Tag Archives: Faith

“Render Unto Caesar What Is Caesar’s”

Tax Day 2019 has come and gone. It’s actually just Tax Filing Day since every day is a tax day and, if you somehow still manage to own a business or be self-employed, you’ll have several more lesser but still taxing opportunities.

As disheartening as Tax Day always is, April 15, 2019 was far more depressing than usual as we watched in grief and horror as Notre Dame Cathedral burned.

That day was also decidedly disheartening for many employees who file what passes for a simple 1040 form and are accustomed to receiving a tidy sum called a tax refund. Since the 2017 tax law changes, withholding guidelines have been altered. Also, many employees are paying less total tax. Thus more folks are receiving smaller refunds and maybe even having to write an actual check to the IRS. Ouch!

If that’s your situation, I feel your pain, but this disappointing turn of events could provide an instructive moment. Forgive any hint of condescension, but I’m one of those people who are not “subject to withholding” but who are, on the other hand, very regularly subject to actually writing checks to the IRS.

It’s possible there’s some good news in this difficult situation. You may actually be paying less tax this year. Good news: your take-home pay may be a bit larger. Bad news: your tax refund may be a bit smaller. I’d suggest you look at your pay stubs or talk to your tax preparer to actually find out how much tax you pay.

The whole system—I’d say the whole diabolical system—is designed to mislead, promote class warfare and political posturing, and is one notch above a misdirection con game, as this year shows much more clearly than usual.

You’re too smart not to already know this, but lots of folks have very little idea how much they pay in taxes. Why? Because under this system, their employers (operating businesses that actually create wealth and provide jobs) are forced by the government (which does, of course, need revenue) to be unpaid tax collectors. Not only are employers not paid for the onerous, productivity-leeching, and expensive task of thus garnishing their employees’ wages (it’s called “withholding”), many employees have no real idea of how much they pay in taxes, and they consider their employer to be the “bad guy.”

Ah, but then the government comes out of hiding to rescue the day by sending a nice refund check. Unless . . . the tax law changes and less of the employees’ money is filched from their paychecks during the year. Then the refund is thin or, horrors, a check has to be written, and they suddenly realize that paying taxes is both real and painful.

Personally, I don’t much blame folks for being surprised and disheartened this year. But no excuse next year. Now they know. They can either adjust the withholding or, much better, open a savings account and set up an automatic bank draft. If they want a surprise at tax time, they can ask the bank to mail a nice check to them. Their own money.

Just know this: a tax refund is no gift from a benevolent government with a note attached: “All of your money is really ours, but just to show you that we appreciate the hard work you do for that greedy boss garnishing your wages, we’re sending you with our warmest compliments this nice gift.” Phooey!

Jesus taught us to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Pay your taxes. But don’t fall for a con game. Governmental or otherwise.

 

 

        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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Thank God When We Avoid “What Might Have Been”!

Have you noticed? When something bad, sad, and tragic happens, we agonize, “Dear God, how could you allow this?” But, too often, when we see something bad, sad, tragic avoided, we fail to give thanks.

If you are my auto insurance agent or my wife, please stop reading in 3-2-1. Now.

I like San Antonio. But a few weeks ago, we headed that way, were almost there, rounded a bend on the wet expressway, and were greeted to a sea of red brake lights much too close that I saw almost much too late. Close call.

Yesterday afternoon, I was again on the way to San Antonio. Just me. And driving a new (to me) truck that I just bought and have already fallen in love with.

(Are you still reading, dear wife? Stop now!) I don’t want my judge wife to pull my license. And I really don’t want her to send one of our kids to San Antonio to take away the keys and drag me home.

I decided just to follow the GPS lady. I’ve seen three gals get in a fight in our vehicles before. One is the “nav” system gal. One is the GPS gal who lives in my phone. The other is the lady in the copilot’s seat. I miss her, but two gals giving me directions on this trip are enough. When they say, “Recalculating,” it doesn’t sound like, “Nimrod, why didn’t you turn!”

The trip to San Antonio entails miles of two-lane roads and miles of four-lane/Interstate driving. And this year it’s gorgeous! Bluebonnets galore!

Big trucks are the hazard on the Interstate. Passing is the hazard on the two-laners. (I love the new signs on some roads that let you know a passing lane is coming, so just wait a sec!)

So . . . yesterday I’m on a two-lane road. I’ve got a Bubba-truck behind me. Too close. If Bubba can see past his eyebrow ring, he’s looking for 90 mph or so. We’re moving about 70 in hill country, stuck behind an 18-wheeler. Fairly heavy oncoming traffic. I can live with 70, but I’m sick of bookends Bubba and Big18. I was tempted to toss the former a little minor (and safe) brake light scare to get him to back off, but I didn’t.

Finally! Here comes a passing lane. The big guy slides over. I’m going for it, for sure. But ten feet or so into the shortest passing lane in this hemisphere, a sign on the right says it’s going away. Are you kidding!?

I should mention that we’re headed up a hill. I can’t see if there’s oncoming traffic, but three lanes should be plenty. (Mistake.) As I’m about to pass Big18, his left blinkers come on. It’s either abort or all in. (What will Bubba do?) Split second decision. Foot down! New truck floored! V8 roars! Three lanes turning into two. Now I see four cars coming on at light speed! Oh, give me a break and use a little shoulder, Big18! Two and a quarter lanes now. Needle threaded. Inches to spare. Start heart. Breathe. Wait for big guy to lay on his horn. He should have.

Having survived, I’ve replayed this, looking for reasons why this wasn’t mainly my fault, but… Several bad things came together at once. It could’ve been…

I wonder. How many times in life do varying degrees of fatigue, impatience, ignorance, foolishness, and just human frailty come together to issue in great pain? And sometimes no one meant evil. But serious hurt came.

How many of those times do we avoid safely, and we don’t even know we had a close call? But I know this: When we do see what could’ve been and that it was avoided, it’s a really good time to give serious thanks and drink a good dose of humility.

 

 

     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.


Two Men. Two Failures. Different Tears.

 

Here’s a riddle for you. It’s one that intrigues and gives me pause at about this same time every year.

Two men, two mouths,

    both tongues betray,

almost but not quite

    on the same day.

One fails and weeps,

   shinnies up and up

       and falls putrescently;

one fails and weeps,

    bows down and down

       and rises taller, finally,

           than before his perfidy.

   Love’s victory!

       Who are they?

I’m neither a poet nor the son of a poet, and not much riddle-writer at all. But onward I hint.

Two men. Two world-class failures. Two very different endings.

When I say “failures,” I mean deeds, not men, though a failure one of these men certainly was.

Though in our society, all it takes to be called a “success” is a lot of money—even if you’re sad, pathetic, miserable, dishonorable, unfaithful, cowardly, brutish, and completely lacking in every other aspect of life and character—the first fellow I’m thinking of who fixated on money and had more of it, for a time, than the other individual, is the failure.

Both of these men failed miserably. Both betrayed the same man. One betrayed for money. One betrayed to save his skin. Both betrayals were predicted by the same man betrayed.

You’ve already cracked the riddle, right? Apostles both. Judas and Peter.

Judas, of course, betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Many have postulated that a significant motive may have been his desire to rush the Lord into quickly and powerfully inaugurating an earthly kingdom. I think they’re probably right, though the Bible never says that.

Scripture does tell us that the man was a thief, a thief who whined about his concern for the poor. Maybe he did want to rush Jesus to take up the throne—he was not alone among the disciples in looking for an earthly kingdom—but I’m quite sure he also wanted to take his place in that kingdom thirty pieces of silver richer.

When it all goes wrong, Judas tries to cast away his guilt by slinging the silver at the priests’ feet. But the guilt covering his hands and heart is gangrenous and won’t be flung away. Fatally self-centered even in his sorrow over failure, Judas ends up focused completely on Judas.

And Peter? Ever impetuous, though Jesus has warned him and that famous rooster is already calibrated and cocked to crow, Peter blubbers and blusters, “I don’t even know the man!” He punctuates his denials with sea-salt curses before rushing away and weeping bitterly, wondering in anguish how everything could have gone so wrong.

But though his flesh is weak, Peter’s heart—before, during, and after his failure—is the Lord’s. When Jesus later asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” they both know the answer. Blood-cleansed, Peter is not centered on Peter; his focus is on his Lord.

Two men fail; two men weep. Since we fail, too, we do well to consider the two very different types of tears.

 

 

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

 

 

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.

 


Sometimes the Main Event Is Not the Main Event

Sometimes the main event is not the main event.

A couple of times a year I usually receive article requests, three at a time, from a great little daily devotional magazine. As with all of their writers, the editors pick two Scripture passages for me and I get to pick the third.

So when I received the request letter a few weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised. I opened it, perused the assigned passages, and saw that one was 1 Samuel 17:16-28.

That’s a good one! Or, to be entirely accurate, it’s cut right from the middle of a really great one. First Samuel 17 is the well-known story of “David and Goliath.” Even in our largely biblically illiterate society (and one wonders how anyone in the world, and especially in western society, can claim to be educated at all and not have some familiarity with the Bible, believe it or not, that has so shaped our literature, history, culture, and life), almost everyone knows something about that “shepherd to giant killer” story.

But I was a bit surprised that the Scripture passage I was assigned didn’t encompass the end of the story. If you read this section, you’ll see that when it begins, David has just arrived on the scene, and when it ends, the giant is still alive and ranting. Hmm.

I was a bit befuddled until this truth hit me, and I now repeat it: sometimes the main event is not the main event.

Naturally enough, when we read the great story of David and Goliath, we tend to cut right to the chase or, in this case, the swing. The young son of Jesse swings his sling. The stone flies out, locks on, sinks in; a loud-mouthed giant shuts up and falls down. Cue to cheering! But the key event that actually sets up the sling swing victory comes earlier.

Each morning and evening, like clockwork for forty days, this nine-foot-plus giant with a glandular problem and a boatload of arrogance strides out from the Philistine camp to taunt the Israelites with what seems to be a four-foot-wide mouth. When David arrives, as young and unaccustomed to battle as he is, he sizes up the problem immediately. Not Goliath and his tree-sized spear, the crux of the matter is that as the giant taunts Israel, he is defying God.

The main event? It’s when a full-of-faith shepherd about to turn giant-killer asks who this taunter of God thinks he is. David’s answer? Compared to the living God, this giant is less than nobody at all.

Dealing with a giant of a problem? Don’t we all at times? When life’s frightening giants loom large and threaten to obscure our view, may God give us eyes of faith to recognize Satan’s strategy of misdirection. The real “main event” is the choice to fixate in fear on the giant or to ask God to help us focus in faith on him. And then to help us aim. He’s already promised a victory. And he does his best work when weak folks trust him for help in defeating giants.

 

 

      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.


“I See Dead People”

“I see dead people.”

So said the cute little boy in the memorable line and creepy “confession” from the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense. I hope you don’t find it disturbing when I affirm that I do, too. See dead people, I mean.

For me, it happens pretty often and worries me not at all; in fact, it warms my heart. It gives me real hope. And I find it genuinely encouraging to know that I’ll one day join them.

In our small town, it’s not that unusual for me, a pastor here for almost 34 years, to do a “double-take” at a restaurant or store as I think I see a particular person, only to realize that I attended or officiated at their funeral. Oops! A resemblance. A mistaken identity. But no mistake: I miss them.

Most often, it happens at church. As I stand in the pulpit, look out into the sanctuary, and glance across the faces of worshipers I love, it’s not uncommon for my mind’s eye to “see” among them faces of many dear loved ones and friends, members of our little flock and God’s much larger kingdom, who have gone on to be with our Father.

No, it doesn’t bother me; quite the opposite.

Yes, for over three decades I’ve loved and worshiped with this little part of God’s much larger family. Not large, we’re “mega” only in love. Come to think of it, our little bunch may be a lot like Christ’s church universal in that we have more members who have gone on to be with the Lord than we have members who are presently breathing this earth’s air. They’ve died. “Most people have, you know,” C. S. Lewis, once wrote. Died, that is. Humans who are presently living are in the minority compared to humans who have already passed on. And surely that’s also true of God’s people of faith, of whom Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).

So, if loving God’s people means to live life with them, walk with them, weep with them, laugh with them, believe with them, and share genuine hope with them for life eternal—why should that hope do anything but come closer to full-flower when they go on to be with the Lord?

“Treasure in heaven.” Jesus once said that sort of lasting treasure is the only kind worth “storing up.” I’m not the first to mention that, the older we get, the more precious that treasure in heaven becomes because our most valuable treasures there have faces.

I spoke recently with two friends who are also pastors, faithful workers who have served God’s people in the same local churches for decades. Their experience is the same as mine. They see dead people, too. They look out into the pews, thankful for those who are there, but so very thankful also for those who have gone on but whose influence is still here and who worship now in the presence of the Lord.

We worship. They worship. One eternal day believers will all worship together. One day we’ll close our eyes and wake to find that we’re finally as fully alive as those who’ve gone before us, and our time in the shadows is over.

 

     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.


“Just Try Harder!” Said the Ladybug to the Worm

“Just try harder!” urged the ladybug.

“I am trying,” protested the stressed-out caterpillar. “And I’ve been trying for hours! So far the only thing that’s happened is that I got so dizzy a few minutes ago I almost fell off my leaf.

“If I’d fallen, I’d surely agree that some wings would’ve come in handy. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and if caterpillars could sprout wings by holding their breath and pushing with all their might, I’d have wings that would make most eagles green with envy.

“But I’m still just a green caterpillar, Mrs. Ladybug, and trying harder is not working! So, if you please, madam, I’d be obliged if you would take your stories of caterpillars sprouting wings to some other tree where you may find a more gullible class of caterpillar.

“I’m sure you mean well, and I’ve no doubt that you honestly believe those stories of winged worms, but I am not too good to be a caterpillar. A caterpillar I was born, and a caterpillar I shall gladly remain.

“I may just be a glorified worm, but at least I am a worm with no airs and no need, by the way, to take to the air. Why, come to think of it, I saw a butterfly fly by just this morning. You’d never get me up in a thing like that! I have plenty of fine feet and feel no need at all for any wings, thank you very much. Good day!”

With that, the caterpillar turned on his many heels and wormed his way over to the next leaf. He felt oddly tired and soon found himself snuggling up to a nearby branch. Hmm, maybe he’d just wrap himself up for a while and settle in for a long nap. Caterpillars and wings! Of all the silly stories . . .

And of all the silly caterpillars, that one is in for a serious surprise and a world-class transformation. But trying harder won’t get it done. Only nature’s Creator will get it done, at just the right time and in just the right way.

Most of what passes for religion in this world is, when push comes to shove, all about humanity’s ability to do a better job pushing and shoving. It boils down to self-help horse hockey that puts far too much emphasis on our ability and almost completely disregards God’s power.

Christians, of all people, should know better, but we fall easy prey to “religion” that gives lip service to God but is really all about our trying harder to “be good,” which we could do just as well if the cross had never happened. Self-help religion requires no Savior, no cross.

God has something far different and far better in mind. It’s not about human power. It’s not about our ability to keep the rules. It’s about God’s Spirit transforming us from within: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation!” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). And the apostle says specifically, “All this is from God” lest we think it comes from our own power to change ourselves and impress even God with how good we are.

If your faith is all about how really motivated worms can work harder and sprout wings, you need to find a different tree. One that’s shaped like a cross.

 

     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.


When Your Whole World Seems Tilted in Its Orbit

It’s very nearly as weird-feeling as it is heart-rending—a day when you wake up and realize it’s just another ordinary day for most of the world around you, but your whole world has tilted in its orbit, shifted on its axis.

For you, almost nothing feels the same, and even the things that do, don’t. Their very sameness in this new universe renders them incredibly strange.

You brush your teeth just like you always have. Part your hair in the same place. Take your keys off the same old hook. Just like you did in your old universe. But this morning you feel as if you’d opened your eyes in a universe where two plus two could not possibly still equal four. Is plumb still plumb, level still level? You know it must be, but you wonder how as you take your first steps in your suddenly off-axis world.

This morning you waked up for the first time in your life in a world where the mother or father who gave you life didn’t also wake up. You wonder how many times you’ll have to think, “I need to call Dad,” before your mind will face that fact that you can’t.

How long did it take this morning for you to realize that you were alone in the house? No shower sounds. No smell of coffee. Nobody else’s alarm going off. Your spouse really has left. Some of the last words before that were a little loud. But this jarring silence seems louder.

This morning you took your first breath of consciousness in a world where the child who was the light of your life no longer breathes. People say sadly that you lost a child. No! As if you could misplace your own heart! You didn’t “lose” her. Cancer or tragedy or incomprehensible accident seized her, wrenched her out of your arms. But not your heart. Never your heart. It still beats. And you wonder how.

Whatever the grief—and grief is the name of this thing that feels so strange—you waked up this morning in a universe that seems completely tilted.

You managed to get out of bed, but could that really have been you yesterday in the doctor’s office? Did she really say that the test results confirm that you have a life-altering disease? Now you’re staggering between the uneasy “peace” of at least knowing the reason for your symptoms and the abhorrence of the new label you never wanted, the name of the disease you’re told you that you have but right now seems to have you. “Your” symptoms? The disease you “have”? You resent “having” something that’s “yours” that you have no option to throw away. The old words are not adequate in this new world where the ground won’t stop shifting.

Hear now some words that point to a reality that is rock-solid, foundational, unchangeable, always trustworthy. Grief has a name, but so does Hope. God’s “mercies” really are “new every morning,” every moment, even in what seems a new and unwelcome universe. The only thing greater than your pain is God’s love. “Great is his faithfulness!” It is no accident that those words, deeply true, are found in the tear-stained Bible book named Lamentations (3:22-23).

When your old world “was,” when you don’t know how you can ever stand in this new world that “is,” when you’re deeply afraid of what “will be,” trust, one moment at a time, in the great “I Am.” The God of the universe is your Father. He loves you. That has not changed. It never will.

 

 

      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.


When Jesus Says, “It’s Time to Fish . . .”

In Luke 5 we find the story of the calling of the first apostles.

To get a little space from the crowd, Jesus has turned Simon Peter’s fishing boat into a pulpit, pushed out from the shore, and taught the people from the boat.

When Jesus finishes speaking, he looks over at Simon and, I think, with a twinkle in his eye, he says, “Okay, Simon, you’ve indulged me as I’ve turned your boat into a lectern. Whaddaya say we make it a boat again? Put out into the deep water and let down your nets. Let’s fish a bit.”

Simon’s a tad taken aback. He has heard Jesus teach before and has been amazed. No one taught like Christ. But, with pardonable pride, Simon knows that not many fishermen fished as well as Simon. He knows fishing. It was worth stopping the endless work tending to his nets to listen to the Lord, but he’s tired and filled up with fishing. It’s time to go to the house, but . . .

“Master, we’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught a thing. But because you ask me, we’ll do what you say.”

Do you ever get your fill of experts? They’ve never coached a day in their life, but they know more than the coach. They’ve never doctored a day in their life, but they know more than the doctor. They’ve never taught a day in their life but they know more than the teacher. They’ve never farmed even a furrow but they know more than the farmer. They’ve not done the hard work or made the sacrifices or put in the hours to train or earned the experience only years can buy, but they know more about everybody else’s field than the folks in it.

We all play the pseudo-expert at times. When we’re pompous about it, we can be insufferable; but even a little of such can a bit hard to take, especially when you’re bone tired, you’ve done your best, and the last thing you need is help from an expert.

Jesus is certainly not being insufferable, and Simon is not even close to being deeply offended. But he’s really tired. And who’d blame him if behind his polite words is a little kernel of a “please mind your own business” rebuke?

“Rabbi, I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to teach, and I don’t mean to be impertinent, but the plain fact is that I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know about fishing. I promise you, more fishing right now is a waste of time. But if you have the time to waste—and I wouldn’t do this for anybody else—okay. We’ll give it a shot.” Behind his words: “And I’ll try not to say, I told you so.”

So out they go as Simon unlimbers his already stiff muscles. He takes the boat on out and then with a tired grunt he begins to toss out the nets. And . . .

So many fish the nets begin to break! Simon suddenly realizes that the One who made the lake and the fish and . . . is in his boat! And Christ has caught not just a bunch of fish but also four apostles who through his power will “fish for men” and change the world.

When Christ tells us to put out into the deep water, trust his promises, and follow him, something wonderful is always in store.

 

 

        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.

 


Even for Night Owls, God’s Mercies Are “New Every Morning”

What a sweet morning I’ve just experienced! And this from a person not in the habit of gushing about mornings. A “morning person,” I am not.

The preceding sentence is just a fact. No moral ramifications are attached. Not by me. I have actually even met a few humble morning folks who seem to harbor no self-righteous “early to rise” prejudices. I refer the others to mounting research and genuinely science-based books such as Dr. Till Roenneberg’s Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired. Get up with the roosters if you want to; just please be quiet and don’t crow about it—and, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t bang the lights on!

Our chronotypes—whether you’re a morning lark, a night owl, or a “third bird” (something in between—check out Claudia Hammond’s fun and fascinating Time Warped)—are as hard-wired as our eye color. Granted, the time you’re due at work or school is likely beyond your control, but nobody can control the genes and physiology, your “chronotype,” that dictates when you will generally be most alert, effective, and efficient. The owl under my hat has no problem with mornings; I just like them as dark, as silent, and as still as possible, until caffeine and hot running water can accomplish a resurrection.

All said to underline how very beautiful this particular morning was, even from an owl’s perspective. (My wife and I had the sweet blessing of an unusually un-rushed morning.)

When I awoke, it was deliciously dark. Darkness can be a metaphor for evil, but in a safe, warm place, it can also be as beautifully enfolding as a blanket. I’d banked the fire the night before, tucking in with ashes what was left of the glowing embers so that this morning I could simply rake the ash-blanket aside, lay on some more wood, and wait for the flickering fire to spring into life and warmth. Flickering in darkness is the best kind of flickering a fire does.

I made coffee so as to be able to find my pulse. Later on, I perused the headlines in a digital version of The Wall Street Journal. It was nice to get a couple of my prejudices confirmed. Article headline, front page-below the fold: “Please Do Your Sneezing at Home: Employees Strike Back Against Coughing Colleagues.” (Of course, one colleague will spray disinfectant and sniffle-shame you if you show up sick, even as another will call you a slacker if you take sick leave. Catch-22.)

And I smiled at the book review of Dreyer’s English, a book by Benjamin Dreyer (review by Ben Yagoda). “Being well copy-edited is like getting ‘a really thorough teeth-cleaning,’” Dreyer writes. And he mentions a famous New Yorker editor’s rule: “Try to preserve an author’s style if he is an author and has a style.”

But before heading to the Journal, I sought more timeless wisdom. I decided today to read and pray the “morning office” from the venerable Book of Common Prayer. (There are apps for that! For iPad, iPhone, or PC, search “The Mission of St. Clare.” It’s one of the best. By the way, if you think this sounds terribly “spiritual,” you obviously don’t know me.)

One of the Scriptures for the morning was Psalm 19. “The heavens declare the glory of God, / and the firmament shows his handiwork.” I love that psalm in any translation, but I decided to check it out also in The Message, and, wow! Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase is always amazing, but never better than this: “God’s glory is on tour in the skies, / God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. / Madame Day holds classes every morning, / Professor Night lectures each evening.” (To read it all, head to http://www.biblegateway.com and go to Psalm 19 in The Message.)

No, I’ll never be a morning person. But I do indeed believe that God’s “mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3). And I really enjoyed this one.

 

 

     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.

 


Christmas Is Only as Strong as Its Weakest Link

I don’t usually think of Christmas and chains as going together, unless I’m reading about the ponderously-chained Ghost of Christmas Past who so terrorized old Ebenezer Scrooge! But I believe this to be true: Christmas is a “chain” which is only as strong as its weakest link.

If Christmas deals only with lights and tinsel, egg nog and poinsettias (all of which I enjoy very much, I hope you understand), and the Yuletide joy and peace, love and good will, we sing about are just artificial twinkles and largely illusory light, then Christmas is a weak and pathetic thing which can’t possibly stand the test of life and time and which will fade a long time before the January sales (and credit card bills) end.

If Christmas has to do only with parties and good times, but nothing to do with hospital rooms and disgusting diagnoses . . .

If Christmas has to do only with smiles and “Merry Christmases” and nothing to do with hope at a graveside . . .

If Christmas has to do only with sales and not souls, presents and not His Presence, holiday cheer but not lifelong Joy . . .

If Christmas has to do only with Jingle Bells and nothing to do with “God with us,” well, then, Christmas is not up to the task of making a real difference in our lives, and it’s just one more momentary diversion for the despairing, one more false hope for people who know no hope, and it certainly won’t make much difference in life, or in death, or in anything at all very real or substantial.

But if Christmas, and all that is best about this good season, points to real light and hope, glimmering reflections from the Father of Lights, the Giver of Joy, the Sender of the very best Gift, then the Christ of Christmas can use this time of celebration to point us to light that truly is stronger than darkness, hope that is genuinely stronger than despair, and life that is ultimately and infinitely stronger than death.

Then we discover that the Light of Christmas is real indeed because He is real, and life is far more substantial than death.

Then Christmas means something beautiful and wonderful and real. And Christmas joy can and will last forever.

 

 

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

 

 

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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