Tag Archives: gratitude

Giving Thanks Is a Genuine Debt We Owe to God

 

gratitude

 

If we wish to absolutely insure that we will never be thankful people, that we will always be morose and bitter, self-centered and selfish, and utterly miserable, the very best way to successfully sabotage our own happiness is to always center on our own rights, avoiding any thought of our own responsibilities. Or, better yet, to center completely on our own rights and think incessantly about the responsibilities of others or society itself toward us.

Of course, as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve bearing a remarkable family resemblance to our First Parents, at least in their most negative characteristics, we have a long and sordid history of taking exactly the approach I’ve just mentioned. Adopting that sort of an attitude is incredibly easy in a society with magazines proudly emblazoning their bankrupt philosophy right along with their name, SELF, and where “Have it your way!” is at least as much a personal motto for many as it is a slogan for selling hamburgers.

When we think about it, well, maybe we shouldn’t be at all surprised that an attitude that is at heart completely selfish is the default mode for human beings who deny or ignore the Creator, all the while breathing His air but refusing or neglecting to bow to thank Him for it.

Ultimately, if we don’t give thanks specifically to God, well, whom do you thank? And why?

“It must be odd,” author Cornelius Platinga once observed, “to be thankful to no one in particular.”

If giving thanks is simply a matter of our picking and choosing a few folks or institutions to whom we’ll deign to be thankful for a few things . . .

If giving thanks is simply at heart the sort of personal preference and choice (like mayo or mustard on your burger; take it or leave it) we make out of our fine moral character and good upbringing, and the choice has no serious consequences . . .

If giving thanks is anything less than the very real and genuine debt we creatures properly owe to our loving and powerful Creator . . .

Well, then I can easily see why we would spend most of our time thinking about the rights, privileges, and stuff we somehow “deserve” rather than the thanksgiving we owe to God.

If we adopt that attitude, and if we think of God at all, we’ll think of him either as a heavenly slot machine mechanically dispensing the good things we deserve or, when things don’t go our way, as the One to whom we can address all of our complaints and grumbles.

But Christians should know better. We serve a King who laid aside all of his rights and lowered himself even to die so that we might have the blessings of sons and daughters of Heaven. Dare we talk about our rights and grinch and grouse like ungrateful, immature, and churlish peasants?

No. Not in the presence of our all-loving and completely unselfish King.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.Curtis Shelburne.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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“May I Introduce You to Lancelot Andrewes?”

 

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Lancelot Andrewes. Recognize the name? Probably not. But Lancelot Andrews (1555-1626) was Bishop of Winchester (Church of England), a member of the committee of scholars whose task it was to produce the King James Version of the Bible, and “probably contributed more to that work than any other single person.”

For the information above, and almost everything else in this column, I’m indebted to the very capable James Kiefer for his biographical sketch of Andrewes’ life.

Kiefer’s work shows up regularly in “The Daily Office from the Mission of St. Clare,” an online devotional site and mobile “app” based on the venerable Book of Common Prayer, the incredible centuries-old work whose words still find their way, whether we know it or not, into Shakespeare, into pretty much all traditional marriage ceremonies, into many, many of our church services, into many funerals, etc.

But that’s another story. Suffice it to say here that the BCP is a devotional, liturgical, historical, and English treasure, originally published in 1549, sixty-two years before the King James Version was finished in 1611! I tend to gravitate toward the 1979 BCP revision, and I enjoy most the morning “Daily Office” which includes Scripture readings and prayers. I like the continuity, the discipline, and the knowledge that these are prayers Christians have prayed in worship and individually for, literally, centuries, along with, of course, reading the Scriptures given for each day. To the prayers, I add my own on the days I use this resource (and I don’t every day; the flesh is weak, and I’m a lousy example for daily devotional-keeping).

All of the above to explain where I found the information on Lancelot Andrewes, who, Kiefer writes, was “a master of English prose, and learned in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and eighteen other languages.” But particularly fascinating to me are some excerpts from Andrewes’ personal notebook of “Private Prayers,” published after his death.

The words and “order” of his devotions are beautiful and, no surprise, seem “formal” to us, words affirming faith, confessing sin, rendering praise. But I especially like his many and varied simple words of “thanksgiving” for life, rationality, citizenship, education, gifts of grace, “calling, recalling, and further recalling,” “longsuffering towards me,” for hope, for the “fruition of good things to come,” “for parents honest and good,” for “teachers gentle,” and “colleagues likeminded,” “hearers attentive,” “friends sincere,”  “for all who have stood me in good stead by their writings, their sermons, conversations, prayers, examples, rebukes,” and even “wrongs.”

As he closes, he wonders how he can adequately give thanks to God for all His benefits. And he ends with, “Holy, holy, holy,” praising the eternal God who “hast created all things” and for whose “pleasure they are and were created.”

I love this glimpse into the private devotions of a “long-ago-gone-on” father of our faith who blessed and still blesses God’s people in ways he might never have dreamed. May God continue to multiply the blessings, large and small, of lives lived for Him.

 

      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.


“Praise the Lord, O My Soul!”

 

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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.


“Commonplaces Never Become Tiresome”

 

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I was not particularly looking for wisdom when a friend and I walked into a Thai food restaurant; I was just looking for food. And I was trying to make sense out of a menu filled with genuine Thai cuisine. What I ended up eating was excellent, but I’m still wondering about one menu item that just sounded interesting.

Larb. L-A-R-B.

I still wonder what it is. A staple item in the Thai diet? A delicacy? The kind of thing a fellow just develops a taste for and says to his wife one evening after work, “Ya know, I could really go for a big bowl of larb right now! Man, that would hit the spot!”

I still don’t know what it is. I plan to try it. Might “Google” before I eat it.

But I think I already found a bit of wisdom. Right there on the wall of the restaurant.

Well, to be utterly truthful, it was on the wall of the restroom of the restaurant, a place where I surely wasn’t expecting to find any wisdom.

It was a quotation at the bottom of a Norman Rockwell print. The words were Rockwell’s words, which is what gave them even deeper meaning. Rockwell, arguably America’s most beloved artist, a man who succeeded in capturing on canvas the warm heart and the living soul of this nation, wrote this: “Commonplaces never become tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative. We find that it is not a new scene which is needed, but a new viewpoint.”

He is so right! Yes, there are times to take a trip, see new things, meet new people. But what most of us need far more is simply to open up our eyes to that which is beautiful and wonderful, joy-filled and life-giving, all around us every ordinary day in lots of ordinary places. Because, you see, there aren’t any simply “ordinary” days or “ordinary” places. And you never met an “ordinary” person. Our extraordinary God never created anything or anyone who was just “ordinary.”

The more I think about it, the more I realize that “commonplaces” are what God uses to make our lives uncommonly rich and interesting, and those who spurn them are poor no matter what their income.

The way your wife strokes your hand during a movie.

The giggles from the grandchild sitting on your lap as you’re singing a song together.

Early morning fog or a blanket of new snow creating a completely new world just outside your front door.

A clear, calm, crisp winter night and the smell of an oak fire warming the heart of a home.

The crackle of that fire in the hearth, its warmth on your back, and a book in your hand.

The taste of chocolate.

The easy laughter and good-natured joking of good friends.

Your favorite chair or your oldest pair of slippers.

Taking a snooze in the sun and realizing your dog is right about snoozes in the sun.

“Commonplaces never become tiresome.”

Thank God for them!

 

 

     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 Guiding Principle of Heaven Is . . .

 

 

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In telling the story of his own conversion to Christianity, C. S. Lewis recalls George MacDonald’s striking words: “The one principle of hell is—‘I am my own.’”

But what if I’m not?

In our society, our culture, our world, our country, our very souls, we’re obsessed with the idea that we can almost have heaven right here if we just “get our own rights.” But what if that’s exactly backwards? What if the truly happiest person is the one who claims no rights?

Be careful with that thought. It might explode our heads.

What if I have a horrible progressive disease, and, with all my heart, I’d like to spare myself and my family the horrors ahead? What if “assisted suicide” is incredibly tempting? What if I find myself wondering if it would be the most selfish act in the world—or the least? But then I realize, “I’m not my own.”

What if I’m a woman considering abortion, but I find not only that the little one I carry inside me is not really “mine” but is God’s? And even I myself am “not my own”? What then?

Or much less agonizing . . .

I really don’t feel like going to church on this particular Sunday. I’m not so much sick as just a little “sick and tired.” Sure would like to sleep in! It’s my own little decision, right? No big deal. But what if I’m really not my own? What if what I feel like doing matters much less than what my Lord deserves and what others need me to do to be encouraging?

If “I am my own” is the guiding principle of hell, what if “I am not my own” truly is the guiding principle of heaven?

What if, not only what I do, who I marry, where I live, how I treat my kids, and literally everything else is completely colored by this startling truth? What if, because “I am not my own,” I can’t say anything I like or indulge myself in any bad attitude I care to adopt?

What if, if I’m His, I find myself acting not only as if “I’m mine” but as if my money is mine? What if I find myself living exactly at the same standard as others at my income level who claim no commitment to my Lord?

What if I allow myself to be as gossipy at work, as mean at the restaurant, as critical at church, as self-centered at home as . . . anyone else?

What if I find myself acting as if “I am my own” when the Apostle Paul’s words are quite literally true? “You are not your own. You were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6)?

What if my thought life, my work life, my home life, my sex life, my financial life, my play life, my life—is not mine? What if I’m not my own?

If that is true, it makes all the difference in this world. And in the next.

If it’s not true, then we should just roll over, go back to sleep, wake up, and get on with the business of demanding our own way all the time.

But I warn you, once we start thinking, “I might not be mine. In fact, if I have a real commitment to Christ, I’m certainly not,” then . . .

Then everything is changed and all tables are turned.

It’ll spin your head around.

 

      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.


“Give Thanks in All Circumstances”

 

thankful01 “O most gracious God,” wrote the eloquent sufferer, “on this sickbed I feel under your correction, and I taste of humiliation, but let me taste of consolation, too.”

John Donne, poet and priest, so wrote in one of his “devotions” in 1623. In Christianity Today some fifteen years ago, Philip Yancey shared a brief edited, somewhat modernized, excerpt of Donne’s “Devotions.”

As Yancey explains, Donne had fallen seriously ill. Not unreasonably, he assumed he had contracted the bubonic plague, the scourge filling graves with masses of people during those dark days. The “Black Death” had made its presence unmistakable. London’s church bells tolled “dolefully,” and Donne wrote his famous poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” reminding his readers that the loss of anyone is a loss to us all. So, don’t ask “for whom the bell tolls,” he penned, “it tolls for thee.”

In his “Devotions” (as Yancey shares them), Donne writes of all the blessings God has given.

“Nature reaches out her hand and offers corn, and wine, and oil, and milk; but it was you [God] who filled the hand of nature with such bounty.”

Donne thanks God for the blessings that come from fruitful labor, and he acknowledges that, no matter how hard and well the laborer has worked, it is God who guides and “gives the increase.”

He thanks the Lord for friends who “reach out their hands to support us,” even as he acknowledges, “but your hand supports the hand we lean on.”

I’m continually amazed at how suffering is used by some as Exhibit A against God, at the very same time as others, passing “through the fire,” eventually come out with faith strengthened and “tempered.”

On his sickbed, Donne writes, “Once this scourge has persuaded us that we are nothing of ourselves, may it also persuade us that you are all things unto us.”

In striking contrast to the verbal drizzle of those who promise health and wealth to the faithful, or to those whose “faith” is in consumer religion as long as it “meets their [most shallow] needs,” Donne reminds us that when God’s own Son on the cross “cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ you reached out your hand [Lord,] not to heal his sad soul, but to receive his holy soul.” And Jesus surrendered his soul to his Father in trust.

Donne would recover. His sickness was not the plague. But before he knew the certainty of the outcome, he was certain of his hope: “Whether you will bid my soul to stay in this body for some time, or meet you this day in paradise, I ask not.”

But he wrote his confidence: “I can have no greater proof of your mercy than to die in you and by that death be united in him who died for me.”

Following the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18) is not even a little easy. But if our lives show that our faith is in God—not in luck or our own power or circumstances—we will learn that easy lives and blessed lives are not the same thing. And not just our own faith will strengthened and affirmed, and not just our own lives will be blessed by that trust.

 

      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.

 


An Entitlement Mentality Is Deadly to Souls

 

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“This entitlement mentality is going to kill our nation.”

Repeatedly, we hear modern-day “prophets” mouthing that combination complaint-diagnosis-warning. I take no pleasure in believing that those “prophets” are very likely right.

Paul Harvey used to warn, “Self-government without self-discipline will not work.”

The entitlement mentality of those who make heavy demands while failing to shoulder any responsibilities is poison. And I hate what happens to the souls of those who adopt “victim-hood” as their identity.

I hate it even worse when I see that entitlement mentality creeping into my own soul. Like a bum hitching a ride on a freight train, that sick way of thinking steals its way onto my heart. I may not see it jump on, but I can know it’s there when I catch myself grinching and grousing because of something I don’t have but wish I did, something I used to have but don’t have now, something I have but feel I should have much more of. My joy is being derailed.

I can know for sure that the greedy and grinchy intruder, a poisonous parasite, has attached itself to my soul when I find myself often asking with deep poignancy, “Am I happy?” thereby ensuring that I won’t be, can’t be.

Real happiness is a by-product of living a life not centered on self, a life genuinely focused on others and the Giver of life.

A self-centered, inward turned, navel-gazing, “poor pitiful me” sort of life makes its own life a hell and issues in a hellish existence for those around it. With eyes locked in a selfish death-gaze, it can’t know happiness. In truth, real happiness is the last thing it wants. It opts instead, in a thousand twisted, sick ways, to slavishly suck all the bitter poison out of living life focused inward.

To look outward and center on the well-being of others would be to find health and healing, but the price for happiness—to turn its back on self—is a price it is absolutely unwilling to pay. Literally, here and hereafter, it would rather focus on self in hell than on God in heaven.

Before he healed a sufferer, Jesus once asked, “Do you want to be healed?” It was a real question. And this real question comes to each of us. Do we want to be happy?

Take some time. Think about it. Answer truthfully. Saying “yes” will mean giving up perpetually playing the victim. It will mean focusing on what we have, not on what we don’t. It will mean genuinely, in practical ways, caring more about others than ourselves. It will mean giving up claims to what we love to think we’re entitled to, realizing that even the things we are sure we’ve earned by our hard work or pedigree or excellent character are, in fact, not our “due” but are God’s gifts.

In his fine book Soul Keeping, John Ortberg writes simply but truly, “You can’t be grateful for something you believe you are entitled to. And without a grateful heart, the soul suffers because the soul needs gratitude.”

An entitlement mentality doesn’t just kill nations. It kills souls. To choose to be grateful is to choose life and happiness.

 

      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.

 


It’s May, and Here Comes Mother’s Day!

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I might as well confess: I like writing Mother’s Day columns and crafting Mother’s Day sermons almost as much as I like eating asparagus, broccoli, or cauliflower.

I know those veggies are supposed to be good for you; I just have a hard time imagining the poor starving soul who first took a look at a cauliflower plant and said, “Hey, Billy Bob, you know what? I think you could eat that stuff.” Yeah, you could probably eat milkweeds, dandelions, and crabgrass, too, but why would you really want to? If you toasted them long enough, you could probably make croutons out of grass burrs, but what’s the point?

Careful now. On the advice of my attorney, I should mention that nothing in this column should be taken to in any way imply, suggest, or indicate any smidgeon of doubt or even any mental reservation regarding the advisability of a day set apart to honor those dear ladies hereinafter in this document referred to as mothers.

No kidding. Really.

I’m all for mothers and motherhood. And I think that setting a day aside to honor them in a special way is, yea, verily, a good idea. I even spent time one time co-authoring a gift book honoring mothers (and thereby learning that greeting card publishers pretty much have that base covered).

But though there are some heartwarming blessings that come to pastors who serve in one church for a long time (Easter Sunday—I can hardly believe this—marked my thirtieth year here!), a preacher’s gotta be more creative than I am to come up with thirty new ways to say, “God loves moms, and I agree with him!”

But he does, and I do. I’d just like to be able to find a new and better way to say it!

What I need is a new way to say that I could spend my whole life praising God for his gift to me of a loving mother, and it wouldn’t be long enough to adequately thank him for such a blessing.

What I need is a new way to say that the poorest person on earth is still rich if he, like me, has never had to go to bed a single night wondering if his mother loves him.

What I need is a new way to say that I thank God with every breath of every day that my mother loved me enough to love God and my father even more than she loved me—and that’s saying a lot.

What I need is a new way to say that, even though Mom’s been gone for almost twenty-five years, her laugh, her touch, and her love are as real to me as my next heartbeat.

What I need is a new way to say that my life, my children’s lives, my grandchildren’s lives, and the lives of generations yet unborn will be blessed because my mother was the right kind of lady, the right kind of mom.

I still need a sermon idea. But I thank God for giving me what I needed more—a great mom.

 

       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.

 


Giving Thanks to No One in Particular Must Feel Strange

 

Everybody I know, except turkeys (take that any way you wish), likes Thanksgiving. What’s not to like?

I’m sure there are people who are utterly alone for whom Thanksgiving is a difficult time. If, by the way, there were no other reason to be part of a church family, and I think there are many, the need for human companionship is itself a pretty good one! Even a person who is not at all sure about the claims of Christianity, but who doesn’t want to be lonely and alone, would do well to attend a church where an honest and unpretentious doubter would at least be made to feel cared for and loved. Thank God, there are many such churches!

Those who have to be at work on Thanksgiving may find it more difficult than most of us to enjoy the day as it was intended.

Those who are grieving over the loss of loved ones or weeping over the death of a marriage, those who have chosen to nurse a bitter spirit rather than their relationships, those who are dealing with deep depression and hurt, those in the midst of caring for loved ones who are seriously ill, I am sure may find Thanksgiving difficult.

But for most of us, Thanksgiving is a great time! It reminds us, even in the midst of some pretty difficult times, that we have much, much indeed, for which to be thankful to the Giver of all good gifts.

Ah, but what about those who don’t acknowledge the beneficence or even the existence of the Giver?

Understand, I don’t mean to be harsh. I have known some fine people who were skeptics—honest agnostics who, as the term implies, were truly searching and simply didn’t know what to believe. (The lion’s share of atheists, on the other hand, tend to be louder and less rational. They have an axe to grind and some reason why they really can’t afford for God to exist.) For such people, Thanksgiving must be a bit of a strange time. As author Cornelius Platinga observes, “It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to no one in particular.” Giving thanks “to whom it may concern” seems like pretty thin “gratitude.”

Though the holiday is not, of course, one that comes from the ancient Christian calendar, it is uniquely and deeply rooted in faith. Faith that this world is no accident. (I don’t have enough faith to believe otherwise!) Faith that men and women are created in the image of a personal and loving God. Faith that all of the bounty and beauty, the love and joy, that fill our lives come from Someone who is the Wellspring, the Source.

Bible scholar A. W. Tozer put it this way: “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and not be poorer but richer for having made it.”

Let’s give thanks!

 

 

Copyright 2012 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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