Tag Archives: Creator

“The Mountains Sing Together for Joy”

My wife and I were in Colorado recently. Living on the aptly named “high plains” of Texas, at a tad over 3,800 feet in our particular part of those plains, we’ve got a pretty good start on altitude already. But I discovered long ago that my soul requires regular doses of much higher altitude, the kind that comes only with mountains.

I love mountains in general, but I was ready for a good dose of some Colorado mountains. And, of course, if you want to go up Pikes Peak, and that is exactly what we wanted, and if that incredible peak has not wandered off or been misplaced, Colorado is your destination. If you also like trains, and I do, a Cog Railway ride up Pikes Peak wonderfully answers both needs: mountains and rails. A win-win situation.

The history of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, “the highest railroad ever built in the USA,” and the description of the engineering involved is pretty incredible. On the way up the hill we learned that most “normal” trains bump into the laws of physics and are unable to handle grades of more than about 4%. I’m told that 3.3% at Raton, New Mexico, is the steepest grade in the U.S. for “normal” trains. Because of the Cog Railways “cog” system, a gear-like intermesh between track and locomotive, those trains can climb up grades as steep as 26%.

You’d have to work hard to find vistas and scenery more incredible than the mixture of green and granite, azure blue and gleaming snow, adorning those hills and peaks. What I particularly like are the switchbacks where a passenger turned photographer finds himself literally rounding the bend and gasping at the beauty of each new scene stretching to the horizon.

Oohs and aahs and wows echo through the train car, and you find your mind almost derailed as it was still trying to wrap itself around the magnificence of the last vista, but now you’ve chugged up and around and, voilà!, our Creator has painted another masterpiece before the paint was dry on the last one!

I found myself thinking of the folks who had made their way up that mountain long before the train was available. The trip, I’m told, was a two-day affair on a mule, if the weather and the mule cooperated and all went well. It was after Zalmon Simmons, “inventor and founder” of the famous mattress company, made the trip on a mule in the 1880s that “there has to be a better way” led to the beginning of the construction of the cog railway in 1889. For chronological snobs (like most of us), that’s a reminder that “modern” and “amazing feats of engineering” are not terms that have to be coupled on the same track.

Coming down Pikes Peak is at least as much a challenge for the trains as going up. Redundant brake systems and procedures are checked often, for which I was thankful.

Going up, coming down, rounding the next turn—we never know in life exactly what is coming. Amazing beauty. Deep joy. Searing pain. This challenge or that obstacle.

But we can rest assured that our Creator is good, all-powerful, and all-loving. In their Creator’s presence, the “mountains sing together for joy” (Psalm 98:8). They always have. They always will.

And our God forever sings with joy over his children.

 

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

 

Copyright 2017 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 Will Lift Up My Eyes to the Hills”

 

Something about the mountains my soul needs regularly and loves always. There’s just something about gaining altitude, heading up!

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills,” writes the psalmist as he beautifully affirms that all of his “help comes from the Lord” (Psalm 121).

Reading the Gospels, I feel some sweet altitudinal affirmation when I read about Jesus “going up on the mountainside” to pray. Of course, we can pray and receive strength from our Father at any and all altitudes. But “up” seems a particularly good direction to go for the strength needed to deal with life back “down there.”

It’s no accident that it was up on a “high mountain” that Jesus was “transfigured” before the wide eyes of Peter, James, and John as that clear, crisp mountain air blazed with God’s glory.

What’s really needed, of course, is for us to ask God to help us live with our eyes open. But life just seems to run a lot better when our eyes are pointed in an upward direction.

Even in the muck and the mire of a sin-sick and fallen world, if we can find the strength to look up in the midst of the darkness, we see God’s stars, and their silvery light spells hope.

When our souls are oppressed by the weight of 24-hour news, much of it bad (and at least 23 hours more than we need), if we’ll just wash our hearts out with beautiful music, we’ll find that music can be God’s blessing to lift us up, if only for a few moments, to a much higher, more beautiful place.

When we’re disappointed and hurt by human failures—not least, our own—and we’re feeling bent over under the accumulated weight of the weakness that has appalled us yet again, often that’s exactly when God’s Spirit can use our bending to be the first step toward our bowing. Then in worship our eyes are lifted up to the sinless One dying to carry all of our sins—past, present, and future—away from us forever.

To accept that sacrifice and live in the light of that truth is blessing and uplift indeed, in the highlands, the lowlands, or the plains.

But I find myself especially “lifted up” and thankful to have opened my eyes in the mountains on this particular morning, the start of almost a week in the hills. And it’s easy for me to echo the words of John Muir: “Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.”

Yes, the mountain peaks seem to point up to God like the spires of a cathedral.

The majesty of the mountains reminds us of the majesty of God.

The seemingly timeless face of a mountain reminds us of the timeless permanence of God.

The enormity of the mountain reminds us of the vastness of God.

The awesome power of the mountain reminds us of the unshakeable strength of God.

Yes, indeed, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills.”

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Praise the Lord, O My Soul!”

 

psalms

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.


The Creator of the Universe Is the “Master Multitasker”

 

multitask

The guy who wrote the book about men being from Mars and women being from Venus didn’t have to write a book to convince me. Both planets have some fine points, but the same, they are not.

Should we be surprised? Warning: If to feel good about yourself you need to believe that men and women are exactly the same except for plumbing (ignoring the bothersome fact that every single cell in their bodies is different because of their “chromosomal patterns”), you might want to stop here.

Research, with no ax to grind and no bias toward the citizens of either Mars or Venus, the guys or the gals, seems to show, time and again, that most guys don’t multitask as well as most gals.

I’m not sure why we needed to pay for such research. Just go into a grocery store, dads, with a shopping basket and three kids. Your wife will handle that task unscathed and even bring all the kids home intact. Try it yourself, and you will need sedation.

You will forget half of what you went for. You won’t be there twenty minutes before you lapse into survival mode, praying with poignant fervency just to get out. Once your prayer is granted, you’ll discover that you have to go back in because, in the fog of war and as you were refereeing a fight between the other two, you left a man behind “in country.” Little Bosco is still in the shopping cart and the manager is dialing social services.

Don’t even try to throw yourself on the mercy of the court, your wife. She knows she can text on her cell phone, make a call to her best friend, buy the groceries, get good deals, shuffle a stack of coupons, keep the kids in line, deny multiple requests for goodies, referee skirmishes, and plan the evening’s meal—all at the same time. (I don’t know how she texts and talks at the same time, but since she has only one phone, she’s still nine fingers and one ear ahead of the game. You, sir, will never be ahead of the game.)

Your wife is wired with multi-circuit precision. You are wired for high voltage but only one line, and you will burn out about seven years sooner, still unable to figure out how multi-circuited, multitasking folks like your wife do what they do.

The closest I ever get to what my wife does all the time is when I preach. I’m speaking. I’m checking notes. I’m watching for cues. I’m talking to myself while I’m talking. “Good, Bob’s got his Bible app open on his phone. Jane’s with me. Oops, looks like Sue’s bored and, yea, verily, that’s not Holy Scripture she’s texting. Jim’s eyes just glassed over; he’s heading into a coma. I better go for a little humor here. Wake-up call. Uh oh, lost another one. Ah, rats! There’s a ‘watch check’ and Ted just almost broke his jaw trying to hide a yawn. Better land this thing.” And so on.

So maybe I do break into multitasking on occasion. But I’ll never understand how my wife could take all the kids to the store and come back sane.

I can’t even begin to imagine how the God of the universe watches over sparrows and tides and oceans and amoebas, spins this world, and, with all of his heart, loves you and loves me. All at the same time. Now that’s multitasking!

 

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

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Telephonically Speaking, Society Has Turned a Corner

Old-cellphone

I wonder when we turned the corner? Telephonically speaking, I mean.

Once upon a time having a cell phone was a very cool thing, a “status symbol” even. (Hey, I remember when having a telephone with push buttons and not a rotary dial was cool.)

The first cell phone I ever spied looked like spy Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone. Remember him? Ahead of his time, he was the klutzy TV series “secret agent” (Get Smart was the series, even though it helped us get smarter not at all) who’d take off his shoe, stick it up to his ear, and make a phone call.

The obviously “high maintenance” gal I saw years ago parading through a hospital waiting room didn’t look like Maxwell Smart. She looked like somebody well worth avoiding, but she did have a big beige plastic thing, something on the order of a man’s Size 11 shoe, stuck up to her face. She was talking into it and seemed keen on everyone noticing, which I guess we did.

Many moons have passed since then. Now even the most intelligent yard dogs and the most not-so-smart humans (not just Maxwell Smart), either have a cell phone or a cell phone has them. That’s why it’s been years since you’ve had a simple meal when everyone at the table was fully present and not focused on a phone. Most folks don’t mean to be impolite; the young ones have never seen anyone actually try to eat without a phone.

It might not make the list of time-honored spiritual disciplines, but on the modern list should be this grueling exercise: consider going to a meal occasionally and leaving your phone switched off or in the car.

Unless you’re a brain surgeon or hooked up to NORAD and the president and the Pentagon require your immediate concurrence should they want to launch nuclear missiles, most folks will find that the world will keep on spinning for an hour or so even if they’re un-tethered from their phone. Bad news will be just as bad an hour later and good news will be an even nicer surprise.

But I warn you: the first time or two you try it, you may feel a little shortness of breath, some tightness in your chest, and perhaps a little free-floating anxiety. Counseling and medication are available should such symptoms continue or worsen. Others (very few, but some) have chosen to travel this one-hour “phone-fast” road before; you’re not alone.

Yep, we’ve turned a corner. The time was when having a cell phone was a status symbol. Now I’m told the real status symbol is NOT having a cell phone. It’s having “people” whose cell phones have them. They make and take the calls you never have to. Hmm.

Some days I’d like to give my phone to the dog, as long as she’d promise to give it back when the grandkids are calling.

I wonder how our Creator does it? He stays on the line all the time, always awaiting our call. Whenever we want to talk about anything at all, he considers that very good news.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Wisdom Is One of God’s Favorite Tools

shed01

We often talk about how hard it is to know God’s will for our lives, but let’s get real. Knowing God’s will is rarely the hard part; what’s hard is doing the part of God’s will we already know but pretend that we don’t. And then, hurting ourselves and others, we ignore a hundred warning signs, step on the gas, and drive right over a cliff. We’ve all done it. We say we want God’s wisdom; then we ignore the ways he sends it.

A few years ago I decided to build a shed. I had in mind a shed/greenhouse, twelve feet by sixteen feet, rustic, an old “saltbox” style barn. Simple. Nothing fancy. Fine, but I couldn’t keep it simple.

I bought books and perused plans, tacked together what I liked best, scribbled notes in a yellow pad. Each time I got a section designed, I’d add to the “materials list” what I’d need to nail together the flagship of this pastor’s attempts to impersonate a carpenter.

I soon made the happy discovery that in addition to building materials, I’d need a few new tools. The most important was one I could hardly wait to get my hands on: a framing nail gun. A man’s machine if there ever was one, it was without doubt the finest and most efficient tool of the project, which was finally completed and has become a shed/greenhouse/man-cave/magic castle for grandkids/sermon-factory all in one.

It boggles my mind to try to imagine the infinite and eternal Creator planning the world in which he would nestle and nurture his soon-to-be-created children. Before the world was created and set spinning, our mighty Creator planned its oceans and their boundaries. Before he flung the stars across the sky, God knew where he would sculpt the ocean canyons and call forth springs. In his plan, God saw every particle of dust, every vast mountain range. The greatest Architect of all, God “marked out” the foundations of the earth.

But before God called into being even one molecule of this world, Proverbs 8 tells us that he “brought forth” the greatest “tool,” the “wisdom” with which he would fashion all things. Wisdom would not only be his tool for all of creation, wisdom would be the “craftsman” by his side completely delighting in his work and “rejoicing always before him.”

When God created in his own image the human children he fashioned to be the climax of creation and the objects of his deepest love, wisdom was there and “delighted in mankind.”

When I was building my shed, one of my sons helped me raise its frame, and it was a joy to see him wield my favorite tool with real skill. One of the most wonderful truths of Proverbs 8 is that God the Creator invites us, his children, to share in his joy as we seek, use, and are blessed by his favorite tool, wisdom. God built the universe with that tool, and he promises his children that if we heed his instruction and trust his plan, we can always use the best of his tools, his wisdom, to build our lives. If we refuse to use it and leave it in the box, . . .

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! I’ve added sample tracks from the new Christmas CD as well as pics of the recording process–and a free download. Hope you enjoy it! 

Copyright 2013 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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