Tag Archives: praise

Praising God Launches a Delightful Chain Reaction

“Come,” invites the Psalmist of old, “let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (95:1-2).

C. S. Lewis writes, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”

Some years ago my wife and I were in New Orleans where she was attending a training conference. I went along to provide pastoral care. When she went to training sessions in search of knowledge, I went in search of seafood.

At one point, we ran into a fellow reading a book in an outdoor courtyard and struck up a conversation. He waxed rhapsodic about a little hole in the wall, Coop’s Place, down toward the river, describing the delectable crawfish étouffée he’d found there. Not only was he enjoying the memory of that fine food, he was enjoying it yet again as he described it to us.

I soon found out for myself that it was remarkably fine stuff. I enjoyed telling my wife about it, taking her there later, and now I’m telling you about it and resisting the impulse to describe it in a great deal more detail. Part of the joy of the whole experience is in telling about it.

Lewis goes on to say that “to praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression.” He says you can no more separate your joy from the praise it frees and releases from your soul than you can separate the “brightness a mirror receives . . . from the brightness it sheds.”

When we praise God, not only is our joy made more complete, our praise itself issues in deeper praise and worship.

So the Psalmist invites us to praise God, to worship him, to thank him as the praise in our hearts builds and overflows the banks of our hearts in rivers of joy, the most wonderful sort of chain reaction. Once started, thank God, it’s almost impossible to stop unless something becomes wrong with our hearts.

God’s people can no more refuse to praise God than living people can will themselves to cease breathing. We praise God because we have breath to live and to praise and God is the One who gives it.

We praise God because God made us.

We praise God because God is worthy and deserving of all praise.

We praise God because there are songs to sing and God is the music.

We praise God because there are colors to see and God is the Painter.

We praise God because we are deeply loved and he is the Lover.

We praise God! How can we not? Why would we not?

We praise God because it is our joy to praise Him, and praising Him completes and magnifies our joy.

 

 

      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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Why Does God Attend Worship?

A number of years ago now, I took some of our family 70 miles down the road looking for a little dose of culture. We went to hear the symphony, and, with them, the man who’s arguably the best classical guitarist in the world. Christopher Parkening’s performance that evening reminded me of one of my own. No kidding.

The orchestra with which I performed was conducted by Mrs. Stevens, who was not only the head of the Music Department at Amarillo’s San Jacinto Elementary, she was the Music Department. I played the bells. We performed one evening for an elite group—the PTA. Mom and Dad, of course, attended.

Now, I ask you, why did they come? Because they were looking for a cultural experience? Probably not.

Because Mrs. Stevens was world-renowned as a conductor of pygmy orchestras? I don’t think so.

Because the guest soloist was a world-renowned bell player who toured elementary schools the world over and just happened to be their son playing in a limited engagement? No. I may have had a dozen notes. No solos.

No, Mom and Dad were not enamored with the notes or the way I played them. They weren’t in love with the music or the performance. They were in love with me. Which leads me to wonder.

When God’s people gather to worship him, why does God think it worthwhile to be “in their midst,” as he has promised?

This God is the Conductor who raises his baton to begin the “music of the spheres” and set the whole universe dancing with delight.

This is the God of Heaven where the streets are filled with the continual praise of great choirs of angelic hosts.

Is God present at worship because our music is so fine? Or our prayers so perfect? Or our preaching so inspiring?

Is God among us because he is so impressed with the way we worship?

My parents, in a sense, lowered themselves to come to an elementary school orchestra performance at a PTA meeting not because we were so good but because they loved me so much.

And our great God? He’s not with us because we’re so good at what we do, or because we or our group “do” worship better or more correctly than others of his people. He’s there in spite of the pitiful soul-crushing walls we create, not because of them. No, God is not there because we are so good, so right, so impressive. We are none of those things.

He’s there because we’re his children. Because he’s our Father. Because he loves us with deep and genuine love. And he knows that though our love for him is weak and imperfect, it, too, is real.

Why is God with us when we worship? Because of relationship far more than ritual. We’re not child prodigies wowing Heaven with the beauty of our worship. But we are our Father’s kids. And the God of all joy beams and his heart overflows yet again with love as we offer to him the praise that comes from love. As our hearts dance before him, his heart dances, too.

 

 

     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.

 


When “War” Comes to Worship, All Sides Lose

I try to avoid ever firing any shots in what have been called the “worship wars.”

“Worship” and “war.” Those two words together, not held at arm’s length from each other by a conjunction, form a jarring contradiction.

We know what the Apostle Paul would say because we know what he did say in Philippians 4:2 to two squabbling gals named Euodia and Syntyche (who some wit has christened Odious and Soon-touchy). He doesn’t describe the “issue” or take sides. He just says, “Get along.” The mere fact that Christians were fussing was shameful, as out of place as a cow patty on a cheesecake. It still is.

Our Lord Jesus went to the cross, completely emptying himself, laying aside his own will, out of his love for his Father and us. How ludicrous, how deeply wrong, it is for those saved by his sacrifice to refuse to sacrifice their own rights—maybe even to shoulder the unbearable burden of singing a song or two that we might not like but that might very much bless someone else?

I wonder. In times of persecution, do people worry and fuss about such minutia? I wonder how long we could endure the real thing if our idea of suffering is to sing a song we don’t like or endure a service with the thermostat set a bit too high or too low for our personal comfort. (Oh, it’s impossible to ever get that one “right.”)

I do understand why some fine pastors I very much respect and some great churches have chosen to offer separate “traditional” and “contemporary” services, particularly when the whole congregation can’t fit into the building at the same time anyway. I’d likely do the same thing. But, ideally, I much prefer a “blended” worship where we sing a variety of styles and thereby inch up on something called sacrifice. Or love.

As the disparity between styles widens, though, I admit that “blended” is a challenge. “God of Our Fathers” cries out for an organ. “Kumbaya” equivalents, soundly Trinitarian (that’s good) with three hundred verses (fine for the first 150), need a guitar (and maybe a campfire). And the latest coolest Christian Luv Radio Top 40 or sorta sacred rap songs call for calisthenics, maybe some amazing riffs, and perhaps a good deal of other jumping about. It can be a tad jarring to go straight from some of these into others of these.

Yes, and I suppose church folks have always been like all folks. Everyone is somewhere on a continuum from dyed in the wool and pretty much calcified traditional (danger: ossified folks bend poorly and break easily) to folks burdened by carrying about a heavy load of coolness (danger: cool marches on, and we look silly chasing it). The fact that the former folks on one side of that continuum have usually paid the freight and are the reason the church exists perhaps should at least not be totally forgotten but never brandished like a club.

But the One who truly paid the price, the Reason the church exists, is Jesus. And if we ever catch ourselves fussing about worship, we’ve already lost the fight and are utterly defeated. Claiming to see better than our brothers and sisters in Christ’s family, we’ve already poked out one eye and are half-blind and stumbling; we’ve lost the focus of all worship, and we are denying the Cross. Then whether we’re doing so with a pipe organ, a cappella, or a heavy metal guitar makes precious little difference.

 

 

     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.


Even the Rocks of Creation Praise the Creator’s Son

 

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, and for centuries many Christians have let that Sunday before Easter carry their minds back to the amazing scene of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before he would die.

Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey no one had ever ridden, a beast his disciples found just as he had said they would. Our Christmas cards invariably depict Mary, Jesus’ mother, riding a donkey to Bethlehem. It’s not unlikely, though no Gospel specifically says such. If it’s so, that alone would have been enough to ennoble the species. But now this! What a privileged beast!

As he approached the city, people began to spread their cloaks on the road and wave palm branches hailing the coming King.

As he came down the road from the Mount of Olives, the crowd began to burst into praise.

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

The Pharisees, soured, joyless, and heart-atrophied by their toxic (and still all too popular) approach to religion, began to warn Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples. Shut them up!”

And Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

On Palm Sunday—and on every Sunday—I’d rather be a rock on the road praising the Savior than a Pharisee all knotted up in religious robes and with no one to praise.

The cynical poet Swinburne once wrote, “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean! / The world has grown grey with Thy breath.”

If Christ was the morose Son of a joyless God sent just to tell this world we are wrong and lost and that we’d better straighten up, but to do nothing to help us . . .

If the cross was just an unfortunate accident, a tragic historical footnote with no meaning instead of the event in which God himself accomplishes the work of salvation and does for us what we could never do for ourselves, I could well agree with the poet’s words. Good news? What good news?

If God was just a stern heavenly killjoy, a thin-lipped, overly strict, bloodless, joyless frustrated caricature of a “father” griping that his kids are more trouble than they’re worth and who’d really rather not bother with them . . .

If God had stopped with the tables of stone revealing his holy law and not gone on to send the Savior with the message, “God’s laws are real, and you often break them at great cost, but I have paid the price for your pardon and risen to heal and empower you to live lives under his mercy, led by his Spirit, and filled with his joy . . .”

If God had sent just the Law to be our Prosecutor and not the Son to be our Savior, Swinburne would be right.

But he’s not right.

And it would be a shame to let the rocks do all the praising.

 

 

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

     And may this be a sweet and meaningful Holy Week and blessed Easter for you and yours!

 

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.

 

 


A Church Advertisement That Will Never Appear

 

church 001

A very good friend just sent me an ad he saw for a new church in a city miles away from mine.

I’ve long thought that, for city churches particularly, some seriously thought-out and well done advertising might be very good. In this case, an existing church is starting a new one. The ad is well done, nicely packaged, and accurately reflects their approach to “church.”

They’ll kick off soon with a “rally.” Fine. Likely a very good idea. (But, please don’t tell my wife and dear friends who were cheerleaders, I never saw a rally with “pep” in front of it that I wouldn’t prefer to miss. It’s a personality flaw, I know.)

The ad says, “No perfect people are allowed.” Good. Such are hard to find and “wannabees” are annoying.

“Relevant” messages. Hmm. Theology lite or just good preaching? No organ for sure. I assume, no traditional hymns, but a “rockin’ band.” Right. This cool model requires it. “Casual dress.” Okay.

The ad didn’t say anything about a pastor. A plastic one on screen who preaches well but won’t show up at anybody’s surgery or do any funerals?

This really may be a great group, but its extremely popular approach is nothing new. In the 60s, mood rings, lava lamps, and the “church growth movement” showed up. The latter has lasted longer, but it has always felt a little plastic and trendy to me, a “consumer” approach that focuses on glitz and low to no expectations, assuming that discipleship will follow once folks are in the door. It is a troubling fact that Jesus ran folks off in droves taking exactly the opposite approach. Do I want to run people off? Noooooo!

I’m kidding a bit with part of what follows, but try this ad.

Large print. “We love Christ. We love you. We want you to come!”

Not-so-fine print: “Just so you’ll know, we sort of figure that commitment might mean attending at a faith-building (and not faith-withering) rate of more than half the time. That’s extremely generous, and nobody’s counting; we just love you and love it when the family’s together.

“You can call our building or sanctuary a worship center if you want to, but we don’t mind being called a church.

“We aren’t in the least embarrassed about taking up an offering. We can’t/won’t/shouldn’t require it, but we encourage sacrificial giving as a God-honoring blessing to all concerned.

“We won’t be ashamed to ask for some help doing stuff. What you say Yes to is completely your choice, but if you say No all the time, that says something, too. We are not a consumer church. If you want one those, glitzy and asking of you nothing at all, it won’t be hard to find.

“Formal dress is not at all required, but it’s just a fact that our pastor probably won’t wear jeans he paid extra to have holes in.

“We’re not very trendy and not all that cool. But when we say, ‘It’s all about Jesus, we mean it.’ It ain’t all about us or all about you. We figure serving a crucified Lord has consequences. You can ‘Have It Your Way’ at Burger King, but probably not 100% of the time here. You might even have to endure serious persecution by singing a song or two you don’t like that blesses someone else. That’s okay. They’ll do the same for you. We’ll never be mega-anything except seriously in love with Christ and the people He loves.

“If this picture seems God-focused to you, welcome! Come on in!”

 

     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!”

 

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.


What Really Happened When the Rooster Crowed?

 

crowing rooster

Dr. Joel Gregory tells the story of a neurotic rooster. Joel won’t mind if I embellish it a bit, but I heard the story first from him. And I offer this disclaimer: This story is not intended to harm or defame any rooster, living or dead, and any similarity to any rooster living or dead is hereby disavowed, is unintended, and, should it occur, is completely accidental.

So there. If pharmaceutical pushers feel the need to spend three-quarters of their ubiquitous and usually annoying commercials spouting off lawyer litter, maybe I should sleep better knowing I’ve done proper rooster risk management here.

Now to the story.

It seems that the rooster in question was quite an intelligent creature, or at least, observant. His education was a little lacking, though, or he might have known something about the post hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.

That’s Latin for “after this, therefore because of this.” An example (for which I apologize) might be, a fellow eats too many beans and the result is predictable. Right at the moment of the predictable result, a sinkhole suddenly appears two houses down the block and swallows up Fluffy, his neighbor’s cat. His conclusion? Flatulence causes sinkholes and feline fatalities. He is wrong, having fallen foul of, blundered right into, the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Here’s a more serious example of the fallacy: The number of vaccines kids are getting is increasing, and the number of kids being diagnosed with autism sometime after being vaccinated is increasing; therefore, vaccines cause autism (this example from the Wikipedia article on this fallacy). No.

Back to the story. The rooster in question fell into the fallacy in focus.

You see, the rooster noticed that “everything” started every morning whenever he crowed. Not least, the sun itself came up when—the bird soon was saying “because”—he crowed.

This went on for a while, but before long, this bird turned into an insomniac rooster. You see, he was a very conscientious bird, albeit weak in logical thought. He could sleep hardly at all because he was so terrified that he might not wake up in time, might not crow at the appropriate moment. And then the sun would not come up, and everything would not start.

I wish the story had a happier ending, but the sad truth is that the poor bird was finally carried off to a home for troubled roosters.

What’s the moral?

It might be, be careful what you crow about.

Or it might be, remember that your crowing is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Or it might be, open your eyes more and open your beak less.

Or it might be…

This universe has one King who has been and will be King from everlasting to everlasting. He loves you completely. He loves me completely. He made us to be loved by Him and to praise Him. Forever.

It seems logical that any time we spend crowing ought to be spent crowing about Him.

 

 

      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.

 


Genuine Worship Focuses on the Source of All Beauty

worshiping 01

I love what happens when God’s people worship, and I count it a joy and a high honor to help lead worship. It’s odd, though, that leading worship and worshiping are not the same things. They can be very difficult to do at the same time.

Conscientious worship-leaders can easily get so caught up in the nuts and bolts of leading worship that they themselves worship hardly at all. Some of that tension is unavoidable. Trying to structure worship so that it flows smoothly and feels spontaneous takes, ironically, a great deal of planning, preparation, and hard work that is not spontaneous at all. Leave off the preparation, and it won’t feel spontaneous; it will feel shoddy because it will be.

Surely the best and truest worship occurs when what we do and see and say and sing and hear in worship is designed to point beyond us. We ourselves, what we’re doing, and what is being done, cease to be on center stage as through worship we’re focused on God and what he has done. When we open our hearts to praise him we also open our hands to receive the blessing he reaches down to impart.

Sometimes, though, we worship-leaders can structure worship in ways that make worshiping harder. About the time worship really begins to happen, we short-circuit praise to call out hymn numbers. Or a chatty worship-leader breaks in so often urging us to praise that he makes it harder for us to do what he’s incessantly asking. About the time we’re centering on the Healer of our souls, an ill-timed and lengthy announcement calls our attention to Sister Smithers’ gall bladder. We’re about to feast at God’s banquet, but next Sunday’s all-church picnic takes center stage.

Just when we’re about to worship, thoughts about worship intrude, tastes or scruples about forms of worship stifle, and the Life-connection that God graciously gives when we freely adore is lost as we’re slavishly drawn back to focus on ourselves, our leaders. Was it C. S. Lewis who observed that, as long as you’re worried about the steps of the dance, you’re not dancing?

Make no mistake, genuine worship has far less to do with the quality of the service than it does with the quality of the worshiper’s heart. But conscientiously leading worship—planning it, structuring it—is still a big responsibility. Do it badly, and a shoddy, ill-prepared service calls attention to its shoddiness. Plan it and execute it well, and even then, if our attitudes are wrong, the attention may focus on the messenger and not the Message, the singer and not the Song.

By the way, as hard as our consumer society finds this to believe, we might even worship best at times when we’re singing a song we really dislike but we sing anyway out of love for a fellow worshiper down the pew who finds it a blessing. We are, after all, worshiping a Lord who went to a cross rather than have his own way.

Ah, to worship can be tough. So much inside of us and outside of us can derail the train. But it also can be breathtakingly beautiful if—only if—it helps us connect with the One who is all beauty.

 

       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.

 


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