Monthly Archives: July 2019

Jesus Christ Was a “Sinless Friend of Sinners”

Of all of the many astounding qualities of Jesus, one of the most amazing and winsome is that, as Philip Yancey has written, Jesus was “a sinless friend of sinners.”

I keep being drawn back to this amazing fact. This is not the first time I’ve tried to write about this quality of Christ’s life. It will certainly not be the last. A thousand pages would not be enough to adequately plumb the depths of this amazing truth: Jesus not only loved sinners, meaning that he longed for the lost to be found, he enjoyed being their friend.

I don’t understand that. But I like it. I like it a lot.

I particularly like it because of what it says not only about God the Son, but what it says about God the Father. In his video study series The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey includes a wonderful quotation from Archbishop William Temple: “In God is no unChristlikeness at all.” God is just like Jesus, and I am so glad! I so need to know that!

Yancey writes that George Buttrick, who served as chaplain at Harvard, said that students would plop down into a chair in his office and opine, “I don’t believe in God.” And he would reply: “Sit down and tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that God either.” Come to think of it, don’t you think that’s exactly the kind of reply Jesus himself would give?

Why were the most religious men of Jesus’ day most hostile to him? And why are Christ’s only harsh words reserved for them?

Why were seekers and sinners, doubters and debtors, so unfailingly drawn to him? A more difficult but related question is, why are they so often not drawn to his followers today?

Why did Jesus so enjoy the company of folks the pathologically religious considered to be worthless losers?

In no particular order, here are some seed thoughts:

Jesus saw an honesty in common folks that he didn’t see in the self-professed pious.

Jesus found a reality in common folks that was lacking in the woodenly religious.

Jesus recognized in those labeled as “sinners” a love of life and laughter that had been completely excised from the lives of those who had opted for sanctimony over genuine sanctification.

Jesus knew that a “seeker” who loved life could easily learn to open his heart to love the God of life. But he also knew that camels would stroll through the eyes of needles more easily than lovers of man-made rules would be willing to drop their load of self-righteousness to wrap their arms around a Savior and feel his arms wrap them up in the warm embrace of perfect love.

 

 

     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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“The Gracious Become More Gracious”

How’s this for the setting for a series of mystery novels? It’s twelfth-century England. Following a long career as a soldier and later as a ship’s captain, a short but sturdy Welshman, who still rolls a bit when he walks as if he were still at sea, has “taken the cowl.” Kind and wise, he has taken vows as a monk in a Benedictine monastery where he is in charge of the “herbarium,” growing all sorts of herbs and vegetables from which he blends healing ointments and medicines. Often, he also finds himself playing the lead role in a medieval cross between Sherlock Holmes, CSI, and Law & Order as he becomes a kind of monkish detective.

I have just described the Brother Cadfael mystery series, written under the pen name of Ellis Peters by Edith Pargeter. Many of the stories have been adapted for television by the BBC (starring Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael) and are available through Netflix, etc. They’re well done, though the best movie can never beat a book.

I love the series, and I love Brother Cadfael, a wise good-humored man with the kind of robust Christlike goodness that loves both the Lord and His gift of life. No surprise that Cadfael finds himself in hot water at times with the pretentiously pious “powers that be.” He is true to the Spirit of God and to what is best in his monastic order, but he has seen enough of both the world and his Lord to know that God truly does desire “mercy and not sacrifice.” I like spending time with him.

I was listening to the audio version of one of the Cadfael books the other day (The Holy Thief) when I came across a quotation that made me think. A servant girl has fallen in love with a young man about to take his vows as a monk but presently accused of murder and being dealt with sternly by a particularly self-righteous abbot. She says openly to Brother Cadfael, for anyone with a good spirit knows they can trust him, “These monastics! They are what they are born, only with a vengeance. If they come into the world hard and cold, they end up harder and colder. If they come generous and sweet, they grow ever sweeter and more generous. All one or the other.”

What do you think? I think she’s on to something not just about monks or pastors or other religious professionals. We note it in them particularly because we know deep down that following a gracious Lord should make us gracious people.

But don’t we often see in all people exactly what the girl describes to Cadfael? The gracious become more gracious until their winsome lives seem warmed within by deep joy. The critical and hard become harder and more critical until cold and alone, they break.

We see it happening, and I see in it both warning and hope. To choose to be cold and hard, or warm and gracious? May we choose well. One day, sooner than we think, we’ll have chosen the direction and set sail, unlikely to look back and even less likely to tack against the wind.

 

 

    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.


A Big Problem Brewing “Down Under”

There’s a big problem brewing down under.

Free speech. Religious liberty. Political correctness. Employees’ rights. Employers’ rights. Contract law. If those are just a few of the spokes on the spinning wheel, picture a monkey wrench being shoved right into it. Yep. It’s a wreck.

According to a Wall Street Journal article by Rhiannon Hoyle (Monday, July 1, 2019), Rugby Australia has fired one of the most famous sports figures in Australia and shredded his multimillion-dollar contract.

Why? Because Israel Folau, a Christian, “posted on Instagram in April that gay people, adulterers and atheists were living in sin and would go to hell unless they repented.” And he has refused to take down the post.

Rugby Australia says that Folau knew that any player can be dismissed for breaching its code of conduct which includes “respectful use of social media.” They say he knew the rule going in and obviously violated it. Folau says he was “expressing religious beliefs” and that the law prohibits “dismissing an employee on the basis of religion.” Thus far, mediation has failed.

I’m guessing that the majority of Australian rugby fans wish the whole mess would go away and they could get on with watching their teams pass, kick, punt, or whatever you do with rugby balls or thingamajigs or whatever they play with.

Anyway, it’s an almost perfect storm down under. Questions abound.

It might be as simple as saying, “Like it or not, X is the majority opinion on these issues in Australia these days. Privately, Mr. Folau, you can believe whatever you wish regarding politics or social issues or religion, but you are in breach of the code of conduct if you make what you know are inflammatory statements on social media. You knew this, and you signed the contract.”

Some Christians say that this is just another example of discrimination against Christians; they are pretty confident that had Folau expressed opinions echoing the more politically popular stance loudly endorsing LGBT rights, no one at Rugby Australia would have raised an eyebrow and that he could have “bashed” Christians or Jews all day long and never felt the wrath of his bosses.

Some Christians (maybe the sort who are fond of putting up billboards and signing God’s name at the bottom) say you show God’s love by telling the truth and that Folau is courageous for being willing to endure persecution.

Some say that such smacks of taking God’s name in vain and that persecution you go out of your way to bring on yourself is perhaps not all that courageous or wise or holy and that the attitude behind the words you speak is as important as the words themselves.

Some say that this particular issue is much more about contract law than religious liberty.

Some say that it really is all about religion but not the one you might think. It’s about a modern idol of choice—sports. Just look at the lavish offerings and expensive temples all dedicated to that god.

What I wonder is what Jesus would say to Israel Folau, to his detractors, and to us. I really do. He sees into hearts.

 

 

     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.


“Ready or Not, Welcome to Leadership and Center Stage”

“Preaching with you in the congregation made me nervous!” my younger friend laughed after worship a few years ago. Completely surprised, I laughed back: “Are you kidding?”

It was a rare Sunday for me, one when I was both away from my own pulpit and not preaching or singing elsewhere. My friend had done a great job preaching, and I don’t know any pastor whose work in a community I respect more. I’ve preached on occasions when I was nervous myself because I knew a veteran preacher/respected mentor was present that day. I knew that no one in the crowd would be more “for” me, but still . . . a bit daunting. I just couldn’t imagine having that effect on someone myself.

After the surprise came a feeling of humility and some trepidation. Why would anyone think I was much more than a wet-behind-the-ears apprentice in preaching, pastoral care, and church leadership?

And extend this to your own areas of life and expertise. Did it surprise you when younger colleagues started to look to you as a mentor? Or, though your kids have been on their own and doing well for a long time, isn’t it a little daunting to realize that they now look to you as you, not that long ago, looked to your own parents? “I want to ask Dad” fits well with my dad, G. B., but that it could be said regarding Curtis is still a shock to Curtis. Are you kidding? That’s above my pay grade, further up the ladder than my rung, isn’t it? (I still ache to call Dad.)

I’ve lived most of my life being able to count on and seek the wisdom of older and wiser folks who’ve paved the way for me. It’s always been good to know they were there.

I remember (forgive the political opinion) my sadness the first time when, though we still had a chance to elect a president from “the Greatest Generation,” we squandered a soon-lost-forever opportunity. I guess I wanted, felt like we needed, more than just a capable person in office. We kids needed a father, a role model of wisdom and maturity. I knew for sure my generation couldn’t be ready to lead. Anyway, how could it possibly be time?

At official graduations, we have ceremonies. But the kind of graduation I have in mind? At first, we almost miss the clues, but suddenly they come more rapidly and obviously, and we look around and realize—this is frightening—that we now occupy the role for others that our parents and mentors did for us.

The time really hasn’t come as quickly as it seems. We just could hardly imagine that it would ever come. We’ve always lived life feeling like we had a safety net. We knew theoretically that the time would come to grow up, but we had time, right? Even if we lurched toward something stupid, well, wiser, more seasoned, more mature adults were still there. They’d grown up fast, surviving a Great Depression, truly “saving the planet,” the free world, in World War II. If we messed up much, they’d pick us up and get us back on track.

Well, my generation almost forgot to grow up. “Greatest,” in any positive sense, will not be mentioned in the same paragraph with our bunch. Certainly, not “wisest.”

But here’s wisdom for any generation finding itself, like it or not, taking its turn to lead on center stage: trust the only One who doesn’t change and seek the wisdom he has promised to give to those who ask.

 

      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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