Monthly Archives: May 2019

“God’s Grace: It Just Isn’t Fair!”

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 be 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.

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 the very last thing in this universe any of us should ever want to get is “what we deserve.”

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!     

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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A Real Question: “How Much Is Happiness Worth?”

“Happiness is worth a lot to me,” a good friend, colleague, and mentor once told his boss as he made a decision that would lead to his leaving the company.

“Well, so what? Isn’t happiness worth a lot to everybody?” his boss replied.

“No,” my friend replied truthfully and I think with unusual wisdom, “it is not—not to everybody.”

I’ve thought of that exchange often. My friend’s words may mean more when I tell you that he is very motivated and one of the better businessmen I know.

I haven’t conducted any polls, scientific or otherwise, to shed light on the percentages involved, but I’d speculate that more people than not so “naturally” equate “bigger and more” with better and happier—a bigger title, a bigger salary, more responsibility, more prestige, more power, increased “upward mobility,” etc.—that they hardly even consider that “bigger and more” might not mean “happier.”

It may. Aside from the fact that none of us can actually “make” anybody happy and that people who really want to be unhappy are almost always really good at it, sometimes, though not nearly as often as we think, bigger and more actually is better.

I have known some remarkably unselfish and praiseworthy folks who seem absolutely gifted by God in leadership, business skill, organization-building, etc., who have honored God in everything they’ve done. And they seem happy to me.

But every bit as impressive to me are folks I know who have realized that, in this decision or that goal, if they didn’t believe God was calling them in one direction or the other, if it was more a career choice than a moral choice, more a geographical choice than a spiritual choice, they recognized that real happiness often lies in living “peaceful and quiet lives” and “being content with what you have.” I can hardly imagine two admonitions that would more squarely slap our sick society full across the face!

But what good, after all, is a bigger house if the job you had to take to pay for it means you’re never home?

A very common and oft-repeated error some people make, author Philip Gulley writes, is to “mistake contentment for stagnation.”

Trust the Lord for your true contentment. Do your job “as honoring the Lord.” And I suspect that more than a few opportunities will come your way for advancement.

But be sure to look them over carefully and prayerfully. Not every opportunity for advancement is an opportunity for increased happiness or real contentment or genuine service. Even if this world can’t begin to understand Christ’s words, you believe them: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Happy is the person who knows that more money, more power, more prestige does not necessarily mean more genuine happiness.

 

  You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 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 of Life’s Best Moments Must Be Savored–or Lost

Some moments in life are golden. And some of the best of all are precious precisely because they must be savored immediately or forever lost.

Oh, as long as God is our Father, and that’s forever, beautifully sweet moments, joy surprises and cloud bursts of delight will come again. But never again the same one, for much of their rich sweetness and deep joy sparkles in the diamond-truth that no two of them are exactly alike.

None can be bottled to be uncorked and re-savored, recorded to be played back at a whim, or captured to be freed for the moments you wish to dance the same dance and want that particular joy to be your once-again, radiant-in-just-the-same-way partner in the waltz.

You never stepped out onto your front porch to gaze up at the starlit night and looked at exactly the same world. Like a river, it flows new every moment. It won’t be truly the same in ten minutes. Or in the space of your next breath. Look quickly! And look often!

You’re rocking in an old soft chair, but not alone. You and your little very grand baby are swaddled together in a warm blanket on a lazy afternoon. Raindrop-straight-down sounds are the lullaby and the babe’s whiffling breath is the sweet meter of the moment’s melody. Oh, swifter than that tiny living miracle’s heartbeat, you’d sign on were it possible to go on gazing sleepily but in utter awe and purest joy at the lovely face of that precious gift of God, and gently rock… rock… rock… on forever. Only the Giver of all good gifts knows what wonderful joy-flowers you and that precious little one will pluck together, but this particular bloom is fully open right now. And not for long. Thank God for it quickly!

You’ve sung or played or strummed or bowed the same beautiful song time and again but never in exactly the same way. A grace-note in measure eight, a joy-trill in the “bridge,” a bit more tremolo in the “intro,” and a new millisecond pause before the “tag” or the “outro”—it’s the sweetly-spaced silence that gives the intervening notes richness—and it’s an old beautiful song caressing fresh ears and washing open hearts, brand new.

To savor such moments our souls need spaces for rest and not just the counterfeit “relaxation” of loud and manic diversion. Our souls need the sweet salve, the lovely balm, of what our Father calls Sabbath, whatever its date or duration. We need times—sometimes they’re just a few breaths’ worth—of worthwhile moments, and sometimes, regularly, they need to be hours or days—when we’re quiet and still and our hearts and hands are particularly open to receive the sweet and special gifts—golden moments—our Father wants to give.

“Be still, and know that I am God,” our Father says. It’s wonderfully true eternally. But it’s most clearly known in sweet and fleeting moments of deep joy, the kind that can’t be captured—only savored, the kind that grow best in rich stillness.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Thank You, Mom, for Being Glad That God Made Me”

Sunday is Mother’s Day. May I hasten to say that having a Mother’s Day is a good thing. I am sincerely pro-Mother’s Day and pro-moms. Good ones deserve far and away more honor than they receive, and I’m happy to have some part in helping bestow some of that honor.

But as a preacher who has stood in the same pulpit now for 34 years, I’m finding that preaching on Mother’s Days is getting a bit harder. It’s my own lack of imagination, I know, but I quickly preached most of the really obvious Mother’s Day-type Bible texts, and so I’ve been floundering on Mother’s Days for, say, twenty-two years or so.

It’s a little late this year, but what I’d suggest for the future is that each of the local pastors nail together about five minutes’ worth of a potential Mother’s Day sermon. Then we’ll get these clergy-types together, have a “preach off,” and let the assembled clerics vote on the winner who will then be commissioned to finish his sermon.

Then, you see, when Mother’s Day rolls around, all the churches and preachers could meet somewhere for worship together (which is probably what we ought to be doing all the time anyway if we weren’t so faithful to Scripture and theologically careful—which being translated means “terminally near-sighted, biblically illiterate, capsized by our sinful natures, and incredibly pig-headed”), and the winner of the Muleshoe Area Mother’s Day Sermon Contest can preach his masterful homily to the whole wad of us. I guess it will never happen, but it makes perfectly good sense to me.

Anyway, what I’ll share with you now, in a Mother’s Day vein, is a little piece I once wrote for a gift book on moms (that never found a publisher). It’s entitled “Glad That God Made Me”:

“Asked why he loves God, a little fellow named Nick standing in a little church opened his mouth and gushed simple little words all wrapped up in truth and laced in the most lovely way with unaffected and natural praise, ‘I love God for making me!’

“Mom, when I’m with you, I’m a little child again, and again I remember some deep truths, truths that children know so easily and so naturally, truths that adults spend most of their lives relearning. And were Nick’s proffered question mine, well, what might I say?

“I might say, ‘I love God for making this beautiful world.’

“I might say, ‘I love God for making mountains and trees and streams.’

“I might say, ‘I love God for making the people he’s put around me.’

But were Nick’s question mine, I hope the little child in me—given life and love and laughter through your love—for I’m still your little child, you see—would open his little mouth and gush the simple words all wrapped up in truth and laced in the most lovely way with still unaffected and natural praise, ‘I love God for making me!’

“Thank you, Mom, for giving me birth, for giving me love, for being glad that God made me.”

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 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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