Tag Archives: Christians

Romans 14: Wise Words for Christians in All Times

Romans 14-13

I didn’t want to write this column. It might sound political. (It is not.) And I’m not bored and needing to stick my hand into a buzz saw.     But . . .

Our community has an election coming up in May. I feel about it just like I felt about my colonoscopy. I dread it. Mostly, I dread what comes before it.

Our town is having a “local option” liquor election in May. In Texas, voters choose whether towns or counties are, regarding alcohol, dry, wet, or confusingly moist.

If you don’t live in my town, you won’t be voting on this. But I guarantee you, everyone at times gets to deal with issues just like it. Divisive issues. Issues we usually deal with so poorly that the biggest danger is not how the issue turns out; the biggest danger is how many folks turn on each other before it turns out.

For Christians, the Apostle Paul in Romans 14 gives counsel straight up that covers exactly such issues. We really should try reading it.

“Romans 14” issues are not black and white questions with easy answers: “Should I shoot my neighbor whose dog barks?” or “Should I rob a bank because I’m low on cash?” Murder and theft are not gray matters. Romans 14 issues are.

They truly are, even though folks on both extremes of such debates have a hard time seeing the gray. People feel deeply about such issues, and that’s fine. I’ve got friends, valued colleagues, and church members who feel differently about “our” election.

And that’s precisely why Paul had to deal with how we deal with such. It’s why he ordered up some good thinking to be mixed in with the deep feeling.

It’s also why Paul is often ignored and peacemakers who wander into the fuss tend to be misunderstood (often on purpose) by both sides. Derided as wishy-washy appeasers or over-starched fuddy-duddies, they can end up peppered with the buckshot fired by both armies.

In the apostle’s day, the issue was not alcohol or the strange truth that both hard-nosed teetotalers and red-nosed alcoholics can share the same problem: an unhealthy focus on alcohol. (That’s not the issue in our city either. The issue is whether or not selling it here is a good thing. The “pro” folks and the “con” folks have every right to appropriately set forth their thinking.)

The presenting issue in Romans 14 was whether or not Christians should eat meat bought in the marketplace and likely offered to an idol before it got there. The arguments Christians made pro or con were at heart the same always made, as were the temptations both sides faced.

Laser-like focus can be sharp; it can also be tunnel-vision. But obvious to anyone not already fighting is that equally committed Christian folks dealing with a Romans 14 issue can and do take differing positions. So the Apostle Paul commands, “Don’t judge each other.” Judging a brother or sister is not gray; it is sin.

The time we might spend on such issues casting doubt on each other’s motives is always better spent praying and seeking guidance to make choices we believe will honor God and be a blessing.

 

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

 

 
Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“It’s Just a Fact, But a Fact It Is . . .”

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It’s just a fact, but a fact it is, that the teachers who most influenced my life early on were Methodists.

San Jacinto Elementary in Amarillo, Texas, was evidently a hotbed of Methodism. Or maybe it was just that my primary school path there was colored by the presence of three of them. Someday I’ll write another column and give Baptists and Church of Christ folks and Lutherans, etc., some well-deserved good words for their blessing in my life. But today, these fifty years after they taught me, I’m thanking God for three “Methodees,” as Franklin Roosevelt smilingly called their breed.

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Vera Carmody. I thought she was old and fierce. But she couldn’t have been what the Bible describes as “full of years” because she had a great many left to fill up. She lived to be 1000 or so. (Actually, 101! Born in 1899; died in 2000!)

But I was right about the fierce part. (Lucille Ball’s red hair was just a sparkler compared to Mrs. Carmody’s fireball red!) Mrs. Carmody was fiercely devoted to teaching first-graders not only how to read but how to live. She checked our hair, our teeth, and our fingernails, as well as the notebooks where we pasted pictures of apples for A, bananas for B, etc. I’d still like to see some trendy educational egghead try to tell Mrs. Carmody that kids could learn to read worth squat and not be taught phonics. She’d swat the prof’s hand with her legendary ruler, sit his tail in a chair, and enforce silence in the room until he sounded out whatever word she prescribed for his cure.

I don’t know if Mrs. Carmody believed that “every child can learn.” But I’m sure she believed every child in her classroom darn well would learn—or else. Fierce? Oh, yes! She fiercely loved us all. Methodist, she was.

And then there was Mrs. Maxine Faulkner. Third grade. I learned the “Lord’s Prayer” not at church where I should have, but in Mrs. Faulkner’s third grade class. We stood and recited that prayer, along with the Pledge of Allegiance, every morning. We had no idea how much damage we were doing to the Constitution of these United States. (I’m kidding. And crying.) I remember singing as she played the piano. By the way, she played the piano for her Sunday School class two months before she died. Also age 101! Methodist, she was.

Setting the tone for the whole school (all six grades) was one of the finest men I’ve ever known, Mr. Robert Birchfield. I will always think of this big, kind, gentle, amazingly strong and loving man with deep affection and gratitude. A father to us all, what a smile he had! What a hug! What a man! Methodist, he was.

All three of these folks were members of Amarillo’s Polk Street United Methodist Church. No particular point here—other than what a nice thing it is for any congregation when folks think of their members and “blessing” in the same thought—I’ve just always had very warm feelings toward Polk Street UMC and these three fine “Methodees.” I owe them much.

Christians, they were. Unashamedly so. Committed to Christ and thus committed to little children like me.

I hope I’ve made them proud. I know I thank God every day that folks of deep faith, and these three of the Methodist variety, have been such a blessing to me.

 

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

 
Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Persecution Is a Faith-test, But So Is Freedom and Ease

 

oldchurch

It was 27 years ago when Pavel Poloz, a recent exile from Russia, observed, “In Russia, Christians are tested by hardship, but in America you are tested by freedom. And testing by freedom is much harder.”

He went on: “Nobody pressures you about your religion. So you relax and are not concentrated on Christ, on his teaching, how he wants you to live” (Moody Monthly, April 1989).

That would hurt less were it not so obviously true. The worst danger American Christians have faced for generations has not been persecution; it has been that our faith die as we sleep.

It’s nothing new. The church has always been strongest during times of persecution and weakest during times of ease. Ironically, the church thrived during the days when Roman emperors were martyring Christians; it faced a more serious threat when in A.D. 313 the Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Don’t think I’m longing for persecution, just perspective. My default point of view is that of a small church pastor who not only loves the church universal but treasures the quality of relationship found in churches where people have faces and pastors live life with the flock, know them by name and need, and aren’t just beamed down from on high to a plastic screen.

I know Christ’s church will triumph. If, as the Lord has said, even the “gates of hell” will not prevail against his church, I doubt that ease and prosperity, increasing secularism, and consumer “church-lite” will prevail either.

But I do see serious challenges on the horizon, some that I suspect will be more than a serious bump in the business plan even for Religion 500-style churches.

For example, I’ve yet to meet a respected colleague in ministry who doesn’t see the loss of the World War II generation as a serious challenge. For decades, churches have been able to count on the attendance, the giving, the commitment of those amazing people. Lots of church doors have been literally kept open by the very practical commitment of a generation of folks whose genuine faith meant being at church when it wasn’t convenient and giving not just what they could spare with no sacrifice.

Thank the Lord for those who, following such an example, are picking up the baton and running the race. More had better.

Some real faith challenges are not glitzy, but they say a lot. If we fail in the everyday “rubber meets the road” faith-building disciplines such as being at church often enough we’re missed when we’re not there, and giving more than we can easily spare . . . If our commitment won’t even stretch to such baby steps, why should we think our faith would endure persecution?

As far as our local churches go, if we don’t “show up” in any real sense, it matters not at all how good our excuses are. The end is the same, and cut-rate commitment may accomplish locally what the “gates of hell” will never accomplish universally. If we falter in faith by meaning well very weakly, lots of little churches will be shutting their doors, and our land will have lost a large blessing.

I’d love to be wrong about that.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com. (Check out the free song download while you’re there!)

 

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Some Thoughts on Lawn Care, Sabbath, and Trust

 

I just finished an unusual yard-mowing experience.

As usual, mowing and trimming is about a three-and-a-half hour job. We’re not talking here about a polite little postage stamp-size lawn. This is a 10,000 square foot yard, acreage that in some cities would pass for a park or a game preserve, complete with man-killing hills of a variety described on topographical maps by terrain experts as “darn hills,” sort of. Anybody who ever tries to mow this lawn will soon adopt the more specific term.

The only thing unusual about today’s lawn-taming experience is that it’s Sunday. In the space of almost thirty years, I could count on one hand the Sunday mowings.

For religious reasons, I don’t mow on Sundays. After leading worship and preaching, I’m religious about partaking of a good lunch and keeping the appointment my dog and I have with the couch for a really good nap. Then I’m religious about relaxing and enjoying the rest of the Sunday as much as possible. “Enjoy” and “mow” don’t belong in the same sentence.

But my wife and I are trying to get away for a few days and this was my only window of mowing opportunity. So I mowed.

I didn’t like it. (Well, how unusual is THAT?) I mean, I didn’t like the Sunday aspect of it. It just felt (this is a technical theological term) sort of pagan-ish. Your pastor starts mowing his yard on Sundays and the next thing you know he’s sacrificing cats out behind the house and muttering dark incantations. (Rest assured that no cats were harmed during the mowing of this lawn and the only incantations uttered were under my breath as I mowed the hills.) I felt like I should maybe duck behind a bush as my neighbors drove by, especially the ones I knew were headed to services!

Seriously, I really don’t think I cut up any commandments too badly by whacking grass today. After all, Christ has freed us from bondage to rule-keeping pseudo-righteousness. Anyone who honors God and still wants to mow his yard on Sunday will get no mean looks from me.

But I’m not planning to mess up more Sundays this way; I’d rather the yard be shaggy. I do plan to reflect more on the whole idea of Sabbath. Just a quick look at the New Testament makes it clear that self-righteous rule-keeping about such things leads to stinky religion that takes us farther from God, not closer.

But the principle of rest and balance and “re-creation” involved in the idea of Sabbath is indeed from God, something he meant to bless us. It’s a little like tithing. God won’t force you to honor him in that way, but the blessings that come when you do are gifts he wants to give, gifts you’d otherwise miss.

Christians honor the Lord, on Sundays or at any time, by intentionally taking some time to rest in him and be still. Sunday afternoons tend to be great times for me to open my hands to receive a blessing from the Lord as I trust him to spin the world for a few precious hours without my help. He spins it just fine even if my yard needs a trim.

 

 

Copyright 2012 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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