Monthly Archives: November 2018

Why Does God Attend Worship?

A number of years ago now, I took some of our family 70 miles down the road looking for a little dose of culture. We went to hear the symphony, and, with them, the man who’s arguably the best classical guitarist in the world. Christopher Parkening’s performance that evening reminded me of one of my own. No kidding.

The orchestra with which I performed was conducted by Mrs. Stevens, who was not only the head of the Music Department at Amarillo’s San Jacinto Elementary, she was the Music Department. I played the bells. We performed one evening for an elite group—the PTA. Mom and Dad, of course, attended.

Now, I ask you, why did they come? Because they were looking for a cultural experience? Probably not.

Because Mrs. Stevens was world-renowned as a conductor of pygmy orchestras? I don’t think so.

Because the guest soloist was a world-renowned bell player who toured elementary schools the world over and just happened to be their son playing in a limited engagement? No. I may have had a dozen notes. No solos.

No, Mom and Dad were not enamored with the notes or the way I played them. They weren’t in love with the music or the performance. They were in love with me. Which leads me to wonder.

When God’s people gather to worship him, why does God think it worthwhile to be “in their midst,” as he has promised?

This God is the Conductor who raises his baton to begin the “music of the spheres” and set the whole universe dancing with delight.

This is the God of Heaven where the streets are filled with the continual praise of great choirs of angelic hosts.

Is God present at worship because our music is so fine? Or our prayers so perfect? Or our preaching so inspiring?

Is God among us because he is so impressed with the way we worship?

My parents, in a sense, lowered themselves to come to an elementary school orchestra performance at a PTA meeting not because we were so good but because they loved me so much.

And our great God? He’s not with us because we’re so good at what we do, or because we or our group “do” worship better or more correctly than others of his people. He’s there in spite of the pitiful soul-crushing walls we create, not because of them. No, God is not there because we are so good, so right, so impressive. We are none of those things.

He’s there because we’re his children. Because he’s our Father. Because he loves us with deep and genuine love. And he knows that though our love for him is weak and imperfect, it, too, is real.

Why is God with us when we worship? Because of relationship far more than ritual. We’re not child prodigies wowing Heaven with the beauty of our worship. But we are our Father’s kids. And the God of all joy beams and his heart overflows yet again with love as we offer to him the praise that comes from love. As our hearts dance before him, his heart dances, too.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2018 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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Father Tim Kavanagh and Thanksgiving

I’ve been enjoying re-reading Jan Karon’s books set in Mitford, North Carolina, centering on the life and ministry of the community’s Episcopal priest, Father Tim Kavanagh.

I like Father Tim. My wife goes farther: she says I am Father Tim. My wife is usually right, but she’s wrong on this one. Father Tim is a much better pastor and a much nicer fellow than the preacher my wife lives with. But nonetheless it does me good to spend time with the kind rector, and I’m usually more pastoral and a little nicer after I’ve done so.

I wouldn’t deny that a few similarities do exist between us, Father Tim and me.

Mitford is a small town of the “great place to live” variety. Muleshoe is in exactly that category. Father Tim has discovered that the very best (and by far the largest) part of America is the small town part. I couldn’t agree more.

Mitford is set in the “high green hills” of North Carolina. Muleshoe is set in the high brown plains of West Texas. Hmm.

Father Tim has discovered that you can truly and meaningfully touch just as many lives in a small church/small town setting as you can in a large city/mega-church setting. Maybe more. I agree.

Father Tim is the kind of guy who would rather spend thirty minutes with the “real” guys at the local coffee shop than five minutes with the “plastic” big business/big politics/big shots (in general) of our society. Absolutely.

Father Tim has a great church secretary full-time who does a great job and doesn’t mind telling him how “the cow ate the cabbage” and keeping him in line. I’ve got one of those, too, but she can do the job in one day a week.

Father Tim has a great dog. For lots of years, I had one of those. His dog is pacified by the reading of Scripture or 18th-century English poets. I never needed to try that. Like her master, the best thing Maddie did was sleep.

Father Tim has a polite little motor scooter. I’ve got a man-sized machine with air intakes and pipes that opened wide will suck in and spit out neighborhood pets from three doors down. (The similarity is that both machines have two wheels.)

Father Tim has been described as “bookish.” Ditto, and that’s a compliment. Our society desperately needs folks who read more and spout off less. But I don’t read enough.

Father Tim esteems C. S. Lewis and Winston Churchill as among his heroes. Well, of course.

Yes, there are some similarities. But Father Tim is, I repeat, a much nicer guy, better pastor, and finer human being than am I.

As I spent some time with him recently, I was struck by the notes he’d jotted in his sermon notebook on “thanksgiving” and another quotation or two he recalled.

Oswald Chambers: “We look for visions of heaven, and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts he has in store for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. . . .” Looking for the “highest good,” we “deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, . . . Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things.”

I’m pretty sure Father Tim’s Thanksgiving sermon was better than mine.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Epitaph: Love Is Always Greater Than Power

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This morning in The Wall Street Journal I read a well-written obituary by James R. Hagerty focusing on a woman who so loved to be in the spotlight that her former husband—she had four and divorced four—simply said, “To say that [she] loved publicity would be a massive understatement. She lived for publicity.”

Hagerty wrote, “More than 30 years before she died, she had her own tombstone engraved,” noting on it that “her father was a prominent neurologist and that she was recognized at White House press conferences by several presidents.”

Hagerty says that in a 1996 People magazine article, she simply said, “The main thing is to keep my name out in front.”

I do not intend to mention her name. You won’t know it anyway, and it will soon be forgotten. But I admit that I’ll have a hard time forgetting what Hagerty says this woman wrote on her own memorial: “Power is greater than love, and I did not get where I am by standing in line, nor by being shy.”

I suppose when she wrote that pathetic line, she could hardly imagine that “where I am” could mean anything other than “in the spotlight.” For much of her 89 years, she lived for power and fame. Where did she get? She got to the place where “where I am” means “in the grave.” And then what happens to such a shriveled soul?

I read that obituary this morning. Then this afternoon I drove down to our little town’s First Baptist Church to attend the funeral of a man whose name I’m privileged to mention and whose service I felt it was an honor to attend, “Sonny” Byrd. Most of us just called him Mr. Byrd.

I didn’t know that Mr. Byrd’s first name was actually Levanather. I’ve still not heard anyone take a stab at pronouncing it, but, if I’m doing that right, I kind of like it. It has a dignity about it. Just like the man, married 57 years to his “sweetheart” and committed to his Lord.

I didn’t get to know Mr. Byrd nearly as well as I’d like to have, partly because he was such a quiet, gentle, “always there but never loud” presence in our community that I guess I thought he always would be. I figured he had many stories to tell, and I hoped one day to be able to sit down, drink coffee with him, and hear some of them. He was here for 60 years; me, for 33. Surely there was time. And then there wasn’t. Not in this life, but I hope in the next.

I felt almost presumptuous attending the funeral, mostly because—my own fault—I didn’t know him well enough. But what I knew, I respected. He cut a striking figure, a man carved out of rich ebony, clad in crisp coveralls and a cowboy hat. He worked so well, so hard, with dignity and the kind of soft-spoken gentleness that is only found in those who are genuinely strong with the kind of soul-strength that the loud will never understand, much less, possess. I can’t imagine anyone less interested in the limelight, but when I heard of Mr. Byrd’s passing, I knew our community had lost the kind of person to whom any community owes a debt that can’t be paid. At the funeral, it became clear that lots of folks felt that way.

It’s probably a mercy to him that he could not hear what was said at his service because the last thing in the universe he’d have wanted was for his name to be “out in front.” I have no idea what will be written on his tombstone, but it might well be this: “Love is always greater than power.”

And that is literally God’s truth.

 

 

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

 

Copyright 2018 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 Life or Death Fight in the Backyard Bird House

I like to think of our back yard as a mostly safe, peaceful, and appealing place. Until recently, it was.

Oh, there were years when a good-natured Great Dane lived there. It was safe. He was peaceful. But “nice yard” and “Great Dane” do not coexist in the same universe. He was a good dog, but his relocation was an incredible blessing for that piece of real estate. When he moved on, we undertook a serious improvement project, and that part of the estate became vastly better, truly enjoyable.

About fifteen years ago, I built out there what I call my “bird house.” “Aviary” is actually closer to the mark but communicates with fewer folks. Neither a little bird house nor a large aviary, this is a 4 X 8-footprint, 9-foot tall, rustic, old barn-style edifice with railroad tie corner posts—and birds. White doves, one gray ring-neck dove (I named him Michael, as in Phelps, because he loves water, but a grandchild recently saw Michael lay an egg), one ring-neck male pheasant, pharaoh quail (about the same size as ordinary quail), and button quail (my favorite—little guys who, full-grown, are smaller than chicken eggs with legs).

Alas, my button quail are no more. Old age and one hungry snake, I think, took them out. (I took him out, but too late.)

And now, I sadly report, the pharaoh quail are gone, too. They started disappearing, or turning up dead,

a couple of months ago. It didn’t take a CSI technician and detailed postmortem for me to determine that they weren’t dying peacefully in their sleep. Down to one quail and feeling helpless in the face of mass murder, I somberly apologized to that bird for my failure to solve the case but also wished him luck and told him truthfully that I’d hate to be in his, uh, shoes. He lasted maybe a week. An intolerable situation.

I’ve tried deduction. All the doves are fine; they only touch ground to eat, and they perch up high to sleep. The pheasant sleeps on the ground, but he’s large, and the killers are cowards.

Signs of serious digging and some interesting holes began to show up before the spate of murders. Snakes are hole-dwelling opportunists and don’t dig their own. I didn’t think that skunks or raccoons would fit the bill.

Tired of deduction, I bought a cheap wildlife camera and hung it on the chicken-wire screen door. First night. Bingo! Some nice pheasant pics. Even a fox staring in hungrily at the pheasant.

But once that bird bedded down, three sets of beady eyes began to glow in the dark from a hole. Then (quit reading if you are squeamish) unmistakable, gross, vile, evil vermin with long tails began to roam the birdhouse floor: rats! Out of quail to terrorize, these murderous and disgusting freeloaders are, each night, chowing down on my bird food.

The fight is on! It involves a combination of traps, voltage, poison, and calibre. This is not catch and release. I do not care if these enemies expire peacefully. This is war. I intend to finish it quickly.

Most analogies break down if pressed too far, but it is not difficult to find numerous Bible verses that warn about trusting or associating with creatures who live in darkness, despise beauty, and seek to destroy what is good. We’ll see what works in my bird house, but having God in your heart is the best defense against spiritual rodents who would like to lodge there.

 

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

 

Copyright 2018 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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