Tag Archives: sacrifice

Epitaph: Love Is Always Greater Than Power

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This morning in The Wall Street Journal I read a well-written obituary by James R. Hagerty focusing on a woman who so loved to be in the spotlight that her former husband—she had four and divorced four—simply said, “To say that [she] loved publicity would be a massive understatement. She lived for publicity.”

Hagerty wrote, “More than 30 years before she died, she had her own tombstone engraved,” noting on it that “her father was a prominent neurologist and that she was recognized at White House press conferences by several presidents.”

Hagerty says that in a 1996 People magazine article, she simply said, “The main thing is to keep my name out in front.”

I do not intend to mention her name. You won’t know it anyway, and it will soon be forgotten. But I admit that I’ll have a hard time forgetting what Hagerty says this woman wrote on her own memorial: “Power is greater than love, and I did not get where I am by standing in line, nor by being shy.”

I suppose when she wrote that pathetic line, she could hardly imagine that “where I am” could mean anything other than “in the spotlight.” For much of her 89 years, she lived for power and fame. Where did she get? She got to the place where “where I am” means “in the grave.” And then what happens to such a shriveled soul?

I read that obituary this morning. Then this afternoon I drove down to our little town’s First Baptist Church to attend the funeral of a man whose name I’m privileged to mention and whose service I felt it was an honor to attend, “Sonny” Byrd. Most of us just called him Mr. Byrd.

I didn’t know that Mr. Byrd’s first name was actually Levanather. I’ve still not heard anyone take a stab at pronouncing it, but, if I’m doing that right, I kind of like it. It has a dignity about it. Just like the man, married 57 years to his “sweetheart” and committed to his Lord.

I didn’t get to know Mr. Byrd nearly as well as I’d like to have, partly because he was such a quiet, gentle, “always there but never loud” presence in our community that I guess I thought he always would be. I figured he had many stories to tell, and I hoped one day to be able to sit down, drink coffee with him, and hear some of them. He was here for 60 years; me, for 33. Surely there was time. And then there wasn’t. Not in this life, but I hope in the next.

I felt almost presumptuous attending the funeral, mostly because—my own fault—I didn’t know him well enough. But what I knew, I respected. He cut a striking figure, a man carved out of rich ebony, clad in crisp coveralls and a cowboy hat. He worked so well, so hard, with dignity and the kind of soft-spoken gentleness that is only found in those who are genuinely strong with the kind of soul-strength that the loud will never understand, much less, possess. I can’t imagine anyone less interested in the limelight, but when I heard of Mr. Byrd’s passing, I knew our community had lost the kind of person to whom any community owes a debt that can’t be paid. At the funeral, it became clear that lots of folks felt that way.

It’s probably a mercy to him that he could not hear what was said at his service because the last thing in the universe he’d have wanted was for his name to be “out in front.” I have no idea what will be written on his tombstone, but it might well be this: “Love is always greater than power.”

And that is literally God’s truth.

 

 

     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.

 


The Shortest Distance in the World

The shortest distance in the world is the space between hero and heel.

On that first Palm Sunday the cheering crowd lay palm branches in Christ’s path as he entered Jerusalem. By that Friday we call “Good,” how many of those same voices were crying, “Crucify him!”?

Jesus was not surprised. The prophet had said long ago that God’s servant would be “despised and rejected” (Isaiah 53:3). And we’re told that Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:24), that he knew humans “inside out” and “didn’t need any help seeing right through them” (The Message).

But it had to hurt. On Sunday, a crowd is praising; on Friday, a crowd is cursing.

On Sunday, they’re praising the one they hope will inaugurate an earthly kingdom and shed the blood of the hated Roman conquerors. On Friday, they’re screaming for the blood of the one whose spiritual kingdom seemed short of swords and firepower.

But Jesus was not surprised. Soon he will look out over the city (foreseeing her doom) and weep, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who bring you God’s news . . .” (Matthew 23:37).

Now Entering Jerusalem: Hometown of [Supply Prophet’s Name] read the signs put up by the Chamber of Commerce. No fine print mentions the names of the upstanding citizens who’d years ago put the prophets to death. “The shortest distance . . .” Short and selective memories, too.

But what if Jesus had just agreed to be the kind of king they wanted? Judas probably could have saved his blood money. James and John could have taken seats as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, though the Romans might not have let that “kingdom” last long.

Yes, but if Jesus had simply listened to Satan, agreeing to bow before the Prince of Darkness in exchange for worldly power, Rome would’ve gone down! I wonder how many despots today, not to mention their predecessors already moldering in history’s dust bin, would grab just such a deal? (Or name any size tyrant, any size venue.) What if Christ had chosen to call legions of angels to take him off the cross and destroy the world (he knew that he could), well, talk about power!

What if, like the crowd in Jerusalem, we prefer Jesus to be the kind of king who’ll give us everything we want—easy lives, health, wealth, success, political clout, etc.? And what if he doesn’t?

The crowd wants a revolution. Judas wants one, too. Right now! Peter pulls out a sword to fight. And Jesus, with power completely beyond the understanding of power players and blowhards, shakers and movers, fighters and king-makers, is so strong that he lays down his rights even as he lays down his life, and he dies to do the will of his Father and save weak and selfish rights-mongerers like . . . us.

We’re curse-hoarse from yelling “Crucify him!” as he quietly refuses to be the kind of king we want. Nailed to the cross, held not by spikes but by quiet love-filled might that puts the world’s “mighty” utterly to shame, he shows himself to be exactly the kind of King we need.

“Therefore, God has exalted him to the highest place . . . that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . .” (Philippians 2:9-10).

 

     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.


“I Can’t Help It! I’m the Victim of My Genes!”

 

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Aha! It’s genetic! I’ve been reading about the several-years-old discovery of a “fidgeting” gene.

When I’m talking on the phone and my wife, rather discourteously, hollers at me, “Put that pen down! You’re driving me crazy!” she’s referring to my unconscious click-click-click-click-clicking of the writing instrument in my hand. And she’s betraying intolerance toward a man who is simply the hapless victim of his genes.

I’m wondering if pack-ratting is genetic, too. In any case, it’s another trait my mother passed on to each of her offspring.

My garage, I admit, is dangerously overloaded, but my sister, who lived in Houston, could have survived ten years of hurricanes with just “supplies on hand.”

I once suggested to one of my brothers that he’d need to deck himself out in high priestly garments if he wanted to safely enter his garage. When, once a year, Israel’s high priest entered the Most Holy Place to offer sacrifice, he was to go in with bells sewn onto the bottom of his robe and a rope tied to his leg. If he touched the Ark of the Covenant and was fritzed, or was somehow otherwise dispatched while officiating near the holiest core of that holiest place, the bells would quit tinkling and they’d drag his carcass out by the rope. (Turns out, the rope part of this is probably fictional, and the bell part likely for the Holy Place and not the Most Holy Place. But you get my point.)

Truth be told, the garages of the other siblings, including me, for sure, are not much better. My poor heirs.

But it was not in the garage, it was actually in a box of stuff up in our closet, never opened, inherited from my sister’s stash, who got it from my mother’s hoard, that my wife recently found a pile of congratulatory notes from age-old family friends (mostly long-since passed on) and the hospital instructions regarding the care and feeding of “Boy Shelburne.” That would be me.

The booklet was professionally printed, used by Northwest Texas Hospital (the original one) in Amarillo, and filled in, the specifics handwritten, by a conscientious nurse.

I’m not sure if Mom & Dad followed all the instructions properly or not, which may explain some things. I do know that it included a formula for my formula, consisting of condensed milk, Karo syrup, etc. What’s not to like? And it specified feeding me every three hours, a health practice, on the advice of that nursing staff, I’ve tried to continue all of my life. (Oh, and Mom was instructed to wear an apron when feeding me. If that’s required, lots of babies are in serious danger. And good luck trying to buy an apron. Out of style in every sense, and I’m weeping at the political incorrectness of the very thought! Trust me.)

By the way, people with the fidgeting gene are supposed to be naturally thinner than those without it. With my strict diet (I never eat anything that doesn’t taste good) and my feeding schedule, I’m thankful for that gene. Still, I evidently don’t fidget nearly enough.

Oh, this is funny. I just stopped to stare into space and figure out how to land this column—and caught myself jockeying my knee up and down like a sewing machine needle. Left seems to be this fidgeter’s knee of choice.

Genes. They are for most of us a mixed bag, both blessing and curse. But the worst curse we inherited from Father Adam. And the most amazing blessing, incredibly costly, is made available, free upon request, by the Second Adam who bore our curse, God’s own Son.

 

      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.


A Story of Two Fathers and Two Sons

 

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Had the brokenhearted father been one of the self- or demon-deluded pagans whose lives are described in the same amazing volume which chronicles his, perhaps the grisly request of a bloodthirsty “deity” for still more blood would have made a kind of morbid sense.

Exactly how the request came, and what form it took, we’re not told, but that it was a true and authentic command of the only true and living God was absolutely a matter of no doubt.

Not to him.

Not to Abraham.

The “father of the faithful,” the “exalted father,” the one christened by God “father of a multitude” was being asked by the Father of the universe to offer as a sacrifice, killed by a sharp knife, and consumed by fire atop an altar, that son of promise, the only son through which that “multitude” could be born and the promise could be realized.

Yes, Abraham would have expected such a command from a god or gods deluding pagans, but it was unlike any command he had ever received from the living God. It was absolutely unlike . . . well, unlike God.

But it was indeed God’s command.

What son was he to offer? God himself had said it—that dear son, dearer than life itself, the son “whom you love.”

God knew what he was asking. God the Father was asking father Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and to give him up.

God knew that Solomon would later build his temple atop that hill.

God knew how many lambs would one day be slaughtered there and how many sacrifices would be made. Atop that hill.

And, as brokenhearted but absolutely faithful Abraham was himself dying inside with every step towards Moriah, who knew better than God the thoughts that go through the mind of a brokenhearted father about to watch his son die at the top of a cruel hill?

God knew.

Abraham’s son was old enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice. Isaac was old enough to realize that this sacrifice was like none he had ever before witnessed. Isaac was old enough to resist when his old father, with tears streaking down his face and wetting his gray beard, placed him on the altar, bound him, and raised a knife. Abraham was a heartbeat away from piercing his dear son, slashing his own soul, and watching his own fondest hopes bleed out as Isaac’s life-blood stained the altar.

But God stayed his hand.

Now both God and Abraham knew that Abraham would be absolutely faithful.

What Abraham couldn’t know was that God’s own Son would humbly and obediently allow himself to be bound to wood atop another terrible hill. Hands would be raised to pierce him. And God would not stay those hands.

God the Father of all life and all love would through his own tears be absolutely faithful.

 

       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.


Genuine Freedom Is a Very Costly Gift

Over 28 years ago, when I moved to small town America, I discovered the largest and best part of America, the small town part, and Independence Day came alive with color.july 4-001

I felt like a deprived little rich kid growing up in a mega-church who thought he knew what a church dinner was but then found himself in a small church family, went to a church dinner, and was pretty sure he’d discovered heaven!

Oh, I’d always enjoyed Independence Day, but I never knew how wonderful some small town celebrations of it can be!

July 4 in many ways is just a date, but all wrapped up in that date for U.S. citizens, along with mental images of hot dogs, ice cream, and fireworks, are deeper impressions of freedom and liberty—and sacrifice.

Odd, isn’t it, that freedom itself is never free? Its very costly price was paid in real blood, sweat, and tears. Many, like me, who have personally paid so little of the price but who share mightily in its blessings, tend to forget what a costly thing it is.

I hope we don’t forget. As a Christian, my love for this nation pales beside my allegiance to Christ, and I realize that freedom is God’s gift, not the gift of any nation, benevolent or despotic. All of God’s children are truly free, even in lands where their own governments are deathly afraid of such freedom and kill to deny it.

But it is still true that a lifetime of love and devotion to this nation where freedom has long been recognized as a precious gift is not enough even to begin to pay back the debt of gratitude every citizen of this land owes.

It’s a debt not just to a flag or nation, and certainly not to a government. It’s a debt to the ordinary men and women who put their lives and liberty on the line by showing extraordinary courage and unselfishness by laying aside their own comfort and personal pleasure so that other ordinary people, like you and me, could enjoy the blessings of life in a nation where freedom is cherished.

You don’t have to belong to a particular political party to begin to pay that debt. But you do need to realize that your freedom to belong to any party you choose, or none at all, did not come cheaply.

You don’t have to agree with the domestic or foreign policy of a particular administration of government to begin to pay back that debt. In fact, you can—and probably will—be quite sure that a particular administration is shameful. (Someone always feels that way.) But you do need to be thankful to live in a land where the voices of the people are heard, even if you sometimes wish they spoke with much deeper wisdom.

You do not have to be blind to serious failure and wickedness to love this nation and be thankful for what is still good and true and beautiful about it, and to pray that many of its citizens always acknowledge as their King the One who died so that we might be genuinely free.

Real freedom is never free. It is always costly. And recipients of costly gifts should at the very least be very thankful people indeed.

 

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

 

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Genuine Happiness Is Worth Some Genuine Sacrifices

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“Happiness is worth a lot to me,” a good friend, colleague, and mentor of mine once told his boss as he made a decision that would lead to his leaving the company.

“Well, so what? Isn’t happiness worth a lot to everybody?” his boss replied.

“No,” my friend replied truthfully and I think with unusual wisdom, “it is not—not to everybody.”

I’ve thought of that exchange often. My friend’s words may mean more when I tell you that he is very motivated and one of the best businessmen I know.

I haven’t conducted any polls, scientific or otherwise, to shed light on the percentages involved, but I’d speculate that more people than not so “naturally” equate “bigger and more” with better and happier—a bigger title, a bigger salary, more responsibility, more prestige, more power, increased “upward mobility,” etc.—that they hardly even consider that “bigger and more” might not mean “happier.”

Oh, it might. Aside from the fact that none of us can actually “make” anybody happy and that people who really want to be unhappy are almost always very good at getting their wish, sometimes, though not nearly as often as we think, bigger and more actually is better.

I have known some remarkably unselfish and praiseworthy folks who seem absolutely gifted by God in leadership, business skill, organization-building, etc., who have honored God in everything they’ve done. And they seem happy to me.

But every bit as impressive to me are folks I know who have realized that, in this decision or that goal, if they didn’t believe God was calling them in one direction or the other, if it was more a career choice than a moral choice, more a geographical choice than a spiritual choice, they recognized that real happiness often lies in living “peaceful and quiet lives” and “being content with what you have.” I can hardly imagine two biblical admonitions that would more squarely slap our sick society full across the face!

But what good, after all, is a bigger house if the job you’ve taken to pay for it means you are never home?

A very common and oft-repeated error some people make, author Philip Gulley writes, is to “mistake contentment for stagnation.” In truth, the most genuinely productive, creative, and joyful people I know are those who are among the most deeply contented.

Trust the Lord for your true contentment. Do your job “as honoring the Lord.” And I suspect that more than a few opportunities will come your way for advancement.

But be sure to look them over carefully and prayerfully. Not every opportunity for advancement is an opportunity for increased happiness or real contentment or genuine service. Even if this world can’t begin to understand Christ’s words, God’s people can believe them: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Happy indeed is the person who knows that more money, more power, more prestige does not necessarily mean more genuine happiness.

 

 

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Paradox: The Gift Given Fully for One Is Given Fully for All

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The greatest gift ever given to me, the most intimate and personal gift I’ve ever received, was the gift given to everyone, not just me.

That greatest gift was given to everyone who has ever breathed, to multitudes who no longer breathe, and to untold millions who’ve yet to take their first breath.

It was a gift about me, suited perfectly for me, a gift handcrafted precisely to fit my need, a gift I’ve been told that the Giver would have given if I’d been the only one in need. Having tasted the love of this Giver, I fully believe that the tellers of such magnanimity tell me the truth.

And so the gift is mine. But the gift is made all the more beautiful and personal and real, undiminished in any way but enlarged into dimensions dwarfing comprehension, because it is also completely and perfectly yours.

The gift is so vast, so all-encompassing, so high and wide and deep, that though it was given once for all for all time, it is also truly given for you, for me, for right now, for this time.

Its power pulses into the far reaches of eternity, as well as into the air you’ll draw in with your next breath. It gives life to scads of galaxies yet unnamed and unimagined, even as it frees genuine life and joy to cascade into the soul presently inhabiting the miniscule universe of your own body bounded at its farthest reaches by ten fingers, ten toes.

It is a gift that mysteriously breathes grace into my life even as it also enlivens the whole Body. “Bread ceases not to be” bread even as it becomes for me His body and a means of grace. Wine ceases not to be wine even as it flows, rich and red and real, blood from His head and hands and feet, down that tree, for me, but also for millions so like, and yet, snowflake like, so unlike, me. That blood washes over me as it covers us all who lay down forever any claim to any offering, any gift ever given, but one—His.

Seeing the gift, receiving the gift, given for me, given for us all, I cry at Love’s breathtaking extravagance, the spectacle of such precious blood being shed. But the tears, drip, drip, dripping from my eyes, soon join the tears falling from all other faces ever turned toward His, and they become a salty river of joy, a tribute to the One whose blood is the River of Life flowing not only for me, but for us all.

The same gift that binds me forever to His precious Body, also frees me, and all who trust in Him, to dance forever together, complete in His joy.

No accident it is that the gift is given on a cross where God’s justice and God’s mercy mysteriously intersect, and no small part of the wonder it is that those arms are thrown open so wide that the gift given fully and forever for each one of us is also given fully and forever for all.

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2013 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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