Monthly Archives: May 2016

“Praise the Lord, O My Soul!”

 

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If life, this world, the universe itself, and all that is most beautiful and joyful in them, from the warm hugs of your three-year-old to breathtaking vistas across snow-capped mountains, from the gurgling laughter of a mountain stream to red-washed Mars winking across the night sky at twinkling Jupiter . . .

If all of that and immeasurably more—still astoundingly beautiful even in this fallen, sin-twisted, and often tear-stained world—is the gift of a loving Creator and not just a cosmic accident, then surely he is worthy of our highest praise.

And for those whose deepest desire is to praise God, the wisdom and experience of generations of our King’s people point to one place above all others: the Psalms.

The Psalms, poems written to be sung to God’s praise, express every human emotion and lift the souls of “even small-scale, earthbound creatures such as us” to the Creator, musical praise ringing, as Professor N. T. Wright says, “around the rafters” of the heart’s cathedral that we “could not otherwise reach” (The Case for the Psalms).

Interestingly, the biblical picture of our Creator is not just of a God who is worthy of and desires our praise, it is of a God who knows full well that we are fashioned in such a way that we are never happier and more deeply contented and joy-filled than when we are praising the One who made us.

It is not, C. S. Lewis writes in Reflections on the Psalms, that God “needs” or “craves” our worship “like a vain woman wanting compliments” or “a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him.” That would make even less sense, Lewis writes, than a silly author needing his dog to “bark approval” of his books. How much would such “praise” really be worth?

No, Lewis continues, the fact that God desires our praise is not in the least that he is a “silly” or “vain” Deity, it is that our Father knows that when we render gratitude for what is worthy of our praise—a sunset, a painting, a grand mountain—“the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment” and “our joy [is] no more separable from the praise . . . it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds.”

So, says Lewis, “Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

When the snaggle-toothed grandchild you adore smiles up at you, let your heart smile up to God and thank him for it, and that child’s smile becomes an even more joyful gift as it is colored and completed by praise.

When the psalmists invite us, time and again, “Praise the Lord, O my soul,” we’re being invited to a feast, a rich banquet that grows richer and more sumptuous the more we feed our souls on praise to the Master of the feast.

 

 

     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.


“How to Triple Your Answers to Prayer”

 

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A “teaser” on the front of the little magazine touted an article inside: “How to Triple Your Answers to Prayer.” I’m wondering what might be prescribed.

Incantations? A caldron filled with a steaming potion featuring eye of newt, tongue of frog? Could I get more answers to prayer (answers that I like) if my technique was better or my recipe more precise? Is the bottom line the number of really “good” answers I get and catalog? I’m pretty sure I’d like the guy who said that any Christian who says to another believer undergoing pain, “If you had enough faith and prayed as you should, you wouldn’t hurt,” needs very badly to be hit over the head with a baseball bat to help him test his own theory.

I believe St. James when he writes that God’s people sometimes “don’t have” because they “don’t ask” or “ask wrongly.” A right attitude is important.

But the bottom line on prayer is nothing that can be quantified, measured, or cataloged. Thank God for heartwarming answers. But, most of all, thank God for the growing and soul-warming relationship that time in prayer builds between you and the Father who gave you life and wants to spend time with you, his child.

To a skeptic watching you bend the knee, you’re just talking to yourself. Prayer is worthless, he thinks, because he sees it producing no practical results. But to you, child of God, and to your Father, it is precious and would be no more precious if you could accurately catalog 143 direct “results.”

The same thing is true for the same reasons regarding our worship. In a society that values nothing unless it produces measurable results—the bigger, the better—why worship?

To get recharged spiritually.

To have fellowship with God’s people.

To be able to leave to serve.

To “fill up” so we can do all sorts of obviously beneficial stuff and carry on all sorts of programs, the kind that can be measured and look good in church flyers and bulletins.

Well, I’m all for those “results” and more. But we worship for one reason that overshadows any other and needs no defense: we worship to glorify the God who is absolutely worthy and deserving of all praise.

An old kind of pragmatic legalism says, “You can only be saved if you do enough to be worth saving.” A modern kind just as seductively says, “Your prayers and your worship are only worthwhile if they produce visible and measurable results.”

Both ideas are as wrong as they are, in the final analysis, cruel. Our prayers and worship are precious to God not because they’re so good at producing impressive results. They’re precious to God because we’re his precious children, completely loved and accepted by our Father already.

In that knowledge, we worship and pray. And living in that knowledge, we find that God has indeed provided “in advance” plenty of good works for us to do, some of which can probably be listed in a church bulletin, but lots of which don’t look particularly “religious” at all. But the marvelous fact remains: God loves and accepts us before we’re able to do a single one.

Our Father is amazingly impractical that way.

 

 

      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.


God’s Grace: It’s Good News That’s Tough!

 

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“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound!”

Grace, the real thing, is precious almost beyond belief. It’s cool water to a man dying of thirst. It’s life and health to a woman who a week before was lying feverish on her deathbed.

Grace really is amazing!

But what even Christians, and maybe especially Christians, often fail to realize is how very tough it is, too.

Yes, it’s amazingly good news, this news flash from Heaven that though we were all sinners condemned to death, convicted criminals languishing on death row, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

It’s amazingly good news that “God raised us up with Christ” so that for all eternity and to the amazement of the entire universe he could “show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (2:6).

And there’s no catch.

There’s no fly in the ointment. No hook under the worm. No fine print. No “real sinners need not apply” clause.

So how can this wonderful thing called grace, the most beautiful gift ever given, still be as tough as nails?

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast.” No boasting. Period.

You see, grace is indeed the free gift of God. Grace means for us life and joy and peace. Grace really is amazing!

But, make no mistake, it can’t be earned, not even a little bit. It comes completely from God’s side of the equation. Do I in any way deserve such a gift? No! Thank God, deserving doesn’t even enter in, and to dare to use the word “deserve” in the same paragraph with words praising God for his mercy and grace is a slap in the face of the Almighty, a denial of the cross, and a backhanded attempt to breathe life into an arrogant and self-righteous spirit that really must move out and die before grace can enter in to give us life.

Yeah, I know. When you really think about it, it gets kind of scary. If this grace business is true, then God might let almost anyone into heaven. He might forgive folks who really, unlike me, aren’t as obviously good and religious and among his favorites. If you didn’t know better, you might almost think that God still feels like Jesus seemed to feel when he walked this globe, that not only did he spend time with “sinners” who knew they had no hope except for God’s mercy (but who knew the joy of finding it), he really enjoyed that time more than time spent with Pharisees. Could that be true?

Grace won’t leave me a single wobbly leg to stand on if I want to make my stand on rule-keeping “righteousness” and my own goodness. But if I focus on God and get over myself, I’ll find to my everlasting amazement that “the God of all grace” has given me two very good legs to dance on.

 

 

      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.


Here’s a Great Measuring Stick for Character

 

RMS Queen Elizabeth

I wasn’t looking for anything profound, just enjoying a good book, a great story, and a quiet meal when I stumbled across a little nugget of wisdom. Sometimes what is profoundly wise reaches out and grabs us unexpectedly. Well, yes, we think, that is so true, so true that we’re a little surprised we hadn’t thought of it or put it into words ourselves. But we recognize the ring of truth and “Amen” it with a whispered, “Yes, that’s right!”

And here’s the glittering nugget of truth I mined during lunch that day, from the pen of J. K. Rowling: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

Well, what do you think?

I think the truth in that statement will rarely ever steer you wrong.

If you want to take the measure of your weight, scales are available.

If you want to take the measure of your height, a variety of measuring sticks and devices exist for just such a task.

And if you really want to take the measure of a person’s character, maybe the very best yard stick is this one: How does he or she treat their “inferiors”? (This measure is one serious reason I find what will likely be the choice we face in our nation’s next presidential election disgusting, repulsive, appalling, and add your own bleak adjectives. Pick a finger you’d most like to smash with a sledge hammer. That sort of choice.)

But before we start measuring somebody else’s character with this particular stick, we’d be well-advised to use it first to measure our own.

How do we treat those who are weaker or smaller, poorer or less educated, less socially prominent or less popular than ourselves? The answer says a great deal about who we are really.

Maybe they are employees. Family members. Community members. Or just folks we meet at the store, in the Post Office, or down the street.

As the story goes (I’ve long ago lost the source), maritime painters were putting yet another coat of paint on the huge smoke funnels of a great luxury ocean liner. Was it RMS Queen Elizabeth? Something of that class. They were amazed to discover that the actual metal had invisibly deteriorated in many places to such an extent that multiple layers of paint were about the only real substance holding the funnels together!

When our lives are weighed in the balance, when the external and largely illusory societal facade of houses, cars, bank accounts, etc., fades into the background, and when all that’s left, or not, of the real framework of our lives is something called character—something that the poorest person on this planet can possess in rich measure and the richest person on the planet, if he lacks it, can’t buy at any price—what will be left?

Do we really want to know?

We can. We measure our own character every time we interact with those “below” us.

I’m thankful the Lord loved those below him—the lame, the blind, the deaf, the poor, the sinful—those who could never put him in their debt. And add to that list your name and mine. Then let’s ask ourselves how we deal with those “below” us. We’ll never find a better measuring stick for character.

Character matters. All the more when we live amidst so many folks who deny that it does.

 

 

      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.


“Commonplaces Never Become Tiresome”

 

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I was not particularly looking for wisdom when a friend and I walked into a Thai food restaurant; I was just looking for food. And I was trying to make sense out of a menu filled with genuine Thai cuisine. What I ended up eating was excellent, but I’m still wondering about one menu item that just sounded interesting.

Larb. L-A-R-B.

I still wonder what it is. A staple item in the Thai diet? A delicacy? The kind of thing a fellow just develops a taste for and says to his wife one evening after work, “Ya know, I could really go for a big bowl of larb right now! Man, that would hit the spot!”

I still don’t know what it is. I plan to try it. Might “Google” before I eat it.

But I think I already found a bit of wisdom. Right there on the wall of the restaurant.

Well, to be utterly truthful, it was on the wall of the restroom of the restaurant, a place where I surely wasn’t expecting to find any wisdom.

It was a quotation at the bottom of a Norman Rockwell print. The words were Rockwell’s words, which is what gave them even deeper meaning. Rockwell, arguably America’s most beloved artist, a man who succeeded in capturing on canvas the warm heart and the living soul of this nation, wrote this: “Commonplaces never become tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative. We find that it is not a new scene which is needed, but a new viewpoint.”

He is so right! Yes, there are times to take a trip, see new things, meet new people. But what most of us need far more is simply to open up our eyes to that which is beautiful and wonderful, joy-filled and life-giving, all around us every ordinary day in lots of ordinary places. Because, you see, there aren’t any simply “ordinary” days or “ordinary” places. And you never met an “ordinary” person. Our extraordinary God never created anything or anyone who was just “ordinary.”

The more I think about it, the more I realize that “commonplaces” are what God uses to make our lives uncommonly rich and interesting, and those who spurn them are poor no matter what their income.

The way your wife strokes your hand during a movie.

The giggles from the grandchild sitting on your lap as you’re singing a song together.

Early morning fog or a blanket of new snow creating a completely new world just outside your front door.

A clear, calm, crisp winter night and the smell of an oak fire warming the heart of a home.

The crackle of that fire in the hearth, its warmth on your back, and a book in your hand.

The taste of chocolate.

The easy laughter and good-natured joking of good friends.

Your favorite chair or your oldest pair of slippers.

Taking a snooze in the sun and realizing your dog is right about snoozes in the sun.

“Commonplaces never become tiresome.”

Thank God for them!

 

 

     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.

 


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