Monthly Archives: March 2019

Sometimes the Main Event Is Not the Main Event

Sometimes the main event is not the main event.

A couple of times a year I usually receive article requests, three at a time, from a great little daily devotional magazine. As with all of their writers, the editors pick two Scripture passages for me and I get to pick the third.

So when I received the request letter a few weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised. I opened it, perused the assigned passages, and saw that one was 1 Samuel 17:16-28.

That’s a good one! Or, to be entirely accurate, it’s cut right from the middle of a really great one. First Samuel 17 is the well-known story of “David and Goliath.” Even in our largely biblically illiterate society (and one wonders how anyone in the world, and especially in western society, can claim to be educated at all and not have some familiarity with the Bible, believe it or not, that has so shaped our literature, history, culture, and life), almost everyone knows something about that “shepherd to giant killer” story.

But I was a bit surprised that the Scripture passage I was assigned didn’t encompass the end of the story. If you read this section, you’ll see that when it begins, David has just arrived on the scene, and when it ends, the giant is still alive and ranting. Hmm.

I was a bit befuddled until this truth hit me, and I now repeat it: sometimes the main event is not the main event.

Naturally enough, when we read the great story of David and Goliath, we tend to cut right to the chase or, in this case, the swing. The young son of Jesse swings his sling. The stone flies out, locks on, sinks in; a loud-mouthed giant shuts up and falls down. Cue to cheering! But the key event that actually sets up the sling swing victory comes earlier.

Each morning and evening, like clockwork for forty days, this nine-foot-plus giant with a glandular problem and a boatload of arrogance strides out from the Philistine camp to taunt the Israelites with what seems to be a four-foot-wide mouth. When David arrives, as young and unaccustomed to battle as he is, he sizes up the problem immediately. Not Goliath and his tree-sized spear, the crux of the matter is that as the giant taunts Israel, he is defying God.

The main event? It’s when a full-of-faith shepherd about to turn giant-killer asks who this taunter of God thinks he is. David’s answer? Compared to the living God, this giant is less than nobody at all.

Dealing with a giant of a problem? Don’t we all at times? When life’s frightening giants loom large and threaten to obscure our view, may God give us eyes of faith to recognize Satan’s strategy of misdirection. The real “main event” is the choice to fixate in fear on the giant or to ask God to help us focus in faith on him. And then to help us aim. He’s already promised a victory. And he does his best work when weak folks trust him for help in defeating giants.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 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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“I See Dead People”

“I see dead people.”

So said the cute little boy in the memorable line and creepy “confession” from the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense. I hope you don’t find it disturbing when I affirm that I do, too. See dead people, I mean.

For me, it happens pretty often and worries me not at all; in fact, it warms my heart. It gives me real hope. And I find it genuinely encouraging to know that I’ll one day join them.

In our small town, it’s not that unusual for me, a pastor here for almost 34 years, to do a “double-take” at a restaurant or store as I think I see a particular person, only to realize that I attended or officiated at their funeral. Oops! A resemblance. A mistaken identity. But no mistake: I miss them.

Most often, it happens at church. As I stand in the pulpit, look out into the sanctuary, and glance across the faces of worshipers I love, it’s not uncommon for my mind’s eye to “see” among them faces of many dear loved ones and friends, members of our little flock and God’s much larger kingdom, who have gone on to be with our Father.

No, it doesn’t bother me; quite the opposite.

Yes, for over three decades I’ve loved and worshiped with this little part of God’s much larger family. Not large, we’re “mega” only in love. Come to think of it, our little bunch may be a lot like Christ’s church universal in that we have more members who have gone on to be with the Lord than we have members who are presently breathing this earth’s air. They’ve died. “Most people have, you know,” C. S. Lewis, once wrote. Died, that is. Humans who are presently living are in the minority compared to humans who have already passed on. And surely that’s also true of God’s people of faith, of whom Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).

So, if loving God’s people means to live life with them, walk with them, weep with them, laugh with them, believe with them, and share genuine hope with them for life eternal—why should that hope do anything but come closer to full-flower when they go on to be with the Lord?

“Treasure in heaven.” Jesus once said that sort of lasting treasure is the only kind worth “storing up.” I’m not the first to mention that, the older we get, the more precious that treasure in heaven becomes because our most valuable treasures there have faces.

I spoke recently with two friends who are also pastors, faithful workers who have served God’s people in the same local churches for decades. Their experience is the same as mine. They see dead people, too. They look out into the pews, thankful for those who are there, but so very thankful also for those who have gone on but whose influence is still here and who worship now in the presence of the Lord.

We worship. They worship. One eternal day believers will all worship together. One day we’ll close our eyes and wake to find that we’re finally as fully alive as those who’ve gone before us, and our time in the shadows is over.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Praising God Launches a Delightful Chain Reaction

“Come,” invites the Psalmist of old, “let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (95:1-2).

C. S. Lewis writes, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”

Some years ago my wife and I were in New Orleans where she was attending a training conference. I went along to provide pastoral care. When she went to training sessions in search of knowledge, I went in search of seafood.

At one point, we ran into a fellow reading a book in an outdoor courtyard and struck up a conversation. He waxed rhapsodic about a little hole in the wall, Coop’s Place, down toward the river, describing the delectable crawfish étouffée he’d found there. Not only was he enjoying the memory of that fine food, he was enjoying it yet again as he described it to us.

I soon found out for myself that it was remarkably fine stuff. I enjoyed telling my wife about it, taking her there later, and now I’m telling you about it and resisting the impulse to describe it in a great deal more detail. Part of the joy of the whole experience is in telling about it.

Lewis goes on to say that “to praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression.” He says you can no more separate your joy from the praise it frees and releases from your soul than you can separate the “brightness a mirror receives . . . from the brightness it sheds.”

When we praise God, not only is our joy made more complete, our praise itself issues in deeper praise and worship.

So the Psalmist invites us to praise God, to worship him, to thank him as the praise in our hearts builds and overflows the banks of our hearts in rivers of joy, the most wonderful sort of chain reaction. Once started, thank God, it’s almost impossible to stop unless something becomes wrong with our hearts.

God’s people can no more refuse to praise God than living people can will themselves to cease breathing. We praise God because we have breath to live and to praise and God is the One who gives it.

We praise God because God made us.

We praise God because God is worthy and deserving of all praise.

We praise God because there are songs to sing and God is the music.

We praise God because there are colors to see and God is the Painter.

We praise God because we are deeply loved and he is the Lover.

We praise God! How can we not? Why would we not?

We praise God because it is our joy to praise Him, and praising Him completes and magnifies our joy.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Just Try Harder!” Said the Ladybug to the Worm

“Just try harder!” urged the ladybug.

“I am trying,” protested the stressed-out caterpillar. “And I’ve been trying for hours! So far the only thing that’s happened is that I got so dizzy a few minutes ago I almost fell off my leaf.

“If I’d fallen, I’d surely agree that some wings would’ve come in handy. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and if caterpillars could sprout wings by holding their breath and pushing with all their might, I’d have wings that would make most eagles green with envy.

“But I’m still just a green caterpillar, Mrs. Ladybug, and trying harder is not working! So, if you please, madam, I’d be obliged if you would take your stories of caterpillars sprouting wings to some other tree where you may find a more gullible class of caterpillar.

“I’m sure you mean well, and I’ve no doubt that you honestly believe those stories of winged worms, but I am not too good to be a caterpillar. A caterpillar I was born, and a caterpillar I shall gladly remain.

“I may just be a glorified worm, but at least I am a worm with no airs and no need, by the way, to take to the air. Why, come to think of it, I saw a butterfly fly by just this morning. You’d never get me up in a thing like that! I have plenty of fine feet and feel no need at all for any wings, thank you very much. Good day!”

With that, the caterpillar turned on his many heels and wormed his way over to the next leaf. He felt oddly tired and soon found himself snuggling up to a nearby branch. Hmm, maybe he’d just wrap himself up for a while and settle in for a long nap. Caterpillars and wings! Of all the silly stories . . .

And of all the silly caterpillars, that one is in for a serious surprise and a world-class transformation. But trying harder won’t get it done. Only nature’s Creator will get it done, at just the right time and in just the right way.

Most of what passes for religion in this world is, when push comes to shove, all about humanity’s ability to do a better job pushing and shoving. It boils down to self-help horse hockey that puts far too much emphasis on our ability and almost completely disregards God’s power.

Christians, of all people, should know better, but we fall easy prey to “religion” that gives lip service to God but is really all about our trying harder to “be good,” which we could do just as well if the cross had never happened. Self-help religion requires no Savior, no cross.

God has something far different and far better in mind. It’s not about human power. It’s not about our ability to keep the rules. It’s about God’s Spirit transforming us from within: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation!” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). And the apostle says specifically, “All this is from God” lest we think it comes from our own power to change ourselves and impress even God with how good we are.

If your faith is all about how really motivated worms can work harder and sprout wings, you need to find a different tree. One that’s shaped like a cross.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 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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