Tag Archives: jesus

A Look Inside the Mangers of Our Minds

“There is holiness to memory,” Philip Gulley writes in his Christmas in Harmony, and “a sense of God’s presence” in what Gulley calls the “mangers of the mind.”

Perhaps the memories in the manger center on wonderful moments in a decades-long line of Christmas Eve services or the particular way your family lit the Advent candles each year. Other memories in the manger almost certainly focus on Christmas joys, as commonplace as they are special, all wrapped up in the way your mother always orchestrated the trimming of the tree, or the way your father handed out the gifts on Christmas morning, or your family’s favorite egg nog recipe or your clan’s most treasured Christmas stories and shows, movies and music.

From the oldest in the family for whom Christmases now seem to roll around at a once-a-week rate to the youngest little one just learning to focus on the sparkle of the Christmas lights and herself lighting up the family on her first Christmas, everyone has those memories, lovingly placed in the “mangers of the mind.” And each of them is itself a gift from the One who is the greatest Gift ever given and the real center of every joy.

So much beauty.

So much joy.

What is remarkable is that so much of it is all wrapped up just like last year and the year before, or the year 30 years before.

Woe to the family member who messes much with the recipe!

The Christmas Eve package-openers will likely always look askance at the Christmas morning package-openers.  The one-at-a-time-while-everyone-watches package openers will always harbor grave doubts about the Cretans who tear into all the presents, every man for himself, all at the same time. Each group will always wonder about the other, what’s wrong with people who would be so crass as to open their presents in that unauthorized way, at that unsanctified-by-time time?

Why are we so bothered—yea, verily, offended—by anyone who dares to fiddle with our Christmas customs?

Because you don’t lightly mess with memories lovingly laid in the mangers of our minds. Yes, the Infant slumbering in the first manger is by far the holiest resident of all, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the memories lovingly placed in the other mangers of our minds aren’t precious in their own right. In their own ways, they point beautifully toward Him.

Too often we think that what we really need to change our lives is something new, something exciting. But Philip Gulley reminds us that “the occasions that change the least are often the very occasions that change us the most.”

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Will We Be Ready for the Real Joy of His Coming?”

Zero to sixty. That’s how fast this year we revved up the Thanksgiving sleigh, slid “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house,” slammed down the turkey and dressing, and, before the tasty bird was even digested, hitched up the red-nosed reindeer, jingling all the way.

My head’s spinning, and my feet are having a very hard time catching up with the calendar. Christmas will be here before we know it, and, lest we take measures, before we’re genuinely ready to observe it. In about ten minutes, even the part that most loudly demands our time and attention will be packed into some big boxes and shoved under the stairs or hoisted up into the attic. It will be done. And we will be done in.

Then comes January, lit off with a sparkler or two, featuring loud parties and artificial joy, all the more plastic and phony compared to the genuine joy of the glory explosion that only the God of the universe could have sparked (oh, so quietly for an explosion) at Bethlehem long ago. The glory of one angel, much less an “angelic host,” appearing to a few startled but immensely blessed shepherds trumps an electrified ball appearing to a million mindless folks at a hyped up pep rally any day.

But hot on the heels of December, January will have arrived. And January blues. And January clearance sales. And January merchandise returns.  And January tax forms. And January bills for stuff we really didn’t need that we bought with money we really didn’t have.

The turkey will be long gone. And the reindeer’s red light will be out, or at least invisible, since the FAA doesn’t require a light (any color) on the south end of a reindeer headed north.

Our heads will be spinning again. And we’ll wonder, how did we get here? Man, that was fast!

I know of no way to slow down the passage of time (though I could preach you a sermon or two that would certainly seem to slow it down). I think the real task for Christians is to participate each moment in God’s redemption of time. That’s the wisdom of our predecessors in the faith, and I’ve always found that there’s much more wisdom to be gained from dead people than from folks who just happen to be breathing right now. Their experience is that we can ask God to help us squeeze the meaning, the joy, and even the sorrow, out of each moment’s fruit, and thus find blessing.

I’ve always loved Christmas, but I’ve found that for the meaning and joy of Christ’s coming to fill every star and light, smile and gift, I need to intentionally find some quiet time in the weeks and days before its arrival to ask God to help me be ready. Personally, I love the tradition of observing the Advent season (the word has to do with “coming”) during which Christians centuries ago (at least from the fourth century) set aside time to use Scriptures and prayers and readings to help “prepare the way” into their hearts. I seem particularly drawn to words and songs that bless my soul now even more as I realize they were written and sung first by many generations of souls now gathered to the Author of their faith. In faith, one day I will be, too.

In the meantime, with them I ponder Christ’s coming. His first. His second. And I pray for the Father to help us not waste this precious time, his gift to us right now to prepare the way into our hearts for the coming of that greatest Gift.

 

       

      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.


“Merry Thanksgiving!”

For just a moment, ponder this year’s calendar. You’ve already noticed, I’m sure, that it is playing tricks on us this time around.

Thanksgiving and the turkey, dragging their heels, showed up way late, which means that Advent (and thus Christmas) are upon us way early. I’ve often complained that the most difficult Sunday of the year to plan and “to preach on” is the usual “dead” Sunday, falling between Thanksgiving and the first Sunday of Advent. You see, your official Thanksgiving sermon was the Sunday before, but on the usual “between the seasons” Sunday, most congregants are totally turkey-stuffed. They have lapsed into a feast-fed stupor, albeit a grateful one. The most committed will probably show up for worship that day but, truth be told, nobody, including the pastor, is terribly excited about the prospect.

Ah, but this year the scene has changed. I’m writing on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. It is also the first day of December and the first Sunday of Advent. Thanksgiving weekend and December have crashed right into each other, a bit of a wreck with ramifications. If you’re a retailer, you’ll have six fewer days to “re-tail” this year. If you are, say, a person who loves to sing Christmas songs for folks during the holiday, well, you’ve got six fewer days to sing Christmas programs (and it’s six days closer to your annual post-Christmas singing depression).

And, yes, if you’re a pastor planning a variety of seasonal church and worship activities, services, sermons, etc., it might be helpful to know that this year when the wise men show up, they probably won’t be bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. More likely they’ll be loaded up with turkey, dressing, and giblet gravy.

You might also look for four of them. The reason we assume that the first wise guys were a trio is not because the Bible says there were three of them; no, it is because Scripture says there were three gifts. We thus assume one gift per guy.

But if that first Christmas had been as close to Thanksgiving as this one, I figure our Christmas cards would be featuring an additional wise fellow, the song would be “We Four Kings,” and one more little guy in a church Christmas pageant would need to borrow his dad’s bathrobe to dress up for the journey down the church aisle to Bethlehem under the star up front. Because? Because I’m betting that somebody’s wise wife would have packed his camel bags with some cranberry sauce as a gift to go along with the other three guys’ tasty offerings. And that makes four. Four gifts. And four wise men.

Anyway, for more than a few folks, it was leftover turkey and dressing for lunch on the very Sunday that we lit the first Advent candle. Merry Thanksgiving!

But maybe this year’s calendar crash is not as much of a clash as I first thought. You see, Thanksgiving reminds me that no matter how hard I’ve worked, the most noteworthy thing about my life is how completely needy and poverty-stricken I am when it comes to saving myself. The blessings I need the most are blessings straight from God, blessings that only he could give, blessings that I could never earn, deserve, or procure myself.

Guess what? Here comes Christmas with much the same lesson, written large: “Get over yourself, pilgrim! The Gift given to save you is God’s Gift, not one you could ever have given or even imagined. You can’t improve it, add to it, or in any way deserve it. You can just accept it.”

Peanut butter and jelly. Turkey and dressing. Joy and thanksgiving. Some things just go together. Odd calendar? Yes. But it comes with a very fine lesson.

 

 

     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 Writes His Love in One Word

I love words. Perhaps I’ve not fallen into epeolatry yet, but it’s always fun and interesting to meet a new word. (Like “epeolatry,” which is “the worship of words.”)

One of the best places I’ve found to discover new words and interesting things about words of all sorts is through the free e-mail publication “A.Word.A.Day” offered at www.wordsmith.org (since 1994). Last time I checked (which was years ago), their daily subscriber list was passing 600,000.

I like that (even though a quick look at the list of “organizations” they “support” would be a great help if I ever need to make a list of organizations I do not support). It’s good nonetheless to know that somewhere out there are still some folks, endangered species though they may be, who think that words and the thoughts and ideas they convey are important. Word-lovers tend to believe that our society not only needs the technical know-how to make things work and build great new gadgets, we need to know how to think and speak about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Even though we’re making excellent time on the trip, it might be nice to consider if we’re pointed in the right direction at a destination worth reaching. Words help us consider such things.

A recent “Word of the Day” from Wordsmith.org is a particularly interesting one, but I’m afraid you’ll have a hard time slipping it into ordinary conversation down at the coffee shop.

Univocalic. (Pronounced “yoo-niv-uh-KAL-ik.”)

“From the Latin uni- (one) plus vocalic (relating to vowels), from vox (voice).”

Univocalic is “a piece of writing that uses only one of the vowels.”

Wordsmith gives an example of univocalic that uses only the vowel “e”: Seventh September. And they note that the longest one-word univocalic is “strengthlessness.”

They also mention that according to Ed Park’s article in “Village Voice,” Canada’s best-selling poetry book ever was Christian Bok’s work, Eunoia. In the main portion of the book, each chapter used just a single vowel, producing sentences such as this: “Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech.”

If you’ve got a little extra time, you might try your hand at writing univocalic in just a sentence or two. It is difficilt, if nit ilmist imp . . . Oops. I probably shouldn’t say that.

Oh, well. Words are fascinating, and univocalic is interesting stuff. But I’m thankful to have at my disposal a deep bucketful of words that use all the very fine vowels English makes available.

Still, univocalic is intriguing. “I think I’d writ it jist in fits” and “never get these endless sentences enfleshed.”

When God speaks, he uses many vowels all pointing to one Word, “Jesus,” and one word behind every letter of His Word, “love.”

 

   

   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.

 


A Week with Two Sundays in a Row

We had two Sundays this week at our little church. Two Sundays two days in a row.

Well, not really. But it seemed like it.

The first Sunday this week was Saturday as we held the funeral of a fine man and good friend, a well-loved and faith-filled member of our church. We sang and prayed and shared God’s good news of hope. Sweet melodies and rich tones rose in that sanctuary and lifted our spirits, and God’s Spirit comforted, and God’s word was balm, and the hearts of God’s people praising Him were washed with tears of sorrow mingling with joy and laughter and hope.

When we returned later from the cemetery, we came back to that little church and filled our stomachs with wonderful food seasoned by love, and we filled our hearts again with hope in the presence of God’s people.

And then came Sunday—the real one, albeit the second. And we sang and prayed and shared God’s good news of hope. Sweet melodies and rich tones of hope rose in that sanctuary and lifted our spirits, and God’s Spirit comforted, and God’s word was balm, and his Table was open to all, and the hearts of God’s people praising Him and participating in His sacrifice of love were washed with tears of sorrow mingling with joy and laughter and hope.

Then following worship we went into the fellowship hall of that little church and filled our stomachs with wonderful food seasoned by love, and we filled our hearts again with hope in the presence of God’s people.

Both days I arrived early and opened the doors.

Both days I scurried about getting things prepared.

Both days I stopped for a few moments to drink in the sweet silence of that sweet place.

Both days I knelt between the front pews to lift up a prayer.

Both days I thanked God for His people here and for His people everywhere who kneel before Him.

Both days I silently praised God for the opportunity to come together to praise God.

Both days, and with each breath, I thanked God for hope in Christ.

Both days it occurred to me again how much I love what happens in that little place and with a little church large in love.

Ah, “church” is a big word. No one has to tell me that the real church is the people; it’s not the building, it’s Christ’s Body.

But don’t try to tell me that the little place I also unashamedly call the church is not a special and holy place (as, I pray, is yours). How near-sighted must we be if we can’t see that “place” matters!

When I kneel here, I think of all the others who have knelt here, and who do, and who will. They are part of me and I of them.

I’ve worshiped and worked here, laughed and cried here, knelt in joy here, bowed in near-desperation here, proclaimed God’s word here, received God’s word here, celebrated Christ’s life and death and resurrection here, and been filled with His life and hope here.

This place’s two-by-fours and sheetrock and glass (even stained) are ordinary, but what happens here is more than ordinary. What happens here on Sundays (usually just one a week) is so holy that it lifts and sanctifies the remainder of even the most ordinary days of the most ordinary of weeks.

Maybe this week it took two Sundays to remind me that if we ever let the wine of the grace we receive in such a place turn back into water when we leave, well, that’s not the fault of the wine-making Lord who bids us drink from His full cup. I love worshiping Him here in this special place of grace.

May God sanctify and bless such a beautiful place in your life, too. Yes, and drink deeply!

 

 

     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.

 

 


“Grace Sparkles with God’s Love Like a Diamond”

In his fine book What’s So Amazing About Grace, author Philip Yancey writes that at a British conference on comparative religions, scholars from around the world were discussing the most basic beliefs of Christianity. One important question in particular led them into pretty serious debate.

That’s when C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. When he asked, “What’s the rumpus about?” he was told that they were asking what Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions might be. He answered, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

Yancey continues, “After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

I suspect we can learn something valuable from almost all world religions. I have no doubt that some very fine people are among the adherents of each. But I’m also confident that Lewis and Yancey are right. The answer to that question was and is “grace.”

And here’s what I believe: Grace sparkles with God’s love like a diamond. It’s the best and most genuine truth in the world—the truth that God loves his children so much that he could not possibly love us more and he will never choose to love us less. He knows us completely, and still he loves us completely. He completely accepts us, not because we could ever deserve his love, but because in faith we’ve opened our hands to accept his gift that we could never earn, could never craft, could never devise or design. It’s ours through faith in Christ and the loving sacrifice he made on the cross—fully, completely, once for all for all time.

The Father doesn’t look at us and say, “Here’s what you’ve done to ‘measure up’ by your own power. I’ll make up the difference.” No! That is not grace; it is a sham of the worst sort because it would leave us open to say, one to another, “I did this much; you did that much. I did more; you did less. You needed it worse; I needed it less.”

No, God’s gift of grace is full and complete. The bad news is that we don’t deserve any of it; the good news is that we don’t have to. The bad news to our pride is that we can never say, “Look how much I’ve done!” The good news is that we’re free instead to praise the God who through his Son has completely redeemed us. Our failures are forgiven. And any good we’ve done, we’ve done through God’s power and his love, not in order to gain his love, but because we already have it completely and forever.

This good news is intensely practical as it takes the spotlight off of us—our goodness or our “badness.” The focus is not on us, it is on our Healer. God sends his Son to do what we could never do, and he tells us, we who can’t possibly be by our power what we need to be, “Trust in my Son and his righteousness. Through faith, it’s yours. Really. Completely. Now that you’ve received my gift, go and in my power live beautiful lives knowing that though you can’t measure up on your own, through my Son you already do. Live life with joy, you who are fully loved, fully accepted, fully forgiven for your failures and fully empowered to live into a future filled with genuine hope.”

God never beats us into greater loveliness. Through absolute mercy and grace, God loves us into genuine beauty and shows us how to truly love each other.

And that, I believe, is grace, the real thing. A truly amazing gift!

 

   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.


Jesus Christ Was a “Sinless Friend of Sinners”

Of all of the many astounding qualities of Jesus, one of the most amazing and winsome is that, as Philip Yancey has written, Jesus was “a sinless friend of sinners.”

I keep being drawn back to this amazing fact. This is not the first time I’ve tried to write about this quality of Christ’s life. It will certainly not be the last. A thousand pages would not be enough to adequately plumb the depths of this amazing truth: Jesus not only loved sinners, meaning that he longed for the lost to be found, he enjoyed being their friend.

I don’t understand that. But I like it. I like it a lot.

I particularly like it because of what it says not only about God the Son, but what it says about God the Father. In his video study series The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey includes a wonderful quotation from Archbishop William Temple: “In God is no unChristlikeness at all.” God is just like Jesus, and I am so glad! I so need to know that!

Yancey writes that George Buttrick, who served as chaplain at Harvard, said that students would plop down into a chair in his office and opine, “I don’t believe in God.” And he would reply: “Sit down and tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that God either.” Come to think of it, don’t you think that’s exactly the kind of reply Jesus himself would give?

Why were the most religious men of Jesus’ day most hostile to him? And why are Christ’s only harsh words reserved for them?

Why were seekers and sinners, doubters and debtors, so unfailingly drawn to him? A more difficult but related question is, why are they so often not drawn to his followers today?

Why did Jesus so enjoy the company of folks the pathologically religious considered to be worthless losers?

In no particular order, here are some seed thoughts:

Jesus saw an honesty in common folks that he didn’t see in the self-professed pious.

Jesus found a reality in common folks that was lacking in the woodenly religious.

Jesus recognized in those labeled as “sinners” a love of life and laughter that had been completely excised from the lives of those who had opted for sanctimony over genuine sanctification.

Jesus knew that a “seeker” who loved life could easily learn to open his heart to love the God of life. But he also knew that camels would stroll through the eyes of needles more easily than lovers of man-made rules would be willing to drop their load of self-righteousness to wrap their arms around a Savior and feel his arms wrap them up in the warm embrace of perfect love.

 

 

     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.

 


To Be Truly Meek Is to Be Truly Strong

To be truly meek is to be truly strong.

The Bible says regarding one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known that the man Moses was the meekest of all the men on the earth. But in the Hall of Fame of Meekness (call it the Hall of Fame of Humility, if you wish), I’ve been privileged to know several individuals who deserve to be included. Among the greatest of the humble, in my opinion, was my father.

If you’ve been blessed to have such a father or grandfather or mentor, you’ll know firsthand how wrong our society is to equate meekness with weakness or sheepishness, a kind of “Mary’s little lamb” sort of thing. We know that Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.” But that’s every bit as hard for our world to believe as “blessed are the poor.”

Can you imagine a large corporation giving classes in “meekness” training? No, it’s “assertiveness” training. We have, sadly enough, magazines named SELF; you’ll never find one on an adjoining shelf named, NO, YOU FIRST.

Meekness is a quality you can’t afford, our society screams.

Meek people get run over.

Meek people are doormats.

Meek people never make it to the top—and, of course, our society never stops to ask if the price paid to get to “the top” is a price worth paying.

But, as is so often the case, our society is near-sighted and wisdom-parched.

Real meekness, genuine humility, is quiet but filled with wisdom when it speaks. It thrives in a soul shaped by character, integrity, prudence, and civility. It is at the same time gentle and incredibly strong. Wherever it is found, it is a rare and beautiful blessing.

My father was a gentle man, strong in all the ways that matter and last. The Apostle Paul closes his letter to the Ephesians, “Finally, brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (6:10). And “in the Lord” is where Dad’s strength lay.

Dad was strong in Christ. And so he could be gentle. He had nothing to prove.

Dad was strong in Christ. And so he could quietly trust in God. He had no reason to be loud.

Dad’s strength was in the Lord. And so he had no reason to quarrel with those who opposed him.

Anyone who thinks he fully understands Christ’s Sermon on the Mount could well use more meekness, more humility. We probably see now only dim glimmers of the beautiful reality Christ has in mind when he says that the meek will “inherit the earth.”

But surely at least this much is true. When the loud and arrogant, the bullies and the braggarts of this world are putrefying in well-deserved decay, their fifteen minutes of fame over, God is promising that the strength and wisdom of the genuinely meek will endure and continue to be a blessing.

I would very much like to live in a world where God has put people like Moses and my father in charge, where the meek rule by God’s power and blessing.

Yes, indeed, that’s a world in which I’d love to live. It’s a world in which I plan to live.

 

 

    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.

 


“Drink This Water, and You’ll Never Be Thirsty Again!”

You should probably drink a lot more water.

It’s our age’s most oft-recited quasi-medical mantra. Never mind that most of us have long thought that the human body came equipped with an “idiot light” on the dashboard that flashes “You Are Thirsty!” to be sure we don’t miss the signal that we are when we are. Thirsty, that is. In need of liquid sustenance. Maybe even . . . water. As precious as water is—far more precious than oil—you have to be really thirsty for it to taste really good; otherwise, the very best thing you can say about its taste is that it has none.

Cue, at this point, creepy, foreboding background music to set the stage for a horrific confession: I don’t much like water. I find drinking it all through the day to be tedious, boring, and annoying. And since the water gurus want you to drink a riverboat of it, you can’t just chug it and get the delightful experience over with. You’re chained to a water bottle all day long.

If you happen to be equipped with a urinary tract more than a few decades old, you will also find yourself chained to something else. Should you try to take a trip—say a fifty-minute flight to Dallas (tripled in length by TSA) and find the seat belt sign ON for most of the flight, be ready for an in-flight emergency.

You see, if the medical professional who recently told me to shoot for six bottles a day—those plastic, crackly, never decomposing vessels our planet is awash in that fools buy in bulk and never think of simply refilling from their own tap—well, if that guy’s right, we’re talking about 101.4 fluid ounces, .79251616 of a gallon, or, what I think they’re really shooting for, 3000 milliliters. Chug that, and your stomach and bladder will resemble the wreck of the Hindenburg sans fire.

Stay chained to the water bottle all day, though, and the water-pushers promise delightful results. Your car’s alternator will last longer. Vladimir Putin will become an incredibly big-hearted, warm person. Donald Trump will stop wee-hour tweeting. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez will lead hordes of their glassy-eyed followers in chants of “Cut Taxes Now!” World peace will flower.

Excuse me. I need to take a break.

From what little research I’ve done, it seems that the very food we eat contains more of the water we need than you’d think. And fluid is fluid. Strain it through a coffee bean, tea leaves, or even add hops and fermentation (I’m talking diuretics here), and you may need more fluid for the net result, but fluid is fluid. The way our brains/bodies let us know we’re thirsty is amazing, fascinating, and complex. But, basically, our bodies know.

I am trying to drink more water. I really am. Mostly, I don’t doubt that I need to drink more than I’d like to. But it’s a chore.

“Those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again,” Jesus promised a water-drawing woman at a well (John 4). Thirst quenched forever! On every level, I like the sound of that.

 

 

     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.

 

 

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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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