Tag Archives: God’s power

“Christ’s Disciples Were Sheltering in Place When Suddenly . . .”

A normal Easter Sunday.

That’s pretty much exactly what this Covid-19 Easter Sunday 2020 wasn’t.

For my family, it was already a “particularly special” holy day. It was the fifth anniversary of my granddaughter Brenley’s baptism. And it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of our move to the 16th & D Church in Muleshoe. Especially special, for sure.

Just not normal.

Like churches all over the country, and a lot of the world, we were “social distancing,” not meeting together in large groups, even on Easter Sunday.

Pope Francis did not celebrate the traditional open-air mass in St. Peter’s Square; instead, the mass was “live-streamed” from inside an almost-deserted St. Peter’s Basilica. He acknowledged the terrible hardship and suffering the pandemic has thrust upon the world, but he talked about “the contagion of hope” and spoke of God’s reassurance: “Do not be afraid, I have risen and I am with you still.”

I enjoyed an interview Savannah Guthrie did with New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan. (That man is always worth a listen!) He made the excellent point that though this Easter is certainly a difficult one, it may also be a particularly meaningful one. In the midst of real darkness, maybe we are especially open to the reality of Easter hope. Yes, I thought, we so need that same power that met and dispelled the darkness of evil so long ago even as Christ’s disciples were cowering, sheltering in place, in desperate need of a mighty strength from outside of themselves, completely beyond themselves, to bring new life.

Oh, yes, we need that Resurrection power now! We always do, of course, but maybe this Easter we recognize our need more than usual. And that realization can bring very special blessing.

Yes, indeed, what a strange Easter! St. Peter’s Square in Rome was almost empty. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, basically deserted. 16th & D Church of Christ in Muleshoe, Texas. Ditto. And no news media there filming the lack of a crowd. Just one pastor and his wife. And an iPad.

A different sort of Easter Sunday, for sure. But since when can any Easter be called normal? Offhand, can you think of anything “normal” about God loving the world enough to come into it as a human being, give his life as the ultimate sacrifice to suffer and die and literally take away all of our sin and guilt, and then be raised to new life by the Spirit’s unimaginable power?

No Easter is “business as usual” in this universe. But Easter hope is the same precious gift every Easter Sunday, every Easter season, and every new day since that first Easter morning. Perhaps in the darkness surrounding our lives in the midst of this one, Easter glory just shines more brightly, its power more focused.

Let’s keep joyful and carry on—in hope!

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“How Are Your New Year’s Resolutions Going?”

Well, how are your New Year’s resolutions coming along?

Oh? Sorry. I didn’t mean to touch a sore spot. I suppose nothing is a much sorer spot for humans than having to face the fact that we don’t measure up even to our own standards, much less to God’s. The spirit indeed is willing. We want to do better. Be better. But the flesh is ever so weak. Which is why I’m increasingly unimpressed with human resolutions and will power and more and more amazed by our Father’s power as we trust him and not ourselves.

We need to keep in mind who we are. We’re all prodigal sons and daughters.

Do you remember Christ’s story in Luke 15, the story of “The Prodigal Son”? Remember how that young fool demanded his inheritance, ran off from home, and partied it all away? This Jewish young man ended up slopping hogs (not a great job for anyone, but particularly loathsome for a “Jewish young man,”) and hungrily wishing he could eat what they ate. Remember how he “came to his senses” and decided to return to his father? Remember how all along the road he rehearsed his speech of contrition? Remember how he realized that he didn’t deserve to be accepted even as a slave much less as a son? Remember his joy as through sheer mercy and grace his father ran to meet him, embraced him, put a signet ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and threw a party because the son that was lost was now found? Oh, yes, and remember the older son grinching about his father’s grace?

We are all prodigal sons and daughters. And never more in need of grace than at the times we grouch about the Father’s giving grace to others. The difficult part of our prodigal experience is the walk back to the Father as we realize that his grace is our last, and only, hope. The wonderful part is feeling the warmth of his embrace and realizing that his grace is not only all we have, it is all we need, and it is freely, deeply, willingly given.

It’s a costly gift, you know.

Once the Father had another Son who left home on an infinitely longer journey for a much holier reason. Old as the universe, that Son became young to see a world reborn. To give it life, to give it grace, he lay his life down.

To give prodigals like us the gift of grace cost the Father the blood of his firstborn Son. And now the most expensive gift of all, the one we could never possibly afford but the one, the only one, that will answer our need, is given for free. It’s ours if we trust the Father enough to accept it.

The only resolution that ultimately matters is the decision to trust the Father and accept his embrace.

Shhh. Not too loud now. Don’t tell the older son, but when God’s kids come home, there’s always a big party in heaven.

 

 

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

 

 

  

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering 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.

 


“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.


“Out of the Depths I Cry to You, O Lord!”

 

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It’s amazing how often we can find ourselves within the pages of the biblical Book of Psalms. Consider Psalm 130.

I hope we’re not in this psalmist’s sandals often, but anyone who has lived very long can empathize with him. Hurting and almost hopeless, he writes, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” And then he reveals something about the nature of this fallen world, the nature of needy humans, and the nature of our mighty and merciful God.

The rendering in The Message well paints the picture: “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cries for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.”

A Latin term has at times served as a title for this psalm: De Profundis. Something that is “profound” is deep, and the word used for “depths” here has to do with deep waters.

The psalmist is saying, “I’m in trouble! I’m sinking in the deep waters. I’m headed down into dark oblivion! I can’t get myself out! Dear God, help!”

When you’re going down, it’s not a time for polite words: “If you don’t mind, would you help me, please? Ever so sorry to be a bother, but I really believe that I may be drowning.”

In Uganda, in 2007, my wife and I visited our sons who were then in Uganda, and son Joshua and I went rafting down the Nile. We had great guides, and most of the trip was incredibly beautiful. But part of the descent was through what has been called “five of the greatest kilometers of big volume white water on the planet.” (That famous section is lost now, submerged under waters piled up behind the new—in 2012—Bujagali Dam. I’m so glad we rafted it when we did.)

As we came to the Class 5 rapid named Silverback, we knew we’d be tossed out of the raft—yet again. But we wanted to ride it as long as we could. Outside the boat in that class of white water it is surprisingly difficult to get your breath even if you’re on the surface—and we soon weren’t. Cast into the depths and carried off underwater in different directions, we later both confessed that for several long dark moments, we thought drowning was not unlikely. (In the accompanying photo, Josh  & I are in the front of the raft, and headed, in every sense of the word, down.)

“O Lord, out of the depths I cry to you!”

You don’t have to go rafting down the Nile to understand the psalmist. Life has tumbled in, and gone are the illusions that we can handle it ourselves with our strength, our bank account and investments, our professional expertise, our uncommon common sense, our noble character. No! We’re going down, and we’re fresh out of wise words and self-help strategies.

Our words are cut down to three: “O God, help!” From the “depths,” we recognize God as our only help, our only hope. No longer foolish enough to assume we deserve anything, we plead instead for sheer mercy.

In the Lord, both we and the psalmist find forgiveness and mercy and hope. And we praise Him: “My soul waits for the Lord / more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

We can trust our God. He won’t leave us in the depths.

 

 

     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.

 

 


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