Tag Archives: Christ’s cross

Reverse Snobbery and “All Things New”

A big part of this is reverse snobbery, I know, but I love my old pickup truck.

That faithful machine already had 90,000 miles on it when I flew down to Houston a bunch of years ago, laid eyes on it, and fell in love. The original owner must have loved that truck, too, because he took great care of it.

I probably haven’t been quite as faithful in that department. I try to do basic maintenance, even a little touch-up paint here and there. I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning on the inside; it’ll just get dirty again. My wife quarrels with the reasoning, and I don’t apply it to my own personal hygiene.

But faithful to me is what that truck has been, and I honor it with the best two words ever used to describe any vehicle: “paid for.” Its odometer recently rolled on past 200,000 miles. There’s a “short” in that thing, so sometimes the screen goes blank, but it was blazing brightly as it proudly crossed the mark. Sadly, I missed the moment, and it was 200,011 when I noticed.

I try not to be superstitious, but I know I’m flirting with disaster by writing this. I’m dooming the transmission. Or the engine will now thrash. A wheel will fall off. Or maybe worse, my good friend Buddy, who sells cars (mostly trucks) in Robert Lee, Texas, will call me with a really tempting offer on a great follow-up F-150 at a good price.

Robert Lee is a truck place. Unless you’re infirm and not up to the step up, most able-bodied adults want trucks and not polite little car-lettes. The only electric vehicles are Old Man Jones’ golf cart with the flag on top or Billy Joe’s truck that lit up after it hit a utility pole.

I trust Buddy like a brother (which if you know my brothers might be scant praise), but he’s a great guy, and won’t steer me wrong. When he calls, I may be tempted to “pull the trigger” on the newer vehicle. I’ll probably love that truck, too. But I fully expect to be left wondering if the purchase was a bit extravagant, and, had I shown just a tad more faithfulness, I could have put another 100,000 miles on my older one almost for free. I’m putting a good many additional miles on my truck right now by ferrying friends to pick up their much newer vehicles at dealerships or repair shops. Their rides seem to break down pretty often and require a lot of pampering.

I splurged the other day and put a nice new arm rest cover on the driver’s side. The original one’s leather was torn, its foam disintegrating, its wooden “bone” about to poke through.

When my long-ago first love F-150 (blue, five-speed on the floor, short bed) needed a new arm rest, I carved and varnished one from an ancient bois d’arc tree on my grandparents’ old Robert Lee home place. It wasn’t soft, but it looked cool. This time, I went with a posh original-equipment-looking new one. I learned a few installation tricks, literally mostly by mistake, but it looks good.

So I admit that there’s a time for “new.” New years, even. And the time will come when God himself says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Already, He promises to those who trust Him new hope, new peace, new mercy and grace, new life. Why? Because it’s been paid for by His Son.

For my truck, an arm rest worth of new is new enough for now.

 

 

     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.


Epitaph: Love Is Always Greater Than Power

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This morning in The Wall Street Journal I read a well-written obituary by James R. Hagerty focusing on a woman who so loved to be in the spotlight that her former husband—she had four and divorced four—simply said, “To say that [she] loved publicity would be a massive understatement. She lived for publicity.”

Hagerty wrote, “More than 30 years before she died, she had her own tombstone engraved,” noting on it that “her father was a prominent neurologist and that she was recognized at White House press conferences by several presidents.”

Hagerty says that in a 1996 People magazine article, she simply said, “The main thing is to keep my name out in front.”

I do not intend to mention her name. You won’t know it anyway, and it will soon be forgotten. But I admit that I’ll have a hard time forgetting what Hagerty says this woman wrote on her own memorial: “Power is greater than love, and I did not get where I am by standing in line, nor by being shy.”

I suppose when she wrote that pathetic line, she could hardly imagine that “where I am” could mean anything other than “in the spotlight.” For much of her 89 years, she lived for power and fame. Where did she get? She got to the place where “where I am” means “in the grave.” And then what happens to such a shriveled soul?

I read that obituary this morning. Then this afternoon I drove down to our little town’s First Baptist Church to attend the funeral of a man whose name I’m privileged to mention and whose service I felt it was an honor to attend, “Sonny” Byrd. Most of us just called him Mr. Byrd.

I didn’t know that Mr. Byrd’s first name was actually Levanather. I’ve still not heard anyone take a stab at pronouncing it, but, if I’m doing that right, I kind of like it. It has a dignity about it. Just like the man, married 57 years to his “sweetheart” and committed to his Lord.

I didn’t get to know Mr. Byrd nearly as well as I’d like to have, partly because he was such a quiet, gentle, “always there but never loud” presence in our community that I guess I thought he always would be. I figured he had many stories to tell, and I hoped one day to be able to sit down, drink coffee with him, and hear some of them. He was here for 60 years; me, for 33. Surely there was time. And then there wasn’t. Not in this life, but I hope in the next.

I felt almost presumptuous attending the funeral, mostly because—my own fault—I didn’t know him well enough. But what I knew, I respected. He cut a striking figure, a man carved out of rich ebony, clad in crisp coveralls and a cowboy hat. He worked so well, so hard, with dignity and the kind of soft-spoken gentleness that is only found in those who are genuinely strong with the kind of soul-strength that the loud will never understand, much less, possess. I can’t imagine anyone less interested in the limelight, but when I heard of Mr. Byrd’s passing, I knew our community had lost the kind of person to whom any community owes a debt that can’t be paid. At the funeral, it became clear that lots of folks felt that way.

It’s probably a mercy to him that he could not hear what was said at his service because the last thing in the universe he’d have wanted was for his name to be “out in front.” I have no idea what will be written on his tombstone, but it might well be this: “Love is always greater than power.”

And that is literally God’s truth.

 

 

     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.

 


Amazing Is What Real Grace Always Is

“Amazing grace.”

Amazing is exactly what real grace always is.

On the other hand, the many counterfeits are pretty much what we should expect—“do-it-yourself” schemes focused on our power to occasionally strike a tiny spark rather than on God’s power to always create a nuclear reaction. Do-it-yourself “grace” is an impostor every bit as dangerous as the real thing is amazing.

The Apostle Paul points to real grace in everything he writes, most notably Romans and Galatians, pounding the point home. If we feel we must earn it in any way, it’s not real grace. If we imagine that we can pay for it at all, it’s bogus. If we think we can deserve it even a little, it’s a sham. And perhaps worst of all, if we reckon that we might need less of it than someone we consider morally below us, we’re dishonoring Christ and denying his Cross.

God’s grace is amazing, astounding, marvelous, incomprehensible, eternal, and so much more. And as we pile up adjectives, we should never forget this one: “scandalous.”

Read the Gospels with eyes wide open, and notice how many of Jesus’ healings, miracles, teachings were offensive to those who could never imagine God’s grace reaching so far, so low, so wide. A woman caught in the wrong bed in the embrace of the wrong guy. A gal who’d been through way too many husbands and was living with a guy she’d forgotten to marry. An acknowledged loser hanging on a cross, a failed thief unable to steal any more earthly chances. And the list goes on. Right down to us. The real grace of Christ always has within it a serious element of scandal. It seems reckless. It seems “over the top.” Too good to be a true.

We can never plumb its depths or exhaust its powers. We’ll never fully comprehend it, but even what we can see rocks us on our heels as Jesus reaches down to forgive those we can’t imagine even God ever forgiving. Certainly not without some lengthy probation. Maybe a written self-improvement plan. And a short leash, for sure.

But Christ just keeps on forgiving, his only requirement being that, having given our lives to him, we keep on accepting the gift he keeps on giving. How reckless is that!? Good luck trying to find that kind of grace in any other world religion—or in the world anywhere else.

Real grace both forgives and empowers even as it refuses to allow us to focus on ourselves. When we do poorly, fall flat on our faces yet again in attitude or action, grace turns our focus back to Christ, forgives, and gives him glory, reminding us that Christ at Calvary has literally taken all of our “badness” away from us. When we do well, grace reminds us that everything good we could possibly do comes through Christ’s power at work in our lives and that what we might once have considered our own goodness is not our own at all.

When we’ve accepted real grace, the focus is never again to be on us; the focus is on God and joyfully giving him glory for what he has done and is doing—all by grace, all through his Son. All for us, and not at all by us.

 

 

     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.


Wonder of Wonders, God Signed on the Dotted Line!

How long do you have to live to learn to be really careful before you sign anything on that famous “dotted line”?

It seemed so easy at the time. That new ride was cool. But we were just a few “easy payments” into the seventy-for-darn-near-forever of them before we realized that they weren’t much fun and not very easy. Now we’re wondering if we’re working to one fine day finally own that vehicle or if it already owns us. Very legally. Our signature on the line was all it took. Hmm. Maybe “paid for” easily trumps cool. Dotted lines are speed bumps to rattle our brains into thinking before we sign.

We warn each other, usually from sad experience: “Better read the fine print! The devil’s in the details!” Most of us have learned that “what we don’t know” can definitely hurt us, especially if it’s in the fine print of a contract.

Along this line, dotted or not, I always feel just a little nervous when I’m installing a new computer program and that very familiar screen pops up so I can just click on “I Agree. I’ve read and understood the vast verbiage of legalese below.” Sure.

What do 99.95% of the best people you ever met do at that point? They lie. Cllliiiickkkk! And Mother Teresa or St. Francis of Assisi would do the same thing.

Of course, we haven’t read it and never intend to. Even if we tried, we’d need a Rosetta Stone course in legal mumbo-jumbo to understand a tenth of it.

But we click the button anyway. We all play the game, lest any software attorneys be rendered homeless and left unable to drop lawyer litter on our screens. Most of the time, it matters not one bit or byte. But for all we know, we might have just promised to dedicate our firstborn child to a cult of nudist vegans in Tasmania, or, heaven forbid, to never again scarf down a medium rare steak, or to swear off chocolate for the rest of our days.

Oh, it’s probably not that serious, but I guarantee you, and you already know, in lots of situations, you’d better read the fine print before signing on the dotted line, sealing the contract, doing the deal, agreeing to the agreement, consummating a covenant. Not looking before you leap has consequences.

Yes, our signatures say yes. To some sort of agreement. To some serious obligation.

Such agreements are no new thing. Covenants. The party of the first part agreeing to buy something, sell something, do something for, to, or with, the party of the second part. Nothing new.

Ah, but what if it’s the God of the universe who signs on the dotted line? “Testament” means “covenant.” Read in the Old Testament about the agreement God made with his people on Mount Sinai, and you’ll be amazed.

But far more amazing is the covenant we call “new.” (Read about it in the New Testament.) The Father initiates it, gives us his Word on it, fully pays the price for it with one Lamb, one Son, one sacrifice for all forever, an agreement sealed with the most precious drops of blood, infinitely costly to him, but free to all who believe. An amazing covenant! Grace indeed.

Wonder of wonders, God signed it.

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! And special news: An amazing, exciting, and inspirational story written by Capt. Red McDaniel, Scars and Stripes: The True Story of One Man’s Courage Facing Death as a POW in Vietnam, has now been narrated by Curtis as an audiobook. You can purchase and download the book, or listen to free sample, on Audible.com, Amazon.com, or iTunes.com. 

 

 

Copyright 2017 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 Reminder That God’s Light Is Always There

 

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As if it happened yesterday. That’s how clearly I remember the experience I’m about to relate. Not wanting to make too much of it, I’d hate to make the opposite mistake by failing to say to the Giver, thank you.

By the way, the weather guy is predicting ridiculously high winds and detestable blowing dust today. He didn’t say “ridiculous” and “detestable,” but they will be. Around here, weather folks rarely ever miss when they predict wind and dust, apart from which, our climate would be almost perfect, which I suppose is like saying that Jack the Ripper would’ve been a fine guy except for the unfortunate murderous streak in his nature. Anyway, living here we deal with it.

In this fallen world, trouble is like blowing dirt in west Texas; it goes with the territory. And we all go through seasons when the difficulty is particularly painful.

My family and I have been incredibly blessed, so as I give you the background to my simple story, I don’t mean to whine, just to tell the truth. It was the sort of time everyone faces from time to time. You’ve been there (or, sorry, if you’ve not been, you will). The difficulty driving you nuts tends to be the last thing you think of when you go to bed and the first thing you think of when you wake up. That’s the bad news; the good news, and you’ve probably also learned this, is that such times force you to more prayer. And prayer, even when it may well have more to do with desperation than “righteousness,” is not at all a bad beginning and ending of the day.

But even prayer has its temptations. Lengthy prayers in the midst of some difficult times can be a mistake. Short ones are the ticket. The long kind too easily become just one more way you allow yourself to wallow in the mud rather than to trust in the Almighty.

So I waked up that day and, true to form, picked up the problem. I wandered into the living room, sat on the hearth, and, frustrated at myself for being so faithless and, truth be told, impatient with the Almighty’s seeming slowness to deal with the difficulty, just breathed a rather ticked off petition, “Oh, Lord, can you just get us through this!?”

And that’s when—that’s exactly when—as the whispered words were still hanging in the air and barely out of my mouth, the deliciously warm, blindingly brilliant shaft of sunlight blazed through the window and hit me in the face.

It was both amazing and surprising, and not. From several mornings’ experience, I knew that, at that exact time, the sun and our windows are lined up. The sunlight washes over the cross hanging in our window and emblazons in a field of flaming gold yet another cross, its shadow, on the opposite wall.

So most of what happened was really no surprise; it was just, once more, breathtakingly beautiful. But the light hitting me in the face, right at that moment? A complete surprise.

I’d not call it a miracle, just a very nice gift and much-needed reminder that even in windblown, dark times, God’s children live in the warmth and light of the cross. Sometimes I need to be hit in the face by the light of his brilliant beauty to make me remember that it’s always there.

 

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

  

 

Copyright 2016 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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