Monthly Archives: December 2015

What’s the Right Tune to Sing for the New Year?

 

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Although I certainly wish for you and yours a happy and blessed New Year, I confess that I’m rarely very excited about New Year’s fanfare. I like almost any reason for some days off and time with friends and good food, so I’m not a total New Year’s Grinch by any means. But, to me, by far the most impressive thing about New Year’s Day is that it is the eighth day of the twelve days of the Christmas season. Christmas is the nuclear reaction; New Year’s is a dime store sparkler.

Our society gets almost everything backwards, so why should we be surprised if it gets Christmas end-first and whomper-jawed? We celebrate what someone has called Hallowthankmas, and it’s a good thing Santa’s sleigh flies, or it would be skidding on Halloween candy in the street and mowing down pint-sized goblins.

I’m glad that more folks are re-discovering the wisdom of the church across the centuries and observing Advent, a time of preparation for Christ’s coming. Christmas Day arrives on the 25th and is counted, in many western church traditions, as the first of the twelve days of the Christmas season.

“Glory to God in the highest,” the angels sang. The thing, you see, about Christmas is that it centers on something only God could pull off, and the only proper response to what God has done is to praise him. The angels sing, and we join them! God has done something absolutely apart from our puny power, completely out of our reach. It was more likely that one of those shepherds at Bethlehem would cipher out the Theory of Relativity ahead of Einstein than that we could come up with a plan to save this fallen world. Christmas—the real thing—is a moment of rare sanity for the human race as we get over ourselves, focus on what God has done, and realize we can’t add to his Gift, or improve it, or in any way earn it. All we can do is accept it. We learn that since the Child came at Bethlehem, everything has changed. It’s all new.

But then comes New Year’s, and, if we’re not careful, we fall right back into our old ways. Focusing on our power and glorifying man is “business as usual” for the human race. We take center stage again and glorify not the Almighty but honor instead our puny might and our pathetic attempts to “make something” of ourselves.

I won’t be so unkind as to point you to old New Year’s resolutions and ask, “How’s that working out for you?”

If mankind could have just “tried harder” to get “it” (meaning, life) right, we’d not have needed a Savior. A law-giver and a law, a man-centered religion, a really good self-help book, would have been just fine. Then we could swell up in pride and look down our noses at others we’re sure haven’t worked as hard.

And we could forget not just the angel’s song but also the grand hymn “Amazing Grace.” Grace we think we deserve is not very amazing. “Glory to Me in the Highest” would be our tune instead.

Alas, “trying harder” never really works or honors God. Focusing on trusting God and living life to thank him for what he is building in our lives does.

 

       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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“A Little Child Shall Lead Them”

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The Lord Jesus and Charles Dickens were both right: the way to be saved is to become a child.

That’s not easy. We spend most of our lives trying to be all grown up. Sadly, we generally succeed.

All too often, our imaginations start to shrivel about the time we learn to count. Now, learning to count is not a bad thing—if you also learn to count the right things. Children naturally assume that grown-ups know all about what’s worth counting; nothing could be farther from the truth.

Grown-ups can generally be counted on to count all the wrong things at all the wrong times. If a modern kid knew a sugar plum from a teddy bear and actually recognized a sugar plum or a few dancing in his head (as the sweet old poem says), he wouldn’t waste time counting the plums; he’d giggle and laugh and enjoy the dance, all the while filling up with the joy of being a child, as thrilled as Tiny Tim at the sight of that amazing long-ago Christmas feast.

Grown-ups follow their own patron saint Ebenezer, sitting in the cold counting house shuffling shekels. At first, they think about what those coins will buy, which at least requires a smidgeon of imagination.

But before long, old Scrooge’s imagination is completely frozen out. Life becomes all about counting coins and getting more to count and never leaving the counting house lest some remain uncounted.

Early on in Dickens’ wonderful story, the one thing Tiny Tim didn’t have to worry about at all was having a father too frightened and dull to know that Christmastime is time to leave the counting house. Ol’ Scrooge may have frightened good Bob Cratchit, but Cratchit never saw the day when he was as frightened as Scrooge, scared to death that when the time came to staple his résumé and spreadsheet on his tombstone, he might have counted too few coins, spent too little time in the counting house.

Oddly enough, when Scrooge is scared silly by the Christmas spirits, he gets over being scared to death by life. He turns back into a child. He takes up laughing again. He remembers how to live with expectation and delight. And he breaks the counting house chains by giving away a serious stack of coins that he no longer takes too seriously.

G. K. Chesterton, the wise, rotund, jolly, master weaver of words (wise enough not to trust “cold, hard, thin people”) said a century or so ago, “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” Children’s imaginations naturally take wing for the same reason. Loving the giver, they’ll delight in even the smallest gift, saying thank you with their smiles, never for a moment worrying that they haven’t earned it or paid for it.

It’s Christmas! God’s given us the best Gift! He uses a little Child to lead us to become children again, to accept His Gift, and to respond with delight and laughter.

 

 

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! And . . . Merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

 

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.


Still Need Some Christmas Gifts?

Still Need Some Christmas Gifts? I’m only rarely very “commercial” with this blog, but . . . 

These albums are available, and I can ship orders quickly!
$15 each, plus shipping & handling (and tax, if applicable).

For fastest service, just email me at ckshel@aol.com, or call me at(806) 946-8887.

Or order on the website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! Sample songs are available there, plus lots more info! (“Mary Sweet Mary,” a beautiful song, is available there for free download.)

For Sentimental Reasons (the brand new album–sweet classics such as “Unforgettable”)
One Christmas Night (some of the sweetest songs of the season)
A Place of Grace (beautiful songs that express our deepest hope)

Merry Christmas to you! May His deepest joy be yours!

This sweet “endorsement” just in from my friend, Houston attorney, theologian, author, and speaker Edward Fudge. I really appreciate it!

COLE, SINATRA, AND SHELBURNE — Picture your most comfy chair, your favorite beverage, and a private concert of standards like “Moonglow,” “The Very Thought of You,” and “The Way You Look Tonight.” This musical treat awaits you on the latest CD from singer and gracEmail subscriber Curtis Shelburne titled “For Sentimental Reasons.” On it, Shelburne faithfully delivers a dozen such classics, wrapped in pure, mellow tones reminiscent of Nat King Cole with a touch of Sinatra-style light jazz. And that is no exaggeration.

When the time came to produce the CD, Shelburne left his hometown of Muleshoe, Texas (take that, any haughty sophisticats who might be listening in–or any lurking city snobs), travelling eastward to Nashville, Tennessee, that magical dreamworld of all things musical. There the singer surveyed his options of studios and entrusted to his choice the full circle of tasks required for recording, mixing and producing the dozen favorites Shelburne had chosen for this CD.

An added benefit of being in Nashville was the availability of expert, experienced musicians and engineers, whose credits in many cases already included Grammy award-winning albums. It was only appropriate to bring such complementary talent onto the team–in terms of both substance and symbol. Shelburne’s own talent deserves as much, as the finished sound on this CD amply demonstrates.

In short, “For Sentimental Reasons” by Curtis Shelburne makes a wonderful stocking-stuffer or a featured gift for any occasion. You simply must go to http://www.curtisshelburne.com and enjoy a sample track. While there, don’t miss the bio, photos, details about scheduling a live concert, and information about ordering. As for Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, they might always outdistance Curtis Shelburne in sales and other revenues, but that is quite okay. They did not get to read gracEmail, edit a monthly magazine called The Christian Appeal, or list Muleshoe, Texas as their return address.

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Christians Can Celebrate Christmas with Deep and Genuine Joy

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I hope Christmas is a wonderful, “wonder-filled,” time for you. If our hearts are prepared and ready for it, it can be. Hence (and this is fodder for another column), the very good sense of having a time of real preparation before Christmas. (Look up “Advent” if the word jingles no bells.)

I know. A lot about the way our society “celebrates” Christmas is nothing to celebrate. In fact, as Andrew Greeley writes, some aspects of the sometimes-not-so-holy “holy-day” might make us tempted to run from the whole thing: “It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmastime. Then we would have a holy Christmas.”

He warns, though: “But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation, of the enfleshing of God—the lesson that we who are followers of Christ do not run from the secular; rather we try to transform it. It is our mission to make holy the secular aspects of Christmas. . . . And we do this by being holy people—kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people—no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush.”

By George, I think he’s got it!

C. S. Lewis wrote similarly, observing that a small child cannot really separate “the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter.” Lewis appreciated both the poetry and the piety of the little boy reported to have gone about on Easter morning muttering a poem he’d made up about “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.”

“Of course,” Lewis writes, “the time will come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity.” One day, Lewis says, the child will realize that the spiritual aspects of Easter are different from the festive aspects, and he will have to put one or the other aspect first and choose what is most important. We all get to that point. Do we major on egg-hunting or on the Resurrection? Or, for us at Christmastide, do we major on Santa Claus or on God in the flesh at Bethlehem?

In making the choice, people tend to make two mistakes.

One serious mistake is to choose rightly to major on the real reason for the season but to decide that necessitates also adopting a dour pseudo-piety that says, “Out with lights and Christmas trees and all the other festive trappings of the holiday. Humbug!”

But the other mistake is even worse—to refuse to celebrate such days as religious holidays at all and focus only on egg hunts and Rudolph.

As Lewis writes, “If the child puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.”

Christians who know the real meaning of the holy days should celebrate everything that is good about them with more joy than other people and not less. If we truly love Christ more than Christmas, then we’re free to love Christmas with a freedom and genuine joy we could never have otherwise. God is so good!

It’s nonsense to thank Santa for God. It may be very good sense indeed to thank God for Santa!

 

 

      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 profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


When Your Bubble Lights Won’t Bubble

 

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Bubble trouble continues.

I’d planned to begin: “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble / What’s to do when bubble lights won’t bubble?”

But then I checked the quotation. My Shakespeare professor, Dr. Dudt, would be disappointed that I had to check. The words come from Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 1), as three witches, the “weird sisters,” chant, “Double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”

I knew the bubbles were in there somewhere.

With apologies to Shakespeare, here’s my revised question: Double, double toil and trouble / What to do when bubble lights won’t bubble?

Do “bubble lights” bubble up any memories for you?

As a kid, my favorite lights on our Christmas tree were the bubble lights fashioned to be reminiscent of candles. The bulb in the cup-shaped base heated the liquid in a narrow glass cylinder (about three inches long) so that it boiled and bubbled nicely.

The liquid, once oil but now usually methylene chloride, boils at a low 100 degrees. The first bubble lights were made as early as the late 1920s by the Telsen Electric Company in Manchester, England (Wikipedia).

A few years ago, I told an interested granddaughter or two about bubble lights. To the delight of “grands” and grandpa, I searched some out, and we lit ’em up.

This year on the first Sunday of Advent (Google it if that rings no bells), I needed a children’s sermon. Advent is about preparing for Christ’s coming—and waiting.

I’d spied at home a set of bubble lights (for replacement bulbs). I took them to church that morning, unscrewed all the bulbs but one, and practiced. I’d ask the kids, “Do you like to wait?” “No!” they’d answer. Then I’d plug in the light, hold it, and say, “Some things you just have to wait for.” And I’d talk about how the world waited for Christ’s coming.

In my early practice, the light was slow to bubble. I figured once it had been fired up, it would double bubble more quickly. Tried it again. Yep.

Then in the service came the real deal. I asked the question. Plugged in the light. I was afraid it’d bubble too quickly. Nope. I talked. No bubbles. I mentioned the prophets. No bubbles. I mentioned some of the prophets by name. Quoted them. No bubbles. Sang a song. No bubbles. Prayed a prayer. Yea, verily, the bubble light bubbleth not.

“Well, this is about waiting, ya know.” Sent the kids back to their folks. Taped the light to a top corner of the pulpit for all to watch. And we worshiped on. And viewed only a very pathetic bubble or two.

Just before the real sermon, I cast the old bulb into outer darkness. Changed it. I began to preach. We waited. And, in mid-sermon, abundant bubbles! And congregational cheers!

How long the world waited for Christ’s coming the first time! And the wait for his second coming seems endless. I don’t know when Christ will come back, but he will. And we’re closer now than when you started reading this.

In the meantime, we’re thankful for all glimmers of his joy even as a tired world deals with more than a little “toil and trouble.” In hope, we wait.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! You’ll find some Christmas music there, some other music great for the season, and more!

 

 

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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