Tag Archives: servant

Irreplaceable: When a Mary, a Martha, or a Dorcas Goes Home

You probably didn’t notice a wobble in the earth’s rotation, a split-second tilt in its axis, a brief cosmic stutter last Wednesday. Neither did I.

But when I learned later that a sweet lady in Amarillo named Melba Joy had passed away suddenly that day, I immediately felt an emptiness in my soul, a pain in my heart, and a deep sense of loss. And I confess to being irrationally surprised that this planet could sustain that kind of loss and keep spinning as the solar system carried on business as usual.

I suppose that an unbeliever, an agnostic or atheist, but a skeptic of a kind sort, would feel compassion for anyone in grief, even if the bottom line in the skeptic’s life philosophy is that we’re all accidents anyway and the planet/universe can’t be expected to notice, much less, mourn, our loss.

Rationally, though I’m a Christian believer—and one who doesn’t believe for a second that belief negates rational thought—I know that the universe is impersonal and cannot mourn. But I believe its Creator is God, not an impersonal force or capricious pagan deity, but the Father who loves his children with an intensity we cannot begin to fathom, who, as Christ has told us, numbers even the hairs on our heads.

I believe the Creator of the universe not only noticed when Melba Joy passed away last Wednesday, I believe he welcomed her with an inexpressible love and, yes, joy. I believe that our Father not only loves every one of his children, I believe that he loves us as if there was only one to love. And, though I believe that the Father rejoiced to receive her truly Home, I also believe that he feels the loss and grief of those who loved her.

Obviously, my words come from the perspective of a believer. They are also coming from a small-church pastor. If you’ve not known and loved life, and the lives, the folks with faces, in a small church family, a real family in every sense, I doubt you can begin to understand the loss the folks in the little but lovely Anna Street Church in Amarillo are feeling right now. (It’s been my privilege to know and love them for lots of years, and my brother is their pastor.)

They love all of their folks, but for over 60 years, Melba, a “charter member,” has been integral in the life of that church family. For much of that time, she served as their church “hostess” and was later also recognized officially as what she had long been, a sweet deaconess. If it was warm, beautiful, well-organized, tasty, filled with joy, you can be very sure Melba Joy had a serious hand in it.

Sweet, talented, filled with joy to match her name, and beautiful in every way, Melba died at 93 (and could have easily passed for 73). When my younger brother heard of her passing, he wrote, “How sad! But didn’t she show us how to serve right up until the finish line? What a remarkable ‘Martha’ who had a big helping of the heart of ‘Mary’!” (Mary and Martha were Jesus’ dear friends). Yes, and what a “Dorcas” (Acts 9) whose passing the ancient church mourned so deeply.

Irreplaceable. That’s the word that keeps coming to mind. For small churches who lose such a lady, irreplaceable has a name. It’s Melba Joy. It’s June Conway. It’s Robin Taylor. It’s ______; fill in the name. If you’re a genuine part of a small church family, you know it. Speak the name. Thank God for her. And when she goes Home, ask the Father to help you honor him as you also honor her by being part of the small army you’ll find it will take to try to even begin to do what she did so wonderfully with so much selfless and soul-warming love.

 

 

      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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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.


“If You Want To Know What a Man’s Like . . . “

 

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I just wanted a good story, nothing especially profound, as I was reading one of J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books a few years ago. But from the mouth of one of her characters came this bit of wisdom: “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

If you wonder about the quality of Pious Pete’s piety, go to a restaurant with him and see if he turns into a demanding, unwilling-to-be-pleased jerk, snaps at the staff, and tip-stiffs the server.

If you want to know if the CEO of the company believes the mission statement about “valuing all employees,” it might be good to notice if he knows the name of the janitor who cleans his office.

A Santa who doesn’t at least make some effort to know the names of his elves’ spouses and kids (and the real Santa better know ’em all!) is just a loud fat glory-hound on a sugar high. He needs his red tail section kicked down to Central Shipping low in the Pole for a week to see how the little guys live while he’s flying around in the Mark V fly-by-wire sleigh.

The real tests for most of us aren’t off at the North Pole or even down at the office. They come close to home. The guy who sits in his recliner barking orders at his wife, or gets hoarse shouting at the kids who know to avoid him in his “moods,” who has never washed a dirty dish or changed a dirty diaper in his life . . .  The gal who fancies herself more “spiritual” than most folks around her but who most folks around her are happy to avoid . . .

Those folks needn’t wonder if they’d pass the faith-test that would come with serious persecution; faith-tests come every day, and the most important are the ones we don’t recognize as tests at all, the ones that catch us by surprise. Who do you hold the door for at the Post Office? Who do you just walk by and never “see”?

I’ve failed most of those tests often, I’m sure. But as I’ve been singing a bunch during this season, one of many surprises has been a reminder I needed. At several events, as I’ve been setting up or tearing down, guess who were the only others there? The serving staff also setting up, cleaning up, or already re-configuring the room for the next of a jillion hot-on-their-heels Christmas gatherings. Those workers are as human and flawed as the rest of us, and I’m sure they have their share of Grinches, but I have found myself amazed at the Christmas spirit of such folks who work longer, harder, and for less return than most of the folks they serve.

I love all the “Merry Christmases” I’ve received this year. The words are a simple gift, and only cost a very little breath to give. But perhaps the most precious “Merry Christmases” I’ve been given this year are the heartfelt wishes kindly and generously given by these hard-working folks as I’m headed out their door.

Hmm. That calls to mind another Servant. Another Gift.

 

     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.


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