Tag Archives: life

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.

 

 


“Swimming in a Sea of Selfishness”

Believe me, I write this column as no sort of spiritual giant; I don’t know my own weakness as well as I should, but I surely know it enough to see warning signs pop up everywhere when I’m tempted to feel self-righteous.

And here comes that dangerous word: but. But surely anyone with any spiritual sensitivity at all doesn’t have to look long at our society to see that we are, as I heard someone put it, constantly swimming in a sea of selfishness.

We do well to consider also that, even if we can aspire to a little unselfishness, our default mode is to be self-centered. Literally. Our view of the world, our contentment in it, is easily focused, judged, and completely dependent upon how comfortable, prosperous, and happy we are at any given moment.

Are we making increasingly more money? Living more prosperously? “Standard of living” above average? Didn’t lose too many golf balls on our last round? Got slightly nicer cars than our neighbors? Attend a church where all of our “needs” are professionally met, we honor our crucified Lord by rarely ever having to sing a song we don’t much like, and the performance is top-notch? Then life—or at least the top half-inch, whatever else is below the surface—is good.

Sadly, the evidence of our society’s soul-sickening shallowness is all around us. But sometimes some little thing makes it even more starkly obvious. One “news” item did that for me yesterday.

Talk about a slow news day! This item popped up on my iPad in one of those news smorgasbords that pull from lots of sources, including one source that never gives real news—unless you want to know who may be sporting a “baby bump” or what “stars” are beginning their latest affairs.

So I was not surprised to see, from that source, a headline discussing a famous pop star’s fuss with paparazzi. She didn’t seem concerned that photographs of her way short of clothes were everywhere. But it seemed to be driving her nuts (well, nuttier) that the pics, she claims, were altered to make her look forty pounds heavier than she is. She took to Twitter to urgently assure her fans that she is still “pencil thin.”

That’s a relief.

Okay. Seriously. Not many of us need an extra forty pounds.

But much more seriously, I feel sorry for this poor rich lady. I don’t think she needs to worry much about her weight. She seems very small indeed. I wish she could find, and let her soul be filled with, real meaning and healing and purpose and hope. I feel sorry for her children who will likely grow up in financial privilege but with impoverished values that lead toward despair.

A life filled to overflowing with what doesn’t ultimately matter, what will not last, and what cannot satisfy is a sad life. And I feel particularly sad for scads of sweet little girls who, growing up in a society that idolizes such people, receive yet another push toward physical anorexia and soul-shriveling poverty.

Our children deserve better. Real joy, not counterfeit. Real beauty, not soul-rot. Real riches, not just money. Real life that thrives by giving instead of shriveling by constant consuming.

Sadly, as I write this column, I realize what frustrates me most. It’s when I look inside and am forced to see how quickly my own soul becomes self-centered, shriveled, and pencil-thin.

To point toward what really matters and will bless, not curse, those who follow us, we have to know where real life is found. Our kids will look for it where they see us looking for it. What will they find?

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“I See Dead People”

“I see dead people.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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.


A Fool-proof Formula for Everything? No Fooling?

 

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American magic.

It’s a funny term, particularly when spoken by missionaries who deal with witch doctor types and superstitions regularly. You just don’t expect them to look back across the Pond, smile, shake their heads indulgently, and say, “Yep, that’s American magic.”

You see, magic, at its heart, has to do with manipulation. You get the formula right— eye of newt, tongue of frog, liver of lobster—and out pops a potion-produced prince or hex or whatever.

American magic? It’s the idea that there’s a fool-proof formula for everything. There’s not. And we’re fools if we think so.

The hard truth for sinners like us, and like everybody else, is that we’ll never get life right. Deal with it. Actually, God already has, and we’re not God—which is quite a load off. God absolutely will not allow us to file Christianity in the Self-help Section of life.

But American magic, peddled by folks who may wear business suits but still bear a serious family resemblance to their brothers across the ocean dressing for shaman success in loin cloths, says that if you just work hard enough, long enough, and, with exactly the right formula, you can’t help but “succeed.” Add on to the garage and order your Ferrari!

Want to build a mega-business, a mega-church, a mega-life? Somebody will sell you a formula. If it doesn’t work, you just didn’t cook it right.

Want to live almost forever right here—or maybe five minutes longer than folks who ignore a good many health rules but in the dastardly unfairness of life chose parents with better genetics than yours? We’ve got non-transfat, non-caffeine, non-gluten, non-[pick any three letters of the alphabet], non-taste formulas for that, and we’re busily commissioning food police to help us make food choices that masquerade almost as “moral” choices.

Couple the right number of sets and reps and rounds with the other gerbils on the treadmills, the right vitamins, and an amazingly dreary preoccupation with abs and gluts, and off you go to live long, healthy, thin, annoying lives.

Well, maybe. (I admit that even the Apostle Paul said that “bodily exercise” has at least a little value.) But life is unfair. Even American magic fails. The economy tanks. We pick one of two appalling candidates for president. Merger mania mangles your company. One microbe or cancer cell cancels out a lifetime gym membership, and a life. And you’re surprised to find yourself standing before the Almighty with low cholesterol and great abs but a tad ticked in a postmortem sort of way that, drat it all, you died anyway!

So what to do?

Maybe get some perspective. A life lived joyfully in love is far better than a life just lived lengthily any other way. Moderation in enjoying lots of good gifts at the right time and with the right kind of gratitude to God will bless most of us a good deal more than world-class low cholesterol.

It ticked Pharisees then and now, but Jesus eschewed magic and lived a life of trust, not manipulation. He lived a life of divinely robust holiness that could never be confused with pious sterility and the cut-rate pseudo-sanctity that’s as shallow as it is stern, and all about lengthy lists of things we don’t do and don’t chew.

Magic doesn’t work. Trust does.

 

 

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

 

 

 Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“We Have Given Our Hearts Away”

 

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In one of Jan Karon’s delightful “Mitford” books, the winsome Episcopal priest Father Tim Cavanaugh shares with his dear old organist some lines from the sonnet (1807) by Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

I admit it: the English major under my hat has always felt a bit (a lot!) deficient with regard to poetry. I love Father Tim, but the good rector is not only a far better pastor than am I, he has a far better grasp on poetry!

But if I understand Wordsworth’s lines at all, I’m with him. The “world” is far too much “with us.” Twenty-four hour news, one of the scourges of our time, is at least 23 1/2 hours too much, a curse to our souls. And, yes, “getting and spending” occupy far too much of our precious time.

Forgetting that the real “bottom line” of our lives has nothing at all to do with the bottom line of any balance sheet, we hurry and scurry and worry our way through God’s gift of life, and barely pause to really “see” nature or, for that matter, beauty of any kind. We hardly notice the stealthy atrophying of our hearts, the shriveling of our souls.

Ah, but we produce, in hopes that the balance sheet nailed to our tombstone will be quite impressive.

I’m reminded of an interesting article from The Washington Post (“Pearls Before Breakfast” (4/8/07), by Gene Weingarten who tried a fascinating experiment with the invaluable aid of Joshua Bell, arguably the best classical violinist in the world.

At 7:51 on a Friday morning, the 39-year-old Bell stood by a trash can at the Metro subway stop at L’Enfant Plaza in Washing-ton, D.C., and played his violin for 43 minutes as a street musician. Tickets to hear this “street musician” routinely fetch three figures. And, by the way, this “street musician” was playing a $3.5 million Stradivarius violin.

As Joshua Bell played three of the most beautiful violin pieces ever written, the whole thing was captured on video. Sixty-three people walked by before one even slowed his pace. Of the 1,097 people who hurried by, 27 people, barely slowing down, threw $37.13 into his violin case. Seven stopped for just a minute to listen, but there was never a crowd. A few children wanted to stop, but their parents were far too rushed.

Many of those who get off the Metro at L’Enfant Plaza are government workers rushing off to crunch numbers and catalog regulations. Bureau-crats and bean counters rarely have time for beauty. But I’m afraid those of us whose lives they live to complicate have exactly the same disease.

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

 

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

  

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“It’s Not the Square, It’s the Quilt”

 

 

quilt

A number of analogies would probably work.

It’s not the chapter; it’s the book.

It’s not the note; it’s the song.

It’s not the song; it’s the symphony.

But I think I like this one best: It’s not the square; it’s the quilt.

I’ve officiated at, helped with, or attended, too many funerals this week. Funerals on top of funerals. And more that I’d have attended if it weren’t for the others.

In a real sense, all death is unnatural and reminds us that we live in a fallen world. But some deaths are, in this fallen world, a merciful release from pain and suffering.

Several of this week’s were that kind. The families still feel the sting of loss and separation, but their loved one (or ones) lived good, long lives, and the release came truly at the right time. In other cases, though, no. The death seemed almost unbearably too soon. So utterly wrong.

That many deaths and funerals, of whatever sort, force you to think seriously about life. And here’s a thought—not particularly profound by any means but true—that pushed its way through this week of many funerals.

When we look back over a life in review, what we notice is not the square, it’s the quilt.

Yes, quilt. People used to make them. Still do. Not just a comforter (though I like those). Or a blanket. (Hotel rooms need more of those.) Or a “blanket throw” for your recliner. (It takes two to make one good one of adequate size.)

I mean quilts. Hand-made. Made with skill. And, often, with love. Always made of many “squares” stitched together.

When I think of the folks whose lives we’ve honored recently (and many more before), and when we think of the quality of those lives, I don’t find myself centering for long on one small or transitory part, even if it was important. We focus instead on the whole.

Hence, my point. It’s not the square, it’s the quilt.

That doesn’t mean the squares are not important. Where the person lived. What he studied. What she did for a living. What were some of the best moments of his life, and how he handled them. What were some of the worst times of her life, and how she handled them. What she was proud of. What he was ashamed of. What he liked. What she didn’t like.

My analogy doesn’t mean that the little or daily stuff, or intervals and incidents, long or short, in life don’t matter. They matter immensely because every decision, each moment, fit together to form a life.

But when it’s all said and done, it’s not the square, it’s the quilt. Even King David had a couple of ugly squares in his. But Scripture’s comment on the whole quilt? He was truly “a man after God’s own heart.”

Quite literally, by God’s grace, the life of Christ in a person living in covenant with God colors every stitch of the quilt, every atom of the fabric. The squares, imperfect as they are, are stitched together, held together, washed in, of all things, his blood.

And the quilt is beautiful.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Why Does a Good and Powerful God Allow Suffering?

 

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It’s one of the oldest questions in the world. And maybe the hardest: How can a completely good and powerful God allow suffering?

The question ranks among the handful that truly matter. As the question asked most often, most poignantly, in the midst of the deepest shock, pain, and perplexity, it defies the easy answers we let leak from our lips when we’re short of answers and our highest wisdom would be silence. Pain is the solvent that melts away glib answers, plastic platitudes. The real answer, like all real answers, is not easy.

It is given through tears. It requires rephrasing the question: “How can a good, powerful, and loving God not allow suffering?”

When God created humanity in his own image, he gave us the gift we call “free will” which gives life and love meaning but necessarily carries the possibility of pain. Unlike puppets dangling from a divine string, puppets who could never make the wrong move or dance the wrong dance, we can choose for good or evil. If the terrible choice for hate and evil and despair were no option at all, would choosing for love and goodness and hope mean anything at all? Only in a free universe are our choices invested with real meaning and significance as they open our lives up to genuine joy.

Would the love of your spouse so warm your heart if they had no choice but to give it? Would the hugs of your four-year-old daughter so light up your life if there were no possibility she might choose to turn away? Would our love of the God of all joy and light mean anything if he had not given us the freedom to choose to spurn him and follow evil and the Prince of Darkness instead? Real choices must have real consequences.

It’s one thing to ask those questions when life seems good. It’s quite another to ask them when the whole fabric of your universe seems to have been ripped into shreds, and pain and evil and wickedness seem to have won the day. Most of us have seen such times. And all of us will. But thank God himself that we have also seen the awesome power of goodness, fierce love, and nobility even in the midst of the deepest pain.

It’s a truth that rips our hearts apart, but God himself could not create a universe where beauty and goodness could mean anything real if there were no possibility of evil and thus pain.

To seek an easy answer is to ask to be deluded. The answer of the Christian faith—not of the sideshow barkers who often claim to speak for our faith—is anything but easy. God is so good, so powerful, so loving that through his own unfathomable pain, he took our hurt into himself. Literally. Genuinely. Powerfully. Forever. Christ’s sacrifice means that one eternal day pain and suffering will be forever banished. Oh, Lord, come quickly, and may it be so!

“Weeping may tarry for the night,” writes the Psalmist, “but joy comes in the morning.”

Dear God, when we or those we love are walking through an exceedingly dark and difficult night, grant the faith, the strength, and the vision only you can give us to look up for the light of the morning and trust that it will come.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2016 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 Gifts, Some Sacrifices, Take Your Breath Away

 

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Some gifts, some sacrifices, take your breath away.

Thank you. Two little words stammered out from beneath a gentle waterfall of tears.

Though they flow from the wellspring of your heart, they seem so little compared to the gift of the heartbroken family of the organ donor who just gave new life to you or to one you love more than life.

Maybe birds were singing, the sun was shining, and everything in that person’s world seemed filled with life on the day they checked the “donor” box on the driver’s license form. Death by boredom in a DMV line seemed more likely than a violent, untimely passing. But now?

One family’s deep sorrow. Another’s undying gratitude.

Three weeks ago you could barely walk across the room. Now you can hardly wait to dance! With every step, every breath, you thank the giver.

Or change the scene.

The striking young couple standing at the altar would light up the sanctuary even if all the candles burned out. It’s their wedding day, a day as beautiful as they are.

Before God, his people, their families and friends, they stand hand in hand, making the vows, speaking the promises. Heartfelt. Real.

They exchange the rings, eat the cake, head off to the honeymoon, and begin life together.

And then, wonder of wonders, a new life, a precious little girl! She lights up the lives of her parents, her grandparents, their families. With just a smile and a giggle she carves her initials into hearts we’ve already lost to those brown eyes.

But just as the joys of life are deeper than we might have ever dreamed, so at times are its sorrows.

“In sickness and in health,” was the promise. We choose life together. In good times and in bad. Their voices signed the covenant on a bright cloudless day, but signed for just such a dark time as would come when…

The cancer. The treatment. The consequence. No more children. At least, not of their blood.

Well, already that one. What a blessing! But the God who has never seen a situation he could not redeem was not finished with blessing.

A very young unmarried couple in real love. But too far too soon, a human mistake. But not a mistake for which they were willing to make the purest, smallest, and most innocent pay the ultimate price. To carry a child for nine months is never easy. But to carry a child to give as a gift of deepest love?

A week ago, that little gift was born. This grandfather will never forget opening the door and walking in with her sister to meet Kendall Briley Shelburne.

Smiles. Tears. Laughter. Joy. Deep gratitude. Our family will always love and honor those birth parents. So young. But filled with love for that little one, and trusting, with wisdom beyond their years, that there is no situation the God who allowed himself to be hung on a cross cannot redeem.

Some gifts, some sacrifices, take your breath away.

 

 

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

      

 

 

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


Suffering Is a Solvent Stripping Away Easy Answers

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Suffering. It’s the solvent that strips away easy answers.

At every time of suffering, some well-meaning somebody is around to toss out poorly thought-out, nonsensical, and unwittingly cruel “pious” platitudes: “God won’t put more on you than you can stand.” That kind of drivel.

Well, God probably did not put this suffering on you at all; you got it by living in a fallen world.

“Life” doesn’t—life can’t—care what it does to you any more than the iceberg that sank the Titanic did so out of maliciously icy motives. Ship hits hard ice. Ice puts hole in ship. Ship sinks. People die. Life doesn’t care. Not because it’s mean or evil. Because it can’t. It’s an it.

Here’s the paradox. Life is not alive, if by “alive” you mean personal. The Author of Life cares deeply about what happens to you and how you feel about it, deal with it, bear up under it. He sees when even a sparrow falls. But life does not. It can’t.

Life is a great gift from God, but living in a fallen world is not easy. We will all go through times when life is agonizing.

Let’s try to be honest for a change—in times of great pain, the only thing worse than being alive would be NOT being alive. One important way God helps us through the agony is by reminding us of the real times of joy we’ve had, and will have, that make life precious.

But that does not mean that the present “agony” is anything less than agonizing. We don’t help ourselves—and I know we don’t help other sufferers—by lies: “Oh, it’s not so bad” when, yes, it is.

“God will use this to make you stronger.” Probably. I know he wants to because he loves the sufferer. I know he can, if we let him. But folks who lightly toss out that line richly deserve the opportunity themselves to be made stronger. Then we’ll see if they prattle on about it.

Yes, our redemptive God can use suffering to strengthen us as fire tempers steel. If we survive suffering, we’ll come through stronger. Not everyone does. And no one in their right mind enjoys it. I’ve never met a soldier who saw thick combat who liked talking about it. Never.

It’s hard for me to imagine anyone who has ever experienced the real thing saying to a sufferer in the midst of the fire: “God will use this to make you stronger.” The right to say those words is hard-earned, and those who have earned the right have also earned the wisdom to almost never say them.

Through his own suffering, Dr. Paul Tournier, a man of deep faith, dared to write a book entitled Creative Suffering. I remember it because he threw down no platitudes. He faced suffering’s dark night without lying to himself or others about it’s “not being so black.” Through his own tears, he found that God helped him endure it, even when he felt like he could not, would not, and when just remembering to breathe on some days seemed like incredible success.

That’s real and honest. Those whose faith and presence are most helpful when we suffer are not those who say, “It’s not so bad”; they are those who know that it is bad, very bad. But they’ve endured horribly black times, weren’t sure they could, but are still breathing, living, and managing to find hope—sometimes just one moment at a time—in Him.

 

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

 

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


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