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Grace Is Amazingly Hard–and Amazingly Wonderful

Grace is hard. It is almost incomprehensibly wonderful. It seems almost too good to be true because it actually is almost too good to be true. It is amazing! But it is hard.

Grace is hard because accepting it means nothing less than death to our pride.

If the sacrifice of Christ really is, as the New Testament claims, all-sufficient to save me, that not only means that I am powerless to save myself apart from faith in that sacrifice, it also means that I have no right—less than none at all—to boast that I have in any way earned what can only be accepted as a gift.

Accepting Christ’s sacrifice and being “clothed” in his righteousness means that I have no right to self-righteousness in any sense of the word. That truth chafes a bit. I would so like to harbor the illusion that there is something good in me, something I can be haughty about, something that makes me a cut above other mortals, that makes me acceptable to God.

Nope. That is not the case. I’m in the same boat with every other fallen son of Adam and daughter of Eve. If I think differently, I have far too high of an opinion of myself and I don’t understand the meaning of grace. Grace, you see, is hard.

Grace is hard because accepting it means becoming more Christ-like than I could ever be on the basis of law (by which I mean keeping religious or other rules in order to merit salvation). Law pats me on the back and says, “Hey, look at that murderer on trial. Aren’t you proud that you are such a fine person that you haven’t murdered anyone lately.” Grace looks much deeper into my soul and asks, “Have you hated anyone lately?”

Law asks, “I wonder how little I can do, how little I can give, how little I can worship, how little I can love, and still be okay with God?” Grace asks instead, “O Lord, how could I possibly thank you enough with every breath, every dollar, every heartbeat, for continually cleansing me through Christ!?” And grace always does more, loves more, gives more, is more than law. It doesn’t just forgive; it empowers.

Law says, “Here is a list of rules. Do this. Don’t do this. Work harder. Try harder. By your own power.” And Satan adds his whisper in your ear, “Or God can’t love you.” Grace says, “Be this through Christ. His Spirit will provide the power. By the way, God already loves you, and always will.”

Law says regarding a truly “gray” area of behavior where equally faith-filled Christians make different choices, “I’ve chosen not to do this thing, I’ve given up that thing, I don’t think it’s good to ever [fill in whatever thing], and so my decision is one I have every right to impose on you.” Grace says, “It is before his own Master that anyone stands or falls, and your Master is able to make you stand. Make a sincere decision based on sincere love for your Master and praise him for the freedom to choose. And, let your pride die yet again as you praise God just as loudly for the freedom your brother has to make a different choice.” (See Romans 14.)

It is amazing how hard grace is. And how wonderful.

 

 

      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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“Are You Considering Buying a Light Bulb?”

Are you considering trying to buy a light bulb? Good luck to you.

A few evenings ago, my wife and I were in Amarillo baby-sitting (playing with, laughing with, rollicking with, snuggling with) some sweet grandkids.

At some point, I discovered both that my phone was needing a charge and that I’d forgotten the cable charged with supplying that need. Eight per-cent left. Red light blinking weakly. Screen dimming to conserve its faltering power. My phone! Perilously close to death, choking out warning words prophesying its looming descent into oblivion.

Heart racing, eyes wild, I started feeling short of breath. What, oh, what would I do if its little light faded away and my electronic umbilical cord was severed? What if the president sent an important (maybe even) presidential text? We’ve got that system now, you know. At least theoretically, it could happen. A POTUS text. And important. And my phone tweet-less and stone cold dead.

In dire circumstances we begin to ask the bedrock life questions. What if my phone should die and I be left in peace (I mean, devastatingly alone, un-phoned and un-phone-able) for maybe even a whole weekend? Would good news that I had to wait a day (and maybe longer) to hear be any better? Would bad news be any worse?

And what about health consequences? How would my left ear react, phone-less, to ear-lobal cooling? Text-bereft, would my thumbs begin to atrophy and hang useless? Would I have to be fully present with the people in the same room?

Oh, the stakes were just too high, the consequences beyond further contemplation. So I went looking for a charging cord. I figured I could get one at a nearby big box hardware store and, at the same time, pick up a couple of light bulbs.

Well, they had extension cords aplenty. Cords for fruit-based phones. But way short they were of cords for ’droids.

They had bulbs, though. Boy, did they have bulbs!

What I’d needed at home was a basic white bulb, and we had a box full of them. I’d grabbed three. Screwed them into three sockets of a new bathroom light fixture. I’d flipped the new switch, and, “Let there be light!” And there was.

Yellowish white. Pinkish white. And blue-ish white. All lined up in a confused row.

No. Not acceptable. There’s chaos enough in this world; I won’t put up with it above my sink.

So I found myself standing light-dazed in front of ten jillion bulbs at that big box store. LEDs. Halogens. Fluorescents. Incandescents. Smart bulbs. Dumb bulbs. Dimmable and darn bulbs. Sizes and tints and hues and lions and tigers and bears, oh, my!

A sales clerk (better make that “associate”) a bit older than me walked up.

“One day,” I greeted him, “I just want to tell my grandchildren stories of how easy it once was to walk into a store and buy a light bulb.”
He smiled. He understood.

I bought six bulbs. Cool white. (That’s 5000K.) A15 size. Medium base. LED. Dimmable. Suitable for use in enclosed fixtures. 720 lumens. 60-watt replacement. Lasts 13.7 years. I got extras anyway. I don’t want to do this again when I’m 75.3 years old.

I found a phone cord later. At a drug store. Call me, and I’ll tell you that story, too.

It felt good to talk to that old guy at the big hardware store. He understood me. I think he’d have made a good owner if it had been an old store with creaky board floors and a “soul” and not a new store slick with a plastic CEO and an invisible board of the corporate kind.

Come to think of it, what an amazing blessing that the One who first said, “Let there be light!” knew exactly the light, and the Light, that we would need. He understands us all.

 

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.


Talking About Painting Is More Fun Than Painting

paint-bathroom

Let’s talk about paint.

My wife and I have been involved in an upstairs bathroom renovation. She was mostly involved in, uh, “reminding” me regularly for several years (or maybe a decade) that we really needed to do something along this line. She seemed to hold something against antiquated fixtures and, particularly, their color. (If you savvy Pantone colors, plug in PMS 1625.) Or just picture something in the peach/apricot/salmon/pinkish family.

For many of those years, I countered (by the way, the bathroom’s vanity/counter was that same color) that the toilet was an endangered species—a pot that actually flushed once and did its job—and should be treasured, held in honor, and revered as a working museum piece. Even if it was of the aforementioned peach-pinkish color. But my usually rational wife maintained her prejudice against that peach-pink pot.

So a few weeks ago, a sledgehammer in my hands was destroying a cast iron bathtub (yeah, it was also that color), when it slipped (sort of on purpose) into that fine-flushing antique, ending both that worthy throne’s reign and a spousal disagreement.

A little more demolition, beefed up framing, plumbing, electrical, sheetrock, sheetrock-finishing, and . . . can we talk about paint yet?

Nope. Baseboards first. Then nail-hole filling (no fun at all).

Now? Now. About paint . . .

First, I admit my bias: I dislike painting. And I’m conflicted about paint itself. Buying cheap stuff—it’s all too expensive—is a costly mistake. The good stuff is pricey. What I bought claimed “one coat coverage.” Right. Has that claim ever held up in anyone’s experience? But I didn’t expect it to.

What I did expect at best was to be a little disappointed because I’m lazy, which almost rhymes with “latex.” What most of us buy now and call “latex” is actually “acrylic.” Since we all like the easy soap and water cleanup, we slather plastic easy-to-clean-up paint on the wall.

Me, too. I haven’t painted a wall or cabinet with oil paint in years. I’m not completely sure modern oil paint (sans chemicals, good and bad; I’m glad the truly bad are gone) is as beautiful as was the old. But the old looked great. Especially on cabinets. Smooth. Sleek. And to dry wood, a beautiful tonic.

I admit that the latex I’m presently spreading looks, well, not bad. It just feels like I’ve covered the wall with plastic wrap and, if I got my fingernails on a wee piece at the corner, I could pull the rip cord and the whole wall would peel off. I’ve also got a small shelf, already painted, that I may need to sand just a little for fit. I figure it will be much like trying to sand a sandwich bag. Quality? Generally, I think oil-free paint looks like fat-free “ranch” dressing tastes. Ah, but cleanup is easy. And the new bathroom looks good. No peachy-pink. Unless you peel off too much plastic paint.

It occurs to me that when God sent his Son to deal with our sins, when he used precious red to wash us white as snow, he didn’t just cover up the old faded and tarnished colors of our souls, he cleaned us up from the inside out even as he filled our lives with real color, a rich depth of hue that will last. One all-sufficient completely permeating coat. Truly guaranteed.

 

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

 

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 Pastor’s Job Description: Point Out What God Is Doing

All honorable work is God’s work, a calling, and anyone serious about doing a good job in his/her work derives priceless benefit from the example of respected mentors. Surely teachers and doctors, business folks and farmers, all need mentors to encourage them to “soldier on.”

One of my most influential mentors passed away almost a year ago, and I never met him. Eugene Peterson, best-known for his amazing paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, never wrote anything poorly, but his books written particularly for pastors have blessed me immensely.

I particularly love Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor. I think it should be required reading for would-be pastors, and I think “veteran” pastors probably should read it again once a year. Reflecting on fifty years of ministry, Peterson reminds those still on that journey that God does not call us to be religious CEOs but to love His sheep. Our calling is not to be little gods who think we can make the sun rise but simply to walk with our people through life each new day reminding them, and being reminded, that God is the One who bids it rise.

The job has never been easy, and it certainly is not now. The statistics are dismal and, as Peterson notes, pastoral “defections and dismissals have reached epidemic proportions in every branch and form of church.”

The pressure comes from all directions. Some groups, saying very truly that “every Christian is a minister,” draw some conclusions that are simply silly and demeaning and make as much practical sense as saying that everyone who has ever cut up a pork chop is a butcher. Of course, every Christian is called to the service of God, but our roles, functions, training, and gifts are, thank the Lord, all as different as they are all valuable and needed.

Our culture itself, and especially our “religious” culture, is toxic to real ministry; it devalues and demeans it. “The vocation of pastor,” writes Peterson, “has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.” God is treated as a consumer “product to be marketed” and the marketers scramble to find the right “model” for “success” which is then “religiously” measured in our culture’s terms rather than Christ’s: if it’s big, if it’s quantifiable, if it’s impressive, it’s called success. Never mind that measured by such standards, Christ was remarkably unsuccessful as he loved the weak and little children, the powerless and the “foolish” of this world; he chose the cross instead of “success.”

Desperate for the latest program to “revitalize the church,” pastors often fall to the very temptations Satan offered in the wilderness and Christ resisted. When we do, we act as if the “fruit” we push the church to produce (and measure) is the only thing that validates its existence. Buying that lie, we devalue worship and prayer and become blind to the real fruit (much that is visible but much more that is “unseen”) that God produces. We proceed by displaying a profound disrespect and denial of God’s presence in the “ordinary.”

It’s good to have someone particularly ordinary particularly charged with pointing out what God is doing every day through His presence, forgiveness, and grace in our seemingly ordinary lives. It’s work worth doing.

 

 

     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 Week with Two Sundays in a Row

We had two Sundays this week at our little church. Two Sundays two days in a row.

Well, not really. But it seemed like it.

The first Sunday this week was Saturday as we held the funeral of a fine man and good friend, a well-loved and faith-filled member of our church. We sang and prayed and shared God’s good news of hope. Sweet melodies and rich tones rose in that sanctuary and lifted our spirits, and God’s Spirit comforted, and God’s word was balm, and the hearts of God’s people praising Him were washed with tears of sorrow mingling with joy and laughter and hope.

When we returned later from the cemetery, we came back to that little church and filled our stomachs with wonderful food seasoned by love, and we filled our hearts again with hope in the presence of God’s people.

And then came Sunday—the real one, albeit the second. And we sang and prayed and shared God’s good news of hope. Sweet melodies and rich tones of hope rose in that sanctuary and lifted our spirits, and God’s Spirit comforted, and God’s word was balm, and his Table was open to all, and the hearts of God’s people praising Him and participating in His sacrifice of love were washed with tears of sorrow mingling with joy and laughter and hope.

Then following worship we went into the fellowship hall of that little church and filled our stomachs with wonderful food seasoned by love, and we filled our hearts again with hope in the presence of God’s people.

Both days I arrived early and opened the doors.

Both days I scurried about getting things prepared.

Both days I stopped for a few moments to drink in the sweet silence of that sweet place.

Both days I knelt between the front pews to lift up a prayer.

Both days I thanked God for His people here and for His people everywhere who kneel before Him.

Both days I silently praised God for the opportunity to come together to praise God.

Both days, and with each breath, I thanked God for hope in Christ.

Both days it occurred to me again how much I love what happens in that little place and with a little church large in love.

Ah, “church” is a big word. No one has to tell me that the real church is the people; it’s not the building, it’s Christ’s Body.

But don’t try to tell me that the little place I also unashamedly call the church is not a special and holy place (as, I pray, is yours). How near-sighted must we be if we can’t see that “place” matters!

When I kneel here, I think of all the others who have knelt here, and who do, and who will. They are part of me and I of them.

I’ve worshiped and worked here, laughed and cried here, knelt in joy here, bowed in near-desperation here, proclaimed God’s word here, received God’s word here, celebrated Christ’s life and death and resurrection here, and been filled with His life and hope here.

This place’s two-by-fours and sheetrock and glass (even stained) are ordinary, but what happens here is more than ordinary. What happens here on Sundays (usually just one a week) is so holy that it lifts and sanctifies the remainder of even the most ordinary days of the most ordinary of weeks.

Maybe this week it took two Sundays to remind me that if we ever let the wine of the grace we receive in such a place turn back into water when we leave, well, that’s not the fault of the wine-making Lord who bids us drink from His full cup. I love worshiping Him here in this special place of grace.

May God sanctify and bless such a beautiful place in your life, too. Yes, and drink deeply!

 

 

     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.

 

 


“How Are You? Good! I’m Fine!”

People can be maddening, frustrating, bull-headed, mean, dumb, astonishing, resilient, weak, strong, gentle, loving, perplexing, bitter, graceful, resentful, hateful, merciful, and . . . pick any adjective and stack ’em up. Any one of those will apply to a few someones, and lots of them will apply to the same folks at the very same time.

None of that is news to anyone.

Having said that, and having lived for six decades, I must say that, as many human idiosyncrasies and traits as I’ve observed in myself and others, sometimes I’m still surprised. For example . . .

It may not be true in a larger town where you either don’t know each other or, if you’re in a very large town, folks think eye contact might predict a mugging.

But in a small town like mine, when you set foot into your doctor’s waiting room, you almost always know a few folks, and you will quite naturally shake hands and say, “Hi, Joe! How are you?” And Joe will shake your hand and very likely reply, “Hey, Curtis! I’m fine; how are you?”

Now, remember, you’re in your doctor’s office. First of all, it’s a great place to get sick, and any sensible person would be wary of shaking hands. (Which is why I carry in my pocket a little bottle of hand sanitizer.)

Second, you are in your doctor’s office. How likely is it that you are both there because you’re fine as frog hair? But you’ll still reply, “I’m fine.” You might say later, “Oh, honestly, I’m leaking snot out of every pore in my body.” You probably won’t say, “Well, except for a potentially life-threatening, life-altering, disgusting, maddening disease that has me scared out of my wits, I’m fine.”

Still, I guess it’s a good comment on our town that, really, most of us are happy to be aboard, and mostly, “We’re fine.”

My doctor—I hope he doesn’t mind the description—is as close to Marcus Welby as you’ll ever find. I’ve been loving and serving this community for well over three decades, and he has been for a lot longer—all of his life. He’s pulled me and mine through a bunch of scrapes. We obviously like, respect, trust, and enjoy each other a lot. Not many folks do I enjoy talking to more. And I’d put him up against any big town medical guru any day.

I still laughed when I read one lady’s words. An emergency room physician, she said, “If your bone is presently sticking out of your leg, you should come see me; otherwise, you’ll likely live longer if you use medical care rarely and judiciously.”

I figure she’s talking mostly about specialists, though. The kind retired folks (that’s not me yet) tend to collect as a very unfulfilling, expensive, and too-often truly necessary hobby. Probably the same ones we read about in Mark 5:26 when we’re told of a poor lady who had “suffered much under the care of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” A cautionary tale.

Specialists. Three options. Pick two out of three. Get better. Get worse. Get poor. Before you try them, I’d suggest some time out on the back porch with a good book and maybe even an occasional fine cigar to lower your blood pressure. If you can get your doc to smoke one with you, you’ll have both relaxation and some of the best conversation with one of the best friends you’ll ever find.

By the way, how are you? Good. I’m fine.

 

 

       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.

 


“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!

 

   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.


“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.

 

 

     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.


“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.

 

     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.


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.

 

    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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