Monthly Archives: August 2013

Mercy Is God’s Gift, Given To Be Shared

Mercy.mercy 001

Almost everyone will agree that it’s a beautiful word and a fine concept. And then we’ll go on and talk about the weather and the most recent idiocy perpetrated by the government or last night’s game.

Until we need it desperately, no longer parsing words about it but recognizing it as our only hope. Until it is as precious and necessary for us as a lifeline is to a man who will surely drown without it.

That’s all of us, by the way. But often we don’t know it. That we need mercy as badly as air is hard-won knowledge. I can’t think of any easy way to get it. But it seems, naturally I suppose, particularly slow in coming to those who are young or “successful.”

The young just haven’t lived the years it usually takes to know themselves or life well enough to be able to realize that very few folks can stand up well under strict justice, demanding what they “deserve.” It’s the older and wiser who cringe at the very idea of getting “what they deserve.”

And those our society thinks of as “successful”? Well, to put it bluntly, jerks have no place, no use, and no time in their lives for mercy. And even for those who are “successful” and kind and nice and well-meaning, it’s understandably difficult for them to imagine that anyone else who worked as hard as they have couldn’t be just as successful and shiny and exemplary. It’s difficult to grasp the idea that lots of folks may be working harder, trying harder, but with much less success because they started with many more serious challenges, real detriments, and far fewer blessings. (Which, by the way, is why Jesus tells us not to judge others. We don’t know their story.) It’s just almost impossible to give much real mercy if only politeness forces us to admit needing much.

It’s as hard, Jesus says, for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. (Only God can get it done.) It’s just as hard for folks who don’t recognize how much mercy they have been given (by God, friends, family, and colleagues) to feel a burning need to give anyone else much.

Yes, mercy remains largely theoretical until we need it desperately for ourselves or those we love. Then it’s gold. But I’m afraid the only way we learn how very precious it is, is by coming face to face with a depth of pain that might destroy us. If not for mercy.

It’s good to practice giving mercy. If you’ve been broken, crushed, you know how badly you need it every moment of every day. If not, just try to believe this: someday you’ll need it. And Jesus himself gives the promise and the warning: Who will receive mercy? The merciful.

To receive mercy, and to give it, is a beautiful thing. Shakespeare wisely wrote that mercy “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / It is twice blest; / It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” And Abraham Lincoln said, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”

So true. So very true.

Thank God for mercy. In the final analysis, it all comes from him. What a beautiful gift!

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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.

God’s Joy and Beauty Are Divinely Extravagant

What an amazing night!cereus 01

First, the sunset that Monday evening was truly beautiful. That happens so often here that we almost don’t notice it, but that one was blazing for attention.

Second, the annual Perseid meteor shower was at its peak that night. I must admit that, though I looked, the only falling star I saw, much less caught and put in my pocket, was, well, one. Still, I find it incredible that the Lord uses dust particles to create both sunsets and meteor showers. Yes, indeed, “the heavens declare the glory of God”!

Ah, but the most amazing thing I saw that night was not in the sky; it was on the ground out near our backyard fence.

May I offer some background to the backyard event?

My Granddaddy Key died in 1975. Granddaddy had a plant he was fond of, a plant of a variety that is easy to share. He gave cuttings to my mother and some others in our family. My younger brother passed one on to me. Which I killed. Not easy to do, unless you freeze it, which I did. Then he gave me another one.

The plant is what most folks call a “night-blooming Cereus.” And that’s the thing: it blooms only at night, and any single bloom lasts only one night.

Jim remembers Granddaddy staying up all night to watch his Cereus bloom. And Jim’s plant put on quite a blooming show with about a dozen blooms, about thirteen years ago.

So when our six-year-old granddaughter and the grandmother I’m married to found a bud, looking like a space alien, protruding from our bedraggled and seriously hail-damaged Cereus plant, we all took notice. I’d been planning to prune that thing back, but procrastination won the day. Good thing!

I set my alarm for several nights so I could be sure the blooming Cereus didn’t sneak up on me. On the fourth evening, one look said, “Tonight’s the night!” At 9:30 or so, it started opening. By midnight, almost exploding from the skankiest-looking leaf you ever saw, we had a brilliantly white eight-inch blossom looking like it had come straight from Eden. Holy moments! Amazingly beautiful. And, by 12:40, it was starting to wilt.

Our Lord amazes me. No sanctimonious Puritanical bean-counter, God is recklessly extravagant with beauty! It’s there, if we’ll just look. In people. In things. In places. That plant is an ugly duckling for sure, but, wow! “When the time had fully come,” at just the right moment, God does what we’d never expect in ways we could never imagine.

I wonder how much we miss seeing because we live in a fog, half-asleep and stumbling around with our eyes closed? I wonder how much important and beautiful we miss as we’re tyrannized by what is simply loud and “urgent”?

God’s joy won’t be quenched because our eyes are closed, and, unlike some who have claimed to speak for him, he is not in the least afraid of beauty or joy, or, fearful lest he run out, miserly in the use of either.

God would have put on that show even if we’d never noticed. But what a shame if we’d missed it!


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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.

One Day Death Itself Will Die


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.


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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.

“Who Do You Think You Are?”


“How dare you!?”cross-question

That was the indignant question the pompous religious authorities put to Jesus after he wove the “whip of cords” and drove the animal-sellers and money-changers out of the Temple.

“Show us a miraculous sign,” they demanded, “to prove that you have the authority to do what you’ve done here today!”

When Jesus answered, his answer was not for them but for his disciples: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

“It’s taken forty-six years to build this temple,” they replied, “and you’ll raise it up in three days!?” They completely misunderstood, but they were quite willing to use this statement against Jesus at his trial, sham that it was. The Apostle John explains that the Lord was talking about the “temple of his body” (2:21) and that later when Jesus was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what the Lord had said, and “they believed.”

“Who do you think you are?” the religious authorities demanded, but by his actions our Lord had already answered.

He was the Son of God consumed with wrath at the perversion of worship purveyed by religious profiteers.

He was the Son of God angered by the disrespect shown in the holy courts of his Father’s house.

He was the Son of God loved by the Father and endowed with the complete authority of the King.

“Who do you think you are?”

Jesus was and is the One whose death on the cross would buy our pardon and whose resurrection life would fill us with his power. The priceless and perfect Lamb of God was the One chasing out the sellers of overpriced and far from perfect sacrificial offerings. This Highest of Priests who would give his own blood to open the way for his people into the Most Holy Place itself was the One that day upsetting the money-changers’ tables and disrupting the profit and the power of the Temple authorities.

Had they been willing, the Lord would have cleansed not just the Temple that day but the lives of those in charge of God’s house, but they would not be cleansed, and they would have no part of him. Before long, they would conspire to destroy the “temple of his body,” and three days hence, the most glorious Temple of all would be rebuilt.

What an odd picture though! “Religious” men who had no real relationship with the living God stood near the house of God demanding of the Son of God, “Who do you think you are?”

Far more appropriate is the question rephrased, turned in the right direction, and put to you and to me: Who do we think Jesus is?

No answer but “the fully human and fully divine Son of God” and “Lord of all” is good enough.


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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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