Tag Archives: Christ

“I Know These Things About the New Year”

As I write this week’s column, can I just admit from the outset that I’m not sure I should be writing this week’s column? At least, not on this topic. I could easily come off as grouchy and pessimistic, depressed and depressing. Better to keep my mouth shut.

But I’ll give it a shot. Writing, that is. I’m not disciplined enough to shut up.

You see, just a few days ago we blew right into and right past the eighth day of Christmas, better known as New Year’s Day. Personally, I care more about the former designation than the latter.

A few months ago, I was driving my truck, which I love, down the highway when the odometer rolled over past 100,000 miles. I’ve hit insects that made more of an impact; I didn’t notice any stutter or glitch or alarm at all.

The same was true on New Year’s Eve a few nights ago. My first breath in the new year felt exactly like my last breath in the old one. At least, I think it did. Since I’d been asleep an hour or so, I didn’t notice. No, I didn’t see the big ball drop in New York (via TV or otherwise). I’d much rather have a root canal than be in that crowd in person. (But I feel the same way about attending the Super Bowl in person. I’d love to win tickets to that “event” so I could sell them, seek mountain snow, rent a cabin, and read a good book by a fire.)

I’ve wondered if our God notices very much the turn of calendar pages. Off the cuff, my first reaction is a snort and a No. But I have to quickly modify that response. He certainly is divinely, intimately, marvelously, aware of the “times.” He sent his Son into this world “when the time had fully come.” And that was exactly “when Quirinius was governor of Syria” and “during the time of King Herod.”

When we wonder what kind of year this new one will be, we might well spend some serious time pondering the time when Jesus was born. Joy, as in “good news of great joy,” was off the chart for angels and some shepherds and, later, a few wise men. But—and this is not the stuff of Christmas cards—so was sorrow for the mothers of the boy babies and toddlers Herod would slaughter in Bethlehem. Heaven knew that hope and boundless joy, love itself, would triumph, set free by Mary’s sweet birth-tears. But only the God of the universe could also completely feel the hot bitterness of the tears of her bereaved Bethlehem sisters and know that Love’s sacrifice would one day redeem even their own. I believe God’s heart was the only heart more broken than theirs. And how could they understand that then? How deep will be our vision into God’s plan as we see events unfolding this year?

So what do I know for sure at the beginning of this new year? I know I’ve got a new medical deductible. I know that taxes will soon be due. I know this year’s politics will be depressing. I know I’ve got an incredible amount to be thankful for and that I’m not as thankful as I should be. (I’m working on it. Hugging grandkids really helps!)

I know that some things will get better. Not as many things as I’d like.

I know that some things will get worse. More things than I’d like.

I have no crystal ball to tell me which will be which. That is a blessing.

I also know that, if we don’t despair, God can grow our faith more in hard times than in easy times. (I don’t like that truth.)

I know that God is good in all times, loving in all times. I know that faith in my Father is always a better choice than bitterness and cynicism.

And I know that at the end, because God is the Father who allowed his own heart to be broken to save us, love and laughter and joy will win.

I know that I’ll need you at times to remind me of that. And I’ll try to do the same for you.

 

 

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

 

 

 Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


A Look Inside the Mangers of Our Minds

“There is holiness to memory,” Philip Gulley writes in his Christmas in Harmony, and “a sense of God’s presence” in what Gulley calls the “mangers of the mind.”

Perhaps the memories in the manger center on wonderful moments in a decades-long line of Christmas Eve services or the particular way your family lit the Advent candles each year. Other memories in the manger almost certainly focus on Christmas joys, as commonplace as they are special, all wrapped up in the way your mother always orchestrated the trimming of the tree, or the way your father handed out the gifts on Christmas morning, or your family’s favorite egg nog recipe or your clan’s most treasured Christmas stories and shows, movies and music.

From the oldest in the family for whom Christmases now seem to roll around at a once-a-week rate to the youngest little one just learning to focus on the sparkle of the Christmas lights and herself lighting up the family on her first Christmas, everyone has those memories, lovingly placed in the “mangers of the mind.” And each of them is itself a gift from the One who is the greatest Gift ever given and the real center of every joy.

So much beauty.

So much joy.

What is remarkable is that so much of it is all wrapped up just like last year and the year before, or the year 30 years before.

Woe to the family member who messes much with the recipe!

The Christmas Eve package-openers will likely always look askance at the Christmas morning package-openers.  The one-at-a-time-while-everyone-watches package openers will always harbor grave doubts about the Cretans who tear into all the presents, every man for himself, all at the same time. Each group will always wonder about the other, what’s wrong with people who would be so crass as to open their presents in that unauthorized way, at that unsanctified-by-time time?

Why are we so bothered—yea, verily, offended—by anyone who dares to fiddle with our Christmas customs?

Because you don’t lightly mess with memories lovingly laid in the mangers of our minds. Yes, the Infant slumbering in the first manger is by far the holiest resident of all, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the memories lovingly placed in the other mangers of our minds aren’t precious in their own right. In their own ways, they point beautifully toward Him.

Too often we think that what we really need to change our lives is something new, something exciting. But Philip Gulley reminds us that “the occasions that change the least are often the very occasions that change us the most.”

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“The Red Hat in a Gray-suit World”

“By the way, I’m not doing Christmas cards. If you want them sent, you’ll have to do it.”

According to Sam Gardner in Philip Gulley’s delightful “Harmony” series, it was the same “fight” every year. Sam, pastor of the Harmony Friends’ Meeting (Quaker church) would buy four boxes of Christmas cards at Kivett’s Five and Dime and lay them on the dining room table with the address book nearby.

On this particular year, nothing happened. So he moved the cards into the bedroom, placing them near his wife Barbara’s side of the bed. A day later, he found them relocated to his side with a note on top: “I wasn’t kidding.”

Sam’s a smart guy. I’m surprised he hadn’t figured out years ago that the only “safe” way to send Christmas cards to his parishioners was to put one in the newsletter so as to be utterly democratic about Yuletide best wishes. Any other approach is fraught with danger.

The Gardner’s Christmas card list was growing at an alarming rate. The main category comprised of the church membership list was especially large. It was easy to get in the directory. Even the repairman who had come to fix the church freezer just before the church ladies’ annual Chicken Noodle Dinner fundraiser for Brother Norman’s Shoe Ministry to the Choctaw Indians was rewarded with honorary membership. (Not a single noodle was lost.)

Once you were in the directory, well, there you were. To ever be removed took something very serious, something like a death certificate signed in triplicate. Non-attendance and non-giving would not do it. If you drove past the church once a month and smiled, you were on the list, like it or not.

All of which meant that the Gardner’s Christmas card list was beginning to look like the IRS roll and likely included a few folks long since deceased.

But the handwriting was on the wall, not yet on the cards, and so Sam got to work. And Barbara, after a compromise, helped. Sam would write the inside, she’d address the outside, and he’d do the stamps.

It was going well until Barbara read the one to the freezer repairman.

“‘We love you’? You wrote that on every card? Isn’t that a bit over the top? What’s wrong with ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Thinking of You’? The freezer guy will get a confusing message, Mr. Loverboy, and feel like he and his wife need to invite us over, and then we’ll have to invite them over—me, cooking—and . . .”

“If you remember, you told me to write the cards.”

It’s a sweet annual argument, Sam says. His wife, modest and traditional, argues for just a bit of reserve while he maintains that God, instead of sending a lawyer to ‘define the limits of love,’ sent His Son.

After all, Sam tells his good wife, “Christmas is not the time to hold back. It is the bold stroke, the song in the silence, the red hat in a gray-suit world.”

And so it is. Indeed, it is.

 

     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.


“Will We Be Ready for the Real Joy of His Coming?”

Zero to sixty. That’s how fast this year we revved up the Thanksgiving sleigh, slid “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house,” slammed down the turkey and dressing, and, before the tasty bird was even digested, hitched up the red-nosed reindeer, jingling all the way.

My head’s spinning, and my feet are having a very hard time catching up with the calendar. Christmas will be here before we know it, and, lest we take measures, before we’re genuinely ready to observe it. In about ten minutes, even the part that most loudly demands our time and attention will be packed into some big boxes and shoved under the stairs or hoisted up into the attic. It will be done. And we will be done in.

Then comes January, lit off with a sparkler or two, featuring loud parties and artificial joy, all the more plastic and phony compared to the genuine joy of the glory explosion that only the God of the universe could have sparked (oh, so quietly for an explosion) at Bethlehem long ago. The glory of one angel, much less an “angelic host,” appearing to a few startled but immensely blessed shepherds trumps an electrified ball appearing to a million mindless folks at a hyped up pep rally any day.

But hot on the heels of December, January will have arrived. And January blues. And January clearance sales. And January merchandise returns.  And January tax forms. And January bills for stuff we really didn’t need that we bought with money we really didn’t have.

The turkey will be long gone. And the reindeer’s red light will be out, or at least invisible, since the FAA doesn’t require a light (any color) on the south end of a reindeer headed north.

Our heads will be spinning again. And we’ll wonder, how did we get here? Man, that was fast!

I know of no way to slow down the passage of time (though I could preach you a sermon or two that would certainly seem to slow it down). I think the real task for Christians is to participate each moment in God’s redemption of time. That’s the wisdom of our predecessors in the faith, and I’ve always found that there’s much more wisdom to be gained from dead people than from folks who just happen to be breathing right now. Their experience is that we can ask God to help us squeeze the meaning, the joy, and even the sorrow, out of each moment’s fruit, and thus find blessing.

I’ve always loved Christmas, but I’ve found that for the meaning and joy of Christ’s coming to fill every star and light, smile and gift, I need to intentionally find some quiet time in the weeks and days before its arrival to ask God to help me be ready. Personally, I love the tradition of observing the Advent season (the word has to do with “coming”) during which Christians centuries ago (at least from the fourth century) set aside time to use Scriptures and prayers and readings to help “prepare the way” into their hearts. I seem particularly drawn to words and songs that bless my soul now even more as I realize they were written and sung first by many generations of souls now gathered to the Author of their faith. In faith, one day I will be, too.

In the meantime, with them I ponder Christ’s coming. His first. His second. And I pray for the Father to help us not waste this precious time, his gift to us right now to prepare the way into our hearts for the coming of that greatest 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.


“Merry Thanksgiving!”

For just a moment, ponder this year’s calendar. You’ve already noticed, I’m sure, that it is playing tricks on us this time around.

Thanksgiving and the turkey, dragging their heels, showed up way late, which means that Advent (and thus Christmas) are upon us way early. I’ve often complained that the most difficult Sunday of the year to plan and “to preach on” is the usual “dead” Sunday, falling between Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent. You see, your official Thanksgiving sermon was the Sunday before, but on the usual “between the seasons” Sunday, most congregants are totally turkey-stuffed. They have lapsed into a feast-fed stupor, albeit a grateful one. The most committed will probably show up for worship that day but, truth be told, nobody, including the pastor, is terribly excited about the prospect.

Ah, but this year the scene has changed. I’m writing on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. It is also the first day of December and the first Sunday of Advent. Thanksgiving weekend and December have crashed right into each other, a bit of a wreck with ramifications. If you’re a retailer, you’ll have six fewer days to “re-tail” this year. If you are, say, a person who loves to sing Christmas songs for folks during the holiday, well, you’ve got six fewer days to sing Christmas programs (and it’s six days closer to your annual post-Christmas singing depression).

And, yes, if you’re a pastor planning a variety of seasonal church and worship activities, services, sermons, etc., it might be helpful to know that this year when the wise men show up, they probably won’t be bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. More likely they’ll be loaded up with turkey, dressing, and giblet gravy.

You might also look for four of them. The reason we assume that the first wise guys were a trio is not because the Bible says there were three of them; no, it is because Scripture says there were three gifts. We thus assume one gift per guy.

But if that first Christmas had been as close to Thanksgiving as this one, I figure our Christmas cards would be featuring an additional wise fellow, the song would be “We Four Kings,” and one more little guy in a church Christmas pageant would need to borrow his dad’s bathrobe to dress up for the journey down the church aisle to Bethlehem under the star up front. Because? Because I’m betting that somebody’s wise wife would have packed his camel bags with some cranberry sauce as a gift to go along with the other three guys’ tasty offerings. And that makes four. Four gifts. And four wise men.

Anyway, for more than a few folks, it was leftover turkey and dressing for lunch on the very Sunday that we lit the first Advent candle. Merry Thanksgiving!

But maybe this year’s calendar crash is not as much of a clash as I first thought. You see, Thanksgiving reminds me that no matter how hard I’ve worked, the most noteworthy thing about my life is how completely needy and poverty-stricken I am when it comes to saving myself. The blessings I need the most are blessings straight from God, blessings that only he could give, blessings that I could never earn, deserve, or procure myself.

Guess what? Here comes Christmas with much the same lesson, written large: “Get over yourself, pilgrim! The Gift given to save you is God’s Gift, not one you could ever have given or even imagined. You can’t improve it, add to it, or in any way deserve it. You can just accept it.”

Peanut butter and jelly. Turkey and dressing. Joy and thanksgiving. Some things just go together. Odd calendar? Yes. But it comes with a very fine lesson.

 

 

     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.


Grief: It Is a Very Large Word Indeed

Grief. It’s a far bigger word than we usually think.

Oh, we all know that it applies to the loss wrought by death as we’ve stood at the graveside of a loved one, smelled the flowers, felt the emptiness, and wondered how to face a world so suddenly changed.

And every day changes. We may think we’re doing, well, some better. At least, maybe making small steps in the right direction. And then we get up on the next day and find ourselves, it seems, having taken two, or twenty, steps backward.

Following the death of his wife, C. S. Lewis wrote of grief’s pervasiveness, “Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection . . . I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”

Grief seems to color everything. We long for the time to come when it isn’t the first thing that hits us in the face yet again each morning and the last thing we think of before we finally find sleep each night.

Such is so very true regarding death-induced grief.

But grief is spelled L-O-S-S, and loss comes in many bitter flavors.

Whatever dreams you had for your marriage, only your nightmares would have included the divorce that throttled those dreams.

Whatever your dreams for your child, well, only bad dreams included . . .

Your dreams for your business or profession were bright and optimistic and seemed real at the time, but . . .

Maybe you’d dreamed of traveling in retirement. And now? You are. Mostly to specialists and pharmacies.

In any of your dreams for the future, did these words figure in? Cancer. Addiction. Bankruptcy. Jail. Tragedy. Hurt. Disappointment. Depression.

Need I mention that those are not words you’ll ever lightly drop into a Christmas letter?

And by the way, in the midst of such loss is one that colors it all and may surprise you until we name it. But we need to name it. It’s the loss of control.

“I don’t know what to do about . . .”

“What now?”

“Here’s what needs to happen, but I can’t . . .”

“I have no clue what . . .”

“I can’t imagine how I’ll . . .”

The ship has already embarked. You’re in the midst of the sea and the storm. And the rudder has broken loose from the wheel.

Need I tell you? This is frightening. Worse, really. This is terrifying.

Will it help much if I point out that none of us was ever really in control anyway? That was largely an illusion.

But maybe it will help a little for us to consider where we actually might try to exert a little control. Maybe just in small moments at first. But in our attitudes. In our next footstep. In sincerely asking for help, for each of the ten thousand times we’ve asked and failed yet again to truly “cast our cares” on the Captain of our souls (and leave them there). He really does care for us, love us, more than we can imagine.

As deeply frightened as I often am on life’s sea, I believe that the “man of sorrows” really is “acquainted with” our grief in all of its forms. We can believe in and trust his willingness to “carry our sorrows.”

And, paradoxically, stronger and deeper, more real and pervasive than any of our genuine grief, is his joy. When all of our griefs and hot tears have faded away, his joy will remain for a thousand forevers.

 

     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.


This Alligator Bites Your Wallet and Won’t Stop Chewing

Warning: This column might be called a rant. You might be wise to wave off now.

I cannot imagine why we put up with it. I’m thinking about the sick state of healthcare in America.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been to Third World countries and seen misery and need. I’m genuinely thankful for what we have. I have good friends in all sectors—physicians/providers, hospital administrators, insurance folks, attorneys, etc. I’m incredibly thankful for the health insurance my wife and I have. Having served on a board charged with finding health insurance for over 100 employees, I understand and know how very, very hard that task is.

But our system has become utterly insane.

Want to know why most average workers in our country are heading backwards financially even if they get cost of living increases (which are not real raises) or raises in pay (which are really meant to be raises)? Healthcare. For most folks, its cost rises at a rate consistently outpacing any pay adjustment. Both workers and companies are being slowly eaten by a hungry alligator who won’t quit chewing, and they can’t get out of its jaws.

Want to start a business? Good for you! But good luck to you. You’ll need it, and this is a big reason why.

Ah, but here comes governmental salvation. Right. Increasing governmental involvement mucks up everything. Stand in line all day at a governmental office seeking “public assistance” and tell me you want the government more involved than it already is, despite “pie in the sky” let-the-already-broke-government-pay-for-it-all or soak-the-rich political campaign horse hockey so popular right now.

If your goal was to design a system bloated, wasteful, and inefficient, you could hardly do better than we’ve done.

If people of good will and wisdom actually had a shot at trying to fix this, it would still be complicated. Instead, we get misleading politicians who refuse to speak to each other.

Greed in some form at every level is throttling the goose that laid the golden egg. Insurance companies. Attorneys. Politicians. Some unethical providers. The list is long.

It’s like the money isn’t real.

An article in the Wall Street Journal recently asked, “What Does Knee Surgery Really Cost?” The answer: In 2016, the average price was over $50,000. We should be surprised, but I wasn’t. I figured that in our system, a new knee, hip, or left nostril would probably run that much. But a hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin, commissioned a realistic and thorough assessment of every moment doctors and staff spent with patients, and added in every penny of all associated costs—all of them. The actual cost was “$10,550 at most.”

A good friend of mine underwent an inpatient, in-his-doctor’s-office procedure and got a statement for $56,000. Admittedly, it was a procedure that took real skill and high-dollar equipment, but in what universe should any inpatient procedure cost $56,000? He almost required a cardiologist when he saw the statement. But everyone besides the patient knew these aren’t real dollars. They’d bill the insurance company $56,000 (wink, wink), would honor their pre-agreement for $3,600 (wink, wink), and he’d pay $1,200 for deductible and out of pocket expenses and maybe for having the procedure in a month ending in a Y. Who knows why?

It’s like buying peanut butter in a grocery store with no price on the jar. If you were on public assistance it would be “free.” But for you, average Joe or Joan who knows life and peanut butter is not free, it rings up as $3,000. You gasp. That seems like real money and a lot of it. But the nice register lady explains that they have a deal with the peanut butter folks to sell it for $5.00 and your part will be $2.50—unless your deductible or out-of-pocket expense (that’s the same pocket the deductible comes out of) hasn’t been met. Or unless the insurance company decides that peanut butter is an experimental food and thus not covered. Or unless you failed to “pre-certify” your need for peanut butter before you bought it.

We really should boil over. It seems to me that we should never have to undergo a non-emergency medical procedure without having a written and binding paper in hand saying, “This is the price. Real money.” No wink. Now, let’s be nice. Let’s allow a 10% window for unforeseen complications and a procedure to appeal for more. That’s fair. But we should demand a price up front just as we do for anything else that we buy.

Healthcare really is not free. For patients trying to live. For hospitals and providers trying to stay in business. The money is real, even if our sick system encourages all of us—wink, wink—to pretend otherwise.

Thank God indeed that his Son’s sacrifice, costly beyond belief, was paid in full by our Lord. Mercy overflowing. Grace to the max. Real blood. The best care of all. And no deductible.

 

     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.


Cemeteries Help Keep Life in Perspective

I’m weird, and I know it. But I sort of enjoy spending some time in cemeteries. I’m talking, of course, about the times when I want to be there, not the times when I have to be. Big difference. There’s been way too much of the latter recently, it seems to me.

But I find cemeteries peaceful and interesting. Strolling among the tombstones (since I don’t have to mow around them, I much prefer the standing ones), I get the chance to play Sherlock Holmes and deduce all sorts of life stories from all sorts of inscriptions.

Some cemeteries are quite beautiful with well-kept shrubs and trees and grass. They are quiet places; I like quiet places. And, if I may say so, the folks who populate cemeteries tend to be incredibly easy to get along with.

Since I’ve been a pastor in my community for over thirty-four years, more than a few of the names I see on the stones in our area cemeteries are connected with lives and stories that I know. I stood at the heads of quite a few of those graves and spoke words I hoped would point to the Author of Life just before the earth’s blanket was rolled over those remains.

When I think of my life and the life of our community, it’s hard for me to visualize life without many of the folks I’ve just mentioned. I no longer bump into them at worship or at the coffee shop or wave at them as we pass on the street. I miss that.

But they are still very much a part of me. A part of us. And that’s especially true if they were part of the community of faith. They may or may not have been part of my congregation or my denomination, but so what? Christ’s church is so much larger than the fences we build to try to keep God all tied up and tamed. Thank God indeed, God won’t be shut up in anybody’s box, and he has never been willing to be successfully tamed.

Death is the harshest reminder of all that we’ll never get even this world tamed, much less its Creator. We may not look long upon those boxes that we bury, but they are nonetheless a constant reminder that life can’t be successfully controlled.

Cemeteries help put our lives in perspective. The “drop dead” late-filing date for filing federal taxes just passed, but folks who have passed away care not at all. And even if life’s cost is (almost certainly) increasing at a steadier clip than your paycheck, once your heart stops, the meter quits running, too. Perspective.

Cemeteries help us divide what really matters from what really does not. What matters most is who we chose to ultimately trust in this life—ourselves or our Creator. That’s a serious decision.

But once that decision’s made, cemeteries also remind us that life is far too precious to be taken too seriously. God is the God of all joy. Those who love him can dance in his presence both here and hereafter. They know better than to think that love and laughter and beauty cease on the other side of the tombstone.

 

      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 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.

 

 


“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.


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