Monthly Archives: August 2019

“Grace Sparkles with God’s Love Like a Diamond”

In his fine book What’s So Amazing About Grace, author Philip Yancey writes that at a British conference on comparative religions, scholars from around the world were discussing the most basic beliefs of Christianity. One important question in particular led them into pretty serious debate.

That’s when C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. When he asked, “What’s the rumpus about?” he was told that they were asking what Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions might be. He answered, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

Yancey continues, “After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

I suspect we can learn something valuable from almost all world religions. I have no doubt that some very fine people are among the adherents of each. But I’m also confident that Lewis and Yancey are right. The answer to that question was and is “grace.”

And here’s what I believe: Grace sparkles with God’s love like a diamond. It’s the best and most genuine truth in the world—the truth that God loves his children so much that he could not possibly love us more and he will never choose to love us less. He knows us completely, and still he loves us completely. He completely accepts us, not because we could ever deserve his love, but because in faith we’ve opened our hands to accept his gift that we could never earn, could never craft, could never devise or design. It’s ours through faith in Christ and the loving sacrifice he made on the cross—fully, completely, once for all for all time.

The Father doesn’t look at us and say, “Here’s what you’ve done to ‘measure up’ by your own power. I’ll make up the difference.” No! That is not grace; it is a sham of the worst sort because it would leave us open to say, one to another, “I did this much; you did that much. I did more; you did less. You needed it worse; I needed it less.”

No, God’s gift of grace is full and complete. The bad news is that we don’t deserve any of it; the good news is that we don’t have to. The bad news to our pride is that we can never say, “Look how much I’ve done!” The good news is that we’re free instead to praise the God who through his Son has completely redeemed us. Our failures are forgiven. And any good we’ve done, we’ve done through God’s power and his love, not in order to gain his love, but because we already have it completely and forever.

This good news is intensely practical as it takes the spotlight off of us—our goodness or our “badness.” The focus is not on us, it is on our Healer. God sends his Son to do what we could never do, and he tells us, we who can’t possibly be by our power what we need to be, “Trust in my Son and his righteousness. Through faith, it’s yours. Really. Completely. Now that you’ve received my gift, go and in my power live beautiful lives knowing that though you can’t measure up on your own, through my Son you already do. Live life with joy, you who are fully loved, fully accepted, fully forgiven for your failures and fully empowered to live into a future filled with genuine hope.”

God never beats us into greater loveliness. Through absolute mercy and grace, God loves us into genuine beauty and shows us how to truly love each other.

And that, I believe, is grace, the real thing. A truly amazing gift!


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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.

“Do You Remember the Search for the Holy Grail?”

You’ve heard, no doubt, of the legendary search for the holy grail?

In everything from tales of medieval knights, legends of King Arthur, the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and even Monty Python satirical sketches, the grail, supposedly the cup or chalice from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, has been a precious object searched for, longed for, even lusted for.

I don’t have space to describe it, but who can ever forget the great movie scene and the driest of all lines of dry wit, “He chose poo-oo-rly.” The grail turned out not to be a golden and jewel-encrusted goblet but a modest wooden vessel well-suited for a carpenter. (Search for “He chose poorly” on YouTube and you can watch the scene. Wait for the end! Never has a villain been more justly dispatched or an actor better delivered a three-word line.)

For anyone with at least half a brain, it’s all the fun stuff of great stories and legend. But for more than a few serious searchers over the years—some of whom have claimed to actually find it—the search has been, well, serious.

Some have searched for the grail as a priceless (meaning incredibly pricey) object. Some with, I think, religious fervor that should be saved for the Lord who drank from it and not the cup itself, have searched for it as a matter of some sort of quest smacking more of magic than faith. No surprise. Some folks would go nuts and pay big bucks to see or even (gasp) own, or build a church around, a bunion that a Professor Froogdable (mail order doctorate from Archaeology Associates Unlimited) asserts is “very likely,” based on his best research, from the base of John the Baptist’s left big toe.

Ah, well. I’ve been on a search myself lately. And I admit that it’s become a bit of a quest. I’ve become a little despondent about it and, I confess, pretty much given up. But sometime, some day, perhaps years in the future (maybe aided by someone like Professor Froogdable), someone is going to discover, shoved into a dark corner of a warehouse a fairly large dusty and by then decaying old box.

In that box will be the three-piece acrylic bathtub wall surround I ordered online weeks ago from a big box DIY home improvement store (the blue place, not the orange place). The four-piece set was supposed to come in two big boxes. It would take years by Amazon time standards, but, finally, the notification of its arrival arrived in my email.

Yay! It arrived early! Boo! It was just one box. One bathtub now installed and waiting waterless and forlorn as my bathroom renovation stalls for lack of three sheets of over-priced plastic. The barcode on the box failed the store and me. They needed a chip, a tracker. And I need patience which is as lost to me presently as that mysterious box.

I’ve reordered. Amazon, this time. And even they are oozing along at a weeks-long pace on this one. The reviews warn that it will likely arrive chipped, and I’ll have to order yet again. I literally need a shower.

I guess I need a better shipper, but what I’m eternally thankful to have is the best Shepherd. He’s never lost a sheep like me yet.



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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.

“In This Decision Our Lives Are Our Vote”

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit . . .”

Yes, I do. With all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I do.

Some of you will quickly recognize those words and phrases as coming from what is traditionally known as “The Apostles’ Creed.” The actual words were not written by the apostles, but it is an early and very important statement of basic Christian beliefs, and it dates back to the second century. If we want a concise statement of what the earliest Christians (including the apostles) believed, this will do quite nicely.

Now notice, please, that when we make these and similar statements of faith, we use the word “believe.”

It’s been years since I first read C. S. Lewis’ paper, “On Obstinancy in Belief” (published as the second essay in The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays), but in it Lewis masterfully analyzes what we mean when we say regarding our faith, “I believe.” May I summarize a bit?

Often, Lewis says, when we use the term “believe,” we’re expressing a rather weak opinion, and we’d not be very surprised to find that it is wrong. “Where’s my book?” “In the living room, I believe.” “When was Martha born?” “I believe it was 1958.”

“Where did Jack go?” “He ran off with his secretary, I believe.” “I don’t believe that!” Note that the latter is conveying a much stronger opinion based on a real knowledge of Jack and his character.

But when a Christian says, “I believe,” he’s saying something stronger still. While “belief” can’t be called absolute “knowledge” of the sort that can be completely and irrefutably mathematically proven, enough evidence does exist that choosing to believe is at least a plausible option—and not just for the gullible.

Forgive me (and this part is not from Lewis), but if you watch most religious TV networks—many of the shows and ads—I’d not be surprised if you think all Christians must be fools. But that is not the case. It is an obvious fact that, from the very dawn of Christianity and to the present day, not just a few of the most intelligent human beings who have ever lived and whose lives have most blessed this world have been believers in Christ and, having weighed the evidence for Christian faith against the arguments arrayed against it, have chosen to put their faith in Christ and pledge their allegiance to him as Lord.

Still, the word is “believe.” I believe strongly in the truth of Christianity. My neighbor (who may be a very good person; that is not the issue here) may believe just as strongly that God does not even exist. (But I promise you, everyone puts their faith in something, even if it is just themselves, the worst and most tyrannical of gods.) One of us must be mistaken, and, however much we respect each other and even enjoy each other’s company, we both know it; neither of us is an idiot.

We both may falter at times. In a moment of personal pain or weakness, I may briefly wonder if my prayers are reaching higher than the ceiling. In a moment of personal pain and need, he may utter a short prayer just on the outside chance that Someone hears. But the fact is, we’ve each made a decision, and our lives are our vote.

I may be the one who is wrong. But, in this case, I think not. And I believe that betting this life and the next on Christ is a very good wager indeed.


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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.

Real Holiness is Deeper Than “Don’t Touch! Don’t Taste!”

“I’m in a twelve-step program for recovering ascetics,” I explained to my missionary nephew. I knew he’d get it.

More than a little conversant in theology and church history, Ian had joined his dad and uncles at the old “home place” at Robert Lee, Texas. We had been dining quite well out by the fire pit when I felt led to confess.

In case the humor misses you, let me explain. To greatly oversimplify, may I just say that “asceticism” is a kind of over-reaction to “hedonism.” That helps, right? No. Okay.

“Hedonism” is an approach to life that says, “Get all the gusto! Deny yourself nothing!” (Solomon is the most famous of the jillions who’ve tried it. See Ecclesiastes 2.)

Asceticism, on the other hand, says that the way to be really holy is to strictly and religiously deny yourself all comfort and pleasure. If you’re a monk given to asceticism (and by no means all monks are or were), you might wear a hair shirt, sleep on the cold floor, fast for days on end, maybe even whip yourself, to try to put to death all physical desires.

With medium rare steak juice trickling down my beard and in the midst of kinsmen all busily eating too much, I told Ian, “I’m in a twelve-step program for recovering ascetics.” Ascetics Anonymous.

Truth be told, I’ve never been even close to asceticism. But also true, in my early life I spent way too much time feeling guilty about enjoying God’s good gifts and that amazing blessing, life itself. I should have known my Father better.

I was teaching a Sunday School class on “Moderation” (now that’s funny!) when I remembered my quip to Ian.

Yes, Jesus says that his disciples must deny themselves and follow him. Denial of “things” may at times be part of that, but the deeper denial is far harder. Following a crucified Lord means to follow him by laying aside our rights, our selfish wills, our self-centeredness, any claim to be our “own” and the god of our own lives, any claim to a “righteousness” that is our own, and any desire to take center stage with our own rule-keeping “holiness.”

The Apostle Paul issues a stiff warning in Colossians 2. He says that rules such as “Touch not! Taste not! Handle not!” have “an appearance of wisdom,” but in reality “their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body” lack “any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” They’re just one more way of focusing on us and our sham of “goodness” rather than on God and the real thing.

The Scriptures make it clear that we may well choose on occasion to give up for a time some things or activities as a spiritual discipline, but we must not feel haughty or be loud about it or bind our way on others.

Most of the time, the best way to honor God is to enjoy his multitude of gifts at the right times, in the right amounts, and to overflow in thanksgiving as we live balanced lives eating, sleeping, working, playing—all to God’s glory. Moderation is a key to balance.

Funny though, we need to be moderate even about moderation lest we take ourselves too seriously and God not seriously enough. Folks who pat themselves on the back about how moderate they are end up tired and tiresome. Such contortion always produces a pain in the tail section.


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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.

“Friends, I’ve Got, Like, a Favor to Ask”


Hey, friends, I’ve got a favor to ask.

Like, if you, like, catch me using, like “like” in a sentence or, like, even in a phrase, like, I’ve thus far used “like” in this sentence five senseless and indefensible times, please, please—I’m begging you—slap me hard across the face. And the sooner, the better, before the worm digs into my brain’s neurons and embeds itself so deeply that it can’t be removed.

I feel almost the same about, uh, “uh.” I suppose we all use, and can’t help using, some verbal “placeholders” in ordinary speech. Our mouths outpace the computing ability of our brains and, lest something horrible happen—maybe a moment of silence where we stop to think or, even worse, the person on the other end of the conversation gets a chance to jump in—we litter the air with an “uh.” We all do it. And, uh, up to a point, no big deal.

But if you’re, uh, a public speaker and you do what is probably the most helpful—and horrifying—thing you can do by listening to a recording of yourself speaking, and you hear “uh” beginning to creep in, over and over, oh, dear friend, give yourself one more speech to try to correct it. If that doesn’t work, commission a friend with the stern command to toss cold water in your face after he’s heard, say, three “uhs” in your speech. And if, uh, the uhs continue, check yourself in for serious counseling, therapy, and perhaps electroconvulsive shock treatments. Your brain must be re-set somehow, or your speaking career will need hospice care and mortuary services.

Like, I blame California (probably surfers) for spawning the aforementioned “like” as a pernicious verbal filler. Or maybe it originated with Colorado or New Mexico ski bums, but since I aspire to be one of those, I’ll leave them alone. I’ll bet it was California. “As California goes, so goes the nation” is a proverb that I find utterly terrifying. (Google “glottal fry” for another contagious California “gift” to verbal and vocal carnage.)

I know. Like, breaking such habits is, like, uh, hard, dude. The Texan under my hat went to preach in Indiana and found that he couldn’t say three words without saying “y’all”—which native Indiana Indianans don’t say. The loss of “y’all” rendered me almost mute. (I still maintain that “y’all” is a southern gift to the English language which is otherwise hamstrung by the lack of a distinctive second person plural pronoun.)

By the way, can you imagine a modern-day “like” addict on the campaign staff for “Eisenhower for President”? “Like, I, like, like Ike, like!” Like, locked up forever in a vicious “like” cycle, never to return.

I think the Bible gives worthwhile counsel on this. A number of Proverbs’ proverbs tell us to watch our mouths. More than a few other verses also tell us to be careful what we say and how we say it. Others say, basically, that some occasional silence is, like, uh, a good thing. Maybe we’d profit by being quiet for a few minutes and pondering some of this wise counsel.

God himself accomplished his greatest miracle by sending into this world just one perfect Word.



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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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