Monthly Archives: June 2016

An Old Picture Inspires Some Timely Thoughts

 

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C.S. Lewis writes that the very fact that time itself seems so strange and surprising to us is proof that we were not originally created to live in it as our natural habitat. Presumably, fish don’t feel wet in water, but we fight with time continually.

Within just a few days I’ve officiated at the funeral of a dear friend, helped bear the caskets of my uncle and his dear wife to the open graves in the family cemetery I’ll be mentioning, and held in my arms my newest granddaughter, Ella Vernell Shelburne. Time seems to stand still as I gaze into that beautiful face. I could hold her forever. But standing still is exactly what time never really does here.

My oldest brother once scanned and shared some great family photos he’d borrowed from our Uncle David (who I just mentioned). My favorite is a wonderful picture of my maternal grandfather, Granddaddy Key,  who died back in 1975.

I never remember Granddaddy as having anything but a full head of the thick, cottony white hair. But in this old picture, my dark-headed grandfather is wearing a big cowboy hat and is dressed in a white shirt with a vest and ribbon tie. Maybe 12 years old, he sits beside his two daintily-dressed and lady-like young sisters who are wearing lacy white dresses complete with white bows and white ribbons in their hair. The three siblings are perched on a small dock jutting out into a little pond. Aunt Vida and Aunt Grace, looking pretty and pristine, each have an arm gently extended and are gazing down at the little white ducks feasting on the bread crumbs my great-aunts are dropping.

Granddaddy is looking calmly down into the water, and he’s feeding the pond populace, too, but with a different goal. He’s holding a cane pole with line and hook attached, and he’s waiting for the tug that will mean the end of the worm on the hook below.

In the distance, sitting cross-legged, relaxing and lost in thought, gazing across the pond from the other bank, is my great-grandfather Alf Key who was born in the same week Abraham Lincoln died. Alf has a big hat, too, and, if you already know to look for it, you can just maybe make out the tips of his big wide moustache.

I can’t see the eyes of any of them. They’re all looking calmly down or across the pond, just feeding the ducks, or the fish, or just thinking.

But they make me think.

Real people, their blood runs in my veins and in Ella’s. Three of them were, in that picture, far younger than I am now. All have long since gone on, their bodies at rest in the little country cemetery that sits just across a mesquite-filled pasture from the old windmill and the ruins of the old house where my mother was born. All of this, along with the tombstones, are quiet reminders that, as colleague Bert Mercer reminds me, “once there lived here a race of people a little lower than the angels.”

The human race. And in that old photo a little group of my ancestors eking out a living when life was truly hard, just taking some time to relax. To sit. To think. I never entered their mind. But they certainly have entered mine.

So much has changed, but what is truly important is exactly the same. You and I will pass on the values, the faith, the love that is the real legacy we are building today for generations yet unborn. Sooner than we think.

 

     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.


“It’s Not the Square, It’s the Quilt”

 

 

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A number of analogies would probably work.

It’s not the chapter; it’s the book.

It’s not the note; it’s the song.

It’s not the song; it’s the symphony.

But I think I like this one best: It’s not the square; it’s the quilt.

I’ve officiated at, helped with, or attended, too many funerals this week. Funerals on top of funerals. And more that I’d have attended if it weren’t for the others.

In a real sense, all death is unnatural and reminds us that we live in a fallen world. But some deaths are, in this fallen world, a merciful release from pain and suffering.

Several of this week’s were that kind. The families still feel the sting of loss and separation, but their loved one (or ones) lived good, long lives, and the release came truly at the right time. In other cases, though, no. The death seemed almost unbearably too soon. So utterly wrong.

That many deaths and funerals, of whatever sort, force you to think seriously about life. And here’s a thought—not particularly profound by any means but true—that pushed its way through this week of many funerals.

When we look back over a life in review, what we notice is not the square, it’s the quilt.

Yes, quilt. People used to make them. Still do. Not just a comforter (though I like those). Or a blanket. (Hotel rooms need more of those.) Or a “blanket throw” for your recliner. (It takes two to make one good one of adequate size.)

I mean quilts. Hand-made. Made with skill. And, often, with love. Always made of many “squares” stitched together.

When I think of the folks whose lives we’ve honored recently (and many more before), and when we think of the quality of those lives, I don’t find myself centering for long on one small or transitory part, even if it was important. We focus instead on the whole.

Hence, my point. It’s not the square, it’s the quilt.

That doesn’t mean the squares are not important. Where the person lived. What he studied. What she did for a living. What were some of the best moments of his life, and how he handled them. What were some of the worst times of her life, and how she handled them. What she was proud of. What he was ashamed of. What he liked. What she didn’t like.

My analogy doesn’t mean that the little or daily stuff, or intervals and incidents, long or short, in life don’t matter. They matter immensely because every decision, each moment, fit together to form a life.

But when it’s all said and done, it’s not the square, it’s the quilt. Even King David had a couple of ugly squares in his. But Scripture’s comment on the whole quilt? He was truly “a man after God’s own heart.”

Quite literally, by God’s grace, the life of Christ in a person living in covenant with God colors every stitch of the quilt, every atom of the fabric. The squares, imperfect as they are, are stitched together, held together, washed in, of all things, his blood.

And the quilt is beautiful.

 

      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.

 


A Story of Two Fathers and Two Sons

 

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Had the brokenhearted father been one of the self- or demon-deluded pagans whose lives are described in the same amazing volume which chronicles his, perhaps the grisly request of a bloodthirsty “deity” for still more blood would have made a kind of morbid sense.

Exactly how the request came, and what form it took, we’re not told, but that it was a true and authentic command of the only true and living God was absolutely a matter of no doubt.

Not to him.

Not to Abraham.

The “father of the faithful,” the “exalted father,” the one christened by God “father of a multitude” was being asked by the Father of the universe to offer as a sacrifice, killed by a sharp knife, and consumed by fire atop an altar, that son of promise, the only son through which that “multitude” could be born and the promise could be realized.

Yes, Abraham would have expected such a command from a god or gods deluding pagans, but it was unlike any command he had ever received from the living God. It was absolutely unlike . . . well, unlike God.

But it was indeed God’s command.

What son was he to offer? God himself had said it—that dear son, dearer than life itself, the son “whom you love.”

God knew what he was asking. God the Father was asking father Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and to give him up.

God knew that Solomon would later build his temple atop that hill.

God knew how many lambs would one day be slaughtered there and how many sacrifices would be made. Atop that hill.

And, as brokenhearted but absolutely faithful Abraham was himself dying inside with every step towards Moriah, who knew better than God the thoughts that go through the mind of a brokenhearted father about to watch his son die at the top of a cruel hill?

God knew.

Abraham’s son was old enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice. Isaac was old enough to realize that this sacrifice was like none he had ever before witnessed. Isaac was old enough to resist when his old father, with tears streaking down his face and wetting his gray beard, placed him on the altar, bound him, and raised a knife. Abraham was a heartbeat away from piercing his dear son, slashing his own soul, and watching his own fondest hopes bleed out as Isaac’s life-blood stained the altar.

But God stayed his hand.

Now both God and Abraham knew that Abraham would be absolutely faithful.

What Abraham couldn’t know was that God’s own Son would humbly and obediently allow himself to be bound to wood atop another terrible hill. Hands would be raised to pierce him. And God would not stay those hands.

God the Father of all life and all love would through his own tears be absolutely faithful.

 

       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.


God’s Real Grace: It’s Not Fair!

 

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A surpassingly strange story it is, and enough to make a math or accounting major bite nails. I’m talking about Jesus’ Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).

Here’s the story in a nutshell: It’s grape-harvest in Palestine. A vineyard owner goes out early to hire men to work in his vineyard, and he agrees to pay them a denarius, a normal day’s wage. They go to work.

At 9:00 a.m. he finds other men standing around in the marketplace and also hires them, promising to pay them a fair wage. At noon and at 3:00 he does the same thing. Finally, even at 5:00, he finds others standing around, and he hires them also.

When evening comes, he pays the workers, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first. To the workers he hired last, he gives a denarius, and so on down through the line. Every worker receives the same pay.

The workers who were hired first begin to complain that it isn’t fair, that the landowner has made the fellows who worked just one hour “equal to” those who have worked all day long in the hot sun. But the landowner replies that he paid exactly what he agreed to pay, and that he has every right to choose to as generous as he wishes with his own money and pay the men hired last as much as those hired first.

Jesus concludes, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Quite a story, and not so much a story about vineyard owners and workers as a story about grace.

You see, where real grace is found, you’ll find our gracious God.

“Religious” law may ask grudgingly, “I know I’m to love my neighbor. Who qualifies? And under its breath it mutters, “I’ll not love anyone I don’t have to.”

Law may ask grudgingly, “Who and how many times do I have to forgive?” and mutters with frosty breath blown out over a cold heart, “It’ll be a snowy day in Perdition when I forgive that one.”

Law may ask grudgingly, “How much do I have to give?” and under its breath mutter, “I’ll not give a penny more.”

Law may ask grudgingly, “How many times do I have to go to church?” and under its breath mutter, “I’ll go not one Sunday more.”

Those are not the kind of questions grace asks because they are not the kind of questions God asks. God loves, forgives, gives, walks with us, because our Father is the God of all grace. Do we deserve his gift? No! It is enough for him that we desperately need it. His loving us will never make black and white, bottom-line accounting sense. Legally, it will never add up or balance. Not even close.

Sadly, where you find real grace, you’ll also find, just as in this parable, grinchy grumblers who aim to get their salvation the old-fashioned way: they want to earn it. They are angered by a God who freely offers salvation to a thief on a cross or a prisoner at Huntsville with a needle in his arm but faith on his lips. That kind of grace just doesn’t add up! That God gives it always angers some.

May we be far too busy praising him and thanking him to ever listen to complaints from those who’ve not yet learned that to get what you deserve is hell.

 

 

      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.


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