Tag Archives: praise

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.

 

 

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A Church Advertisement That Will Never Appear

 

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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!”

 

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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.


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

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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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