Tag Archives: mercy

This Alligator Bites Your Wallet and Won’t Stop Chewing

Warning: This column might be called a rant. You might be wise to wave off now.

I cannot imagine why we put up with it. I’m thinking about the sick state of healthcare in America.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been to Third World countries and seen misery and need. I’m genuinely thankful for what we have. I have good friends in all sectors—physicians/providers, hospital administrators, insurance folks, attorneys, etc. I’m incredibly thankful for the health insurance my wife and I have. Having served on a board charged with finding health insurance for over 100 employees, I understand and know how very, very hard that task is.

But our system has become utterly insane.

Want to know why most average workers in our country are heading backwards financially even if they get cost of living increases (which are not real raises) or raises in pay (which are really meant to be raises)? Healthcare. For most folks, its cost rises at a rate consistently outpacing any pay adjustment. Both workers and companies are being slowly eaten by a hungry alligator who won’t quit chewing, and they can’t get out of its jaws.

Want to start a business? Good for you! But good luck to you. You’ll need it, and this is a big reason why.

Ah, but here comes governmental salvation. Right. Increasing governmental involvement mucks up everything. Stand in line all day at a governmental office seeking “public assistance” and tell me you want the government more involved than it already is, despite “pie in the sky” let-the-already-broke-government-pay-for-it-all or soak-the-rich political campaign horse hockey so popular right now.

If your goal was to design a system bloated, wasteful, and inefficient, you could hardly do better than we’ve done.

If people of good will and wisdom actually had a shot at trying to fix this, it would still be complicated. Instead, we get misleading politicians who refuse to speak to each other.

Greed in some form at every level is throttling the goose that laid the golden egg. Insurance companies. Attorneys. Politicians. Some unethical providers. The list is long.

It’s like the money isn’t real.

An article in the Wall Street Journal recently asked, “What Does Knee Surgery Really Cost?” The answer: In 2016, the average price was over $50,000. We should be surprised, but I wasn’t. I figured that in our system, a new knee, hip, or left nostril would probably run that much. But a hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin, commissioned a realistic and thorough assessment of every moment doctors and staff spent with patients, and added in every penny of all associated costs—all of them. The actual cost was “$10,550 at most.”

A good friend of mine underwent an inpatient, in-his-doctor’s-office procedure and got a statement for $56,000. Admittedly, it was a procedure that took real skill and high-dollar equipment, but in what universe should any inpatient procedure cost $56,000? He almost required a cardiologist when he saw the statement. But everyone besides the patient knew these aren’t real dollars. They’d bill the insurance company $56,000 (wink, wink), would honor their pre-agreement for $3,600 (wink, wink), and he’d pay $1,200 for deductible and out of pocket expenses and maybe for having the procedure in a month ending in a Y. Who knows why?

It’s like buying peanut butter in a grocery store with no price on the jar. If you were on public assistance it would be “free.” But for you, average Joe or Joan who knows life and peanut butter is not free, it rings up as $3,000. You gasp. That seems like real money and a lot of it. But the nice register lady explains that they have a deal with the peanut butter folks to sell it for $5.00 and your part will be $2.50—unless your deductible or out-of-pocket expense (that’s the same pocket the deductible comes out of) hasn’t been met. Or unless the insurance company decides that peanut butter is an experimental food and thus not covered. Or unless you failed to “pre-certify” your need for peanut butter before you bought it.

We really should boil over. It seems to me that we should never have to undergo a non-emergency medical procedure without having a written and binding paper in hand saying, “This is the price. Real money.” No wink. Now, let’s be nice. Let’s allow a 10% window for unforeseen complications and a procedure to appeal for more. That’s fair. But we should demand a price up front just as we do for anything else that we buy.

Healthcare really is not free. For patients trying to live. For hospitals and providers trying to stay in business. The money is real, even if our sick system encourages all of us—wink, wink—to pretend otherwise.

Thank God indeed that his Son’s sacrifice, costly beyond belief, was paid in full by our Lord. Mercy overflowing. Grace to the max. Real blood. The best care of all. And no deductible.

 

     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.


“The Gracious Become More Gracious”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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


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.

 


“God’s Grace: It Just Isn’t Fair!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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


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.


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.

 

 

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

 

 

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.


When Your Whole World Seems Tilted in Its Orbit

It’s very nearly as weird-feeling as it is heart-rending—a day when you wake up and realize it’s just another ordinary day for most of the world around you, but your whole world has tilted in its orbit, shifted on its axis.

For you, almost nothing feels the same, and even the things that do, don’t. Their very sameness in this new universe renders them incredibly strange.

You brush your teeth just like you always have. Part your hair in the same place. Take your keys off the same old hook. Just like you did in your old universe. But this morning you feel as if you’d opened your eyes in a universe where two plus two could not possibly still equal four. Is plumb still plumb, level still level? You know it must be, but you wonder how as you take your first steps in your suddenly off-axis world.

This morning you waked up for the first time in your life in a world where the mother or father who gave you life didn’t also wake up. You wonder how many times you’ll have to think, “I need to call Dad,” before your mind will face that fact that you can’t.

How long did it take this morning for you to realize that you were alone in the house? No shower sounds. No smell of coffee. Nobody else’s alarm going off. Your spouse really has left. Some of the last words before that were a little loud. But this jarring silence seems louder.

This morning you took your first breath of consciousness in a world where the child who was the light of your life no longer breathes. People say sadly that you lost a child. No! As if you could misplace your own heart! You didn’t “lose” her. Cancer or tragedy or incomprehensible accident seized her, wrenched her out of your arms. But not your heart. Never your heart. It still beats. And you wonder how.

Whatever the grief—and grief is the name of this thing that feels so strange—you waked up this morning in a universe that seems completely tilted.

You managed to get out of bed, but could that really have been you yesterday in the doctor’s office? Did she really say that the test results confirm that you have a life-altering disease? Now you’re staggering between the uneasy “peace” of at least knowing the reason for your symptoms and the abhorrence of the new label you never wanted, the name of the disease you’re told you that you have but right now seems to have you. “Your” symptoms? The disease you “have”? You resent “having” something that’s “yours” that you have no option to throw away. The old words are not adequate in this new world where the ground won’t stop shifting.

Hear now some words that point to a reality that is rock-solid, foundational, unchangeable, always trustworthy. Grief has a name, but so does Hope. God’s “mercies” really are “new every morning,” every moment, even in what seems a new and unwelcome universe. The only thing greater than your pain is God’s love. “Great is his faithfulness!” It is no accident that those words, deeply true, are found in the tear-stained Bible book named Lamentations (3:22-23).

When your old world “was,” when you don’t know how you can ever stand in this new world that “is,” when you’re deeply afraid of what “will be,” trust, one moment at a time, in the great “I Am.” The God of the universe is your Father. He loves you. That has not changed. It never will.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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


God’s Grace: It Just Isn’t Fair!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we be far too busy praising him and thanking him to ever listen to complaints from those who’ve not yet learned that to get what you deserve is hell.

 

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


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