Monthly Archives: March 2013

Christ-followers Are Called To Be Cross-bearers, Not Consumers

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We stand this moment on a holy threshold, waiting to enter into the joy of the resurrection. Easter is almost here!

Almost, but not quite.

I understand the dangerous and common temptation to leap-frog over Good Friday’s pain and suffering, but before we enter into the joy of the resurrection, we need to focus on the cross and ask ourselves some probing questions.

That’s no new idea, of course. It’s funny how often the modern church discovers some wheel that was invented centuries ago. (I suppose learning about wheels late is better than not learning about them at all.)

That time of preparation, introspection, and repentance before Easter came to be called Lent. Whatever we call it, the idea is a good one. I’d not bind its observance on anyone, but I doubt we’ve ever needed such a time more than now.

After a friend asked if I’d given up anything for Lent, I stuttered, but then I realized I’ve been scrupulously avoiding asparagus and liver. But, seriously, many Christians have indeed found that making a small sacrifice for a time helps them center on the One whose deep sacrifice made angels gasp and Heaven weep.

Whatever helps the church to truly focus on the cross before we arrive at the door of the empty tomb is good.

Though we can add nothing of merit to his sacrifice, Jesus told us long ago that following him means taking up his cross. The cross we’re called to bear is not rheumatism or gout, though God can redeem any burden we bear in faith; taking up Christ’s cross means to bear the cross he bore, the cross of self-denial. That’s as practical as it is difficult, and life together gives God’s people plenty of opportunities to practice it.

Even as they faced martyrdom and persecution, as do many Christians today, the early church also faced the same temptations we do to be selfish and self-centered. Two chapters after the Apostle Paul writes beautifully to the Philippians about Christ’s sacrifice of utter self-denial, he writes to two “spiritual” Christian ladies, Euodia and Syntyche (someone has christened them Odious and Soon-touchy) who “just felt led” to cause some fuss about worship styles—or some such. The issues change (no one remembers now what the fussers fussed about; they got mentioned in the Bible for their selfishness) but the real issue never does.

No need for me to wonder if I’d physically die for the Lord in an act of self-denial if I won’t shoulder opportunities to carry his cross each week by singing a few songs in worship not in my favorite style, or changing a diaper I’d rather my wife change, or speaking an encouraging word when I’d rather spew criticism.

Before experiencing the joy of the empty tomb, I need to let the spectacle of my Lord on the cross force me to ask myself hard questions, hard as bloody nails, about how serious I am about denying myself and truly shouldering his cross.

It’s for very good reasons that Good Friday comes before Easter. We shouldn’t rush past it.

 

 

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.


Paradox: The Gift Given Fully for One Is Given Fully for All

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The greatest gift ever given to me, the most intimate and personal gift I’ve ever received, was the gift given to everyone, not just me.

That greatest gift was given to everyone who has ever breathed, to multitudes who no longer breathe, and to untold millions who’ve yet to take their first breath.

It was a gift about me, suited perfectly for me, a gift handcrafted precisely to fit my need, a gift I’ve been told that the Giver would have given if I’d been the only one in need. Having tasted the love of this Giver, I fully believe that the tellers of such magnanimity tell me the truth.

And so the gift is mine. But the gift is made all the more beautiful and personal and real, undiminished in any way but enlarged into dimensions dwarfing comprehension, because it is also completely and perfectly yours.

The gift is so vast, so all-encompassing, so high and wide and deep, that though it was given once for all for all time, it is also truly given for you, for me, for right now, for this time.

Its power pulses into the far reaches of eternity, as well as into the air you’ll draw in with your next breath. It gives life to scads of galaxies yet unnamed and unimagined, even as it frees genuine life and joy to cascade into the soul presently inhabiting the miniscule universe of your own body bounded at its farthest reaches by ten fingers, ten toes.

It is a gift that mysteriously breathes grace into my life even as it also enlivens the whole Body. “Bread ceases not to be” bread even as it becomes for me His body and a means of grace. Wine ceases not to be wine even as it flows, rich and red and real, blood from His head and hands and feet, down that tree, for me, but also for millions so like, and yet, snowflake like, so unlike, me. That blood washes over me as it covers us all who lay down forever any claim to any offering, any gift ever given, but one—His.

Seeing the gift, receiving the gift, given for me, given for us all, I cry at Love’s breathtaking extravagance, the spectacle of such precious blood being shed. But the tears, drip, drip, dripping from my eyes, soon join the tears falling from all other faces ever turned toward His, and they become a salty river of joy, a tribute to the One whose blood is the River of Life flowing not only for me, but for us all.

The same gift that binds me forever to His precious Body, also frees me, and all who trust in Him, to dance forever together, complete in His joy.

No accident it is that the gift is given on a cross where God’s justice and God’s mercy mysteriously intersect, and no small part of the wonder it is that those arms are thrown open so wide that the gift given fully and forever for each one of us is also given fully and forever for all.

 

 

 

 

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.


These Days Everybody Is “Reaching Out to You”

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Maybe it’s just me, and perhaps a few of the other old fossils, the English majors, the “arts and humanities” types that our society keeps around as pitiful and withered relics of a bygone time when folks cared as much about the “why’s” of life as the “how’s,” when asking questions about the direction of our journey in life seemed as important as knowing how to travel aimlessly but really quickly and with cool gadgets, when having warm hearts seemed as important as having swelled heads crammed full of information but with little room for wisdom . . .

Okay, enough of that. But I feel better. As members of an oppressed minority, most English majors these days need to vent occasionally.

As I was saying, maybe it’s just me and a few other old fossils who think that language matters and is a window on whatever shriveled soul our society may have left, but have you noticed how many folks are “reaching out” these days?

The press doesn’t just “call” for an interview with someone these days; no, they “reach out.” The “60 Minutes” investigative reporter seeking his quarry may plan to throttle him and nail him to the wall with sharp questions, justly asked or not, but that will, of course, be after the reporter “reaches out.”

You can’t watch a newscast these days without hearing some local TV reporters parroting the same lingo as they “reach out” for interviews, mostly with regard to people who’d be happy as clams NOT to be reached.

Maybe “reaching out” is better, but it seems strange to me. Why don’t they just call?

Maybe it’s because our politically correct society is sensitive and kind. Once the Mafia might put out a “hit” on someone; maybe now they just “reach out.” I don’t really want to know, but I wonder if the IRS audits folks these days, or if now as part of a much kinder and gentler mindless bureaucracy, its agents just “reach out,” too?

Am I mistaken or did “reaching out” once pretty much imply a religious sort of reaching?

“Reach out to Jesus,” the song intones, because “He’s reaching out to you.”

Well, I believe that, and it’s a very positive thing, yea, verily, part and parcel of the Good News.

I “googled” this subject and my heart was warmed as I was reminded that parents “reach out” to children and vice versa in familial affection, and that neighbors at times  “reach out” to neighbors in need. Knowing that our state’s legislature is in session, I felt a cold chill when I found a quotation about the government “reaching out” to its citizens.

But a bunch of the presently pervasive “reaching out” is not frightening, it just seems trite and a bit sanctimonious, and I don’t know what to make of it.

In fairness, I should mention that I know a good many math and science folks who bless us all and who haven’t cashed in their warm hearts for cold calculators.

Before closing this column, I just felt a need to reach out.

 

 

          You’re invited to reach out to 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.


It’s Not Necessary To Be Catholic To Pray For . . .

Well, color me surprised!

I went home at noon to get a sandwich; what I got was a ringside seat at a historical moment.

I don’t need 24-hour news, and I think our world and our society in particular would be better off without the endless repetition. We talk too much anyway.

But I’d flipped on the TV for about 24 seconds worth of news, just to see what was being endlessly repeated at that particular time.

As it happened, I’d turned on the tube about five minutes before the exact moment when the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI officially went into effect. With millions of others, I watched as the Swiss Guards, for centuries the official guardians of the Pope, stood down and, for the first time in 598 years, a Pope actually resigned.

It’s not necessary to be Catholic to recognize such a moment as hugely significant and historic.

And it won’t be necessary to be Catholic to find what is now beginning, the process of choosing a new Pope, extremely interesting. Along with a good bit of the world, I’ll be watching for the right color of smoke!

It’s not necessary to be Catholic to consider Pope Benedict’s decision to lay down his position and his duties because of his belief that he could no longer perform them at the appropriate level, selfless and impressive.

It’s not necessary to be Catholic to pray that the cardinals now charged with the task of choosing a new Pope will do the job well. May they choose a humble man who will wisely lead the over a billion Catholics under his charge and, by so doing, bless lots of other folks, even Protestant pastors in little West Texas towns.

It’s not necessary to be Catholic—in fact, you can be Protestant like me, which simply means that you “protest” some of the teachings and practices of the Roman Church even though you love many friends who are Catholic—to pray that the sovereign and holy Father of us all will use what is happening in all the world, including the fascinating bit of history being played out right now in Rome, to bring about His glory and further His purposes for all who love Him.

I guess I’m “protest-ant” all the way through, because I see plenty to “protest” in my own tradition, along with a boatload of stuff in modern American mega-consumer religion. Perfect “church” is not a choice in this fallen world. Surprise.

It’s not necessary to be Catholic to pray that many learn from and be blessed by the selfless action of rare leaders, religious and secular, whoever and wherever they are, who choose to lay down power and authority for the good of those under their charge, rather than to hold onto it at all costs.

And if you think Protestant churches don’t desperately need an influx of just that kind of leader, and if you think churches of every brand under the sun haven’t seen more than their share of power plays and could benefit from a big dose of the kind of humility it seems former Pope Benedict has displayed, well, then the new pope won’t be Catholic and chickens have lips.

No, it’s not necessary to be Catholic to pray for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” I figure “earth” includes Rome.

 

 You’re invited to check out 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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