Tag Archives: trust

A Lesson from Sloth, Murder, Adultery, and a Water Tower

 

The list of what we know as “The Seven Deadly Sins” dates back to the fourth century and, of course, has its basis in the teaching of the Bible.

One of the seven was Sloth. A one-word paraphrase is inadequate but useful: laziness.

We’ve all known some folks beset by such, people who begrudge the effort it takes to breathe, much less to do anything resembling work. Like all sins, this one carries with it a sad list of its own punishments, consequences that hurt not just the slothful person, but also those who deserve better from him.

And yet a wise man once said something to the effect that all idleness and rest is no more sloth than all sex is adultery.

You see, God was saying nothing at all against sex in marriage and everything FOR marriage and faithfulness and strong families with happy and secure children when concerning adultery he said, “Thou shalt not.” That’s generally held to be Commandment Number Seven. No matter what our society says, we cannot make our own rules and break that commandment (or any of the others) without painful consequences to ourselves and those we should love more than ourselves. Of course, God’s forgiveness is available and real, but real forgiveness does not remove all of the real and intensely hurtful consequences.

All God’s commandments are like that. They are rooted in his very nature. Nowhere in God’s vast creation will you find a place where murder will not hurt you, where lying enlarges your spirit, where disrespect to parents blesses your life, where covetousness does not shrink your soul, etc. These laws from God are not simply the “flavors” he chose on one particular day; even God cannot change them because they reflect his nature, and they are as real as the law of gravity.

It’s been interesting lately to watch the water tower near our house as workers have been climbing all over that massive structure in a serious refurbishing project. Their various lines and cables and safety harnesses indicate that those folks (whose job I do NOT want) are very much aware that the law of gravity is not to be trifled with. Flaunt it, and serious pain or death will be the inevitable consequence.

All of that to say that the Almighty was not recommending laziness when he gave us Commandment Number Four: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” Like all the other commandments, it predated the ritual laws of the Old Testament and points to truth and principles everlastingly true.

We can talk about those principles and applications and interpretations, but at the very least, we can know that even the Creator “rested” after creation. His commandment that we take some time for recreative rest and trust him to spin the world for a few hours without our help is meant to bless us. If we ignore it, the consequences to ourselves—and to those around us—may not be quite as obvious, but I think we can be sure they are just as real and painful as those which follow when we shoot a neighbor, run off with his wife, twist words into lies, or take a nose dive off the nearest 150-foot water tower.

 

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

 

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

 

 

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“Unless You Become Like Little Children . . .”

“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So said the Lord Jesus to his disciples as he “called a little child to him.” No doubt, one of my favorite things about our Savior is that the children seemed to always flock to him. When his apostles tried to shoo the kids away, opining to their parents that the Lord was far too busy to mess with little folks, Jesus quickly disabused his disciples of that way-off-the-mark notion.

In fact, as he laid his hands on the children and blessed them, Jesus had those intriguing words for his followers: “Unless you become like little children . . .”

My back hurts, and I’m a little achy today. Not bad. Just a little. Some trampoline time, some rolling-around-on-the-floor time (thank the Lord our floors are carpet-covered and not bare!), some doing fun experiments sitting on the concrete (no carpet) in the garage time, some lift-them-up-and-hugging-them time, some crawling around in the living room sheet-constructed cave/castle time—all of these contribute to some soreness. But mostly, it all adds up to wonderful memories for grandparents and grandkids alike, a sweet recipe for one beautiful little word: joy.

Our deepest joys are usually best just experienced and accepted with deep gratitude to their Giver, but some reflection is also occasionally in order.

Why does time with the little folks so renew our souls even as it tests our backs? A million reasons, I’m sure, but . . .

Unconditional love. You learned about that holding your newborn children; you learn even more about it with their children. You for them and they for you. Just spending time together adds up to sheer delight. No strings. The upstretched arms of that little 18-month-old mouthing “PawPaw”? Worth more than gold! You can live for a month just on one smile, and a giggle will make it two.

Purity, simplicity, and trust. The littlest folks have no qualms about “asking” for what they need, be it bottle or “blanky” or diaper change or nap on your chest. What looks bad in adults and, may I say, completely pathetic in high-officed politicians—neediness and almost no impulse control—is not only okay in the littlest folks, it’s appropriate and shows their absolute trust in us. As God cares for us all, continually doing infinitely more for us than we can possibly know, we gladly provide for the little ones he’s put in our care.

Wonder and joy. Everything is new to them. Everything is beautiful. Everything is full of wonder. That grass beneath the trampoline is a magical forest filled with mythical creatures. Those Christmas lights are as beautiful as twinkling stars. And PawPaw is a noble and valiant unicorn (with wings) who doesn’t at all mind being christened Buttercup if the little folks are doing the naming.

Long after we’ve grown to adulthood, it’s one of God’s most beautiful surprises to use little folks to help us grow back into children and much more like the Son who so delights in them and us.

 

 

     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.

 


A Fool-proof Formula for Everything? No Fooling?

 

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American magic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what to do?

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

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

Magic doesn’t work. Trust does.

 

 

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

 

 

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


“Out of the Depths I Cry to You, O Lord!”

 

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It’s amazing how often we can find ourselves within the pages of the biblical Book of Psalms. Consider Psalm 130.

I hope we’re not in this psalmist’s sandals often, but anyone who has lived very long can empathize with him. Hurting and almost hopeless, he writes, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” And then he reveals something about the nature of this fallen world, the nature of needy humans, and the nature of our mighty and merciful God.

The rendering in The Message well paints the picture: “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cries for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.”

A Latin term has at times served as a title for this psalm: De Profundis. Something that is “profound” is deep, and the word used for “depths” here has to do with deep waters.

The psalmist is saying, “I’m in trouble! I’m sinking in the deep waters. I’m headed down into dark oblivion! I can’t get myself out! Dear God, help!”

When you’re going down, it’s not a time for polite words: “If you don’t mind, would you help me, please? Ever so sorry to be a bother, but I really believe that I may be drowning.”

In Uganda, in 2007, my wife and I visited our sons who were then in Uganda, and son Joshua and I went rafting down the Nile. We had great guides, and most of the trip was incredibly beautiful. But part of the descent was through what has been called “five of the greatest kilometers of big volume white water on the planet.” (That famous section is lost now, submerged under waters piled up behind the new—in 2012—Bujagali Dam. I’m so glad we rafted it when we did.)

As we came to the Class 5 rapid named Silverback, we knew we’d be tossed out of the raft—yet again. But we wanted to ride it as long as we could. Outside the boat in that class of white water it is surprisingly difficult to get your breath even if you’re on the surface—and we soon weren’t. Cast into the depths and carried off underwater in different directions, we later both confessed that for several long dark moments, we thought drowning was not unlikely. (In the accompanying photo, Josh  & I are in the front of the raft, and headed, in every sense of the word, down.)

“O Lord, out of the depths I cry to you!”

You don’t have to go rafting down the Nile to understand the psalmist. Life has tumbled in, and gone are the illusions that we can handle it ourselves with our strength, our bank account and investments, our professional expertise, our uncommon common sense, our noble character. No! We’re going down, and we’re fresh out of wise words and self-help strategies.

Our words are cut down to three: “O God, help!” From the “depths,” we recognize God as our only help, our only hope. No longer foolish enough to assume we deserve anything, we plead instead for sheer mercy.

In the Lord, both we and the psalmist find forgiveness and mercy and hope. And we praise Him: “My soul waits for the Lord / more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

We can trust our God. He won’t leave us in the depths.

 

 

     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.

 

 


What’s the Right Tune to Sing for the New Year?

 

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Although I certainly wish for you and yours a happy and blessed New Year, I confess that I’m rarely very excited about New Year’s fanfare. I like almost any reason for some days off and time with friends and good food, so I’m not a total New Year’s Grinch by any means. But, to me, by far the most impressive thing about New Year’s Day is that it is the eighth day of the twelve days of the Christmas season. Christmas is the nuclear reaction; New Year’s is a dime store sparkler.

Our society gets almost everything backwards, so why should we be surprised if it gets Christmas end-first and whomper-jawed? We celebrate what someone has called Hallowthankmas, and it’s a good thing Santa’s sleigh flies, or it would be skidding on Halloween candy in the street and mowing down pint-sized goblins.

I’m glad that more folks are re-discovering the wisdom of the church across the centuries and observing Advent, a time of preparation for Christ’s coming. Christmas Day arrives on the 25th and is counted, in many western church traditions, as the first of the twelve days of the Christmas season.

“Glory to God in the highest,” the angels sang. The thing, you see, about Christmas is that it centers on something only God could pull off, and the only proper response to what God has done is to praise him. The angels sing, and we join them! God has done something absolutely apart from our puny power, completely out of our reach. It was more likely that one of those shepherds at Bethlehem would cipher out the Theory of Relativity ahead of Einstein than that we could come up with a plan to save this fallen world. Christmas—the real thing—is a moment of rare sanity for the human race as we get over ourselves, focus on what God has done, and realize we can’t add to his Gift, or improve it, or in any way earn it. All we can do is accept it. We learn that since the Child came at Bethlehem, everything has changed. It’s all new.

But then comes New Year’s, and, if we’re not careful, we fall right back into our old ways. Focusing on our power and glorifying man is “business as usual” for the human race. We take center stage again and glorify not the Almighty but honor instead our puny might and our pathetic attempts to “make something” of ourselves.

I won’t be so unkind as to point you to old New Year’s resolutions and ask, “How’s that working out for you?”

If mankind could have just “tried harder” to get “it” (meaning, life) right, we’d not have needed a Savior. A law-giver and a law, a man-centered religion, a really good self-help book, would have been just fine. Then we could swell up in pride and look down our noses at others we’re sure haven’t worked as hard.

And we could forget not just the angel’s song but also the grand hymn “Amazing Grace.” Grace we think we deserve is not very amazing. “Glory to Me in the Highest” would be our tune instead.

Alas, “trying harder” never really works or honors God. Focusing on trusting God and living life to thank him for what he is building in our lives does.

 

       You’re invited to visit my website 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.


Worshiping Feelings Is a Path to Unhappiness

 

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The God who designed us as creatures with bones and skin also equipped us with all sorts of feelings and emotions. Good.

But that same Creator warns us not to trust that our feelings are always an accurate reflection of reality. He even commands us to “live above” our feelings. We are, for example, to love our enemies whether we feel like it or not.

Sometimes, maybe even many times, our feelings accurately reflect reality. But not even close to “always.” Surely the unhappiest people on the planet are those who always trust their feelings and set them up as the gods they follow at any terrible cost.

I mean no disrespect to “man’s best friend” when I say that we humans often operate at a level somewhere below that of our dogs. And our dogs sometimes misinterpret reality.

If you meet a dog in the park, unwisely thrust out your hand to pet the cute little beast, all the while with nothing in your heart but love, warmth, kindness, and the best of human intentions, but he nonetheless perceives your action as threatening, you may draw back a bloody human paw. The dog has reacted not to reality but to his perception of it, the way he “feels” about it. He may be dead wrong. But he’ll bite you anyway.

With a little time, and if he’s a fairly intelligent beast, he may learn that his estimation of your intentions was flawed. Eventually, he may even allow you to reach down more carefully and pet him with your remaining good hand.

More likely, he won’t wait to change his opinion; he’ll tuck tail and run barking over the hill, desperate to get away from you. He’ll likely be even quicker to sink his teeth into the next human who innocently tries to pat his head. For the rest of his doggy years, he’ll live firmly convinced that all humans who try to pet him are mean, malicious, mutt-haters who should be run from or bitten. That is truly how he feels. Even if he is truly mistaken.

Would that this were only a problem with dogs!

How many people live just as witlessly, wrongly, mistakenly! Because they completely, blindly, trust their often fouled up feelings—feelings rendered untrustworthy by tragic backgrounds, bad upbringing, mental disease or distress, or even bad digestion or too little sleep—they draw wrong conclusions about the motives or intentions of others. Then they run around snapping and biting folks who’ve done nothing to deserve it.

We need to pay attention to our feelings. Filter them. Judge them. Evaluate them. But God help us, and those around us, if we think we can always trust them and if we worship them as invariably infallible gods.

No wonder Jesus warned us about not judging others. We’ve got our hands full just trying to be honest about ourselves.

Personally, I’d trust a dog with a good nose a lot farther than I’d trust a biting, barking, snapping, ill-tempered human.

 

             You’re invited to visit my website 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.


Reading E-mail? Scam-sniffing Skill Is Required

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Since a long time before the biblical patriarch Jacob conned his blind old father Isaac, and thus shafted his brother Esau, a nose for the tell-tale smell of a scam has been a serious asset in this fallen world.

Why should we be surprised in this e-mail and internet age that scam-sniffing skill is as essential as a computer, tablet, or smart phone?

Here, let me show you. I’m opening my in-box. Hmm.

Well, for starters, anything marked in all caps, “URGENT” or “IMPORTANT,” isn’t.

Something someone sent from “Claims” asks, “Is this your money?” They already know that it is not. But they’d like to make a good bit of my money their money.

“OurTime.com Dating” tells me that someone may be REALLY interested in me. I could have told them that already. My wife of 39 years has long ago expressed mild but lasting interest.

One note refers to me as “Dear Sweetie.” I don’t believe I’ll answer. (See the previous paragraph.) Another sender is checking to see if I got my check for “$5,645.” Nope.

Anything from someone whose first name is “Mr” or “Mrs,” usually followed by a Middle Eastern or African-sounding name, wishing you “GOOD DAY” in all caps, and informing you that their personal secretary has been instructed to release funds on your behalf . . . Well, they do want a release of funds—from your bank account to theirs.

A number of folks seem concerned about my health. A couple of companies want to tell me about SECRET diets that “all my friends are talking about.” If diets are what all my friends talked about, I’d look for less boring friends.

One company (lacking in punctuation skills) wants to send me a really comfortable knee brace. And one seems also to think I need to diet and wants to send me, uh, I hate to mention this, some kind of an “amazing bra” with incredible support.

Health-wise, I see an e-mail or two of a more legitimate nature from some of the many folks who seem sure that “wellness” is a real word somehow superior to “health.” Personally, I am healthily skeptical about that.

Yes, and here come a couple or three more GOOD DAYs from a couple or three more “Mr” and “Mrs” folks. One has been “tiring to reach” me on the phone, but has “deemed it necessary” to resort to e-mail to tell me of my amazing good fortune and to ask me to send information—and money.

Hmm. Dr. Somebody just sent me a long treatise extolling the virtues of a belief in reincarnation.

Somebody else wants me to know “Seven Ways Your Phone Is Harming You.” I can phone in more than seven ways without reading the note.

Let’s be careful out there in cyberspace. And remember: a written word from our Creator has been available a lot longer than e-mail. And it’s worthy of our time and our trust.

 

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

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

 


Some Thoughts on Lawn Care, Sabbath, and Trust

 

I just finished an unusual yard-mowing experience.

As usual, mowing and trimming is about a three-and-a-half hour job. We’re not talking here about a polite little postage stamp-size lawn. This is a 10,000 square foot yard, acreage that in some cities would pass for a park or a game preserve, complete with man-killing hills of a variety described on topographical maps by terrain experts as “darn hills,” sort of. Anybody who ever tries to mow this lawn will soon adopt the more specific term.

The only thing unusual about today’s lawn-taming experience is that it’s Sunday. In the space of almost thirty years, I could count on one hand the Sunday mowings.

For religious reasons, I don’t mow on Sundays. After leading worship and preaching, I’m religious about partaking of a good lunch and keeping the appointment my dog and I have with the couch for a really good nap. Then I’m religious about relaxing and enjoying the rest of the Sunday as much as possible. “Enjoy” and “mow” don’t belong in the same sentence.

But my wife and I are trying to get away for a few days and this was my only window of mowing opportunity. So I mowed.

I didn’t like it. (Well, how unusual is THAT?) I mean, I didn’t like the Sunday aspect of it. It just felt (this is a technical theological term) sort of pagan-ish. Your pastor starts mowing his yard on Sundays and the next thing you know he’s sacrificing cats out behind the house and muttering dark incantations. (Rest assured that no cats were harmed during the mowing of this lawn and the only incantations uttered were under my breath as I mowed the hills.) I felt like I should maybe duck behind a bush as my neighbors drove by, especially the ones I knew were headed to services!

Seriously, I really don’t think I cut up any commandments too badly by whacking grass today. After all, Christ has freed us from bondage to rule-keeping pseudo-righteousness. Anyone who honors God and still wants to mow his yard on Sunday will get no mean looks from me.

But I’m not planning to mess up more Sundays this way; I’d rather the yard be shaggy. I do plan to reflect more on the whole idea of Sabbath. Just a quick look at the New Testament makes it clear that self-righteous rule-keeping about such things leads to stinky religion that takes us farther from God, not closer.

But the principle of rest and balance and “re-creation” involved in the idea of Sabbath is indeed from God, something he meant to bless us. It’s a little like tithing. God won’t force you to honor him in that way, but the blessings that come when you do are gifts he wants to give, gifts you’d otherwise miss.

Christians honor the Lord, on Sundays or at any time, by intentionally taking some time to rest in him and be still. Sunday afternoons tend to be great times for me to open my hands to receive a blessing from the Lord as I trust him to spin the world for a few precious hours without my help. He spins it just fine even if my yard needs a trim.

 

 

Copyright 2012 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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