Monthly Archives: September 2019

A Pastor’s Job Description: Point Out What God Is Doing

All honorable work is God’s work, a calling, and anyone serious about doing a good job in his/her work derives priceless benefit from the example of respected mentors. Surely teachers and doctors, business folks and farmers, all need mentors to encourage them to “soldier on.”

One of my most influential mentors passed away almost a year ago, and I never met him. Eugene Peterson, best-known for his amazing paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, never wrote anything poorly, but his books written particularly for pastors have blessed me immensely.

I particularly love Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor. I think it should be required reading for would-be pastors, and I think “veteran” pastors probably should read it again once a year. Reflecting on fifty years of ministry, Peterson reminds those still on that journey that God does not call us to be religious CEOs but to love His sheep. Our calling is not to be little gods who think we can make the sun rise but simply to walk with our people through life each new day reminding them, and being reminded, that God is the One who bids it rise.

The job has never been easy, and it certainly is not now. The statistics are dismal and, as Peterson notes, pastoral “defections and dismissals have reached epidemic proportions in every branch and form of church.”

The pressure comes from all directions. Some groups, saying very truly that “every Christian is a minister,” draw some conclusions that are simply silly and demeaning and make as much practical sense as saying that everyone who has ever cut up a pork chop is a butcher. Of course, every Christian is called to the service of God, but our roles, functions, training, and gifts are, thank the Lord, all as different as they are all valuable and needed.

Our culture itself, and especially our “religious” culture, is toxic to real ministry; it devalues and demeans it. “The vocation of pastor,” writes Peterson, “has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.” God is treated as a consumer “product to be marketed” and the marketers scramble to find the right “model” for “success” which is then “religiously” measured in our culture’s terms rather than Christ’s: if it’s big, if it’s quantifiable, if it’s impressive, it’s called success. Never mind that measured by such standards, Christ was remarkably unsuccessful as he loved the weak and little children, the powerless and the “foolish” of this world; he chose the cross instead of “success.”

Desperate for the latest program to “revitalize the church,” pastors often fall to the very temptations Satan offered in the wilderness and Christ resisted. When we do, we act as if the “fruit” we push the church to produce (and measure) is the only thing that validates its existence. Buying that lie, we devalue worship and prayer and become blind to the real fruit (much that is visible but much more that is “unseen”) that God produces. We proceed by displaying a profound disrespect and denial of God’s presence in the “ordinary.”

It’s good to have someone particularly ordinary particularly charged with pointing out what God is doing every day through His presence, forgiveness, and grace in our seemingly ordinary lives. It’s work worth doing.

 

 

     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.


A Week with Two Sundays in a Row

We had two Sundays this week at our little church. Two Sundays two days in a row.

Well, not really. But it seemed like it.

The first Sunday this week was Saturday as we held the funeral of a fine man and good friend, a well-loved and faith-filled member of our church. We sang and prayed and shared God’s good news of hope. Sweet melodies and rich tones rose in that sanctuary and lifted our spirits, and God’s Spirit comforted, and God’s word was balm, and the hearts of God’s people praising Him were washed with tears of sorrow mingling with joy and laughter and hope.

When we returned later from the cemetery, we came back to that little church and filled our stomachs with wonderful food seasoned by love, and we filled our hearts again with hope in the presence of God’s people.

And then came Sunday—the real one, albeit the second. And we sang and prayed and shared God’s good news of hope. Sweet melodies and rich tones of hope rose in that sanctuary and lifted our spirits, and God’s Spirit comforted, and God’s word was balm, and his Table was open to all, and the hearts of God’s people praising Him and participating in His sacrifice of love were washed with tears of sorrow mingling with joy and laughter and hope.

Then following worship we went into the fellowship hall of that little church and filled our stomachs with wonderful food seasoned by love, and we filled our hearts again with hope in the presence of God’s people.

Both days I arrived early and opened the doors.

Both days I scurried about getting things prepared.

Both days I stopped for a few moments to drink in the sweet silence of that sweet place.

Both days I knelt between the front pews to lift up a prayer.

Both days I thanked God for His people here and for His people everywhere who kneel before Him.

Both days I silently praised God for the opportunity to come together to praise God.

Both days, and with each breath, I thanked God for hope in Christ.

Both days it occurred to me again how much I love what happens in that little place and with a little church large in love.

Ah, “church” is a big word. No one has to tell me that the real church is the people; it’s not the building, it’s Christ’s Body.

But don’t try to tell me that the little place I also unashamedly call the church is not a special and holy place (as, I pray, is yours). How near-sighted must we be if we can’t see that “place” matters!

When I kneel here, I think of all the others who have knelt here, and who do, and who will. They are part of me and I of them.

I’ve worshiped and worked here, laughed and cried here, knelt in joy here, bowed in near-desperation here, proclaimed God’s word here, received God’s word here, celebrated Christ’s life and death and resurrection here, and been filled with His life and hope here.

This place’s two-by-fours and sheetrock and glass (even stained) are ordinary, but what happens here is more than ordinary. What happens here on Sundays (usually just one a week) is so holy that it lifts and sanctifies the remainder of even the most ordinary days of the most ordinary of weeks.

Maybe this week it took two Sundays to remind me that if we ever let the wine of the grace we receive in such a place turn back into water when we leave, well, that’s not the fault of the wine-making Lord who bids us drink from His full cup. I love worshiping Him here in this special place of grace.

May God sanctify and bless such a beautiful place in your life, too. Yes, and drink deeply!

 

 

     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.

 

 


“How Are You? Good! I’m Fine!”

People can be maddening, frustrating, bull-headed, mean, dumb, astonishing, resilient, weak, strong, gentle, loving, perplexing, bitter, graceful, resentful, hateful, merciful, and . . . pick any adjective and stack ’em up. Any one of those will apply to a few someones, and lots of them will apply to the same folks at the very same time.

None of that is news to anyone.

Having said that, and having lived for six decades, I must say that, as many human idiosyncrasies and traits as I’ve observed in myself and others, sometimes I’m still surprised. For example . . .

It may not be true in a larger town where you either don’t know each other or, if you’re in a very large town, folks think eye contact might predict a mugging.

But in a small town like mine, when you set foot into your doctor’s waiting room, you almost always know a few folks, and you will quite naturally shake hands and say, “Hi, Joe! How are you?” And Joe will shake your hand and very likely reply, “Hey, Curtis! I’m fine; how are you?”

Now, remember, you’re in your doctor’s office. First of all, it’s a great place to get sick, and any sensible person would be wary of shaking hands. (Which is why I carry in my pocket a little bottle of hand sanitizer.)

Second, you are in your doctor’s office. How likely is it that you are both there because you’re fine as frog hair? But you’ll still reply, “I’m fine.” You might say later, “Oh, honestly, I’m leaking snot out of every pore in my body.” You probably won’t say, “Well, except for a potentially life-threatening, life-altering, disgusting, maddening disease that has me scared out of my wits, I’m fine.”

Still, I guess it’s a good comment on our town that, really, most of us are happy to be aboard, and mostly, “We’re fine.”

My doctor—I hope he doesn’t mind the description—is as close to Marcus Welby as you’ll ever find. I’ve been loving and serving this community for well over three decades, and he has been for a lot longer—all of his life. He’s pulled me and mine through a bunch of scrapes. We obviously like, respect, trust, and enjoy each other a lot. Not many folks do I enjoy talking to more. And I’d put him up against any big town medical guru any day.

I still laughed when I read one lady’s words. An emergency room physician, she said, “If your bone is presently sticking out of your leg, you should come see me; otherwise, you’ll likely live longer if you use medical care rarely and judiciously.”

I figure she’s talking mostly about specialists, though. The kind retired folks (that’s not me yet) tend to collect as a very unfulfilling, expensive, and too-often truly necessary hobby. Probably the same ones we read about in Mark 5:26 when we’re told of a poor lady who had “suffered much under the care of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” A cautionary tale.

Specialists. Three options. Pick two out of three. Get better. Get worse. Get poor. Before you try them, I’d suggest some time out on the back porch with a good book and maybe even an occasional fine cigar to lower your blood pressure. If you can get your doc to smoke one with you, you’ll have both relaxation and some of the best conversation with one of the best friends you’ll ever find.

By the way, how are you? Good. I’m fine.

 

 

       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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