Tag Archives: salvation

“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.

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Amazing Is What Real Grace Always Is

“Amazing grace.”

Amazing is exactly what real grace always is.

On the other hand, the many counterfeits are pretty much what we should expect—“do-it-yourself” schemes focused on our power to occasionally strike a tiny spark rather than on God’s power to always create a nuclear reaction. Do-it-yourself “grace” is an impostor every bit as dangerous as the real thing is amazing.

The Apostle Paul points to real grace in everything he writes, most notably Romans and Galatians, pounding the point home. If we feel we must earn it in any way, it’s not real grace. If we imagine that we can pay for it at all, it’s bogus. If we think we can deserve it even a little, it’s a sham. And perhaps worst of all, if we reckon that we might need less of it than someone we consider morally below us, we’re dishonoring Christ and denying his Cross.

God’s grace is amazing, astounding, marvelous, incomprehensible, eternal, and so much more. And as we pile up adjectives, we should never forget this one: “scandalous.”

Read the Gospels with eyes wide open, and notice how many of Jesus’ healings, miracles, teachings were offensive to those who could never imagine God’s grace reaching so far, so low, so wide. A woman caught in the wrong bed in the embrace of the wrong guy. A gal who’d been through way too many husbands and was living with a guy she’d forgotten to marry. An acknowledged loser hanging on a cross, a failed thief unable to steal any more earthly chances. And the list goes on. Right down to us. The real grace of Christ always has within it a serious element of scandal. It seems reckless. It seems “over the top.” Too good to be a true.

We can never plumb its depths or exhaust its powers. We’ll never fully comprehend it, but even what we can see rocks us on our heels as Jesus reaches down to forgive those we can’t imagine even God ever forgiving. Certainly not without some lengthy probation. Maybe a written self-improvement plan. And a short leash, for sure.

But Christ just keeps on forgiving, his only requirement being that, having given our lives to him, we keep on accepting the gift he keeps on giving. How reckless is that!? Good luck trying to find that kind of grace in any other world religion—or in the world anywhere else.

Real grace both forgives and empowers even as it refuses to allow us to focus on ourselves. When we do poorly, fall flat on our faces yet again in attitude or action, grace turns our focus back to Christ, forgives, and gives him glory, reminding us that Christ at Calvary has literally taken all of our “badness” away from us. When we do well, grace reminds us that everything good we could possibly do comes through Christ’s power at work in our lives and that what we might once have considered our own goodness is not our own at all.

When we’ve accepted real grace, the focus is never again to be on us; the focus is on God and joyfully giving him glory for what he has done and is doing—all by grace, all through his Son. All for us, and not at all by us.

 

 

     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.


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.


When God Posts a Warning, It Pays to Pay Attention

It had to be a government production, the sign I saw. Only a glassy-eyed bean-counting bureaucrat with common sense completely and laboriously expunged by years of mind-numbing training could have produced it. (Your tax dollars at work.)

Posted above a busy tramway, the sign proclaimed in large letters: TOUCHING WIRES CAUSES INSTANT DEATH. Good information, that.

But then in smaller letters was posted this message: “$200 Fine.”

Well, fine indeed. But I’m not exactly sure what to make of that.

I’m always as willing as the next guy to avoid shelling out two hundred bucks, but if paying up is presented as the alternative to sudden and gruesome death, I’d likely shell out a couple of C-notes.

Does the second warning belie the truth of the first? “Touch these wires, moron, and you’ll surely be quick-fried to a crackly crunch! But maybe not. In which case, you’ll be fined, and that’ll teach you!”

Or maybe there’s no contradiction at all. Maybe the long arm of the bureaucracy involved will reach right past death. The dead dumbo, smoky and smelling a lot like an electrical fire, finds himself waiting almost eternally (in a long line, no doubt) in front of a desk in the afterlife. He waits forever to file the forms in triplicate needed to remove the $200 lien on his account that’s got his posthumous processing locked up in limbo.

I’m not sure I get it. The sign’s message, I mean.

But I am sure I won’t be touching tramway wires if I should happen to run across any. I don’t like the sound of that stiff fine.

Some governmental signs and warnings can be a bit baffling. But it occurs to me that when God gives a warning, we do well to pay very close attention. Some things that we touch will hurt us worse than even an electrified tramway wire.

Touch adultery, God warns us, and we will get scorched. Count on it.

Grab hold of greed, and we’ll end up with some awfully bad burns. We can be sure of that.

Grasp bitterness and embrace an unforgiving and critical spirit, and, even if we’re sure we’ve been terribly mistreated and have a great excuse for the chip on our shoulder, we’ll still end up alone. Resentment is a very chilly friend.

Grip such tempting wires, and so many more like them, and we can end up with scorched souls and in deep pain. God knows it’s tempting; that’s why he gave us the warnings. And, thank God indeed, his grace and healing are real, available as often as we fail, as present as our next breath, as rich and deep and life-giving as our Father’s loving heart.

But the truth is that when we ignore his warning and choose to play with that which is deadly, pain is always the consequence. Worse, if we hang on to those hot wires long enough and are burned so badly that we refuse to ask for healing, death can come even before we die.

When God gives a warning, it pays to listen.

 

     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 Good News Is That “Jesus Paid It All”

Here’s a tale of two sweet songs and, with them, a life-crucial lesson.

The first song is a heartwarming ballad performed by Phillips, Craig and Dean, one of my favorite singing groups.

“A scene so familiar at the old five and dime / A little boy waited his turn in line . . .”

With excited eyes twinkling, he’s holding in his hand the candy he’d been saving his money to buy. The girl at the register smiles at him as he forks over the handful of coins but then winces; it’s not enough. Kind-hearted, she’s not sure what to do. But that’s when a stranger standing behind the boy in line speaks up and saves the day: “Whatever he’s short, just take it and add it to mine.”

“I’ve got you covered / I’ll pay the difference / You don’t have to worry at all / Whatever the cost is, I’ll go the distance / If you fall I will catch you / You know I won’t let you feel like you’re there all alone / I’ve got you covered.”

It really is a sweet song. A few measures in, and we become that little boy. We’re really him already. We’ve been there. We know how he feels. And soon we’re thanking the Lord for that kind “stranger.” An eye-blink later, we realize that the merciful stranger is our Lord, and we’re beautifully reminded of what he’s done for us.

I love the song. In fact, I added it to my own repertoire years ago and perform it whenever I can. I like it so very much that I can get so caught up singing the sweet story that I dream past a mildly tricky entrance or two and miss the train! It’s one of my favorites for sure, and I don’t mean to be picky.

But here’s a point we’d better not miss. If we do, it’s no exaggeration to say that we’ve missed the truth of the good news, the gospel, of Christ, and we’re well on our way to being sad Pharisees.

In walking with us through our lives, Jesus does indeed lift us up whenever we fall. When our strength is not enough, his is very much there for us. That’s the truth of this song and why I love to sing it.

But let’s not push the song too far. When on the cross Christ takes on himself all of our sin and guilt, he doesn’t just “pay the difference.” The wonderful truth is in the title of another sweet song: “Jesus Paid It All.” All! He really did!

If we catch ourselves thinking that salvation itself is a matter of me doing my part and Christ “paying the difference,” we’re denying the cross, the depth of our need, and the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice. And we very much need to spend some serious time grappling with the Apostle Paul’s amazing words in Romans and Galatians.

We also need to read Ephesians 2 and believe the apostle when he says that salvation is not at all a matter of works we do. If it was—oh, he knows humanity—we’d be “boasting,” figuring that we’d put at least part of the money on the counter. We’d never know the real price, and we’d live in constant anxiety and fear—no real joy, peace, or confidence—never knowing if even the small price we’d paid was enough (and always tempted to compare the price we think we’ve paid to the price we judge that others around us are paying). That way of life is self-centered, not Christ-centered. It is a way of condemnation, not a way of salvation. It is exhausting and futile, terrifying and gospel-denying.

Thank God indeed, Jesus paid it all. Christ’s people live their lives to honor him. They live into the good works Scripture says he has created for them to do (Eph. 2:8-10). Not to pay the price. Because the price has already been fully paid. The difference is just, well, all the difference in the world.

 

 

     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.


“We’ve Made It Through One More Time Change”

Well, we’ve just made it through one more time change.

I’ll check in a minute (note the subtle time reference), but I always have to think about whether we’re going ON to Daylight Saving Time or going OFF of it. ON is the spring thing, right? We seem to be doing one or the other pretty much all of the time, or at least every ten minutes or so. About the time my internal clock makes peace with the most recent chrono-lux-economy change, it’s time for the next one.

The handy little mnemonic device . . .

By the way, mnemonic devices are handy by default (and what a cool word); I don’t recall ever meeting an unhandy mnemonic device. If I don’t recall it (that ill-fated meeting of a device designed to help one recall stuff), it’s probably because I failed to grab one of the assuredly handy little mnemono-thingies as it scurried by). I digress.

The best mnemonic device for DST’s advance or retreat is “spring forward, fall back.” So last night before heading to bed, having conjugated “spring” just for good measure (I spring, I sprang, I have sprung), I sprang up off the couch in search of clocks from which to steal an hour.

Ah, but before any of us waste time in this supposedly light-saving mandated clicking, turning, tapping, or dialing forward of more clocks than any home, vehicle, or office can possibly need, we face a precision decision.

Adrian Monk (I loved that TV series) supposedly had two carpentry levels. One he occasionally used; the other was his level-checking level which, twice a year, he took to a hardware store to be calibrated. A man after my own heart.

My clock-checking clock is the U. S. Naval Observatory’s master clock. The Department of Defense (and most of the world) trusts it. Since it is supposed to “neither gain nor lose one second in about 300 million years,” I accept it as a pretty decent standard for me, too, as I’m standing in the kitchen amidst three digital clocks—two on ovens and one on a microwave—and trying to get them to agree and move on to the next displayed minute within a window of discrepancy I can tolerate. My rule is that they need to be displaying exactly the same time three-quarters of the time. (I can live with that; Mr. Monk could not.) Anyway, once I’ve determined that my computer and my cell phone are both in agreement with the USNO master clock, the time-setting commences.

They (the experts) say that this twice a year time-tinkering (look up biannual, biennial, and semiannual to view an all-out brawl between word-parsers) has some advantages, but it can mess a bit with our Circadian rhythms and thus our sleep. And that, I postulate, tends to make some of us a little loopier and a tad more eccentric than usual. I offer this column as support for that belief.

I love the Apostle Paul’s meaning-packed phrase in Galatians 4, “When the time had fully come . . .” That’s when God sent his Son to save us and, the apostle writes, to free us from the futile slavery of trying to save ourselves. Nothing in the universe has been the same since that Son-light-giving saving time.

 

     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.


“No Statute or Regulation Shall Be Enacted Into Law Unless…”

As I write this week’s weak column, Texans are one day away from the 2018 state primary election. I’m too late to add one more ill-fated proposition to the list of mostly D.O.A. propositions already on the ballot.

But I’d like to submit this one: “No statute or regulation shall be enacted into law unless two existing laws or regulations are rescinded, removed, deleted, trashed, shredded, deep-sixed, done away with, gone.”

I should’ve floated that idea to some political candidates while they were still in moon-promising mode. They’ve been pretty busy sending out mailings, littering the landscape with signs, and making television ads. Most of the latter require a big cowboy hat (cattle are optional), a pickup, a shotgun or three, a promise to out-conservative fake conservatives, and a pic of the family praying before a meal or heading to church—all sandwiched between vicious attack ads that should make a pagan blush. Most of these folks seem to think voters are idiots, and we voters have done precious little to disabuse them of the notion.

We may all lose, but some candidates will eventually win, and I wish the winners would consider the proposition I’ve mentioned. Why? Because having too many laws is the surest way to erode respect for the law. We do a lousy job even of trying to keep God’s Ten, but we’ve got so many laws now that even normal people (Donald and Hillary and special prosecutors by the boatload are not normal people) can’t get out of bed without breaking a law before breakfast. If your faith is in government, you may find this state of affairs reassuring; I do not.

I loved a recent Wall Street Journal commentary by attorney Mike Chase who has so far posted a thousand laws, one a day, on Twitter at @CrimeA-Day. He’ll never finish (he says that in 1982, the Department of Justice tried to count the total number of federal crimes and gave up), but reading these is a hoot, and here are a few.

It’s a federal crime to transport a toy torpedo bigger than 23mm in diameter.

It’s a federal crime (hereinafter IAFC) to sell “egg noodles” that aren’t ribbon-shaped.

IAFC for a hamster dealer to put a hamster on an airplane without enough for the afore-mentioned rodent to eat and drink during the flight.

IAFC to market as “wing drumettes” any bird part that is not the humerus of a poultry wing.

IAFC to sell antiperspirant that “lasts all day” unless it reduces armpit sweat by 20% over 24 hours.

IAFC to import honeybee semen if it’s not Australian, Bermudan, Canadian, French, British, New Zealand, or Swedish bee semen.

IAFC to engage in Canada goose population control by shooting geese from a parked car, but not if you’re missing one or both legs.

And so on, ad infinitum ad nauseam ad heehawingum.

I admit that human kingdoms need some laws, but the Lord Jesus has told us that in his kingdom, two are enough: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. I’m thankful that Christ’s sacrifice means that, while his people are confessed law-breakers without a single self-justifiable leg to stand on, we’re forgiven sinners with two good legs to dance on as we praise God forever for his mercy and grace.

 

       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.


When Dust Returns to Dust, What Kind of Wealth Matters?

Wealth. How varied and strange are the uses of that word.

More often than not, when we use the word “wealth,” we’re talking about money, a necessary commodity, for sure. But measuring wealth is not as easy as it might seem. A boatload of financial wealth, if allowed to possess us, may amount to less than a nanoparticle of the wealth that matters, the sort that frees us. (Oh, and this is tricky. A grasping, greedy soul can be throttled by much or by little.)

Surely you don’t have to think long to call to mind some folks the world labels “successful” simply and only because they have money but who are utterly pathetic and appalling by any other standard. Wealthy, are they? Well.

If you have more dollars or dinars, more pesos or pounds, more shekels or shillings, more francs or marks or rupees or yen, than anyone else in the world, you will most certainly be called wealthy. Your life will be quite different from that of the poorest person on the planet—right up until one millisecond after both hearts stop and both souls are launched toward the only accounting that really matters.

But back in this world, some other accounting may actually continue for a bit.

The first spreadsheet will be a short one. “Amount of money dead filthy rich guy (or gal) or dead pitifully poor guy (or gal) takes to grave” will be zero. Naught. Zilch. Nada. May I press that truth home? The zero for deep pockets guy will look exactly the same as the zero for no pockets guy.

The heirs of our hypothetical not-breathing folks may be arranging for their bodily passage to putrefaction to be first class or coach, but it won’t matter a worm’s eyelash to the honoree whether he’s boxed in hand-waxed cedar (cushioned in comfort) or Amazon-recycled cardboard (stowed in a bag amidst those white packing “ghost farts”). Eventually, dust is dust is dust and pretty much just dust. Beautiful cemetery or pauper’s field, million-dollar mausoleum or a fish’s belly in the bottom of the sea, the location will matter not in the least to the deceased.

But another inventory and another sort of spreadsheet will be left behind in hearts that remain beating. Perhaps this inventory will be counted by tears of gratitude. By warm memories. By smiles. By a life well-lived. By a large soul that valued relationships far more than things and planted seeds of joy and love, mercy and trust, in all the good hearts it touched, seeds that will bear sweet fruit for generations to come.

In God’s economy, rich folks and poor folks and all the many more folks in between can all possess the wealth that truly matters and lasts beyond the grave. “Treasures in heaven” begin to be accumulated when we treasure what truly matters right here. If we’ve not given ourselves away to our Creator and to those we love before we leave, what we leave behind will only be dust.

It will matter not whether kings and queens attend our send-off. The sweet tear of a grandchild we taught to love the One who will bring us together again forever, and the “well done” of the Author of life who walked with us all of our life and receives us now, will be worth immeasurably more. Wealth indeed.

 

     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.


“Control Freaks, Prepare to be Controlled”

 

control-freak

Control freaks, beware! A “controlling” approach to life is fraught with danger and tears.

We all fall into that mode from time to time, thinking that if we can just “get it right” and force (we’d say “encourage”) others (spouses, children, coworkers) to  “get it right” by submitting to the improvement plan we create, we can fashion for ourselves and others a perfectly ordered, smoothly running, incredibly efficient existence. As long as we’re in charge, masters of the situation, all will be well, right?

Life doesn’t work that way, and, ironically, people who have a deep need to be masters end up as slaves continually dealing with fires that they rarely realize they’ve set or stoked themselves by their own sick need. And they are not the only ones who end up wrecked and broken, resentful and resented.

In a fine article in Christianity Today entitled, “Justify Yourself,” David Zahl writes that 500 years after Martin Luther helped the world rediscover the truth of the gospel, that salvation is by grace through faith and not by law through works, we still need to be reminded—and in very practical ways.

Zahl points to a university task force exploring reasons for a “spate” of suicides on its campus. Seriously contributing to the problem was the pressure many students felt to push for perfection in “every academic, co-curricular, and social endeavor.” The result? Serious anxiety and/or depression.

Jesus told us, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7). But what if the fingers gripping your throat are tentacles of your own perfectionism? As you choke for air, the neurotic need you refuse to recognize is also throttling your spouse, kids, and coworkers.

It’s a sad symmetry. Failing to feel mercy and grace, or admit we need it, we become unable to extend it. Even if we can’t see the reality, all of our relationships become conditional and sick: “You’ll be okay with me IF . . .” That is poison.

When Luther grappled with Scripture, the Apostle Paul’s words both assailed and freed him: we are truly saved only by grace through faith; law through works will only condemn us. But that’s just religion, right? Wrong!

As Zahl points out, that truth is as practical as hyper-driven students and suicide rates, women who’ll never be thin enough or successful enough, business folks who’ll never get enough work done and get shaky if they ever turn off their cell phone, kids with headaches and tummy aches and no virus but adult-sized stress, spouses whose marriages are more based on performance review than on unconditional love . . . Resentment flourishes. No one ever feels that he/she has done enough. Worse, no one feels that he/she IS enough. “If only I can do, get, achieve . . .” “If only I can get YOU—spouse, child, coworker—to do, get, achieve . . .” then my own life and existence will be justified. But what’s enough? When will I reach it? The answer? Never.

The fruit of a law-based life? Bitterness, resentment, anger. “The sad irony of our lives,” Zahl writes, “is that our desire to be in control almost always ends up controlling us.”

The good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to justify ourselves; it’s already been done. We’re completely loved, forgiven, and free. If we know that, let’s pass it on. If we don’t? Well, control freaks, prepare to be controlled.

 

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

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


God’s Real Grace: It’s Not Fair!

 

vineyard

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.

“Religious” 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 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.


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