Tag Archives: God’s power

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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