Monthly Archives: August 2018

God’s Grace Is Amazing, But It Is Not “Easy”

God’s grace is wonderful. But if we think grace is easy, we need to think some more.

One of Jesus’ most famous stories was told in response to a religious lawyer’s question: “Teacher, who is my neighbor?”

The question was blatantly self-serving. Luke prefaces the lawyer’s question: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked . . .”

The greatest temptation we all face is to try to “justify” ourselves rather than accepting by faith the justification that comes only through grace. We understand the question’s tone all too well.

“And who is my neighbor?” (10:29).

Let’s make a law about this so I can be very sure I’ve done what is required and no more. After all, love is costly business, and I’d hate to waste a lot of time loving someone with no claim on my love. Let’s clear this up so I can check this off the “to do” list, present the completed list to God, and expect to be paid a wage for services rendered.

We’re all expert in religious accounting. It’s easier to count than to worship. Trusting ourselves rather than trusting God is humanity’s default mode. And it’s easy to find a religious group that is more of a “religious” accounting firm focusing on our effort to keep the law rather than being the worshiping Body of Christ focusing on blood-bought salvation we in no way earn.

Ah, but that “all-about-me” question hangs in the air: “Who is my neighbor?”

Remember the story? A foolish traveler, a Jew, is waylaid by robbers, beaten senseless, and crumpled by the side of the road. In turn two religious men, a priest and a Levite, see him and walk on by, willfully blind to his need. But a Samaritan, a man whose race and religion all Jews, including this lawyer, would despise, stops, helps the man, and even pays for his lodging and care.

Then Jesus asks his own question: Who was a neighbor to the man in need? And the lawyer stammers, “The one who had mercy on him.” “Go,” Jesus says, “and do likewise,” indicating that the lawyer will never run out of neighbors and never be able to check this item off his religious “to do” list.

Salvation by law, by rule-keeping, which is no salvation at all, says, “How little can I do and be saved?” Salvation by grace through faith says, “How may I joyfully honor the God who has already saved me?”

So here are a few religiously legal questions for us, though you could add a thousand more: How often must I go to church? How much of my money do I have to give? How much can I play with sin in action or attitude? When can I say I’ve completed all the “right” rituals, worshiped enough and just “right”? When can I look down on others of God’s children who are not as “right”? How many miles away from my own front door does my responsibility to show God’s love extend?

If you think these are law questions and not grace questions, not the kinds of questions God wants us to waste time asking, I think you’re right. A legal approach to religion is not only cold, shallow, and barren, it is far too easy.

Grace? Now that’s another thing entirely!

 

 

     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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Nearest the Axle, the Spokes of a Wheel Are Nearest to Each Other

My favorite columnist, Charles Krauthammer, passed away in June. When I (very often) miss his wit, wisdom, common sense, and uncommon command of the English language, I pull out his book Things That Matter, a compilation of some of his best columns.

One of those was written in 1999 shortly after Time magazine had named Albert Einstein as the “Person of the Century.” An “interesting and solid choice,” Krauthammer wrote, albeit a wrong one. “The only possible answer,” he continued, “is Winston Churchill.” Why? “Indispensability.” “Without Churchill, the world today would be unrecognizable—dark, impoverished, tortured.” Yes, it would.

Krauthammer noted that Einstein certainly possessed the “finest mind of the century” and was “deeply humane and philosophical.” He even said, “I would nominate him as the most admirable man of the century.” But indispensable? Churchill, not Einstein.

Krauthammer didn’t jump on into postulations regarding any other categories, but one that particularly interests me was settled long ago. The most influential Christian apologist of the 20th century? C. S. Lewis. An “apologist” in this context is a “defender” who writes to logically defend, make the rational case for, the truth of Christianity.

I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of people have read his classic Mere Christianity? And I wonder how many thousands of those have found it to be the catalyst God used to launch their journey into the Christian faith? (Charles Colson of Watergate fame was one of those.)

I’ve long thought that the preface of Mere Christianity is itself more than worth the price of the book. In it Lewis makes it clear that he is writing to highlight the beliefs held in common, all through the centuries, by those in the whole Christian “house.” He is not at all intending to discuss the differences of views from any particular room (denomination). And he wisely writes, “Our differences should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son”; otherwise, we drive people away.

Lewis goes on to note that before publication he sent the second section of the book, “What Christians Believe,” to four clergymen from four different Christian groups to be sure he was on track. A minor quibble or two, but yes, they said.

But the really interesting thing he discovered came from responses after publication. Any serious criticism seemed to come from “borderline people” not seriously involved in any Christian tradition. He actually found this rather “consoling,” an indication that it is “at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit . . . And this suggests that at the centre of each there is a something, or a Someone, who against all divergencies of belief, all differences of temperament, . . . speaks with the same voice.”

Are we surprised? A point far out on the spoke of a wheel is farthest from the other spokes. The center point of the whole “wheel” of Christianity is Christ. Those nearest to the axle, whatever “spoke” they’re on, are closest both to Him and to each other.

 

 

     You’re invite 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.

 


“What Are You Waiting For?”

What are you waiting for? The truth is that most of us spend the vast majority of our lives waiting for something.

Maybe it’s a birthday. A vacation. A holiday. A graduation. A wedding. An anniversary. A retirement.

Maybe it’s when the baby is finally born, or the student loan (good luck waiting that out!) or car or house or business loan is eventually paid off.

You waited—even as you were working all the necessary hours and many more—to achieve that hard-to-reach business goal or rank. You waited—even as you trained, practiced, sweated—to finally earn that coveted professional certification. It took all of the knowledge, skill, and experience you possessed—and more—for you to finally finish that massive multi-year project, but you did.

Maybe what you’re waiting for right now is not warm or fuzzy, not exciting at all, but you’re waiting nonetheless. Waiting for the chemotherapy to be over once and for all. Waiting for the divorce to be final and that corner turned. Waiting to be dismissed from rehab and praying to keep the freedom you’re working so hard to find.

Waiting can be a big part of the adventure on the journey toward a goal. It can be a sweet blessing. Waiting can be the cask in which the draft is aged and infused with layer upon layer of flavorful complexity. It can be precious time, essential time. Waiting can be filled with anxiety as each day, each hour, each moment seems to bring its own ominous question mark. It can be excruciating.

Scripture overflows with examples of waiting and wait-ers. We read the amazing story of the patriarch Joseph and see him waiting in a pit, waiting in a prison, waiting, unbeknownst to himself, to save his family (and many more), bless the whole world, and be a major link in fulfilling God’s promise to us all.

How many long years did David wait before he actually began to reign as king of Israel?

In a rather negative example, we see a surly prophet named Jonah waiting for three interminable days in the belly of an oversized fish and then waiting, scowling, grinching, sweating on the top of a hill hoping against hope that God might ditch mercy and scorch and destroy a city He seemed determine to save.

Nine months of waiting became for the Virgin Mary precious, invaluable time.

Jesus himself waited for thirty years to begin his primary ministry and, as it began, spent forty days in the wilderness being tested and, I think we can also say, waiting.

Saul of Tarsus was stopped in his tracks on his way to Damascus by Christ and a blinding light. But becoming Paul the apostle also entailed spending three years in Arabia, waiting, learning, being molded by his Lord; the waiting was essential to what he would become and do.

Whenever you find yourself navigating an “in-between” time, a time of waiting, well, you may find that it’s actually priceless time God can use to shape and hone your life into a far richer blessing than it could ever be apart from the waiting.

Pastor and author John Ortberg’s words are wise: “Who you become while you’re waiting is as important as what you’re waiting for.”

 

 

    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.

 


“Sensdistra Is Good for What Ails Ya!”

A good commercial can be a lot of fun. I’m thinking about the TV sort. You know—cave men, lizards with British accents. That sort of thing.

But I am full to overflowing (yea, verily, to nausea) with two other TV ad-types—those pumped out by slime-oozing lawyers and those peddled by drug pushers. Let’s tackle the latter.

I am very thankful indeed for the availability of needed medications that make our lives much better. But whatever side of the political spectrum you find yourself on, is it hard to figure out that our medical system is messed up, wasteful, unaffordable, and in need of massive change?

Case in point: drugs. How helpful are drugs if you can’t afford them? And just a few of the reasons you may have a hard time affording them are legitimately high costs in research and development, much higher costs because attorneys are involved, and the kind of stinky skullduggery that always attaches itself to big bucks and big institutions.

Ah, yes, and the cost of commercials. The commercials must work, or the folks spending big bucks on them wouldn’t spend big bucks on them. They can’t be targeted just at doctors, but I liked it better when my physician just told me what medicine I needed. If it might cause “oily discharge” or gruesome death as a side effect, he’d probably mention it. It’s laughable that company lawyers, who’d rather their clients not get out of bed and thus manage “risk,” force half of the stupid commercials to be devoted to listing atrocious side effects. Just stuff it! I mean, the brochure. Into the box. Just get off my TV! Your commercials make that vast mind-numbing wasteland even more vapid.

Alas, the never-ending drug ads just keep piling up. Lest they drive me nuts, I just laugh at them. (Is it possible to be amorous to much effect in two separate bathtubs?)

As word guy, I can’t help but wonder how much money the drug companies spend naming their concoctions. I can help them, I think, and for less than a cool million.

I’ve started keeping a list of drug trade names. Filled a page of a yellow pad with just 78 of the better-known. (You can easily find around 4000 on the web at lists such as http://www.needymed.com.)

Most (not all) are three syllables. The emphasis is usually on the first. Some make sense. Allegra® has to do with allergies. Some are take-offs on the chemical name. Paxil® is Latin “pax” for peace and sounds a little like paroxetine. Where they got Xeljanz® for tofacitinib, Jardiance® for empagliflozin or Kystrexxa® for pegloticase, I don’t have a clue. (Those are all patented trade names; leave ’em alone or the lawyers will be after you.)

I wrote drug names on slips of paper, put them in three bowls, one for each syllable, and then drew, combined, and laughed. So here ya go, drug pushers. These are free for the taking, and there are scads of combinations. But I’d accept a check.

Spitavtyx. Crestoppa. Lotaflo. Humnocol. Oproqura. Vyervo. Tretilor. Lipfexty. Orrevia. Wellfypro. Valuvia. Neudivnax. Elitrin. Migcardya. Celtrudgrix. Levlasmax. Sensdistra. Litavtor. Shinazi. Alvanpril. Glalartik. Eljanztix. Trexlicort. Viliquin. Remdaxia. And on we could go. (If I’ve stumbled onto any real names, it’s accidental!)

The real fun might come if we were to try to postulate what maladies might be connected with each of my cobbled together drug names. At least one needs to be for “oily discharge.”

The Creator of our universe has lots of names. I’m particularly fond of Lord, Father, Abba. Whatever the number of syllables, the emphasis—first, last, and forever—is on love.

 

 

     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.

 


Tripping Over a Logical Fallacy Can Cause Bruises

 

I don’t have a clue what the rules are now at most universities regarding graduate/teaching assistants. I do know that when I was working on a master’s degree and serving in that capacity, teaching assistants actually taught. A lot.

It was not unusual for me to teach three or more sections of English 101 (Freshman Composition) per semester. The departmental goal for English 101 was that each student write ten 500-word essays.

Somehow I managed to get through college and a graduate degree without taking a single math course, but I can tell you that if each of three classes had 20 students (we often started out with more), that translates into 600 essays per semester for the TA under my hat to grade. For obvious reasons, we didn’t always make it to the ten, but we got so close that my own spelling suffered from running in such bad company. I almost began to believe that “alot,” as in “My students used that non-word word alot,” was a word. As I recall, when I was sitting in the labor room with my wife as she was doing the work of getting our first child here, I was grading essays and/or working on my thesis until her groans became distracting.

English 101 students will drive a teacher to distraction/despair with spelling and grammar errors, but a big problem with many of those essays was not mechanical; it was a problem some of my fellow TAs and I tried to address with a unit on “Logical Fallacies.” (We meant breakdowns in logic, not fallacies that were logical.) Good writing not only needs to be free of grammar errors, it needs to make alot of sense alot (even most) of the time. (Oops.)

Logical fallacies abound. Whether we’re writing or not, we all bump into them or fall over them regularly. Once we learn to recognize a few, we’ll be a bit more wary and a lot more humble, even as we begin to see more of them lurking about than we’d ever dreamed existed. I’ll list a few below. (A Wikipedia article lists more than 100.)

Either/or sets up two extremes as the only possibilities when many others actually exist. “If we don’t elect Senator Bluster as president, the country is doomed.”

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, Latin for “after this, therefore because of this,” jumps to draw conclusions from coincidences. We chuckle about the rooster who noticed that the sun came up every day after he crowed. He developed serious neurosis, paranoia that he might oversleep and, at great inconvenience to the world, the sun would not come up because he forgot to crow. To assume that since many children who develop autism received vaccines, the vaccines cause autism is no more logical, but it is more dangerous.

Non sequitur, Latin for “it does not follow,” means that your conclusion does not necessarily logically follow your premise, as in, “If you hate this column, you are mean and ignorant.” (And here, I jump right into the ad hominem, “to the man” fallacy, too, by resorting to name-calling rather than rational discussion.

Oh, and don’t forget the fallacy fallacy. Reasoning for an argument may be fallacious, but that does not necessarily mean the conclusion is false. (Even a broken clock is . . .)

Jesus says that we are to love the Lord with “all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.” I’m not sure which is hardest, and I’d like to avoid the either/or fallacy, but I’ve not found the “mind” part to be the easiest.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my webpage 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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