Tag Archives: resurrection

Mustard Seed Faith May Often Be Faith Enough

 

One Easter years ago (almost two decades!), I got to play the Apostle Peter in a community Easter cantata. I enjoyed it. For one thing, the music was really good; for another, I like Peter. I think everybody likes Peter.

But, another apostle really high on my list (I suppose it’s okay to have favorite apostles?) might not make the top slots on many folks’ lists. He does with me! I’m speaking of the Apostle Thomas.

I doubt that Thomas (See! Thomas and I get along already!) asked for any evidence just before he met the Risen Lord that the other apostles hadn’t already pretty much checked out before he had the opportunity. But his are the seemingly doubt-filled questions that make it into Scripture. I think his questions were excellent, and I’m glad he asked them.

I like Thomas, and I love the fact that once he saw the risen Lord, his “You are my Lord and my God!” is one of the most stirring affirmations of faith in all of Scripture. By the way, I appreciate the author who pointed out that nothing in Scripture ever indicates that Thomas actually retraced the nail prints in Jesus’ hands with his own; it was enough for him that Jesus loved him so much that He invited him to.

It’s okay to ask questions.

It’s okay (though rarely comfortable) to deal with honest doubt.

Oh, there’s a blessing in childlike faith, and Jesus tells us to strive for such. But there’s also a blessing in learning to work through and, when necessary, live with some honest doubt. Jesus never once turned away an honest doubter.

Thank God for days when the sun is shining, life seems very good, and faith seems to come easily.

But, in a different sense, on days when the sun of your happiness is cloud-covered, when even getting through one day at a time seems too great a task and you wonder if you can even manage one moment at a time, one heartbeat at a time—thank God for His assurance that sometimes faith as small as a mustard seed is faith enough to deal with a mountain of doubt.

On those cloudy days, thank God for another honest man in Scripture (Mark 9:24), much akin to Thomas, I think, who said, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief!”

On difficult days, maybe faith just means wordlessly making the same commitment Peter made when the crowds following Jesus (they liked free food and were hoping for more loaves and fishes) abandoned Him. When Jesus asked sadly, “What about you? Will you leave, too?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life.”

On some days, in the midst of all we don’t understand, don’t like, and have a very hard time dealing with, maybe simply praying, “Lord, there’s no other game in town! You’re my only realistic hope, my only choice! Just help me through one moment at a time!”—is faith enough.

And pretty strong faith, at that.

 

 

      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.

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“If Christ Has Not Been Raised . . .”

 

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Easter, like Christmas, is not just a day; it is a season.

A day is probably enough if you’re just talking about bunnies and eggs. But I like them, too—particularly the chocolate ones—and I hope your bunch enjoyed an Easter egg hunt. We had a good one! (Not, I trust, like the year one Easter egg hidden indoors behind our couch stayed hidden until well after Pentecost when its smell betrayed its presence.)

But if our spirits also rise higher, and Easter for us centers on the risen Lord, a full season of reflection is sweet and good and important. The Apostle Paul warns, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14). But if Easter really happened, that changes everything. With all of my heart, I believe that Christ was indeed raised from the dead. But I admit . . .

Believing anything with complete sincerity proves precisely nothing except that you are seriously sincere. You may also be seriously mistaken. We all know folks who always believe each of their feelings extremely sincerely, even religiously. But their feelings, sadly untrustworthy, betray them and lead to wreck after wreck.

Notice also the necessary word here: “believe.” I believe that the Resurrection happened. Not just as a metaphor for new birth and hope and life; though it is that, it is much more. I don’t adopt a “belief” in the Resurrection that is largely symbolic and sentimental, a tip of the hat to ancient folks who just didn’t know any better, but now we do, and we’d still like the comfort of religion, shorn of much that is embarrassingly supernatural. No. I believe John looked into an empty tomb and that Jesus, after his real death later showed up genuinely alive.

But a belief, even bolstered by all sorts of good and real evidence, is still a belief. No one can prove 100% that it happened or that it didn’t. We consider the evidence and choose.

For me, that leads way back to this question: “Does God exist?” I’ve rarely been able to imagine having enough “faith” to believe that all we see around us is accidental. I know we moderns, “chronological snobs,” like to assume that, with the advent of science and technology, we’ve arrived, and that the incredible masses of folks before us were just so primitive and foolish that they worshiped rocks and statues rather than facing hard facts.

Well, idolatry was and is foolish. But I’m not convinced pagans were more foolish than modern humans who adopt a supercilious, supposedly tragic pose, claiming “courageously” to stare darkness in the face and to worship nothing at all—even as we worship ourselves as gods and bow to science as our religion.

If all we see around us is not a cosmic accident, we soon must get back to some idea of a Creator. Once we do, why should a God who can create a universe out of nothing be unable to reverse death and create new life? It’s a dead serious question.

I like the way Danish priest and martyr Kaj Munk framed this: “If [Christian faith and ministry] is, after all, a mistake, then it is a beautiful mistake. If Christianity should turn out, after all, to be true, then unbelief will have been a very ugly mistake.”

My faith is in a risen Lord.

 

      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 Resurrection: New Life Brings Present Hope

 

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Three words say a lot.

“We had hoped . . .”

And they point to three more.

“But not now.”

Cleopas and his companion were walking on the road to Emmaus, a little village seven miles from Jerusalem, when they were joined by another traveler.

“What are you talking about?” he’d asked.

With heads still spinning, filled with thoughts of crucifixion, reports of empty tombs and missing bodies, and mind-boggling confusion about what it all meant, they’d responded (this is paraphrased a bit), too tired to be particularly polite, “Are you kidding? Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened there during these crazy days? That Jesus of Nazareth was a great and powerful prophet, that he was put to death by our leaders, and now our friends are telling us about empty tombs and missing bodies and angels and . . .”

“We had hoped that he was the one sent by God to redeem Israel, but . . .”

Their words point to a death. A terrible death.

It’s worthwhile to ponder the horrors of crucifixion. But as horrible as it surely was, the physical pain paled in comparison to the literally unimaginable horror of the weight of all of the sin of humanity that our Savior carried to the grave. Only God knows how utterly terrible that was.

Cleopas and his companion did not. But they’d lived through days difficult enough. Days focused on loss and death. The death of their Lord—and the death of their dreams.

“We had hoped . . .”

Like Cleopas and his friend, we also are incapable of any but the most rudimentary understanding of the real suffering Jesus underwent for us. But the death of dreams? That we do understand.

We’d worked so hard for the business to be a “success,” and we had hoped . . .

We’d poured our hopes and dreams into human vessels, and realized many sweet dreams, some better than we’d dared to dream. But human vessels are, at best, human. For this spouse, for this child, for this dear friend, we had hoped . . . Who knows what God may yet do, but that particular dream is dead.

Sometimes we stop in the midst of the whirlwind and try to make some sense of it all. We are not blind to the joys we’ve received, God’s gifts indeed. But sometimes when we stop, and think, we realize what we’re feeling at times has a name: grief.

It’s all wrapped up in those words: “We had hoped . . .”

Read Luke 24 and you’ll find that the traveler who joined Cleopas and his companion was the risen Lord. He is the One who listens to them talk about the death of their hopes, their dreams.

And it’s the risen Lord who on Easter imparts to them new hopes, new dreams, new life.

“We had hoped . . .”

Yes, but now in the light of Easter, we find that our hopes, our dreams, are alive again. New. Bigger. Stronger. More genuine than ever before.

We had hoped. And now, our hope is new!

 

       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.


Christians Can Celebrate Christmas with Deep and Genuine Joy

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I hope Christmas is a wonderful, “wonder-filled,” time for you. If our hearts are prepared and ready for it, it can be. Hence (and this is fodder for another column), the very good sense of having a time of real preparation before Christmas. (Look up “Advent” if the word jingles no bells.)

I know. A lot about the way our society “celebrates” Christmas is nothing to celebrate. In fact, as Andrew Greeley writes, some aspects of the sometimes-not-so-holy “holy-day” might make us tempted to run from the whole thing: “It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmastime. Then we would have a holy Christmas.”

He warns, though: “But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation, of the enfleshing of God—the lesson that we who are followers of Christ do not run from the secular; rather we try to transform it. It is our mission to make holy the secular aspects of Christmas. . . . And we do this by being holy people—kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people—no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush.”

By George, I think he’s got it!

C. S. Lewis wrote similarly, observing that a small child cannot really separate “the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter.” Lewis appreciated both the poetry and the piety of the little boy reported to have gone about on Easter morning muttering a poem he’d made up about “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.”

“Of course,” Lewis writes, “the time will come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity.” One day, Lewis says, the child will realize that the spiritual aspects of Easter are different from the festive aspects, and he will have to put one or the other aspect first and choose what is most important. We all get to that point. Do we major on egg-hunting or on the Resurrection? Or, for us at Christmastide, do we major on Santa Claus or on God in the flesh at Bethlehem?

In making the choice, people tend to make two mistakes.

One serious mistake is to choose rightly to major on the real reason for the season but to decide that necessitates also adopting a dour pseudo-piety that says, “Out with lights and Christmas trees and all the other festive trappings of the holiday. Humbug!”

But the other mistake is even worse—to refuse to celebrate such days as religious holidays at all and focus only on egg hunts and Rudolph.

As Lewis writes, “If the child puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.”

Christians who know the real meaning of the holy days should celebrate everything that is good about them with more joy than other people and not less. If we truly love Christ more than Christmas, then we’re free to love Christmas with a freedom and genuine joy we could never have otherwise. God is so good!

It’s nonsense to thank Santa for God. It may be very good sense indeed to thank God for Santa!

 

 

      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 profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Dear God, How Could You Let This Happen?”

 

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We’ve all had times when through our pain and tears we ask, “Dear God, where are you? How could you let this happen? How long can you stomach this kind of atrocity before you break in and do something to stop it?”

Maybe it’s a senseless mass murder on the order of the 9/11 attack. Or maybe no famous skyscrapers have been felled but through the suffering or loss of someone you loved more than life itself, your whole universe has crashed in and you are amazed that the sun still comes up every morning as if nothing had even happened.

“Dear God,” you cry, “how can you be both all-loving and all-powerful and allow such pain and evil to endure?”

It is an excellent question. What’s harder for me to understand than why we ask such questions is why we wouldn’t, though even if God were to detail the reasons he allows pain (and miraculously enable us to comprehend), I doubt we’d like the situation more.

To skeptics who point to pain and say, “See! There is no God and there are no answers!” I’d say, “You are wrong.”

To Christians who mouth plastic platitudes, “Well, it was just God’s will, and real faith is  happy to blindly trust and ask no questions,” I’d say, “I  think you are wrong” even though I affirm with all my heart that faith is indeed all about trusting God. But it was God who made us capable of asking such questions. (Just spend some time in the Psalms if you think the faithful don’t ask such questions of God and, at times, ask them in deep anger and perplexity.)

Why does God allow pain? It’s one of the Top Few biggest questions of all. I think author Wendell Berry gives an important clue when he shows Jayber Crow, his main character in the book by the same name, mourning the loss of a young man from his little town killed in Vietnam. Jayber asks, “Why? Why didn’t God just come down and put an end to such horror?”

Then Jayber realizes the same question has been asked before. When God did come down, we hung him on a cross and taunted him, “If you really are God’s Son, come down!” As he showed us the depth of his love, we dared him, “Show us your power!” Thousands of times since, we’ve demanded the same thing, but “Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave.” Why?

Jayber says through tears, “I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it.” Why didn’t Christ come down from the cross? Why doesn’t God break in right now?

“He didn’t. He hasn’t, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.”

He loves us too much for that.

Where is God in our pain? Even when we hurt too much to believe it, God is hurting with us, grieving more deeply than we can possibly understand. In our darkest times, “God grieves and Christ’s wounds still are bleeding” because of his love. And the power? It comes, too, but later. Even before the amazing power of the resurrection came the almost incomprehensible power of love freely, willingly, given for all.

 

      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.

 


When the Son Rises, It’s Time to Praise Him!

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Until it became obvious to me at our community’s Easter sunrise service a few years ago, I had no idea the population of my town included so many roosters.

Or maybe there aren’t that many. Maybe we have just one or two who’ve been granted the gift of uncommon volume and unflagging energy.

In any case, early on that particular Easter morning, as we stood outside near the tennis courts in the park praising God in our annual Community Easter Sunrise Service, the human worshipers there assembled were not the only ones lifting their voices. So were the local roosters!

I assume those good birds lift their voices every morning at about that time, though I’m not usually out and about to hear it. But they were certainly in fine form that Sunday!

If some way-too-buttoned-up, nay-saying, kill-joy of a rooster was standing lock-jawed by the fence, sullenly and silently deriding his loudly-crowing compadres for their voluminous joy, we certainly weren’t aware of it. I doubt you could actually find a rooster of that depressive and depressing variety. Roosters know better! When the sun comes up, it’s time to crow! And I thank God for humans who know that when the Son rises, it’s time to praise him!

Unfortunately, whenever praises resound, if you look around (and I hope you don’t—I hope you’re too busy praising the Lord yourself to notice), you’ll almost always find one or two thin-lipped sad-sacks with calcified hearts standing around stone-cold-silent, unmoved except to hurl criticism toward others who spirits are joyful and whose hearts are warm.

That was the case way back in 2 Samuel 6 when King David, the “man after God’s own heart,” a man whose heart often overflowed with joy and praise, led the holy Ark of the Covenant back home after its long absence.

King David, filled with joy, was “leaping and dancing before the Lord,” and his sullen wife, Michal, Saul’s daughter, watched from a window and later derided him. To the day of her death, evidently, she remained sullen, joyless, and childless.

And then there was the time on that very first Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem and was hailed as a conquering king. Some of the Pharisees, full of themselves and the kind of toxic religion which leaves no room for God, derided those who praised the Lord. “Teacher,” they coldly whined, “rebuke your disciples!”

You remember Jesus’ famous reply, don’t you?
“I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

If you’re a child of the King, don’t forget to praise him. It would be a real shame to let roosters and rocks do all the praising!

 

 

 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.


One Day Death Itself Will Die

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Somebody was going to die on that Thursday.

Oh, I know. Somebody is going to die every day. Somebody is going to die before this sentence ends, but chances are it won’t, and can’t, affect you much.

But on that Thursday two weeks ago, the links that would lead to tragedy were already chained together, and someone not far from where I live and closely tied to a number of people I love was going to die.

The tragedy was set in motion on Wednesday night as lightning struck out in a field, hitting one of the big sprinklers on the farm. Its now-lightning-welded connections became one major link in a very unlikely but deadly chain of events that mindlessly conspired to send 480 volts through a pump housing. Whoever touched it would die a millisecond later. Guaranteed.

It could easily have been one of the farm employees. Or the father of that well-loved farm family. Or the son about to turn 30, married just five years with two little sons of his own.

But Thursday somebody was going to die. And it was the son.

As I looked into the eyes of that father and that mother, standing near the lifeless body of their son at the emergency room, a young man who had been filled, far more than most, with life and joy just a little while before, the kind of son any parents would be proud of, a boy not only loved but intensely likeable, it tore my heart out. And right now, again, I weep for them all.

On one hand, I can’t imagine being in their shoes. On the other, . . . This young man was buried on his 30th birthday. I have four sons near his age, one who is just 10 days younger and will be 30 this week. And all of mine do work just as dangerous.

Life is dangerous. And unpredictable. And unfair. It’s good that we don’t dwell always on those facts, but an event like this slams them back into our faces.

No one can make sense out of this kind of thing. And even if we could somehow understand it, do we think we’d like it better?

I know some reasons that even God has to allow pain and suffering in this world now. Even God can’t make powerful things (like electricity), which bless us in so many ways, totally safe. The same tools that can spare life can take it away.

I know that death is part of this world because of man’s sin. God loved us so much he made us free creatures so that we could choose to love him or not. Even for God, to create us free to love means creating us free to hurt and be hurt and open to tears.

I’m not sure why anger is one of my first reactions when people I love are hurting, but it is. (Read the Psalms, and you’ll see God can handle that.) I’d be last in line to blame anyone for asking where God was on Thursday.

But I think the answer is that in a way we cannot now imagine, God was there, hating the pain and suffering and loving that son and that family with a fierce and divine love.

Somebody was going to die on that Thursday. Nothing could have stopped it. But life and love and joy and laughter will have the last word forever because the Father who is all love allowed his Son to die on a Friday long ago so that death itself will die.

 

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

 
Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Easter Means That Hope Is Always a Realistic Forecast

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It’s the evening of a beautiful Easter Sunday as I write. And I must admit being surprised.

My surprise is nothing compared to the amazement of Mary Magdalene and those with her who very “early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark,” went to the tomb, found the stone rolled away, and heard the angel’s sensible question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” and then the universe-changing proclamation, “He is not here; he has risen!”

It was not angels that awakened me at 4:30 this Easter morning; it was the sound of a mighty wind. Not a Pentecost wind—just wind with brown grit in it.

On Easter Saturday, a gorgeous day, I’d been burning tumbleweeds (souvenirs from the last windy blast) in the fire pit in our back yard. I hear that people in New York City will pay good money for tumbleweeds. (Scary what happens to your mind when you stay in the big city too long.) I burned about a million dollars’ worth.

As the sun went down, I dragged my chair nearer to the pit, drank coffee, and soaked in the warmth of nicely glowing embers and a beautiful day. My wife’s making her annual springtime threat of loading our fireplace with candles. It will soon be purely decorative again. (Spring can be depressing.) I was enjoying the good fire.

But fire in the pit is good, and outside it, not so much. So at the right time I followed all of Smokey the Bear’s wise advice and turned the fire pit into a swimming pool. I wet it down with more water than was reasonable. Stirred it. Wet it again. Shoveled around to douse any hot spots, and hosed it down some more.

At 4:30 a.m., not an hour I care to witness even on Easter, the sound of wind jarred me awake. An Easter eastern sunrise is one thing, but I had a paranoid vision of a fire-induced glow out in the west, say in the vicinity of my back yard. I trudged out the back door, and, in the midst of cold wind and flying dirt, hosed down the pit one more time. Then, retreating inside, I pulled up the covers and faded away thinking depressing thoughts about a sunrise service speeding down the tracks and about to squash me with more cold wind and airborne real estate.

Fast forward. Yes, it was a little breezy and cool at the sunrise service, but not bad at all. And the rest of Easter Sunday? Every hour seemed more beautiful.

This is where you should remind me that even if we’d had to endure a world-class dust storm on this Easter Sunday, God’s power would be no less real and the Resurrection no less filled with hope. Our faith is centered not on the weather but on the Lord of the universe.

Easter means that even if trouble’s winds are howling and Satan’s throwing dirt at us, we can always have hope. And the same God who once commanded, “Peace! Be still!” seems to absolutely delight in surprising us yet again with his beauty and joy, right when we’ve given up on seeing them.

Nobody expected that stone to be rolled away either.

 

 

 

Copyright 2013 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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