Tag Archives: God’s joy

In God We Trust–Not in Us

I am writing this column on December 26. Christmas is not even close to being over. This is only the second of the “twelve days of Christmas,” which was a season a very long time before it was a song.

I’m whistling in the wind, I know, but I prefer to stand with the wisdom of the centuries on this one and not with Western marketing. My little $5 tree and the lights in my humble shed behind the house will stay up until Twelfth Night, the evening of January 5.

I’m not sure if I’m a Yuletide purist or just the son of my mother. Mom liked Christmas and hated taking down trees. Ours often stood in the corner of the living room until February, by which time the tree was a genuine incendiary device we could have sold to terrorists for serious money had we not been patriotic Americans. (My wife, flaunting tradition and my maternal heritage, will slam the lid on the whole thing and shove the plastic tree into a box much sooner than I would prefer.)

Because I’m a Christmas traditionalist, I always hate to see Christmas go. I’m also quirky, eccentric, and loving my second childhood as, I hope, I’m growing younger inside as I grow older outside.

But I also have a deeper reason perhaps worthy of some reflection. You see, at Christmas, for just a little while, we almost get it. We almost understand that genuine beauty and light and joy and life itself do not proceed from us and are not about us. What happened at Bethlehem was something God did. (And though I’d not be legalistic about it, I see genuine wisdom and spiritual blessing in the truly Christian tradition of the preparation time of Advent leading to the sweet 12-day Christmas season.)

We could have sat through a million “success” seminars, strategically planned our hearts out, burned out our calculators creating fine business models, centered on ourselves in a thousand ways, and we’d never have thought of sending God’s Son from heaven and laying him in a manger. Even if we’d thought of it, we’d be as likely to start a nuclear reaction by rubbing two sticks together as to do for ourselves and our world what only God could do by his power. At Christmas, we see with a little clarity, which is far more than usual and about the best we ever muster, that everything we really need in this life is about God and from him, not us.

No wonder it’s a let-down when the lights come down and the lists of resolutions go up. We were centered on God’s great symphony; now we tend to focus again on our own little performance playing “Chop-sticks” on a plastic toy piano. We were enthralled by God’s power; now the temptation is to center on ours, take back the stage, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, start rubbing two sticks together, and get busy trying to do for ourselves what only God can do.

No matter when you take the tree and the lights down, remember the lesson of Bethlehem. In God we trust. Not in us.

 

 

     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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“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.

 


“Short Words Are Best” and Three Are Best of All

“Short words are best,” asserted Winston Churchill, “and the old words when short are best of all.”

So may I suggest three—very short and very old which when lined up and strung together are the best three that could possibly be.

GOD IS LOVE.

These words are chiseled into the rock, woven into the fabric, of the universe. More than that, if anything could be more, they are living and implanted by the Author of life into its every cell, resonating in every breath and heartbeat. How could we not feel the life of those three short words pulsing all around us? Ah, perhaps in part because they are so much around us that we live in them and swim in them like fish enlivened by but largely oblivious to the very thing that gives them life.

God is love.

Note that in this short, old, and every morning new, equational sentence, the verb, the multiplier, and the fulcrum is IS, to BE. Yes, eternally. And, yes, of course, the “great I AM” will always be and will always be exactly what He always is, love.

Those three words mean that as long as our Father wills the universe to be, the stars to twinkle, the worlds to spin—if packed in every grain of sand on every sea-washed beach was a million years and all of those mini-mega-grains were stretched across creation at attention in single sand-soldier file—the dance of the cosmos, the symphony of space, and the music of the spheres, will still play on because God is GOD, and God always IS, and God will always be LOVE.

The order of the short word-cars on this magnificent train matters immensely. “God is love” is a breathtaking stream flowing with the life of the Creator and wash-singing, joy-splashing, over every rock and crevasse of the universe. “Love is god” is an idolatrous sludge defiling its worshipers and leaving a black trail of death, desolation, and the tears of despairing children in its sad and slimy wake. The first sings with the life of the Creator; the latter stagnates and festers in the stench of death-ridden darkness.

And, yes, in a fallen, sin-sick, and sadly twisted world, darkness is real and too often seems utterly pervasive. But no eclipse is forever. The sun’s corona glows around the blackness, impatient to blaze again unfettered, and we have the promise of Eden’s Creator that one day unending joy will again be the watchword of the universe. The first Adam fell, and we see the wreckage and the pain, but Adam’s word is not the last.

Because of the three short words that find their fruition, culmination, and crowning glory in the one Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Does it sometimes, even often, seem unbearably dark? One Word “shines in the darkness” and will banish it forever, all because of the three short words: God is love.

 

     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.


All Genuine Joy Is God’s Joy

 

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All genuine joy is God’s joy.

And that’s my defense, if I need one, for my new music album (For Sentimental Reasons) that comes out this week.

The album’s already passed the real test: my biggest fans like it. Those would be, of course, my grandchildren.

My four-year-old grandson, more than capable of singing for you a fine, though a bit unusual, medley of “Long Black Train” and “Let It Snow!” (his two favorite songs from my previous albums), has announced that his favorite tune from the new CD is “It Had to Be You.” Nice choice. Since I sing this song as a duet with his mother (who did an incredible job), I was particularly pleased with his choice.

My newest grandchild, a sweet little girl, is just a month old; it’s too early to expect her to review the album verbally. But her parents have recorded her reaction to the songs. I smiled as I watched the video review they sent on her behalf.

At first, she’s fussing a bit, working her way up to a pretty loud cry, but then Mom and Dad start playing the album. Startled, she cries harder for about two seconds, then quietens, snuggles down into the music. I like to think she’s recognizing her PawPaw’s voice, but one thing’s sure: hearing the music, that lovely little lass settles down right before my eyes and sinks into sweet sleep. I love it!

I’m not sure if this music will be that potent an anesthetic for most folks, but if it provides just a little bit of sweet relaxation for many who hear it, I’ll be very pleased. The world needs more of such. More peace. More calm. More beauty. More deep joy.

In the album “liner notes,” I wrote this: “What a privilege to work with so many amazingly talented folks to make this album! Our prayer is that every note sung and played in these sweet old songs is filled with the genuine love and deep joy of the Author of all real love, all real joy.”

I mean what I wrote. You see, my first love will always be singing songs with words that point overtly to God’s love, but real love, real joy, all come from the same Source.

I never thought I’d make a recording composed of some of what have been called the “Great American Songbook” songs, some of the sweetest old “love” songs from, say, the 1920s to early 50s. Of course, some songs from that era have words I just can’t sing. But the ones I chose, I dearly love to sing. Even the ones that may be a little long on “syrup” are sweet musical treasures it’d be a shame for our world to lose.

Don’t worry! I won’t be singing “Unforgettable” or “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” as offertory hymns. But when I do get to sing them, it’s no stretch at all for me to thank God with every note for his gifts of sweet music, a little precious peace, and calm, and, I hope, joy.

Any words, any music, any smiles and gifts and laughter that honor our Lord do not need to be stamped “religious” to truly be God’s.

All real joy is God’s joy.

 

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! (Yes, some info about the new album is there, and a sample or a few!)

 

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.


Pious Pete Declines to Attend the Father’s Party

 

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Someone has called Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son “the Gospel within the Gospels” as in it Jesus tells us the story of us all, and the story of God’s love.

You know the story.

A father has two sons. The younger son—immature, rebellious, and headstrong— impetuously demands his inheritance, takes off to a “far country,” and proceeds to heartily party until his dad’s shekels are spent and the party plays out. In the midst of a post-party famine, he finds himself starving and in such bad shape that he’s glad to land a job feeding pigs. One dark day he catches himself envying the porkers who are eating better than he is.

That’s when the prepositions start improving. Once full OF himself, the younger son “comes TO his senses” and realizes he needs to go home TO his father and beg to be taken back not as a son but as a hired hand. Hired hands eat better than pigs.

His father sees him coming while he’s still a long way off, and from then on in the parable, the predominant note is JOY as the father runs to throw his arms around his son, his “lost” son who is found.

Before the now-much-wiser lad can finish his “just make me a hired hand” speech, the father orders up a robe and sandals and a signet ring, and he calls for a feast and the best of parties.
Joy abounds! Except . . .

Except in the heart of the older son who never left home but instead, as he puts it, stayed at home to “slave away” for the father. “And,” pious Pete whines, “you never threw me a party!”

Wonder why! This sad-sack is one of those folks who can put a damper on any party and lower the temperature in any room just by showing up.

The guy probably has some good qualities, but he’s the sort that makes you wonder, “Ya know, if heaven’s full of folks like him, . . .” Don’t worry. It’s not.

I admit it: I don’t like him, not least because all too often, I’m afraid I look way too much like him. He’s long on the kind of “virtues” that give the term a bad name, and I suspect he’s a bit short on vices. Vices are bad in many ways, but they do have the worthwhile effect of reminding us that we’re human.

Good Puritans and genuinely good human beings are not, thank the Lord, the same cats.

The young son? Him, I like. Once he’s come to his senses. At one time, yes, he had a mistaken view of real fun and real life. Early on, he had a warped view of joy and looked for it in all the wrong ways and places.

But at least he was looking for it. At least he knew life was something to be loved. Now he knows why. Now he knows where love and life come from: his father. Now he smiles more, laughs more, and drinks more deeply from real joy. He’s found the real party, and his father is the one throwing it!

Henri Nouwen is right when he says that it’s a lot harder to come home when you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the good son, and you’ve never left.

The younger son made lots of mistakes. The older son is living a mistake. And he’s missing the party.

 

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

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Christmas Is Over, But Its Real Joy Lasts Forever

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Ah, ’tis a dangerous time for me, a little section of the year I always dread, and this year, more than usual. You see, Christmas is over, no matter how you reckon it.

Christmas, the shopping season, is done. Madison Avenue launches Santa’s sleigh the day after Halloween, largely ignores Thanksgiving, and then shoves the whole thing back into the box and up into the attic on December 26.

And even for those committed to observing the time-honored “holy days” of Christmas, the season that begins on Christmas Day and lasts for twelve, well, the twelve are done. (Which reminds me: I need to go unplug and un-hang the shepherds on the front of our house.)

So here we are. Christmas is over. The decorations, and a whole lot of beauty and color, in our homes and churches are all coming down again as we head into a time, I’m tempted to say, easily relegated to bureaucrats and bean-counters and the IRS, and where we are tempted to focus on “battery-powered” human “resolutions” rather than God-powered, “the Word became flesh” salvation.

That God’s joy is never far away at any time of year is, as I count it, an article of faith. That I have to work a little harder myself to experience it during these early days of the year is a weakness in me, I’m sure. But it is, by now, predictable. And this year, oh, I saw it coming like a Mack truck!

To have a Christmas album ready in September, I began singing Christmas music last February (we recorded “Let It Snow” in July!), and my oft-repeated prayer has been that God’s joy shine through every note. During the season, I was singing those songs, and a sled-full of other Yuletide carols and tunes, more than ever. I love to sing for any reason at any season, but the Christmas songs are my favorite. To have a chance to help brighten the season for others and help us all plug more into God’s joy is a genuine blessing I hope to have many times again—and then, in some way, forever!

But, alas, the season has done what seasons are supposed to do: it has come, and it has gone. This one just happens to be my favorite. And I find myself considering the wisdom an 88-year-old snow-haired friend and church member shared years ago as we sat by his fire. He said, “Curtis, at my age, it seems like Christmas comes about every other week.” Did he also say that each one seems to last about ten minutes? Ah, well.

My wife says I’m a January Grinch. As usual, she’s probably right. But I hope it’s more accurate to say that I’m a January Scrooge.

I’ve long thought that the most dangerous time for the new Ebenezer Scrooge lay in January, following the Christmas of his reclamation. Dickens puts our minds at ease by giving us a glimpse into Ebenezer’s future. The old boy held on to his new-found joy. It was the real thing, and he never lost it.

May the same be said of us all, and the January Scrooge under my hat, during this and all times of the year.

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

Copyright 2014 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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