Tag Archives: grace

Real Holiness is Deeper Than “Don’t Touch! Don’t Taste!”

“I’m in a twelve-step program for recovering ascetics,” I explained to my missionary nephew. I knew he’d get it.

More than a little conversant in theology and church history, Ian had joined his dad and uncles at the old “home place” at Robert Lee, Texas. We had been dining quite well out by the fire pit when I felt led to confess.

In case the humor misses you, let me explain. To greatly oversimplify, may I just say that “asceticism” is a kind of over-reaction to “hedonism.” That helps, right? No. Okay.

“Hedonism” is an approach to life that says, “Get all the gusto! Deny yourself nothing!” (Solomon is the most famous of the jillions who’ve tried it. See Ecclesiastes 2.)

Asceticism, on the other hand, says that the way to be really holy is to strictly and religiously deny yourself all comfort and pleasure. If you’re a monk given to asceticism (and by no means all monks are or were), you might wear a hair shirt, sleep on the cold floor, fast for days on end, maybe even whip yourself, to try to put to death all physical desires.

With medium rare steak juice trickling down my beard and in the midst of kinsmen all busily eating too much, I told Ian, “I’m in a twelve-step program for recovering ascetics.” Ascetics Anonymous.

Truth be told, I’ve never been even close to asceticism. But also true, in my early life I spent way too much time feeling guilty about enjoying God’s good gifts and that amazing blessing, life itself. I should have known my Father better.

I was teaching a Sunday School class on “Moderation” (now that’s funny!) when I remembered my quip to Ian.

Yes, Jesus says that his disciples must deny themselves and follow him. Denial of “things” may at times be part of that, but the deeper denial is far harder. Following a crucified Lord means to follow him by laying aside our rights, our selfish wills, our self-centeredness, any claim to be our “own” and the god of our own lives, any claim to a “righteousness” that is our own, and any desire to take center stage with our own rule-keeping “holiness.”

The Apostle Paul issues a stiff warning in Colossians 2. He says that rules such as “Touch not! Taste not! Handle not!” have “an appearance of wisdom,” but in reality “their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body” lack “any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” They’re just one more way of focusing on us and our sham of “goodness” rather than on God and the real thing.

The Scriptures make it clear that we may well choose on occasion to give up for a time some things or activities as a spiritual discipline, but we must not feel haughty or be loud about it or bind our way on others.

Most of the time, the best way to honor God is to enjoy his multitude of gifts at the right times, in the right amounts, and to overflow in thanksgiving as we live balanced lives eating, sleeping, working, playing—all to God’s glory. Moderation is a key to balance.

Funny though, we need to be moderate even about moderation lest we take ourselves too seriously and God not seriously enough. Folks who pat themselves on the back about how moderate they are end up tired and tiresome. Such contortion always produces a pain in the tail section.

 

    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.

Advertisements

“The Gracious Become More Gracious”

How’s this for the setting for a series of mystery novels? It’s twelfth-century England. Following a long career as a soldier and later as a ship’s captain, a short but sturdy Welshman, who still rolls a bit when he walks as if he were still at sea, has “taken the cowl.” Kind and wise, he has taken vows as a monk in a Benedictine monastery where he is in charge of the “herbarium,” growing all sorts of herbs and vegetables from which he blends healing ointments and medicines. Often, he also finds himself playing the lead role in a medieval cross between Sherlock Holmes, CSI, and Law & Order as he becomes a kind of monkish detective.

I have just described the Brother Cadfael mystery series, written under the pen name of Ellis Peters by Edith Pargeter. Many of the stories have been adapted for television by the BBC (starring Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael) and are available through Netflix, etc. They’re well done, though the best movie can never beat a book.

I love the series, and I love Brother Cadfael, a wise good-humored man with the kind of robust Christlike goodness that loves both the Lord and His gift of life. No surprise that Cadfael finds himself in hot water at times with the pretentiously pious “powers that be.” He is true to the Spirit of God and to what is best in his monastic order, but he has seen enough of both the world and his Lord to know that God truly does desire “mercy and not sacrifice.” I like spending time with him.

I was listening to the audio version of one of the Cadfael books the other day (The Holy Thief) when I came across a quotation that made me think. A servant girl has fallen in love with a young man about to take his vows as a monk but presently accused of murder and being dealt with sternly by a particularly self-righteous abbot. She says openly to Brother Cadfael, for anyone with a good spirit knows they can trust him, “These monastics! They are what they are born, only with a vengeance. If they come into the world hard and cold, they end up harder and colder. If they come generous and sweet, they grow ever sweeter and more generous. All one or the other.”

What do you think? I think she’s on to something not just about monks or pastors or other religious professionals. We note it in them particularly because we know deep down that following a gracious Lord should make us gracious people.

But don’t we often see in all people exactly what the girl describes to Cadfael? The gracious become more gracious until their winsome lives seem warmed within by deep joy. The critical and hard become harder and more critical until cold and alone, they break.

We see it happening, and I see in it both warning and hope. To choose to be cold and hard, or warm and gracious? May we choose well. One day, sooner than we think, we’ll have chosen the direction and set sail, unlikely to look back and even less likely to tack against the wind.

 

 

    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.


One Thing Is Still Marvelously Full and Free

I still miss Andy Rooney. Where’s the old curmudgeon when you need him?

Rooney’s commentary at the end of 60 Minutes was always the cream of the show. (Speaking of dairy, I still thank him for pointing out that milk that a cow would claim is just 3.2% fat; I’ve never touched 2% or “skim” since.) After his death in 2011, five weeks after his last television commentary (number 1,097), the man has been irreplaceable. Go to commercial. It’s over.

One of my favorite types of Rooney commentary came when he’d speak over a desk strewn with a variety of items and discuss how consumers were getting ripped off. I thought of him today as I reached for the toilet paper. (Quite a memorial!)

That toilet paper roll was one of those fat ones. The package promised more sheets per roll. And darn well should. If it gets any more expensive, it’ll be cheaper to use dollar bills.

But, more sheets rolled up on the roll or not, I think I’ve uncovered a nefarious plot to filch consumers. Reach for that roll and you’ll find that it rattles around, side to side, on the TP roller. Why? Because the roll is at least an inch narrower than TP rolls used to be. So, less total toilet paper. And I’ll betcha dollars to paper perforations that the price did not go down when the company went to narrower rolls. I’ll call the roll. I call it skimpy even if it’s fat.

Call them out on that (oh, we need Andy Rooney!), and I suspect the companies would give moving speeches about their heartfelt concern for the environment; they’re saving trees. I’ll believe that explanation at exactly the same moment I believe that hotel chains’ primary motivation for wanting to wash your bed linen and towels less often is their desire to help “save the planet.” Or maybe when the skimpy roll sports a lowered price. Not gonna happen. We pay the same or higher prices; we get less product.

I’m not usually much of a conspiracy theorist, but I smell a toilet paper conspiracy. I’d be tempted to suggest we all go back to using Sears catalogs and outhouses in protest (our forefathers were incredibly conscientious about such recycling), but you can’t find Sears catalogs. Or outhouses.

I think the TP narrow gauge rip-off is the T-i-P of a much larger pattern of skullduggery. Have you measured a frozen corn dog lately? They’ve been bobbed. Same price. Less dog. And research shows that since 2006 most ice cream manufacturers have gone from a full half-gallon, 64 ounces, down toward 48. If I’m paying money for what is already mostly air, albeit wonderfully sweetened and flavored, I want 64 ounces of it.

Coffee? We’re mostly getting 13 ounces or less now, not 16. And count your Saltine crackers. Fewer per package. Peanut butter “jars.” Same size? Not really. Notice the indentation in the bottom? In a wine bottle, that’s called a “punt,” and there are a number of good and plausible reasons for it. Only one reason for dents in peanut butter jar bottoms. And it’s not positive. Candy bars? Shrinking because of the companies’ over-arching concern for the health of overweight consumers. Right. Products shrink; prices stay the same. Feel the hand in your pocket? It’s not yours.

One thing is still marvelously full and absolutely free. The riches of God’s grace. And that you can count on.

 

   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.


“God’s Grace: It Just Isn’t Fair!”

A surpassingly strange story it is, and enough to make a math or accounting major bite nails. I’m talking about Jesus’ “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard” (Matthew 20:1-16).

Here’s the story in a nutshell: It’s grape harvest in Palestine. A vineyard owner goes out early to hire men to work in his vineyard, and he agrees to pay them a denarius, a normal day’s wage. They go to work.

At 9:00 a.m. he finds other men standing around in the marketplace and also hires them, promising to pay them a fair wage. At noon and at 3:00 he does the same thing. Finally, even at 5:00, he finds others standing around, and he hires them also.

When evening comes, he pays the workers, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first. To the workers he hired last, he gives a denarius, and so on down through the line. Every worker receives the same pay.

The workers who were hired first begin to complain that it isn’t fair, that the landowner has made the fellows who worked just one hour “equal to” those who have worked all day long in the hot sun. But the landowner replies that he paid exactly what he agreed to pay, and that he has every right to be as generous as he wishes with his own money and pay the men hired last as much as those hired first.

Jesus concludes, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Quite a story, and not so much a story about vineyard owners and workers as a story about grace.

You see, where real grace is found, you’ll find our gracious God.

Law may ask grudgingly, “I know I’m to love my neighbor. Who qualifies? And under its breath it mutters, “I’ll not love anyone I don’t have to.”

Law may ask grudgingly, “Who and how many times do I have to forgive?” and mutters with frosty breath blown out over a cold heart, “It’ll be a snowy day in perdition when I forgive that one.”

Law may ask grudgingly, “How much do I have to give?” and under its breath mutter, “I’ll not give a penny more.”

Law may ask grudgingly, “How many times do I have to go to church?” and under its breath mutter, “I’ll go not one Sunday more.”

Those are not the kind of questions grace asks because they are not the kind of questions God asks. God loves, forgives, gives, walks with us, because our Father is the God of all grace. Do we deserve his gift? No! It is enough for him that we desperately need it. His loving us will never make black and white, bottom-line accounting sense. Legally, it will never add up or balance. Not even close.

Sadly, where you find real grace, you’ll also find, just as in this parable, grinchy grumblers who aim to get their salvation the old-fashioned way: they want to earn it. They are angered by a God who freely offers salvation to a thief on a cross or a prisoner at Huntsville with a needle in his arm but faith on his lips. That kind of grace just doesn’t add up! That God gives it always angers some.

May we be far too busy praising him and thanking him to ever listen to complaints from those who’ve not yet learned that the very last thing in this universe any of us should ever want to get is “what we deserve.”

 

 

     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 profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Some of Life’s Best Moments Must Be Savored–or Lost

Some moments in life are golden. And some of the best of all are precious precisely because they must be savored immediately or forever lost.

Oh, as long as God is our Father, and that’s forever, beautifully sweet moments, joy surprises and cloud bursts of delight will come again. But never again the same one, for much of their rich sweetness and deep joy sparkles in the diamond-truth that no two of them are exactly alike.

None can be bottled to be uncorked and re-savored, recorded to be played back at a whim, or captured to be freed for the moments you wish to dance the same dance and want that particular joy to be your once-again, radiant-in-just-the-same-way partner in the waltz.

You never stepped out onto your front porch to gaze up at the starlit night and looked at exactly the same world. Like a river, it flows new every moment. It won’t be truly the same in ten minutes. Or in the space of your next breath. Look quickly! And look often!

You’re rocking in an old soft chair, but not alone. You and your little very grand baby are swaddled together in a warm blanket on a lazy afternoon. Raindrop-straight-down sounds are the lullaby and the babe’s whiffling breath is the sweet meter of the moment’s melody. Oh, swifter than that tiny living miracle’s heartbeat, you’d sign on were it possible to go on gazing sleepily but in utter awe and purest joy at the lovely face of that precious gift of God, and gently rock… rock… rock… on forever. Only the Giver of all good gifts knows what wonderful joy-flowers you and that precious little one will pluck together, but this particular bloom is fully open right now. And not for long. Thank God for it quickly!

You’ve sung or played or strummed or bowed the same beautiful song time and again but never in exactly the same way. A grace-note in measure eight, a joy-trill in the “bridge,” a bit more tremolo in the “intro,” and a new millisecond pause before the “tag” or the “outro”—it’s the sweetly-spaced silence that gives the intervening notes richness—and it’s an old beautiful song caressing fresh ears and washing open hearts, brand new.

To savor such moments our souls need spaces for rest and not just the counterfeit “relaxation” of loud and manic diversion. Our souls need the sweet salve, the lovely balm, of what our Father calls Sabbath, whatever its date or duration. We need times—sometimes they’re just a few breaths’ worth—of worthwhile moments, and sometimes, regularly, they need to be hours or days—when we’re quiet and still and our hearts and hands are particularly open to receive the sweet and special gifts—golden moments—our Father wants to give.

“Be still, and know that I am God,” our Father says. It’s wonderfully true eternally. But it’s most clearly known in sweet and fleeting moments of deep joy, the kind that can’t be captured—only savored, the kind that grow best in rich stillness.

 

     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.


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.


Praising God Launches a Delightful Chain Reaction

“Come,” invites the Psalmist of old, “let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (95:1-2).

C. S. Lewis writes, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”

Some years ago my wife and I were in New Orleans where she was attending a training conference. I went along to provide pastoral care. When she went to training sessions in search of knowledge, I went in search of seafood.

At one point, we ran into a fellow reading a book in an outdoor courtyard and struck up a conversation. He waxed rhapsodic about a little hole in the wall, Coop’s Place, down toward the river, describing the delectable crawfish étouffée he’d found there. Not only was he enjoying the memory of that fine food, he was enjoying it yet again as he described it to us.

I soon found out for myself that it was remarkably fine stuff. I enjoyed telling my wife about it, taking her there later, and now I’m telling you about it and resisting the impulse to describe it in a great deal more detail. Part of the joy of the whole experience is in telling about it.

Lewis goes on to say that “to praise God fully we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God, drowned in, dissolved by that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression.” He says you can no more separate your joy from the praise it frees and releases from your soul than you can separate the “brightness a mirror receives . . . from the brightness it sheds.”

When we praise God, not only is our joy made more complete, our praise itself issues in deeper praise and worship.

So the Psalmist invites us to praise God, to worship him, to thank him as the praise in our hearts builds and overflows the banks of our hearts in rivers of joy, the most wonderful sort of chain reaction. Once started, thank God, it’s almost impossible to stop unless something becomes wrong with our hearts.

God’s people can no more refuse to praise God than living people can will themselves to cease breathing. We praise God because we have breath to live and to praise and God is the One who gives it.

We praise God because God made us.

We praise God because God is worthy and deserving of all praise.

We praise God because there are songs to sing and God is the music.

We praise God because there are colors to see and God is the Painter.

We praise God because we are deeply loved and he is the Lover.

We praise God! How can we not? Why would we not?

We praise God because it is our joy to praise Him, and praising Him completes and magnifies our joy.

 

 

      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.


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.


God’s Grace Is Amazing, But It Is Not “Easy”

God’s grace is wonderful. But if we think grace is easy, we need to think some more.

One of Jesus’ most famous stories was told in response to a religious lawyer’s question: “Teacher, who is my neighbor?”

The question was blatantly self-serving. Luke prefaces the lawyer’s question: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked . . .”

The greatest temptation we all face is to try to “justify” ourselves rather than accepting by faith the justification that comes only through grace. We understand the question’s tone all too well.

“And who is my neighbor?” (10:29).

Let’s make a law about this so I can be very sure I’ve done what is required and no more. After all, love is costly business, and I’d hate to waste a lot of time loving someone with no claim on my love. Let’s clear this up so I can check this off the “to do” list, present the completed list to God, and expect to be paid a wage for services rendered.

We’re all expert in religious accounting. It’s easier to count than to worship. Trusting ourselves rather than trusting God is humanity’s default mode. And it’s easy to find a religious group that is more of a “religious” accounting firm focusing on our effort to keep the law rather than being the worshiping Body of Christ focusing on blood-bought salvation we in no way earn.

Ah, but that “all-about-me” question hangs in the air: “Who is my neighbor?”

Remember the story? A foolish traveler, a Jew, is waylaid by robbers, beaten senseless, and crumpled by the side of the road. In turn two religious men, a priest and a Levite, see him and walk on by, willfully blind to his need. But a Samaritan, a man whose race and religion all Jews, including this lawyer, would despise, stops, helps the man, and even pays for his lodging and care.

Then Jesus asks his own question: Who was a neighbor to the man in need? And the lawyer stammers, “The one who had mercy on him.” “Go,” Jesus says, “and do likewise,” indicating that the lawyer will never run out of neighbors and never be able to check this item off his religious “to do” list.

Salvation by law, by rule-keeping, which is no salvation at all, says, “How little can I do and be saved?” Salvation by grace through faith says, “How may I joyfully honor the God who has already saved me?”

So here are a few religiously legal questions for us, though you could add a thousand more: How often must I go to church? How much of my money do I have to give? How much can I play with sin in action or attitude? When can I say I’ve completed all the “right” rituals, worshiped enough and just “right”? When can I look down on others of God’s children who are not as “right”? How many miles away from my own front door does my responsibility to show God’s love extend?

If you think these are law questions and not grace questions, not the kinds of questions God wants us to waste time asking, I think you’re right. A legal approach to religion is not only cold, shallow, and barren, it is far too easy.

Grace? Now that’s another thing entirely!

 

 

     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.

 


%d bloggers like this: