Tag Archives: Christ’s sacrifice

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.


The Resurrection Is the Greatest “Eucatastrophe”

More than a few writers have talked about the place where Joy and Sorrow meet.

In a moment of deep contentment, someone may say, “I’m so happy I could cry!” And in the moments of deepest and most unutterable joy, we say nothing at all. We don’t live long before we learn that tears are more precious than diamonds, and the best tears are tears of joy.

When those joy-tears come, we usually don’t analyze them; we live the moment. But if the time comes to talk about such moments, author J. R. R. Tolkien, most famous for his amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy, has kindly coined for us a very good word.

That joy and sorrow are so closely intertwined is ironic. And so, at first glance, seems Tolkien’s word: “eucatastrophe.” “Eu-” is a Greek prefix meaning “good,” and “catastrophe”? Most of us are all too familiar with the word and the situations it describes.

“Catastrophe” is a Greek word brought directly into English that means “destruction.” According to Webster’s, it has come to hold such decidedly negative meanings as “a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin,” a “violent usually destructive natural event,” or an “utter failure.” Understandably, most of us seek to avoid such. I think of the crash of the Hindenburg (see the first meaning). Or, more personally, I remember the first time I sang publicly in a quartet and we started the same song in different keys (see the third meaning).

But the word first had, and still has, a more technical meaning. In literature, especially in tragedy, the “catastrophe” is the technical term for the final conclusion or “unraveling” of the drama’s plot. No surprise that in tragedy, that conclusion is sad. Tragedies in literature, by definition, have sad endings.

Ah, but fairy tales are different. A true fairy tale always has a happy ending. Thus the master wordsmith Tolkien coined the word “eucatastrophe” to describe just such an ending: “I coined ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce).” He goes on to explain that what we call fairy tales actually point to the deepest truth and happiest ending of all (really a beginning), that good will overcome evil.

Tolkien knew that the Cross and Resurrection are no fairy tale. He speaks deep truth when he says that “the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible.” Its truth “pierces” us with “a joy that brings tears.”

The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God” (12:2).

“Christian joy,” Tolkien writes, “produces tears because it is so qualitatively like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled.”

 

 

      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.


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.


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