Monthly Archives: February 2016

When a Little Church Closes Its Doors

 

IMG_1800-cropped

Another church in our little community closed its doors recently. Worshiped on a Sunday pretty much as usual and then, at least temporarily, shut down.

That church opened its doors, I’m told, in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. She weathered tough times; it was prosperous times that were the larger challenge.

That’s not a big surprise, if you read a little church history. The church (the church universal and all her many congregations, not specifically the little church I’ve mentioned) has always been stronger in hard times and much less so in easier times. For Christians in America, the problem has rarely been death in persecution; the larger danger has always been that we’d die in our apathetic sleep.

But the closing of that little church makes me sad. They’ve been a church where “everybody knows your name,” not a mega-glitz church where almost no one does. I’m deeply thankful for my jillions of siblings in God’s large family whose names I can’t know but who wear His. But I’m particularly thankful for folks like these who names and faces I’ve known for years.

You see, we’re not a mega-church mega-town where any of our churches can afford to blindly ignore the others because we’re so busy or big. We have plenty of faults, but I doubt any of our churches are under any illusion that with some super programs and a great business plan we’ll grow to be the “Christian” equivalent of Disney’s Magic Kingdom or make the cover of Religion 500.

Being little carries with it a large reminder: We’re not only part of the larger Body of Christ, we’re part of Christ’s Body right here. When Christ’s people here hurt, even if they don’t hail from my group or worship down the pew from me, I hurt.

During plague times, pastor and poet John Donne wrote, “Don’t send to ask for whom the bell tolls [tolling out news of another death]; it tolls for thee.” What he wrote of individuals is true here. When a good church closes its doors, it diminishes the rest of us.

Tough times. In this world, real persecution against Christians is increasing alarmingly even as in our society prosperity and complacency weaken the church in ways persecution cannot. And, at the very time churches here are losing their older, more faithful members, our society is becoming increasingly “faith-less.”

Attendance is just one symptom, but a symptom it is, crossing all lines. “I’ll be there anytime the doors are open. Providing the dog doesn’t seem to be developing a sniffle. Or if my third cousin’s aunt doesn’t come to visit. Or if the barometric pressure in Bolivia is conducive to my coming. Anyway, I’ll probably almost for sure see you sometime maybe.”

As always, when despair is tempting, it’s time to look up. Time to remember Jesus’ promise that even “the Gates of Hell will not prevail against my church.” Christ’s Body will not only be okay, victory is assured.

In the meantime, it might not hurt to remember how incredibly encouraging such a seemingly small thing as a practical choice to show up and bow in worship can be to the members of Christ’s Body whose faces we know. While the doors are still open.

 

 

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

 

 

 

Copyright 2016 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 Court with “Lions and Tigers and Bears” and a Promised Forever

 

Kendall-2 Court 021916

“I’m all in, Kendall Briley.”

Even when I said it, I was sure she already knew. She’s had my heart since I first held her and was privileged to take her sweet big sister to the hospital to meet her just hours after her birth.

Just six months old, she’s captured the hearts of her little family, and her larger family complete with doting grandparents, giggling cousins, and more, from the very first. But Friday, after we’d made the trip to the district court in Fort Worth to have the judge make the adoption official, seemed like a good time to tell her again.

I’ve been to some other courtrooms, of course. Thus far, none that I was dragged into. But no matter why you’re there, they’re pretty serious places. Impressive old stately buildings. Lots of stairs. Dark wood. Rails. Sombre benches. Bailiffs. Black-robed judges. Gavels pounding out life-changing verdicts and decrees.

And then there’s this. I’m an English major. I think that’s good for the soul; it has been for mine. But most English majors realize at some point that one of the only ways the major could ever be remotely lucrative (for whatever that’s really worth) is if it launches you into post-graduate studies and a career in law. Since I’ve never been interested in anything lucrative, I opted as a post-graduate for more English. Couple that with a “career” in ministry and, there you have it. But sometimes I wonder . . .

For lots of reasons, courtrooms fascinate me, even as they tend to be pretty grave, serious, daunting places. They’re also places outside of which people do a lot of waiting. So on Friday we were inside a courthouse in Fort Worth, Texas, waiting outside a courtroom.

Even the waiting was unusual that day. We cooled our heels with about nine other extended families, each gathered with and focused on some wee mostly six-month-old folks dressed in their best, cutest little outfits, being addressed in wide-smiled baby talk in turn by each of the adoring members of their court entourage.

I’d been enjoying pacing around with our own little princess in my arms when I snuck a look into “our” particular courtroom and saw, of all things, a bailiff placing thirty or forty stuffed animals on the wooden rails at the front. Lions and tigers and bears, oh, my!—all around the judge’s bench! (Mostly bears.)

Ninth in line, we watched eight other families called up to the front as the parents “testified” by answering the same questions. The word “forever” came up a lot. Verbal assents by the parents. Smiles. Some tears. Then the judge held each baby surrounded by the families and smiles and love and sweet tears. Lots of pictures. But the best will always be in my memory.

I don’t know how much you’ll remember about that day, little Kendall. But we’ll tell you about it many, many times, I’m sure. God has known who you are forever and always loved you. Now the court has pronounced, “This is your name.”

And may I say once more for your folks, for your family, for your family in Christ, and all who love you, “We’re all in, girl. Forever.”

 

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

 

  

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Justice Antonin Scalia, the Constitution, and Scripture

 

antonin scalia

Ninety-eight to zero. An impressive score in any game. And one unlikely ever to be seen again with regard to our nation’s Supreme Court. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia was appointed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan. His Senate confirmation vote? 98-0.

When Justice Scalia, 79, passed away this week, our nation lost a brilliant legal mind, a man whose incredible intelligence and breadth of knowledge coupled with a deftly-wielded pen and wry wit to produce amazing results. Friend or foe, no one who spent time with Scalia ever left unimpressed and neutral, wondering how Scalia’s argument could have been made more skillfully or, many would say, more delightfully. Boring, dull, lifeless? Neither Scalia nor his positions ever were.

An astounding agility of mind paired with a quick smile and a predilection for laughter is an amazing combination, particularly if your most vociferous opponents find smiles and laughter very challenging. Listening to a recording of his speech in 2005 at the Woodrow Wilson Center, I kept having images of a black-robed cherub smiling, turning phrases incredibly, and about to get into delightful mischief.

Scalia has been described as a “strict constructionist” in interpreting the Constitution. He eschewed that term, arguing not for a strict or a loose interpretation, simply a “reasonable interpretation” centered on what it actually meant when it was written. He preferred the term “originalist,” by which he meant an increasingly small number of judges, lawyers, professors, and anyone else whose approach to the Constitution is “to begin with the text and give that text the meaning that it bore when it was adopted by the people.”

Scalia said that was the orthodox position for many years. Not now. Now the prevailing view is that the Constitution is a changing, evolving, “living” document, which is convenient if you wish to give it almost any meaning at all, based perhaps on the latest opinion polls: “The Constitution didn’t used to mean that, but it does now.” Hogwash, said Scalia.

To beaming grammar school students proudly parroting, “The Constitution is a living document,” Scalia had news: No, it’s not; it’s dead. But also more news to mitigate the sorrow: It was never alive. It was and is a dead, though amazing, document that meant what it said and still does. Scalia’s reading it this way sometimes maddened both liberals and conservatives. A very good sign, I think.

For American Christians like me, does such a discussion of how to properly read the Constitution have anything to say about how we properly read the Bible? I think so.

The short answer is, we first make the effort to understand the kind of document it actually is. Parts of the Old Testament, for example, are literally “law,” setting forth a specific code of conduct. But the New Testament bears witness to a living Lord who relates to his people not on the basis of law but through a life-giving Spirit. What difference does that make? All the difference in the world.

I’ll miss Justice Scalia, as will our nation. I like the way that incredible mischief-making Constitution-loving “cherub” forced us to actually try to think.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Eighty Years Blessed, and a Great Blessing

 

IMG_47821

Math has never been my strong suit. So my being 54 for two years in a row and skipping 55 is not that mysterious.

But simple arithmetic points me to a genuine mystery this week. The math says that my oldest brother will turn 80 on February 16. That blows my rapidly-aging mind.

A good bit of mystery has always attached itself to the gentleman herein mentioned. Ironically, he’s both the least mysterious of men and among the most amazing. Absolutely a “chip off the old block,” he is truly my father’s successor in life, in ministry, in character. My father and his eldest son were/are “men without guile,” the gentlest, meekest, strongest, and best men I’ve ever known. What you see is absolutely what you get, uncut, unalloyed, pure—honesty, integrity, commitment to God and service to others.

Ah, but a wee bit of mystery, too, resides in this soon-to-be octogenarian. Not least, his very name.

He’s B. Not to be confused with any other letters of the alphabet. Actually, he’s G. B. Shelburne, III. Our father was G. B. Shelburne, Jr. But family lore indicates some confusion, even between our father and his mother, about whether the initials were truly “initials only,” as legal records might state, or if they stood for names. No room in this space to discuss the options. I’ll just say that the situation allowed my wry mother to poke good-natured fun as she intoned, “G-only B-only” tossing an “e” into the midst of “only” and bringing up images of gaunt skeletons.

Just this week, I asked our youngest brother if we’d ever figured out if the old fellow’s name is properly written (and how do I write this?) B. or B? I mean, B-no period or B-period. Jim says the best research and B.’s own usage indicates the latter. (If Mom & Dad had been consistent, I guess my other siblings and I would’ve been G., R., C., and J.)

Don’t check my math, but when I was born, B. and Ruth (his amazing wife) were recently married. He was almost 21, and I was barely here. (Brother Jim would later be created, mostly to serve as my playmate and partner in mischief.) G. B. & Wilma (“Abraham and Sarah”) had been seriously surprised by, uh, me. While I was still barely a pup, B. and Ruth went to Malawi, Africa, as missionaries, a very mysterious thing to a little kid. Hence my opportunity to get to know my own oldest brother came when he and Ruth were home on infrequent furloughs from the mission field. I know now how seriously B. worked to make sure we got acquainted.

We did. And for a bunch of decades now, you can count me as someone high on the list, the very long list, of folks who have been blessed by this man who is my brother, almost my father, a pastoral colleague, a mentor, a dear friend, and one of the most truly Christlike, spiritually-minded men I’ve ever known.

He’s still a little mysterious. How can my oldest sibling have less gray hair than any of us? What is no mystery at all is that everything he is and does honors his Lord. Eighty years. I don’t think it’s really G-only B-only. I think it’s Great Blessing. For 80 years, he has been.

 

 

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

 

 

  

Copyright 2016 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 Reminder That God’s Light Is Always There

 

IMG_1511

As if it happened yesterday. That’s how clearly I remember the experience I’m about to relate. Not wanting to make too much of it, I’d hate to make the opposite mistake by failing to say to the Giver, thank you.

By the way, the weather guy is predicting ridiculously high winds and detestable blowing dust today. He didn’t say “ridiculous” and “detestable,” but they will be. Around here, weather folks rarely ever miss when they predict wind and dust, apart from which, our climate would be almost perfect, which I suppose is like saying that Jack the Ripper would’ve been a fine guy except for the unfortunate murderous streak in his nature. Anyway, living here we deal with it.

In this fallen world, trouble is like blowing dirt in west Texas; it goes with the territory. And we all go through seasons when the difficulty is particularly painful.

My family and I have been incredibly blessed, so as I give you the background to my simple story, I don’t mean to whine, just to tell the truth. It was the sort of time everyone faces from time to time. You’ve been there (or, sorry, if you’ve not been, you will). The difficulty driving you nuts tends to be the last thing you think of when you go to bed and the first thing you think of when you wake up. That’s the bad news; the good news, and you’ve probably also learned this, is that such times force you to more prayer. And prayer, even when it may well have more to do with desperation than “righteousness,” is not at all a bad beginning and ending of the day.

But even prayer has its temptations. Lengthy prayers in the midst of some difficult times can be a mistake. Short ones are the ticket. The long kind too easily become just one more way you allow yourself to wallow in the mud rather than to trust in the Almighty.

So I waked up that day and, true to form, picked up the problem. I wandered into the living room, sat on the hearth, and, frustrated at myself for being so faithless and, truth be told, impatient with the Almighty’s seeming slowness to deal with the difficulty, just breathed a rather ticked off petition, “Oh, Lord, can you just get us through this!?”

And that’s when—that’s exactly when—as the whispered words were still hanging in the air and barely out of my mouth, the deliciously warm, blindingly brilliant shaft of sunlight blazed through the window and hit me in the face.

It was both amazing and surprising, and not. From several mornings’ experience, I knew that, at that exact time, the sun and our windows are lined up. The sunlight washes over the cross hanging in our window and emblazons in a field of flaming gold yet another cross, its shadow, on the opposite wall.

So most of what happened was really no surprise; it was just, once more, breathtakingly beautiful. But the light hitting me in the face, right at that moment? A complete surprise.

I’d not call it a miracle, just a very nice gift and much-needed reminder that even in windblown, dark times, God’s children live in the warmth and light of the cross. Sometimes I need to be hit in the face by the light of his brilliant beauty to make me remember that it’s always there.

 

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

  

 

Copyright 2016 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: