Monthly Archives: January 2018

“Lord, How Often Do I Have to Forgive?”

The Apostle Peter once came to Jesus with a question: “Lord, how often do I have to forgive?” (Matthew 18:21).

“Lord,” he seems to be saying, “I’m a reasonable man. I want to do the right thing. If my brother or sister keeps sinning against me, how many times do I let it go by? Maybe, say, seven times?”

It seemed reasonable. It seemed fair to Peter. To be honest, it seems fair to most of us. But you know how Jesus answered: “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Just FYI, translations vary here. Jesus may be alluding to Genesis 4, and, I’m told, depending upon whether he is quoting from the Hebrew or the Greek version of the Old Testament, the translation of the number varies. In English, some versions render the number as seventy times; others, as seventy-seven times or seventy times seven times, etc.

Unless you’re a Bible translator, or are planning to start counting offenses lest you forgive too much, does it matter? There is no limit to forgiveness, Christ is saying. You must forgive your brother “times without number”!

“But, Lord,” we’re tempted to protest, “aren’t you carrying this forgiveness thing too far? You don’t know what that person has done to me!” (Ever notice what a nice, warm, fuzzy concept forgiveness is—until you actually have something to forgive?)

But still Jesus speaks clearly: “Forgive.” He never says that it’s easy or simple. He just says that it is absolutely necessary.

To help us understand, Jesus does what he does so well. He tells a story. You may remember the tale. It’s the story of the unforgiving servant.

It seems that a very wealthy king once showed great mercy by forgiving the debt of a servant who owed him a huge sum amounting to millions of dollars. As this freshly forgiven servant was leaving the king, he met a creditor of his own who owed him twenty dollars or so. He lunged at the man, tore at his throat, and screamed at him to pay his debt immediately. The poor fellow could not pay, so the servant had him thrown into jail.

Remember the king’s reaction to this injustice? He is absolutely furious. He immediately reinstates the wicked man’s debt and sends him to prison until he can pay the entire amount.

Jesus makes the point clearly: “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Luke 18:35).

Our Lord’s words are as true today as they were when he first spoke them. Forgiveness is not an optional item in Christianity. To say, “Dear Lord, I need your help to even want to try to forgive” may be absolutely honest and realistic. To say, “Lord, I’ll forgive when that person acknowledges wrong, asks for it, deserves it,” is just another way of saying, “Lord, I refuse to forgive.”

If we would receive forgiveness, we must be forgiving people.

 

     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.

 

 

 

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“And So This Panda Walks Into a Café and . . .”

One of the most delightful (“filled with delight”) books that I’ve ever been given (thank you, Betty Little!) is the “Runaway #1 British Bestseller” Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by author and journalist Lynne Truss.

I find it interesting, surprising, and incredibly encouraging that, at least back in 2003 when this book was published, folks had the good sense to buy it and propel it to bestseller status.

You see, this is an incredibly humorous book about a subject crucial to the survival of the human race: punctuation. I’m not surprised to find me spending some time searching the Web to find pros and cons for whether “bestseller” is at its best when hyphenated, not hyphenated, or broken into two words. Working with words is a significant part of my work, but evidently a good many other folks care about such things, too. Wow!

The title of this book (I just said “this book” so as not to have to decide between “Truss’ book” and “Truss’s book) comes from the great word-nerd joke about the panda who goes into a café and orders a sandwich. After the meal, he proceeds to pull out a gun and shoot twice into the air. When the astonished waiter asks why, the panda, on his way out, tosses a “badly punctuated wildlife manual” toward him and says, “I’m a panda; look it up.” The waiter does: “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

The joke, you see, is humorously pointing out the importance of the “serial comma.” It’s also known as the “Oxford comma” (since Oxford University Press style required it). A good article in Wikipedia defines the serial comma as “a comma placed immediately before a coordinating conjunction (usually and or or) in a series of three or more terms.”

Style manuals—even the major ones—vary in their rule on this. It’s the difference between “eats, shoots and leaves” and “eats, shoots, and leaves.” Word people have serious opinions about this. As Truss says, it would be a serious mistake to sit in a bar between two copy editors who hold different opinions on this issue and might at the moment short of inhibitions. I myself am fairly passionate about the serial comma. Use it! Why risk plunging headlong into chaos?

Speaking of chaos, I’m working with a friend right now to decide the style rule for the ellipses (that’s two or more of the little three-dot doohickeys) that show up in his novel. Style guides vary widely (… or . . .). Truss is right: “The ellipsis is the black hole of the punctuation universe, surely, into which no right-minded person would willingly be sucked.” I wish the major style manuals would get their act together on this one. Alas, no. Not even close.

Sometimes a copy editor just needs to take a hike and breathe some fresh air unpolluted by misplaced apostrophes and confused uses of en and em dashes.  It’s good for me to remember that when the Author of life published our salvation, he needed no punctuation at all. Only one Word (John 1:1-14).

 

 

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.


“There Is Nothing New Under the Sun”

“There is nothing new under the sun,” writes the wise man in Ecclesiastes (1:9).

That argues for knowing something about what has already taken place under this old sun. And that means learning, and learning means reading. Three cheers, for sure, for math, science, and technology, but, however proficient we are with them, if we’re willfully ignorant of history, we’re just technologically advanced (and very dangerous) fools.

You see, the same challenges keep cropping up in this old world. At their deepest level, the waters every generation must navigate have been traversed before. George Santayana long ago told the truth: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Along this line, I think I’d like to propose legislation that requires high level elected officials to spend at least an hour a day reading history. They can easily prune the time from what they’d normally spend fund-raising or generally blathering, and (this is scary) reading a book might be a new experience for many of them. Why would we ever trust anyone willfully ignorant of the past to try to plot a course for the future?

By the way, pastors who know nothing about church history are every bit as frightening as the politicians I’ve just taken a swing at. The mountains Christians of all eras have made from molehills are the very same ones ancient Christians shoveled up to trip over.

This morning I enjoyed another of James Kiefer’s brief biographical sketches, this one on the life of Church of England Archbishop William Laud (born 1573).

Kiefer writes that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, some Christians in England (Puritans) objected to clergy and choir members wearing a garment called a surplice. Cassocks (a garment normally black and floor-length) were okay, but these folks strenuously objected to the wearing of the surplice, “a white, knee-length, fairly loose garment with loose sleeves” because it was not specifically mentioned in Scripture and because it had been a custom of Roman Catholics. (It’s basically the same thinking, Kiefer notes, that caused Puritans and their many descendants to object to Christmas and a host of other practices.)

Archbishop Laud felt that the garment was nonetheless “seemly and dignified,” but the Puritans persisted to protest religiously, stinkily, loudly, and even violently. One group of Puritans broke into an Oxford chapel one night, stole surplices, and stuffed them “into the dung-pit of a privy.” This was just one issue, but Laud, increasingly unpopular, was eventually imprisoned and hanged as he prayed for peace and an end to bloodshed. (You can sing this story to the tune of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Archbishops.”)

Until I read that, I didn’t know a surplice from a surplus. It was new to me, but the “rock” upon which those folks wrecked is no new danger to navigation. The Puritans were neither the first nor the last to try to twist the New Testament into a book of codified law. The Apostle Paul warned ages ago (read 2 Corinthians 3) that if we seek salvation through stone-cold law rather than through God’s Spirit, we’ll end up fussing, fighting, and wrecking our souls on tables of stone. That course, trusting in a code rather than a Savior, has never led to life and joy and peace; it can’t, and it never will.

No, there really is nothing new under the sun. I doubt we could make any truly new mistakes even if we worked incredibly hard at it. But it would be nice, and a God-honoring move in the right direction, to try to avoid stumbling over so many old ones.

 

 

     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.


Some Questions as We Sail into a New Year

Well, we’ve done it again. Managed to blunder on into another new year.

Hmm. I wonder why just now I said “blunder”? Amazing how just a few letters carelessly tossed together can affect the taste of the whole word’s salad.

I could just as easily have said “wander” or “stumble” or even “stagger.” None of the above would have been much nicer or more optimistic, I’m afraid, and I apologize for that. The flavor of those words is rather pointed out by that word “optimistic” which is precisely what they are not.

If the captain of the vessel upon which you are sailing is heard early in the morning to grouchily exhort the helmsman, “See to it, Smythe, that you don’t blunder onto any rocks near the shore today,” well, that’s not a very inspirational thought for passengers who’d on the whole prefer to face the voyage with higher hopes than avoiding a bone-crushing fatal wreck on unseen reefs and a cold gruesome death by drowning.

Whether your journey is by train, plane, or automobile, you’d generally hope, I’m sure, that the engineer or pilot or driver referring to the day’s travel would be judicious in his or her use of such uninspiring words and sentiments. You’d generally like to think that the journey had some sort of plan to it and that those charged with its execution had at least a modicum of expertise and skill with which to execute the plan and conduct a pleasant, rewarding, and eventually successful trip.

Oh, yes, you’d like to think so. But therein, I suppose, lies the question. Is this journey we’re all on actually going somewhere? Is there a point to it? Are we on course or just adrift? And who, pray tell, is doing the steering?

I’m wondering a bit right now about the course of this column and where it’s tending. It’s possible that in the next few paragraphs I may completely answer the questions just raised, queries that have found their way into human minds ever since our ancestors had leisure to quit running from saber-toothed tigers and pause in the breath-catching to think loftier and more complicated thoughts. If I do blunder, wander, or stagger into profound answers, I’ll be surprised. I will say, though, that I think the answers center on the nature of the journey, the passengers, and, most important, the Captain.

For my part, I believe that the journey has a point and a destination. That the Captain has given us such freedom to make real and consequential course decisions along the way is sobering. (Entering this year with two loud out-sized “characters” bantering about the size of their nuclear buttons is not particularly encouraging.)

I think the Captain—the best and wisest of all—has given us a “seaman’s manual” to help us in plotting a wise course and to show us how other travelers have sailed. The whole point of the manual is to point us to his best gift, an ever-present Guide who sails with us, for whom no storm has ever been a match, and in whose strength a wonderful destination is sure and secure.

I, for one, need to be reminded to sail with much more real confidence, joy, and hope than might be my natural inclination or warranted if I were my own master. My Captain can steer me past all blunders and through all sorts of seas safe into Port, and that’s a hope-filled truth to shine a warm light on the whole voyage.

By the way, may I suggest that you turn to the manual and read Psalm 121? Great words for travelers all along the journey!

 

 

      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.

 


God Comes to Us Not As We Wish We Were But As We Are

 

 

At first the quotation I’m about to share may sound a bit cynical, but when you have a little time to think about it, I think you’ll agree with me that it is not only realistic and true, it is filled with hope.

You see, when God came into this world “in the flesh,” he was laid in a manger, a feed trough, in a stable surrounded by everything anyone in first century Palestine would expect to find in such a place—including the very thing you can find in ample supply in almost all stables today—a serious and almost unending supply of manure.

So a gentleman named Morse has written, “That the treasure of God’s grace reaches us surrounded by garbage will not seem surprising to anyone who is personally familiar with life in the church. . . . Grace comes to us, so Martin Luther argues, hidden sub contrario, beneath its opposite. From this perspective, any idealized view of the church as only treasure is as faulty a vision of reality as any cynical view that the church is only garbage. Mangers, by definition, are found where there is manure.”

You see, God comes to us “while we were yet sinners”—while we are as we always are—not what we wish we were, but what we are.

God comes to us as the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest!”

God comes to us as as those shining and mighty heralds proclaim the amazing message that the Savior has been born—and with that wonderful news comes the accompanying note that is almost as surprising—that we common mortals whom God’s Son has been born to save are those “on whom his favor rests.”

When the God of the universe comes to us, the amazing paradox is most fitting: He comes as the heavenly hosts sing, as heavens lit up with splendor declare the glory of God, but he comes in a tiny helpless form, lying in a manger, God in a most unlikely situation and shape, but having entered that situation and taken that shape, most likely crying just like any other of a thousand little babies, even those lying in far more appropriate cribs. And he comes surrounded by manure that smells, I think you can be sure, just like the manure in any of a thousand other stables.

In that manner of coming, we see God’s grace shining even more brightly than the Christmas star, and in that paradox of his coming, we find our best, our truest, our only, our highest hope.

God comes to us not as we wish we were, but as we are.

 

       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.


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