Tag Archives: forgiveness

Repeat Regularly: “There Is One God; I Am Not Him”

“Oh, I guess I’m just a perfectionist,” I opined, in an “Aw, shucks!” sort of feigned shame tone, as I tried to hide the weird contortions required to pat oneself on the back.

But twisted pride is one of perfectionism’s pernicious symptoms. Perfectionists like to think they are a cut above ordinary folks. We have, we think, higher standards, work with more diligence, and see more clearly than pretty much everyone else.

Granted, low standards, lazy workers, and the lousy outcomes produced by such are not hard to find. But those ills are never cured by perfectionists; if anything, they are made worse. Even folks who do an average to slightly above average job just want to give up under the incessant pressure of a perfectionist’s thumb; folks on the lower end of the scale won’t even try.

Perfectionism’s thinly-veiled arrogance, along with out-of-balance priorities, and deep (and sick) need to be in control, spells death to any sort of genuine contentment and pushes family, friends, and co-workers, away. Perfectionism sucks the air out of any room and throttles healthy relationships. And perfectionists are sadly unable to see perfectionism’s malignant imperfection.

Yes, its pride is stinky. But the real rot at its heart is the poison of fear, the soul-throttling terror of never being able to measure up, which leads to frantic effort—never ceasing, never resting, and, of course, never succeeding—to be completely in control.

In the final analysis, perfectionism is idolatry, and idolatry always fails. Since we are incapable of being in absolute control of our own lives—and were never meant to be—we fail at being our own gods. And since others were never meant to acknowledge us as their gods, we fail at forcing those around us to “have no other gods before us.” Bowing down to the true God is freeing; bowing down to a perfectionist is enslaving and utterly exhausting. Eventually, the slaves will revolt. The spouse has had it. The kids’ act out or get sick. The co-workers quit.

Based on miserable insecurity and fear, not on “high standards” as the perfectionist likes to suppose, perfectionism never works. “Good enough” will never be “good enough” under a perfectionist’s reign. No victimless malady, it will render both the sufferer and those who suffer the sufferer miserable.

And forget the myth that perfectionism is productive. Study after study has shown the truth one song-writer put into words: The way to write a really good song is to write a good many bad ones. Living life in a fear-based, frantic attempt to produce perfection really means not producing much at all (and certainly not enjoying the process).

Anne Lamott has written, “I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

For Christians, the truth is even more serious. Perfectionism is a denial of the gospel, a slap in the face of the Savior, as perfectionists live and act as if they need no saving at all, certainly not as much as ordinary folks. But to accept Christ’s sacrifice requires admitting our utter inability to save ourselves. It’s only when we confess our powerlessness, weakness, and imperfection that he enables us to throw off the fear, futility, and idolatry of perfectionism, to embrace his deep peace and joy and live truly gracious lives in the sure knowledge that we are saved by sheer mercy and grace.

Maybe I should delete all of the above and just write (and repeat each hour) an eight-word anti-perfectionism creed: There is one God. I am not Him.

 

     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.

 

 


Only Broken Disciples Find Grace to Be Whole

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” said the servant girl.

Peter, standing near the fire, startled, began backtracking. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and slinked over out into the entryway.

But the girl is speaking again, not keeping her opinion to herself: “This fellow is one of them.” Again Peter denies it, but the meddlesome girl has struck the match, and the flames are spreading. Others chime in, “Of course, you’re one of them, for you’re a Galilean.”

Yes, a Galilean fisherman, to be exact. He certainly knew some knots, and he didn’t have to reach all that far back to pull up some “nautical” terms. He cursed and swore, “I do not know the man!”

When his Lord needed him the most, Rocky crumbled, and he thundered about the man he loved more than anyone else in the world, “I tell you, I don’t even know who this man is!”

Then the sound of a rooster crowing struck his ears for the second time, even as the words attesting to his cowardice hung in the air, and he was assailed by the memory of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “You will all deny me.”

As the whole bunch indignantly protested, one loud voice had rung out above the rest. “Lord,” Peter had opined, “even if all the rest of these deny you, I never will!”

Oh, be careful, Peter! Tread lightly, disciples then and now! We are never more dangerous or more in danger than when we’re feeling more “spiritual” than others nearby.

In that courtyard, Peter remembered Jesus’ words to him: “I tell you the truth, today—this very night—before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.”

As the rooster’s raucous call echoed away, another sound replaced it. Peter’s own sobbing. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and the rock was crushed.

On the miserable scale of human foul-ups and faithlessness, this was no small failure.  But Christ does his best work not when we’re fat and sassy and so “spiritual” we have to tie rocks to our feet to keep from ascending prematurely. No, he lifts us up when we’re broken, and we know it.

After the resurrection, Peter and crew have gone back to fishing. The risen Lord has given them a miraculous catch and cooked breakfast for them.

Then Jesus gazes at Peter. Three times he asks, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Three denials by the fire in that wretched courtyard. Three affirmations by the campfire by the sea. And three times Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.” And, yes, Peter would.

Jesus loves this broken disciple far too much to let him wallow in his woundedness. Healed with a kind of wholeness he could never know when he was cocksure of his own strength, he was filled with new gratitude, new love, new wisdom, and mercy enough to share.

Now rolling down his cheeks are tears of joy as his Lord has lifted him higher than he could ever rise when he was sure he’d never fall.

 

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.


“I Can’t Rightly Say, But It Sounds Like . . .”

 

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In his delightful book Jayber Crow, author Wendell Berry has one character tell this little tale about another one:

“Fraz Berlew was drunk and wandering. He wandered into a saloon down at Hargrave. The saloonkeeper was out and the place was empty. Fraz just helped himself to a considerable portion of the merchandise, and wandered on.

“When he wandered back again the saloonkeeper was there. He said, ‘Fraz, did you come in here and drink up a bunch of my whiskey while I was gone?’

“And Fraz said, ‘I can’t rightly say. But it sounds like me.’”

That little story makes me think—not about Fraz Berlew but about you. And about me.

It’s one thing for a saloonkeeper to miss some of his stock, see an ol’ boy wander through, and immediately recognize the culprit, even if the culprit’s not absolutely sure he is the culprit! It’s another for someone to see or hear of an act of kindness, generosity, largeness of spirit, and immediately think, “I’m not sure who did that, but it sure sounds like . . .”

What a great thing if folks are tempted to make that kind of statement about you!

“Hey, did anybody see _____ wander through our workplace here? Everybody seems happier than usual today. I’m not sure she was here, but it sure seems like she might have been.”

“Did anybody see ______ come through our home? I’m not sure he was here, but today the members of our family have just seemed more accepting of and thankful for each other, and I just thought ___ had probably been here.”

“Was ______ here today in our [home, business, school, office, church]? So-and-so was really feeling down, dirty, and depressed because of [insert So-and-so’s sin, failure, burden, weakness, sorrow], and [he, she, or me] is so much better, I was pretty sure _______ must have spent some time here.”

I could go on, but you get the picture, don’t you? You can quickly think of some folks whose names fit into those blanks very well. They are people who just spend some time in your home, walk through your office, visit your classroom, worship with you at church—people whose lives somehow intersect with yours perhaps in very small ways—but wherever they are, life somehow seems better, more filled with color, more joyful, more worth living, and more filled with grace and hope, no matter how dark or gloomy the day might have seemed before they passed through.

I think the Apostle Paul would say that such people have about them “the aroma of Christ.”

“Was _____ here today?”

“I can’t rightly say. But it sure seems like it because today this place is better, more gracious, more filled with hope than it was before.”

 

      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.


“What’s So Amazing About Grace?”

 

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“What’s so amazing about grace”?

The whole universe is not large enough to contain the wonderful answer, but maybe part of the answer is found in contrasting grace with what Philip Yancey, in his fine book What’s So Amazing About Grace, calls “ungrace,” grace’s ugly opposite.

Ungrace says, “You are what you produce.” Grace says, “You are what God has produced.”

Ungrace says, “What you produce is not good enough.” Grace says, “What God has produced is beautiful and you will be amazed at how beautiful it will yet become.”

Ungrace says, “You must keep working to earn God’s love.” Grace says, “You already have God’s love now, completely, and forever.”

Ungrace says, “Look how bad you are!” Grace says, “Look how good is the God who loves you now, completely, and forever.”

Ungrace says, “You don’t measure up,” and it frowns. Grace says, “Through Christ, you do. You absolutely do,” and it smiles.

Ungrace measures. Grace exults.

Ungrace says, “You can never afford the luxury of real peace and contentment and serenity.” Grace says, “Yours is peace beyond comprehension, worth more than gold.”

Ungrace says, “You must always keep working to be sure you’ve done enough—and, by the way, you can never know.” Grace says, “Christ has done enough, far more than enough, and you are Christ’s. Live in him, with peace and joy, and be amazed at the bounty of good works he does in your life.”

Ungrace says, “Work harder to be saved.” Grace says, “Work well and joyfully because you already are saved.”

Ungrace groans. Grace laughs.

Ungrace says, “Look at yourself! You’re worthless!” Grace says, “Look at God who knows you completely and says, ‘You’re priceless, worth the gift of my Son!’”

Ungrace says, “Let’s make some rules for some slaves, pretend we keep the rules, and worship what we call our religion.” Grace says, “Let’s bow gratefully before the God who has made us his children, freed us from subservience to law, and saved us to freely obey the law of Love.”

Ungrace says, “Grovel, slaves, before the stern Taskmaster who can’t wait to damn you when you foul up.” Grace says, “Dance, children, before the God who is your Father, whose Joy fills and empowers your every step and whose love covers and redeems your every misstep.”

Ungrace looks at those who glory in God’s grace and warns, “You’ll be sorry! Even God can’t forgive somebody like you!” Grace looks at God and sings his praises, “Worthy, worthy, worthy! Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” even as ungrace’s whiny voice is forever obliterated, and God’s people from all ages raise their voices in the everlasting and joyful praise of “the God of all grace.”

 

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

 

 

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


“God Has Forgiven Me, But I Can’t Forgive Myself”

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“I know God has forgiven me; I just can’t forgive myself.”

I hear people say that. To my shame, I probably have also. I’m almost 51% sure that most folks mean well by it. But I’m 100% sure it’s among the most wrong-headed, arrogant, and idolatrous statements we could ever make.

Do we think it sounds humble? “God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself”? How could that conceivably be confused with humility?

It’s completely encased in arrogant pride as, while we acknowledge that God can and does forgive the sins of others, we’re sure our own sins are so much worse than theirs that, though God has forgiven us, we can’t manage to do the same for ourselves.

Are we really such a better (or worse) class of sinners than the run of the mill, ordinary sort? Are our standards (here comes the idolatry) higher even than God’s who says that through his Son, we’re forgiven?

Will we say, “Thank you, but I doubt that even the blood of your Son can forgive me, Sir. Instead of accepting charity, I choose to wear (if I can find them) a hair shirt, sack-cloth and ashes, and a dour expression. Instead of accepting your gift and focusing on your Son, I’d rather, if you don’t mind, go on gazing at my own navel, allowing the universe to be bordered north, south, east, and west by “I, me, myself, and mine,” and go on playing the victim. If you don’t mind . . .”

Oh, get over it. God minds!

Whatever we intend, this false humility is a stinky thing, a slap in the face of God, a denial of the cross. It can be nothing else.

But someone opines, “I can’t forgive myself. I know God says I’m forgiven, but I don’t feel forgiven.”

Two points. First, why would we ever think we could literally forgive ourselves? Jesus said it: “Only God can forgive sins.” If we’re his, he has done the forgiving at appalling cost; our only choice is to accept the gift or not.

Second, though our Father cares how we feel because he loves us, feelings, for folks as self-centered as we are, easily become our most popular idol. But they’re wrong about as often as they’re right. And they make a rotten god.

If God says we are forgiven, then we are, no matter how we feel. I may feel in my heart of hearts that the moon is green cheese; my feelings won’t change reality at all. But my feelings about forgiveness will affect my ability to live a joyful, gracious, unselfish, and fruitful life.

The Apostle John writes that God is greater than our “anxious hearts” and “self-debilitating criticism” (see 1 John 3:19-20, The Message).

You can’t forgive yourself? So what? If you’re God’s child, accept the gift and dance with joy! Or hold it at arm’s length and wallow around enjoying your role as a poor, pitiful victim. The first choice is life and joy. The second is as boring and tiresome as it is deadly. The first is heaven; the second, hell.

Refusing forgiveness is a lot of things, all bad; the one thing it absolutely is not is humility. God sent, God gave, his Son so we could get over ourselves.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! I’m pretty sure some Christmas music is waiting there, as well as some potential gifts!  😉

 

 

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


Christ’s Unfailing Love Is Still His Gift Whenever We Fail

The Apostle Peter was about to foul up. And not just a little.

Any Christian with an ounce of spiritual sensitivity knows that we all “deny” Christ whenever we choose for self and not for God, hurt others, live selfishly, make poor choices, commit sin, etc. We all have, and we all do. In some way, we “deny” him every day by some poor attitude, word, or deed.

But Peter, the first to confess out loud that Jesus is “the very Son of God,” Peter of “rock-like” faith fame, Peter who would later see visions, preach the Good News to the Gentiles, write Scripture, perform miracles, die an “extreme faith” death, is about to loudly deny his Lord three times (“I don’t even know the man!”), and cut and run, at the very time Jesus needs him the most.

It was world-class BIG on the scale of human foul-ups. Few people ever mess up in a way any worse, larger, blacker, fouler, than this one.

And yet what I find most amazing is not that Peter was weak or that the mess was rotten and real. What is most amazing is not the way Christ will deal with Peter and the “train wreck,” as impressive and instructive as that is: three times Peter denied his Lord, and three times Jesus will, for Peter’s sake, have him verbally affirm what Jesus already knows, that Peter does love him.

What I find most remarkable is the way Jesus deals with the situation and his friend and disciple even before the denial.

At that “last supper,” Jesus says that the hand of the one who would betray him was there present. But he wasn’t talking about the hand of the one who would deny him. One disciple would betray and then wallow in a sick sorrow that leads to despair and death. One disciple would deny terribly and then weep bitter and genuine tears but allow the Lord’s hand to lift him up and lead him through.

On that same amazing night at that table, Jesus will tell Peter three things—first, that Satan has asked to “sift” him like wheat, which is no fun at all.

But, second, Jesus tells Peter that he has prayed for him that his faith would not fail. Amazing! Imagine Jesus the Lord praying for his friend. And then realize that the same Lord prays for you. Notice also that, though Jesus knows Peter will indeed fall and deny him, that Peter will in a very real sense “fail,” Jesus does not consider Peter’s failure the same thing as Peter’s faith failing. Jesus’ prayer will be answered. Even in the midst of failure and tears, Peter’s love for Christ and Christ’s love for him will still be real. And Jesus will not let him forget that.

Ah, and then comes a third amazing reality. Jesus tells Peter the “end of the story.” Christ’s love will lead Peter through. He will not despair. And that warm assurance is wrapped up as a beautiful gift, love’s “action plan,” in these simple words: “When you have turned back [repented, gotten back up after the fall], strengthen your brothers.” God always uses those who know they are wounded far more mightily than those who think they are whole.

Forgiveness. Hope. Power. Those are Christ’s gifts to the one he loves—before, during, and after the messes we make.

 

 

 

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

 

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


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