not always so picky or prickly. If I’m asked, “Do you believe in prayer?” I usually just truthfully say, “Yes, I do,” without being a jerk and over-explaining. But what I mean is, “I believe in God, and in his Son, who taught us by word and example to pray deeply and often and expect to be heard, believing that it matters. Yes, I pray.”

But I do not believe in approaches to prayer that are more akin to rabbit’s foot magic and witch doctor superstition than the faith we see in the Bible. They are so unlike Jesus’ example and teaching about prayer, and seem to me thin, wispy, and, at heart, cruel, no matter how popular they are.

I can’t talk about faith for long without talking about prayer. And I can’t talk about prayer long without talking about the problem of pain and suffering. The answer to both centers on trust in God. But real answers and real trust are never easy, however strong our faith.

Even a little honesty about prayer is a breath of fresh air. C. S. Lewis, great defender of the faith and serious “pray-er,” in the midst of writing profoundly on the subject, admitted frustration, realizing that his whole day had a feeling of holiday about it once his morning prayers were dutifully done! Such candor comforts me far more than the stories—some mostly true—of great people of faith who regularly prayed for 25 hours a day, 26 on particularly busy days.

If you prefer moonshine and stardust to harder and more genuine faith, don’t read Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? But I love his biblical and faith-building view—especially what he writes about Jesus and prayer: Jesus prayed. We learn much about praying from the way he prayed, what he prayed for, what he didn’t pray for, and the way he dealt with his Father’s yes—and no.

Did Jesus believe in prayer? Yes! If you mean that he believed so completely in his Father that, whatever the answer, talking with his Father was more important to him than food or shelter or breath itself!

When I pray, I ask for the moon. Like Yancey, I believe that miracles happen, but, by their nature, rarely. I also remember Christ’s cross, Paul’s thorn, and . . . Sometimes the answer rocks me on my heels because it is so delightful. More often, it rocks me more profoundly and sends me beating on my Father’s chest before I collapse in his arms of love.

“Oh, respectfully, Lord, did I not make myself clear? I did not in the least want “power to get through this.” I wanted around this!

Sometimes I almost wish there were a formula, so if I got it right, I’d get the right answer. But that’s magic, not faith. I don’t need a better rabbit’s foot; I have what I need, a Father who loves me completely. To him, I’ll pray. With gratitude. Love. Hope. And sometimes anger and hot tears. And he’ll love me still.

 

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

 

Copyright 2015 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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