Tag Archives: cross

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.

 

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In a World Full of Questions, a Few Answers Matter Most

 

It is no proof of superior intelligence, but even as a young man I was theoretically sure that I would not always be a young man.

As I (rarely) contemplated middle or old age, though they seemed light years away, I figured that a major consolation of being old and crotchety, say, 45, would be that by then I would probably have found answers to a great many of life’s most vexing questions.

I’m an incredibly vibrant 60 years old now. Since I can’t imagine much worse than living to be 120, I’ll admit that 60 may, at the very least, bump the outer range of middle age.

The bad news (which is not really bad since it means I’m still seeking and inquisitive) is that I have more questions than ever. The good news is that the older I get, the more I realize how few of those questions really matter much. In fact, I’d say that life’s biggest questions could be numbered without getting much past the fingers of one hand. (I can probably do with five, if you would later let me add a related question or two beneath a couple of these.)

Does God exist?

What kind of God is he?

Has he revealed himself to mankind and how?

Is he absolutely good, absolutely powerful, and absolutely loving?

And, if the answer to that last one is yes, then why does God allow pain and suffering?

These are questions of belief. That does not at all mean they can’t be approached rationally; it does mean we will always, even when we’ve seriously and diligently sought their answers, still have to say, “I believe that . . .”

And, it seems to me, even after we’ve come to confident peace about the first four, and even the fifth, we will repeatedly face situations in our own lives and the lives of others that bring us back pretty regularly, and sometimes poignantly, to that last one.

Two words are “the answer.” Free will. Of this, I am sure.

And two more points here, one of which I know, and one of which I believe. 1) “Knowing” the philosophical answer to the “problem of pain,” does not take away pain. Agonizing pain is still agonizing. 2) With all of my heart, I believe that our deepest pain hurts our Father even more than it hurts us.

In The Cross of Christ, John R. W. Stott asks, “In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”

He writes, “I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, . . . detached from the agonies of the world.”

But he continues, “Each time after a while I have had to turn away . . . to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, . . . plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.”

God suffers to one day end all suffering.

 

 

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


Even the Rocks of Creation Praise the Creator’s Son

 

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, and for centuries many Christians have let that Sunday before Easter carry their minds back to the amazing scene of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before he would die.

Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey no one had ever ridden, a beast his disciples found just as he had said they would. Our Christmas cards invariably depict Mary, Jesus’ mother, riding a donkey to Bethlehem. It’s not unlikely, though no Gospel specifically says such. If it’s so, that alone would have been enough to ennoble the species. But now this! What a privileged beast!

As he approached the city, people began to spread their cloaks on the road and wave palm branches hailing the coming King.

As he came down the road from the Mount of Olives, the crowd began to burst into praise.

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

The Pharisees, soured, joyless, and heart-atrophied by their toxic (and still all too popular) approach to religion, began to warn Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples. Shut them up!”

And Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

On Palm Sunday—and on every Sunday—I’d rather be a rock on the road praising the Savior than a Pharisee all knotted up in religious robes and with no one to praise.

The cynical poet Swinburne once wrote, “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean! / The world has grown grey with Thy breath.”

If Christ was the morose Son of a joyless God sent just to tell this world we are wrong and lost and that we’d better straighten up, but to do nothing to help us . . .

If the cross was just an unfortunate accident, a tragic historical footnote with no meaning instead of the event in which God himself accomplishes the work of salvation and does for us what we could never do for ourselves, I could well agree with the poet’s words. Good news? What good news?

If God was just a stern heavenly killjoy, a thin-lipped, overly strict, bloodless, joyless frustrated caricature of a “father” griping that his kids are more trouble than they’re worth and who’d really rather not bother with them . . .

If God had stopped with the tables of stone revealing his holy law and not gone on to send the Savior with the message, “God’s laws are real, and you often break them at great cost, but I have paid the price for your pardon and risen to heal and empower you to live lives under his mercy, led by his Spirit, and filled with his joy . . .”

If God had sent just the Law to be our Prosecutor and not the Son to be our Savior, Swinburne would be right.

But he’s not right.

And it would be a shame to let the rocks do all the praising.

 

 

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

     And may this be a sweet and meaningful Holy Week and blessed Easter for you and yours!

 

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.

 

 


“I Can’t Help It! I’m the Victim of My Genes!”

 

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Aha! It’s genetic! I’ve been reading about the several-years-old discovery of a “fidgeting” gene.

When I’m talking on the phone and my wife, rather discourteously, hollers at me, “Put that pen down! You’re driving me crazy!” she’s referring to my unconscious click-click-click-click-clicking of the writing instrument in my hand. And she’s betraying intolerance toward a man who is simply the hapless victim of his genes.

I’m wondering if pack-ratting is genetic, too. In any case, it’s another trait my mother passed on to each of her offspring.

My garage, I admit, is dangerously overloaded, but my sister, who lived in Houston, could have survived ten years of hurricanes with just “supplies on hand.”

I once suggested to one of my brothers that he’d need to deck himself out in high priestly garments if he wanted to safely enter his garage. When, once a year, Israel’s high priest entered the Most Holy Place to offer sacrifice, he was to go in with bells sewn onto the bottom of his robe and a rope tied to his leg. If he touched the Ark of the Covenant and was fritzed, or was somehow otherwise dispatched while officiating near the holiest core of that holiest place, the bells would quit tinkling and they’d drag his carcass out by the rope. (Turns out, the rope part of this is probably fictional, and the bell part likely for the Holy Place and not the Most Holy Place. But you get my point.)

Truth be told, the garages of the other siblings, including me, for sure, are not much better. My poor heirs.

But it was not in the garage, it was actually in a box of stuff up in our closet, never opened, inherited from my sister’s stash, who got it from my mother’s hoard, that my wife recently found a pile of congratulatory notes from age-old family friends (mostly long-since passed on) and the hospital instructions regarding the care and feeding of “Boy Shelburne.” That would be me.

The booklet was professionally printed, used by Northwest Texas Hospital (the original one) in Amarillo, and filled in, the specifics handwritten, by a conscientious nurse.

I’m not sure if Mom & Dad followed all the instructions properly or not, which may explain some things. I do know that it included a formula for my formula, consisting of condensed milk, Karo syrup, etc. What’s not to like? And it specified feeding me every three hours, a health practice, on the advice of that nursing staff, I’ve tried to continue all of my life. (Oh, and Mom was instructed to wear an apron when feeding me. If that’s required, lots of babies are in serious danger. And good luck trying to buy an apron. Out of style in every sense, and I’m weeping at the political incorrectness of the very thought! Trust me.)

By the way, people with the fidgeting gene are supposed to be naturally thinner than those without it. With my strict diet (I never eat anything that doesn’t taste good) and my feeding schedule, I’m thankful for that gene. Still, I evidently don’t fidget nearly enough.

Oh, this is funny. I just stopped to stare into space and figure out how to land this column—and caught myself jockeying my knee up and down like a sewing machine needle. Left seems to be this fidgeter’s knee of choice.

Genes. They are for most of us a mixed bag, both blessing and curse. But the worst curse we inherited from Father Adam. And the most amazing blessing, incredibly costly, is made available, free upon request, by the Second Adam who bore our curse, God’s own Son.

 

      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.


A Story of Two Fathers and Two Sons

 

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Had the brokenhearted father been one of the self- or demon-deluded pagans whose lives are described in the same amazing volume which chronicles his, perhaps the grisly request of a bloodthirsty “deity” for still more blood would have made a kind of morbid sense.

Exactly how the request came, and what form it took, we’re not told, but that it was a true and authentic command of the only true and living God was absolutely a matter of no doubt.

Not to him.

Not to Abraham.

The “father of the faithful,” the “exalted father,” the one christened by God “father of a multitude” was being asked by the Father of the universe to offer as a sacrifice, killed by a sharp knife, and consumed by fire atop an altar, that son of promise, the only son through which that “multitude” could be born and the promise could be realized.

Yes, Abraham would have expected such a command from a god or gods deluding pagans, but it was unlike any command he had ever received from the living God. It was absolutely unlike . . . well, unlike God.

But it was indeed God’s command.

What son was he to offer? God himself had said it—that dear son, dearer than life itself, the son “whom you love.”

God knew what he was asking. God the Father was asking father Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and to give him up.

God knew that Solomon would later build his temple atop that hill.

God knew how many lambs would one day be slaughtered there and how many sacrifices would be made. Atop that hill.

And, as brokenhearted but absolutely faithful Abraham was himself dying inside with every step towards Moriah, who knew better than God the thoughts that go through the mind of a brokenhearted father about to watch his son die at the top of a cruel hill?

God knew.

Abraham’s son was old enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice. Isaac was old enough to realize that this sacrifice was like none he had ever before witnessed. Isaac was old enough to resist when his old father, with tears streaking down his face and wetting his gray beard, placed him on the altar, bound him, and raised a knife. Abraham was a heartbeat away from piercing his dear son, slashing his own soul, and watching his own fondest hopes bleed out as Isaac’s life-blood stained the altar.

But God stayed his hand.

Now both God and Abraham knew that Abraham would be absolutely faithful.

What Abraham couldn’t know was that God’s own Son would humbly and obediently allow himself to be bound to wood atop another terrible hill. Hands would be raised to pierce him. And God would not stay those hands.

God the Father of all life and all love would through his own tears be absolutely faithful.

 

       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.


God’s Grace: It’s Good News That’s Tough!

 

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“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound!”

Grace, the real thing, is precious almost beyond belief. It’s cool water to a man dying of thirst. It’s life and health to a woman who a week before was lying feverish on her deathbed.

Grace really is amazing!

But what even Christians, and maybe especially Christians, often fail to realize is how very tough it is, too.

Yes, it’s amazingly good news, this news flash from Heaven that though we were all sinners condemned to death, convicted criminals languishing on death row, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

It’s amazingly good news that “God raised us up with Christ” so that for all eternity and to the amazement of the entire universe he could “show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (2:6).

And there’s no catch.

There’s no fly in the ointment. No hook under the worm. No fine print. No “real sinners need not apply” clause.

So how can this wonderful thing called grace, the most beautiful gift ever given, still be as tough as nails?

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast.” No boasting. Period.

You see, grace is indeed the free gift of God. Grace means for us life and joy and peace. Grace really is amazing!

But, make no mistake, it can’t be earned, not even a little bit. It comes completely from God’s side of the equation. Do I in any way deserve such a gift? No! Thank God, deserving doesn’t even enter in, and to dare to use the word “deserve” in the same paragraph with words praising God for his mercy and grace is a slap in the face of the Almighty, a denial of the cross, and a backhanded attempt to breathe life into an arrogant and self-righteous spirit that really must move out and die before grace can enter in to give us life.

Yeah, I know. When you really think about it, it gets kind of scary. If this grace business is true, then God might let almost anyone into heaven. He might forgive folks who really, unlike me, aren’t as obviously good and religious and among his favorites. If you didn’t know better, you might almost think that God still feels like Jesus seemed to feel when he walked this globe, that not only did he spend time with “sinners” who knew they had no hope except for God’s mercy (but who knew the joy of finding it), he really enjoyed that time more than time spent with Pharisees. Could that be true?

Grace won’t leave me a single wobbly leg to stand on if I want to make my stand on rule-keeping “righteousness” and my own goodness. But if I focus on God and get over myself, I’ll find to my everlasting amazement that “the God of all grace” has given me two very good legs to dance on.

 

 

      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.


The Guiding Principle of Heaven Is . . .

 

 

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In telling the story of his own conversion to Christianity, C. S. Lewis recalls George MacDonald’s striking words: “The one principle of hell is—‘I am my own.’”

But what if I’m not?

In our society, our culture, our world, our country, our very souls, we’re obsessed with the idea that we can almost have heaven right here if we just “get our own rights.” But what if that’s exactly backwards? What if the truly happiest person is the one who claims no rights?

Be careful with that thought. It might explode our heads.

What if I have a horrible progressive disease, and, with all my heart, I’d like to spare myself and my family the horrors ahead? What if “assisted suicide” is incredibly tempting? What if I find myself wondering if it would be the most selfish act in the world—or the least? But then I realize, “I’m not my own.”

What if I’m a woman considering abortion, but I find not only that the little one I carry inside me is not really “mine” but is God’s? And even I myself am “not my own”? What then?

Or much less agonizing . . .

I really don’t feel like going to church on this particular Sunday. I’m not so much sick as just a little “sick and tired.” Sure would like to sleep in! It’s my own little decision, right? No big deal. But what if I’m really not my own? What if what I feel like doing matters much less than what my Lord deserves and what others need me to do to be encouraging?

If “I am my own” is the guiding principle of hell, what if “I am not my own” truly is the guiding principle of heaven?

What if, not only what I do, who I marry, where I live, how I treat my kids, and literally everything else is completely colored by this startling truth? What if, because “I am not my own,” I can’t say anything I like or indulge myself in any bad attitude I care to adopt?

What if, if I’m His, I find myself acting not only as if “I’m mine” but as if my money is mine? What if I find myself living exactly at the same standard as others at my income level who claim no commitment to my Lord?

What if I allow myself to be as gossipy at work, as mean at the restaurant, as critical at church, as self-centered at home as . . . anyone else?

What if I find myself acting as if “I am my own” when the Apostle Paul’s words are quite literally true? “You are not your own. You were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6)?

What if my thought life, my work life, my home life, my sex life, my financial life, my play life, my life—is not mine? What if I’m not my own?

If that is true, it makes all the difference in this world. And in the next.

If it’s not true, then we should just roll over, go back to sleep, wake up, and get on with the business of demanding our own way all the time.

But I warn you, once we start thinking, “I might not be mine. In fact, if I have a real commitment to Christ, I’m certainly not,” then . . .

Then everything is changed and all tables are turned.

It’ll spin your head around.

 

      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.


“If Christ Has Not Been Raised . . .”

 

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Easter, like Christmas, is not just a day; it is a season.

A day is probably enough if you’re just talking about bunnies and eggs. But I like them, too—particularly the chocolate ones—and I hope your bunch enjoyed an Easter egg hunt. We had a good one! (Not, I trust, like the year one Easter egg hidden indoors behind our couch stayed hidden until well after Pentecost when its smell betrayed its presence.)

But if our spirits also rise higher, and Easter for us centers on the risen Lord, a full season of reflection is sweet and good and important. The Apostle Paul warns, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14). But if Easter really happened, that changes everything. With all of my heart, I believe that Christ was indeed raised from the dead. But I admit . . .

Believing anything with complete sincerity proves precisely nothing except that you are seriously sincere. You may also be seriously mistaken. We all know folks who always believe each of their feelings extremely sincerely, even religiously. But their feelings, sadly untrustworthy, betray them and lead to wreck after wreck.

Notice also the necessary word here: “believe.” I believe that the Resurrection happened. Not just as a metaphor for new birth and hope and life; though it is that, it is much more. I don’t adopt a “belief” in the Resurrection that is largely symbolic and sentimental, a tip of the hat to ancient folks who just didn’t know any better, but now we do, and we’d still like the comfort of religion, shorn of much that is embarrassingly supernatural. No. I believe John looked into an empty tomb and that Jesus, after his real death later showed up genuinely alive.

But a belief, even bolstered by all sorts of good and real evidence, is still a belief. No one can prove 100% that it happened or that it didn’t. We consider the evidence and choose.

For me, that leads way back to this question: “Does God exist?” I’ve rarely been able to imagine having enough “faith” to believe that all we see around us is accidental. I know we moderns, “chronological snobs,” like to assume that, with the advent of science and technology, we’ve arrived, and that the incredible masses of folks before us were just so primitive and foolish that they worshiped rocks and statues rather than facing hard facts.

Well, idolatry was and is foolish. But I’m not convinced pagans were more foolish than modern humans who adopt a supercilious, supposedly tragic pose, claiming “courageously” to stare darkness in the face and to worship nothing at all—even as we worship ourselves as gods and bow to science as our religion.

If all we see around us is not a cosmic accident, we soon must get back to some idea of a Creator. Once we do, why should a God who can create a universe out of nothing be unable to reverse death and create new life? It’s a dead serious question.

I like the way Danish priest and martyr Kaj Munk framed this: “If [Christian faith and ministry] is, after all, a mistake, then it is a beautiful mistake. If Christianity should turn out, after all, to be true, then unbelief will have been a very ugly mistake.”

My faith is in a risen Lord.

 

      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.

 


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.

 


“Dear God, How Could You Let This Happen?”

 

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We’ve all had times when through our pain and tears we ask, “Dear God, where are you? How could you let this happen? How long can you stomach this kind of atrocity before you break in and do something to stop it?”

Maybe it’s a senseless mass murder on the order of the 9/11 attack. Or maybe no famous skyscrapers have been felled but through the suffering or loss of someone you loved more than life itself, your whole universe has crashed in and you are amazed that the sun still comes up every morning as if nothing had even happened.

“Dear God,” you cry, “how can you be both all-loving and all-powerful and allow such pain and evil to endure?”

It is an excellent question. What’s harder for me to understand than why we ask such questions is why we wouldn’t, though even if God were to detail the reasons he allows pain (and miraculously enable us to comprehend), I doubt we’d like the situation more.

To skeptics who point to pain and say, “See! There is no God and there are no answers!” I’d say, “You are wrong.”

To Christians who mouth plastic platitudes, “Well, it was just God’s will, and real faith is  happy to blindly trust and ask no questions,” I’d say, “I  think you are wrong” even though I affirm with all my heart that faith is indeed all about trusting God. But it was God who made us capable of asking such questions. (Just spend some time in the Psalms if you think the faithful don’t ask such questions of God and, at times, ask them in deep anger and perplexity.)

Why does God allow pain? It’s one of the Top Few biggest questions of all. I think author Wendell Berry gives an important clue when he shows Jayber Crow, his main character in the book by the same name, mourning the loss of a young man from his little town killed in Vietnam. Jayber asks, “Why? Why didn’t God just come down and put an end to such horror?”

Then Jayber realizes the same question has been asked before. When God did come down, we hung him on a cross and taunted him, “If you really are God’s Son, come down!” As he showed us the depth of his love, we dared him, “Show us your power!” Thousands of times since, we’ve demanded the same thing, but “Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave.” Why?

Jayber says through tears, “I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it.” Why didn’t Christ come down from the cross? Why doesn’t God break in right now?

“He didn’t. He hasn’t, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.”

He loves us too much for that.

Where is God in our pain? Even when we hurt too much to believe it, God is hurting with us, grieving more deeply than we can possibly understand. In our darkest times, “God grieves and Christ’s wounds still are bleeding” because of his love. And the power? It comes, too, but later. Even before the amazing power of the resurrection came the almost incomprehensible power of love freely, willingly, given for all.

 

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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.

 


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