“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.


“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.

 

 

    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.


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.

 


“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.


Genuine Freedom Must Be Cherished—or Lost

Freedom. It is not a gift any government benevolently bestows upon its citizens; freedom is the gift of God to everyone created in His image. It is the responsibility of governments to recognize and protect the freedom that is already the birthright of those given life by their Creator.

It’s a blessing to be able to celebrate on July 4th the birthday of a nation “conceived in liberty.” It’s good for us all to think about the nature of freedom. For those of us who bow before Christ as Lord, it’s particularly good to engage in some reflection regarding genuine freedom.

How important is freedom for Christians? So important that the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Freedom carries with it both deep privilege and deep responsibility. If we twist it into license to be as selfish and self-centered as we wish, how long will we as individuals, as families, as any group, as a nation, as God’s church, still be truly free?

Because it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle proceeds to issue a serious warning: “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

In context, St. Paul was warning the Galatians not to allow themselves to be misled by those who trusted in what they could do (and boast about it) rather than in (humbly accepting) what Christ had fully accomplished. A needed warning still!

Freedom is easily lost. Ironically, if we loudly claim our “rights,” all the while allowing most of our relationships to be ripped apart by our own selfishness, meanness, pettiness . . . If we allow ourselves to be enslaved by our own worst attitudes, addictions, and base instincts, we can yell continually about our freedom even as we are the ones throwing it away. No one is free who chooses to live like a slave.

As a Christian, I need to remember the price Christ paid for my freedom with his own blood. If I don’t cherish that gift of love and honor the Giver, I easily become enslaved by my own worst passions. Then, whatever else I am, the one thing I am truly not is free.

And what about my citizenship in America? Oh, my deepest allegiance by far is to Christ as the highest King. Still I think it very true to say that for me a lifetime of love and devotion to America and all that is best about this grand experiment in self-government is not enough even to begin to pay back the debt of gratitude every citizen of this land owes.

We don’t have to be blind to our nation’s flaws; we don’t have to agree with the domestic or foreign policy of a particular administration of government or to have voted for this or that governor or president or particular politician, to begin to pay back that debt. We just need to be immensely thankful to live in a land where the voices of the people are heard—even if we sometimes wish they spoke with deeper wisdom.

We’re free not to acknowledge the gift of freedom. Free not to appreciate it. Free not to cherish it. We’re free to be selfish and self-seeking, ignorant and arrogant, ungrateful and blind, even as we take advantage of what we don’t appreciate. And, at least as long as enough better people still love this land unselfishly, our nation will still be free.

But we won’t be. And the prison of our unhappiness will be one of our own making; our slavery, self-imposed. Freedom must be cherished—or lost.

 

 

     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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