Tag Archives: Joy

Cemeteries Help Keep Life in Perspective

I’m weird, and I know it. But I sort of enjoy spending some time in cemeteries. I’m talking, of course, about the times when I want to be there, not the times when I have to be. Big difference. There’s been way too much of the latter recently, it seems to me.

But I find cemeteries peaceful and interesting. Strolling among the tombstones (since I don’t have to mow around them, I much prefer the standing ones), I get the chance to play Sherlock Holmes and deduce all sorts of life stories from all sorts of inscriptions.

Some cemeteries are quite beautiful with well-kept shrubs and trees and grass. They are quiet places; I like quiet places. And, if I may say so, the folks who populate cemeteries tend to be incredibly easy to get along with.

Since I’ve been a pastor in my community for over thirty-four years, more than a few of the names I see on the stones in our area cemeteries are connected with lives and stories that I know. I stood at the heads of quite a few of those graves and spoke words I hoped would point to the Author of Life just before the earth’s blanket was rolled over those remains.

When I think of my life and the life of our community, it’s hard for me to visualize life without many of the folks I’ve just mentioned. I no longer bump into them at worship or at the coffee shop or wave at them as we pass on the street. I miss that.

But they are still very much a part of me. A part of us. And that’s especially true if they were part of the community of faith. They may or may not have been part of my congregation or my denomination, but so what? Christ’s church is so much larger than the fences we build to try to keep God all tied up and tamed. Thank God indeed, God won’t be shut up in anybody’s box, and he has never been willing to be successfully tamed.

Death is the harshest reminder of all that we’ll never get even this world tamed, much less its Creator. We may not look long upon those boxes that we bury, but they are nonetheless a constant reminder that life can’t be successfully controlled.

Cemeteries help put our lives in perspective. The “drop dead” late-filing date for filing federal taxes just passed, but folks who have passed away care not at all. And even if life’s cost is (almost certainly) increasing at a steadier clip than your paycheck, once your heart stops, the meter quits running, too. Perspective.

Cemeteries help us divide what really matters from what really does not. What matters most is who we chose to ultimately trust in this life—ourselves or our Creator. That’s a serious decision.

But once that decision’s made, cemeteries also remind us that life is far too precious to be taken too seriously. God is the God of all joy. Those who love him can dance in his presence both here and hereafter. They know better than to think that love and laughter and beauty cease on the other side of the tombstone.

 

      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.


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.

 

 


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.


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.


The Song of Christmas Is a Song of Hope

Hope. One of the most beautiful of words, hope is very near the heart of this season.

For me, the Christmas-singing season usually starts in earnest about the second week in December. I start listening to Christmas music sooner than that, and I’ll usually sing one or two Christmas programs earlier, but the sleigh really gets moving in that second week. And whenever I sing those songs, at the center of the music is hope.

I hope I won’t mess up by forgetting the words or, worse, playing fast and loose with the pitch. I hope nobody’s ears will begin bleeding before I’m done. I hope nobody will throw anything.

But the hope I have in mind is much deeper than that.

From the time I set up the equipment, climb onto the stool, and start filling the mike, it is hope itself that I really want to start flowing from the speakers. I know that sad songs have their place in this world. I’ve not forgotten that the writers of the Psalms at times wrote songs of lament.

Even as we sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” we know Christ comes as our ransom; a heavy price will be paid. But we still sing his coming, and our tears are mixed with joy and sorrow, sorrow and joy.

You see, sad songs and hopeless songs are not the same. The “psalms of lament” always end on a note of hope: “We cry now, and for very good reasons. Hear us, O Lord! But we know where to bring our tears, and we know who will wipe them away. We know that joy comes in the morning, and we know from whence it comes!” In that is real hope, and genuine hope is always stronger and longer-lasting than meaninglessness and despair.

If you want to find a “singer” to continually wail about the ugliness of life or wallow as a victim and scream about life’s unfairness, spreading bile and accusation and even filth, you’ll need to find someone with no hope. Sadly, they’ll not be hard to find.

Hope is my reason to sing, and nothing is more hopeful, more joyful, more full of love, than the Child who entered our world in that tiny form at Bethlehem. If His light is within us, then every twinkle on every tree, or glimmer of every icicle, or sparkle of every child’s wide eyes bears witness to Bethlehem’s eternal joy.

Sometimes during a Christmas performance, I’ll introduce and sing some special songs, some (I hope) beautiful music perhaps new to my listeners’ ears to help them see yet other glimmers of His hope and joy, and that’s fun.

Sometimes I’ll talk to an audience about a song they’ve long known and tell them its story that they probably didn’t, and then I’ll sing it anew.

But often I think my favorite part is simply to sing in the background of the conversation and food and laughter the songs folks know and love, the songs that wrap softly around each of us, warm us up, and quietly say to our souls, “It’s back, that lovely Christmas hope, and if I’m not home quite yet, this music tells my soul, I’m closer, and I’m loved.”

And so I sing. You’d be surprised how easy it is to watch and revel in the hugs and smiles, laughter and warmth, hope and joy, to be thanking God for the blessing of filling these ears, and still be singing. The trick during those times is to let the music waft through unobtrusively, to sing mostly what they know and delight to welcome back, the old song-friends that hold hands with this Christmas and sweet Christmases before. They have a common Ancestor, these Christmases, singing His song of hope in His every son, every daughter.

 

 

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


What Will Happen Next in the Adventure of Life?

I don’t remember ever quoting that famous philosopher Forrest Gump, but here you go: “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”

That’s true, isn’t it?

Noted Swiss psychiatrist and Christian of deep faith Paul Tournier wrote a book about that truth and summed it all up in the book’s title, The Adventure of Living. Life, he writes, is, by definition, an “adventure.” You “never know what you’re gonna get.”

From even before the moments of our actual birth, we’re one heartbeat away from, well, death. Most of the time, folks survive the entry into this world. But not always.

Once breathing, we never know what the next breath will hold. Even before we know how to articulate these truths, we discover that life, and sometimes each day of life, holds both far deeper joys and much more poignant sorrows than we could ever have dreamed or imagined.

From a very young age, most of us—at least, those whose parents give them this sweet blessing—learn through time-honored fairy tales and great stories that life can be wonderful and scary, pretty much all at the same time. Imaginary countries filled with breathtaking beauty and incredible joys open our hearts to receive deepest truths. They take us on great journeys, amazing adventures which are adventures precisely because in the midst of their joys are encounters also with wolves and dragons and orcs. Nothing that is completely safe can be called an adventure, least of all, life.

It says much, I think, that most of us would judge that experiencing life’s deepest joys, greatest beauties, and richest loves, is worth the risk, the utter certainty, that living means facing relentless uncertainty and experiencing, at times, incredible pain. Few of us would, if we could, opt for a painless life. We know that a life devoid of the possibility of pain and sorrow would also be completely numb to the experience of joy and love. The trade would not be worth it. A risk-free life without “the adventure of living” is no real life at all.

Just this morning I watched the video account of three astronauts’ journey back to earth from the International Space Station. It happens so regularly that we become complacent. But it really is amazing. And dangerous.

That video led me to another, the poignant final moments inside the crew cabin of the space shuttle Columbia. Mission Commander Rick Husband and I were in school together. Another amazing man of faith, he absolutely loved what he did. Most of us can hardly imagine a life with such risk, but then we step out the front door, and . . . Would Rick have traded his rich life for one with no risk? It is not a hard question.

The almost career-ending injury astronaut John Glenn suffered was not in space but was against a bathtub right here on earth.

Mountain-climber Charlotte Fox scaled earth’s highest peaks and survived a near-disaster on Everest but died recently after falling down her stairs.

What will happen next to each of us in this adventure called life? We can’t know. But if our faith is in life’s Author, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” we can know that he will be with us through every moment of the adventure, and that the ending will be the best beginning of all.

 

     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.


“Ah, Winter! How Do I Love Thee?”

 

Ah, winter! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Reason #1: Christmas usually comes during winter, thus Reason #1 by itself would more than tip the scales.

Reason #2: Christmas singing (where “yours truly” gets to croon Christmas tunes) comes, yes, indeed, during Christmas which . . . well, refer to Reason #1.

Reason #3: My favorite days tend to be days during which I get to spend at least a little time reading, drinking coffee or tea, and/or just breathing in front of our fireplace. (The only thing better than a good book is a good book in front of a fire.) Those days almost never come during summer; consequently, score a win for winter!

Reason #4: Nothing in nature is more beautiful than snow. And when, pray tell, does snow tend to fall? Bingo. Winter. (And snow falling on a mountain in winter? Perfect!)

Reason #5: Snow falling from the sky (though no moisture at all is falling from the sky this winter) is far superior to dust, dirt, real estate, and small animals flying across the sky. When weather prognosticators in our area talk about “spring-like conditions,” it’s usually code for “wind, dirt, and drought.”

Reason #6: Grass does not have to be mowed during winter. My yard never looks better than under a blanket of snow, and though brown grass is not beautiful, neither is it needy. Being able to ignore it gives me three extra hours a week to do stuff I’d rather do, like read and enjoy the fire. Oh, I love a nice green yard for a few months, but “few” is not eleven, and eleven would be insufferable. Winter is mower parole.

Reason #7: Valentine’s Day comes during winter. It is not, honestly, that I’m all choked up about that pseudo-holiday, but, much to my surprise, Cupid’s season has become a big one for me singing-wise. I love singing for joyful reasons, “for sentimental reasons,” and for lots of other reasons, and winter’s when I get to do a bunch of it.

Reason #8: Though the Olympic Games actually take place every two years, my very favorite edition is the Winter Olympic Games, which occur in . . . Yes. There’s never a time when I don’t enjoy watching skiing, bobsledding, snowboarding, and all the other amazing stuff folks do on frozen water. Give me food, drink, a fire, and these ice-based Olympic games, and I’m happy as a clam at high tide, as a pig in sunshine, as a ski jumper nailing a perfect landing after a near-miss with a Boeing 777. Snow-deprived here this year, I’m lovin’ it even more.

Reason #9: Our family’s annual ski trip (we’re not talkin’ water skiing, here) comes in . . . ditto. These reasons are not in order, or this one would be way higher!

Reason #10: Clear, crisp winter air is the best air you’ll ever breathe, paired very nicely with clear, crisp, star-kindled winter skies.

Thank God indeed, our Creator is Lord of all seasons and his joy is woven into them all. I just think he does some of his very best work in winter.

 

     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.


What Sets Christianity Apart? Grace!

Author Philip Yancey writes that at a British conference, scholars from around the world were discussing the most basic beliefs that set Christianity apart from other world religions.

As they debated some important possibilities, C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and 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.”

We could never be saved by our own effort or by keeping any law, as St. Paul makes clear.

“We all [sinned], all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5, The Message).

It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Yes, and that’s a good sign! Real grace always sounds that way as it amazes those who receive it. Read the Gospels! You’ll find a lot of smiling, amazed people there. (Watch out for the Pharisees, though; they never smile. No surprise. Toxic religion never leaves its adherents anything to smile about.)

Real grace is always a little and maybe a lot scandalous. If no one thinks you’re too gracious, you’ve probably not felt and internalized enough of the grace of God yourself. If our churches aren’t regularly accused by some folks of being too gracious—too loose, too accepting, too free from law—that’s a very bad sign. It almost certainly means we don’t understand how much grace we’ve received and how rich is God’s supply. Read the Scriptures! The Good News, the real thing, the real Lord, has always scandalized people by the depth of his love and mercy.

If you’re God’s child, you don’t have to live a fearful, tentative life. Indeed, how dare you!? You don’t have to be careful lest you exhaust God’s amazing resources by being too loving, too gracious, too joyful, too free. God’s supply of love and grace, joy and freedom, is boundless!

You don’t have to live like the “one talent servant” in Christ’s parable (Matthew 25:14-30). Terrified that he might make some mistake and tick off his master (whom he misjudged completely), he made the worst mistake of all, not loving his master.

If we’re living lives cowering in fear, afraid to dance before our God because we might miss a step, we’re making the biggest mistake of all, not knowing and loving our Father as we should—the Father who continually amazes his children by the depth of his love and mercy, his grace and joy, and the genuine freedom that only he can give.

 

     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.


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