Focus on Faith

Dual Citizenship Requires Maturity–and God’s Help 

Note: This column was written on January 19, 2021.

Tomorrow is Inauguration Day. It’s a particularly good time to think about our citizenship, I think. And I think it’s a particularly good time for me to stay off of Facebook and other social media for at least a day or two. Even as I think social media companies’ increasing censorship of free speech is unwise, I think my increasing censorship of my own speech is a responsibility of my citizenship. Whatever rants from whatever blusterers (and I can be a blusterer) do show up on Facebook are posts I do well to scroll past on Facebook’s best day. And I doubt Inauguration Day will be its best day.

As a citizen of the United States, I desire to be neither “an unloving critic or an uncritical lover,” and I refuse to believe those are the only options open to me or to you. This is not the only nation justly worthy of her citizens’ love, but I am not a citizen of other nations; I am a citizen of this one. I see no more virtue in being willfully blind to her flaws than I do to being willfully blind to her virtues. This nation has both, but I cannot imagine how anyone could be so blind as to say that the world would have been better off had this nation not been born. The debt of gratitude that I owe this land of my birth is so deep as to be far beyond any sacrifice I could ever make.

That said, my baptism proclaims that my primary citizenship is in the kingdom of God, and my citizenship in any earthly kingdom is vastly beneath it. It must always be that first allegiance to the kingdom of God that colors and informs my citizenship in any nation of this world. My King has told His people that allegiance to Him must outweigh even family relationships, relationships with father, mother, husband, wife, and children. If I must choose, I must choose for Him. But loving Him most will usually mean loving them more wisely and better than I do now, not less. My King has told me in Scripture to pray for my earthly king, for leaders and authorities, and to obey them whenever possible. I suspect that loving Him most will usually mean that I must love them more wisely and better than I do now, not less.

When the Apostle Paul tells us, commands us, in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for “kings and those in authority” and the Apostle Peter tells us, commands us, in 1 Peter 2 to “submit” ourselves to “the king” and “honor” him, we do well to listen and obey. We do well to remember the poignant and pointed truth that the Emperor then was crazy and bloodthirsty Nero, the very man who would put both apostles to death. And I doubt that either apostle as he wrote would have been surprised by that or changed his words.

So the commands to “pray for,” “submit to,” and “honor” are not contingent upon our having voted for the “king” or feeling warmly kind, soft-hearted, and generous toward him. The Apostle Paul says specifically in 1 Timothy 2 that we are to pray for our governmental leaders “in order that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2:2) and he says “this pleases God our Savior.”

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, if I’m as serious about my heavenly citizenship as I should be, and if I’m serious about “pleasing God our Savior,” and if I’m listening to what two martyred apostles (and the Holy Spirit, I think) command us, Facebook rants on Inauguration Day are probably out of bounds for me. And if the Apostles Peter and Paul can urge citizens of God’s kingdom to pray even for Nero, I’m probably not going to get a pass if I refuse to pray for whoever is inaugurated on whatever Inauguration Day here whether it makes me happy or not.

Dual citizenship is hard. My citizenship in this earthly land should require me at least to try to act like an adult. But my citizenship in God’s kingdom requires me to try to act like His Son. I need His grace to try to do any of that.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 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 Kind of Change Is Positive? 

Change. I love it.

Yes, and I also love each morning to throw open the blinds immediately to retina-scorching sunlight and then to jump into pep-rally-volume conversation.

If you believe any of the wretched falsehoods above, you surely don’t know me at all. If you think I love “change” . . .

Evidently, to be a “progressive,” not a label I love, desire, trust, or in any way covet, one must accept the notion that change itself is always change for the better.

“What we need is change! Vote for change! CHANGE!”

Don’t folks realize that, by definition, change can go in two basic directions? When my appendix went bad, my body recorded a significant change, but I’d never happily vote for such.

And I would think that “progress,” as in “progressive,” implies change in a positive direction. How is change in a backwards direction progress? If it is, well, forgive me for referring yet again to my appendix, but, as I recall, the more progressive it became, the less I appreciated the change. The various members of my body soon voted unanimously that it be cast out to progress on its own as best it could.  

So, no; I’ve got some serious opinions about the kind of “change” I’d like to see. I just prefer real progress to the moonshine in the fruit juice being served by today’s self-styled “progressives.”

And I’ve long been wary of the kind of change/progress that proceeds from those bone-chilling words, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”

Politician X or Politician Y from Political Party A or Political Party B yells out a message: “I’ve got this great idea for change!” But what doesn’t seem to change these days is that whichever party wins, the country loses as we’re assailed with years of conspiracy theories and whining. It’s remarkable how similar whining always sounds. Have you noticed? When you’re trying to watch a movie and a baby is yowling, it’s awfully hard to tell whether the kid is a Democrat or a Republican.

“Change” in big business is rarely any more heartwarming. I’m always aware of a “hold onto your wallet and back away slowly” feeling when I get the letters we all get, fairly regularly, written in corporate-speak: “In our never-ending and tireless efforts to serve you better, . . .”

No. Please. I beg you. Go tirelessly serve somebody else. Just leave me alone.

My wife recently shared a quote from a book she was reading (by Alexander McCall Smith) in which a wise African man explains to his daughter: “That is the problem with governments these days. They want to do things all the time; they are always very busy thinking of what things they can do next. That is not what people want. People want to be left alone to look after their cattle.”

That reminds me of the prophet Micah’s description of God-brought peace—a time when “every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid” (4:4).

That kind of change sounds like progress. We happily mind our own business. No one makes us afraid. And no one profits from making us afraid.

I suspect that the only way to vote for that kind of change is to trust the Changeless One. And we get to vote on that every day.

 You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

January 6, 2021: “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy” 

I’m writing this column on Thursday, January 7, 2021.

That matters. I don’t know if henceforth all one will have to do is say “1/6” to bring forth images of a terrible assault on our nation; probably not, but I hope we never forget the assault and its lessons.

“December 7, 1941: a date which will live in infamy,” does that for many of us. For many more of us, “9/11” does the same thing.

I wasn’t alive in 1941, but I can imagine how Dec. 7 and 8 must have felt. I’ve seen videos of the USS Arizona in flames, and I’ve stood reverently at the spot.

I remember watching the images of the 9/11 assault on the Twin Towers, a despicable attack on America. I remember going to bed in shock and with deep sadness that evening in 2001 and waking up the next morning, still reeling but knowing instinctively that our world would never be exactly the same.

Yesterday and this morning, January 6-7, 2021, felt to me uncomfortably similar to September 11-12, 2001. Sadly indeed, and with no intent to diminish 9/11, I say that to me yesterday’s assault almost feels worse. Why? Because we did it to ourselves. Tears from self-induced pain are a very different sort.

Finding perspective takes time, and we are still very close to this self-defeat and its appalling images. But it seems to me that a mob is a mob is a mob, be they a percentage of far left protesters turned rioters (last summer) or a percentage of far right protesters turned rioters (yesterday). People who incite them, pour out gasoline and then play with matches, watch the fire, and act surprised at the burning are far from any moral high ground. 

The images of hoodlums scaling the walls and breaking into the halls of Congress are heartbreaking. One of the most revolting images of all (and that’s saying something) is the picture of a United States senator raising his clenched fist toward protestors in solidarity and affirmation. Granted, he did that before the scum had scaled the walls; the image is still revolting. Clenched fists are exactly what we cannot afford, whatever our political perspective.

“Make no mistake: this is not a matter of politics but of biblical morality!” So I once heard a preacher proclaiming from a pulpit just before he went on to preach a “far left” politically-charged sermon. Ironically, a preacher across the street, preaching a “far right” sermon could have used exactly the same introduction, word for word. And each one, sincerely believing every word he said, diminished the gospel of Christ to politics.

What we’re seeing is a matter for tears; it’s a time for silence, repentance, and reflection, and not a time for self-righteousness or “virtue-signaling.”

The Apostle Paul warned warring Christians, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you may be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15). When hate-filled beasts who were once human die with their fangs locked in each other’s bodies, neither wins and both become corpses, decaying and abhorrent.

I wonder if Christians will step up? The One we claim as Lord has told us that loving those who look just like us is not impressive: “Even the pagans do that.” But unclenching our fists and, in the name of Christ, hugging someone whose politics or lifestyle we find disgusting and never plan to condone, is, well, Christlike and impressive indeed.

Of course, zealots (from whatever perspective) with clenched fists will try to portray such as a spineless betrayal and lack of conviction. They will never understand; they’ll just run for more gas cans and matches. They always have; they always will.

But the Savior who refused to play power games by the world’s rules and died with forgiveness on his lips? He will understand.

Oh, yes, Christ will understand.

 You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

An Old Hymn Brings New Comfort 

Years ago, when my oldest brother and his wife left for almost 20 years of mission work in Malawi, Africa, I was barely a pup. I was too small then to remember now much of the early time of their service there, but I well remember that then and always, whenever our family gathered, we sang. (I know. Tell that to most modern families and you might as well tell them you grew up on Mars.)

I learned many good, and even great, songs at church as I was growing up. Many were beautiful and rich with meaning. Some were pretty but of questionable musical/theological quality. Some were toe-tappers with great alto and bass “leads.” Those were fun to sing but even then (once I matured a bit) I thought they were better suited to a Sunday afternoon “singing” than worship. (A “singing” is another Martian thing we did on some Sunday afternoons instead of practicing playing with various shapes of balls.)

But I actually learned the most beautiful hymns of the Christian faith not at church but at home singing with my family. I remember thinking of that as, years ago, I was watching on TV the funeral service at the National Cathedral for President Gerald Ford. What a beautiful service! What magnificent hymns! I listened to one of the Ford family’s favorite hymns, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” and the beautiful “God of Our Fathers” and realized that those were among my own family’s favorite hymns, sung often at home. (Oh, and what a statesman that man was! He had character and integrity to spare and a kind of selfless love for our country that should make the majority of our loudest modern politicians, both sides of the aisle, blush with shame, were their small and shriveled souls capable of such lofty emotion. There’s not much room in a tiny universe bounded north, south, east, and west by self, certainly no room for shame.)

I also learned early that our family had so many favorite hymns that if we were singing and you wanted some hope of getting your favorite song in the line-up, you’d best not be timid about calling out the song number really quickly.

One of our family’s best-loved hymns was “Father and Friend, Thy Light, Thy Love” [lyrics, John Bowring (1792-1872); music, Henry Baker (1835-1910)]. Once my brother and sister-in-law had gone to Africa, it became especially dear. Short but full of meaning, it particularly captured our hope and our prayer as we were separated from loved ones by an ocean and half a world:

(Vs. 1) Father and Friend, Thy light, Thy love, / Beaming thro’ all Thy works we see; / Thy glory gilds the heav’ns above, / And all the earth is full of Thee.

(Vs. 2) Thy voice we hear, Thy presence feel, / While Thou too pure for mortal sight, / Enwrapped in clouds, invisible, / Reignest the Lord of life and light.

(Vs. 3) Thy children shall not faint nor fear, / Sustained by this delightful thought; / Since Thou, their God, art ev’rywhere, / They cannot be where Thou art not.

I love it still and think of it often. It came reassuringly to mind as, years ago, sons of my own were “across the pond” doing mission work. I realize also, and this is itself genuine comfort, that some distances between people can be more difficult to bridge than oceans and miles. When our loved ones are apart from us for any reason and the gap seems large and frightening, this song’s truth is strong and real and a great blessing.

Wherever God’s children are—around the world, hard to reach across the table, or even having passed beyond this world—we can praise our Father: “They cannot be where Thou art not.”

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2021 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 Comes To Us Not as We Wish We Were but as We Are 

At first, the quotation I’m about to share may sound a bit cynical, but when you have a little time to think about it, I think you’ll agree with me that it is not only realistic and true, it is filled with hope.

You see, when God came into this world “in the flesh,” he was laid in a manger, a feed trough, in a stable surrounded by everything anyone in first century Palestine would expect to find in such a place—including the very thing you can find in ample supply in almost all stables today—a serious and almost unending supply of manure.

So a gentleman named Morse has written, “That the treasure of God’s grace reaches us surrounded by garbage will not seem surprising to anyone who is personally familiar with life in the church. . . . Grace comes to us, so Martin Luther argues, hidden sub contrario, beneath its opposite. From this perspective, any idealized view of the church as only treasure is as faulty a vision of reality as any cynical view that the church is only garbage. Mangers, by definition, are found where there is manure.”

You see, God comes to us “while we were yet sinners”—while we are as we always are—not what we wish we were, but what we are.

God comes to us as the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest!”

God comes to us as those shining and mighty heralds proclaim the amazing message that the Savior has been born—and with that wonderful news comes the accompanying note that is almost as surprising—that we common mortals whom God’s Son has been born to save are those “on whom his favor rests.”

When the God of the universe comes to us, the amazing paradox is most fitting: He comes as the heavenly hosts sing, as heavens lit up with splendor declare the glory of God, but he comes in a tiny helpless form, lying in a manger, God in a most unlikely situation and shape, but having entered that situation and taken that shape, most likely crying just like any other of a thousand little babies, even those lying in far more appropriate cribs. And he comes surrounded by manure that smells, I think you can be sure, just like the manure in any of a thousand other stables.

In that manner of coming, we see God’s grace shining even more brightly than the Christmas star, and in that paradox of his coming, we find our best, our truest, our only, our highest hope.

God comes to us not as we wish we were, but as we are.

Curtis Shelburne’s podcast, “Focus on Faith with Curtis Shelburne” is now available for streaming free of charge on most Podcast apps and at www.CurtisShelburne.com.

Copyright 2020 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 True Light . . . Was Coming Into the World” 

“The true light that gives light to everyone,” writes the Apostle John, “was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

And so each year at this time, we drape our trees, our homes, our churches, our cities and towns and villages, with innumerable lights. Every one of them, even if it’s nothing more than a glowing red light on Rudolph’s nose, is silent testimony to the bright truth that “the light shines” even “in the darkness.” Not only has the darkness “failed to put it out” (The Message), it’s precisely when darkness deepens that the light seems to blaze ever more brightly.

Ah, it must be maddening indeed for the prince of darkness and his joyless slaves to see their night-shrouded malevolence so quickly burned into oblivion by even a little light from the Son. One word of truth and dictators tremble. One word of hope and fears melt away. One great laugh from a good face lit up by a warm living heart and stuffed shirt politicians go pale, atrophied hearts too calcified to allow the flow of humility’s mirth or mirth’s humility. One word of joy and sowers of dissension are struck mute. Even the slightest current of light’s warmth spells approaching and certain defeat for a cold ocean of darkness. The light always triumphs.

Whether we live largely oblivious to that truth, or whether we embrace it with all of our hearts, every light we hang burns in silent tribute to the reality that the light seeping into the darkness surrounding a Bethlehem stable that amazing night is the light of the victory of the Father of Lights.

That little trickle of light would become a wave of luminescence, and that wave would surge inexorably into a tsunami of brightest joy. Even the worst that Satan could do with a cross would three days later be brilliantly overcome by the light of life blazing forth from a vacated tomb.

So we hang the lights at Christmas. Call them Christmas lights. Call them holy-day lights. Call them whatever you wish; all of them are His.

Maybe it’s just me (I bet it’s you, too!), but I can’t walk into the quiet church sanctuary, the living room at home, or even out onto the porch in the chill of night—any place where Christmas lights and electricity are available—and not plug them in so as to bask in the glow. Were I embarrassed (and I’m not) about being childish, I might say we’ve hung all these lights at the house mostly for the grandkids—and I do indeed love seeing the light reflected in those beautiful eyes—but I’d hang the lights and trim the tree if I was the only kid in the room.

One might say that it’s all basically illusory, artificial and pretty pathetic, just light we ourselves engineer and string and plug in to lift our own spirits and make ourselves feel better as we and all of humanity muddle through life mostly in the dark. Many say that whatever small glimmers of light we get here will be what we strain to create.

All I have to do is glance at our Christmas tree and see the little cross hanging in its branches, completely surrounded by light, and I know better. I plug in these little lights not in a pathetic attempt to defeat this world’s night but as a proclamation that darkness has already been mortally pierced and that even the smallest glimmers and twinkles of joy proceed from the brilliance of God’s grace, God’s truth, God’s Son.

All light is our Father’s.

Curtis Shelburne’s podcast, “Focus on Faith with Curtis Shelburne” is now available for streaming free of charge on most Podcast apps and at www.CurtisShelburne.com.

Copyright 2020 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 Servant Comes in Quiet Strength, Asleep in a Manger 

For sixteen years now, during the second and third weeks of Advent (the word has to do with “coming”), a centuries-old traditional time of “preparing our hearts” before Christmas, I’ve led some brief morning devotions with readings and prayers for a little group gathering briefly to bow in our little church sanctuary.

It’s not a large thing and certainly not a large crowd, but that’s one of Advent’s main lessons: little and quiet can accompany the most magnificent meaning, and meek and lowly are very often God’s exact descriptions of the truly mighty and strong.

On this year of plague and pestilence (so to speak), it was time to punt. It didn’t seem like a good time to go on with many “extra” in-person activities, but it also seemed to me like a time when our hearts and souls probably need some moments for quiet reflection even more than usual.

So, what to do? Facebook Live. My personal page. Mornings, 10:00, for about ten minutes. Pros and cons, but at least, it’s happening. And it just did.

Quiet now, I’m sitting in front of the fellowship hall fireplace drinking the post-devotional coffee that goes well with a post-devotional cookie. I’ve got a jillion things to do, but finding the discipline myself to sit still for just a moment needs to be for now #1. It’s time to simply “be” for a moment so that when the time to “do” rushes in a few heartbeats from now, the doing might possibly mean something.

The fire crackles.

The clock ticks.

My eyelids want to close, and I want to let them.

But the words of this morning’s Old Testament reading are quietly echoing in my ears. They’re from Isaiah 42:1-4, the first of the four “Servant Song” passages Bible scholars point to in the Book of Isaiah where the prophet focuses our attention on God’s “suffering servant” who will come to save God’s people. Christians have almost always identified the “Servant” in those “songs” with Jesus Christ.

This particular passage is quoted by Matthew in his Gospel as he points to “God’s chosen Servant,” Jesus the Messiah.

Of the much that is amazing in these verses, what most amazes me is the gentleness of this “Servant.” The King of the universe has chosen him, loved him, in-filled him with the power of the Spirit, and yet . . . Yet he is described as being so very gentle that in his coming to bring salvation and justice, he won’t shout or even raise his voice. Were a sparrow to land on a half-broken “reed” in the marshland, it would break, but the Servant will not break it in his coming. The merest whisper of a breath, a single flap of a gnat’s wing, would blow out the flickering candle. But the Servant’s coming will not.

He is God’s chosen One. No one is his equal. But he comes with no fanfare. No parades or processions. No loud speeches. No pronouncements of power or lawless riots or tweets or desperate or vindictive or pitiful whining from the far left or the far right or sad Sadducees or equally sad Pharisees whose souls are joyless and whose faces are too paralyzed by pride and bitterness to move into the shapes necessary for real unselfish smiles and even healthy-hearted laughter. None of the poisonous fear and violence and strife spreading like a virus from those whose trust is in their power and whose souls are atrophied and twisted.  

God’s Servant is the most powerful Ruler of all, and yet he comes most gently of all.

He comes . . . oh, imagine this! He comes, eyes closed, quietly drawing baby breaths, asleep in a manger. Gentle, completely. But strong, unimaginably.

The world sleeps also. Lowing oxen barely take notice, but angels look on and bow, utterly astounded.

God’s Servant has come.

Curtis Shelburne’s podcast, “Focus on Faith with Curtis Shelburne” is now available for streaming free of charge on most Podcast apps and at www.CurtisShelburne.com.

And Curtis’ Christmas album, One Christmas Night, is available at the website and also on Amazon, iTunes, Apple Music, etc.

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Wherever We Are at Christmas, We Can Count on Going Home” 

In a sense, we’re all born into this world looking for our real home. This season reminds us of where to look.

I suppose Caesar Augustus might have been home one night when he rolled over in bed, probably sleeping fitfully due to acid reflux, snored in and muttered, “Ta-a-axes,” snored out and sputtered, “Mo-o-ore.” He didn’t really remember much about it in the morning; he just felt that he’d awakened with a plan.

More taxes. Maybe his many wars devoted to further promoting his vast imperial aspirations were becoming expensive. America is often referred to as an imperialist nation by its enemies. Phooey. As columnist Charles Krauthammer once observed, it’s a strange sort of imperialism that no sooner enters a struggle in a foreign country than in the next breath it’s looking for an exit strategy (sensible or not).

America, imperial? Nuts. Rome, imperial? Oh, yes.

And, yeah, being serious about expanding an empire is expensive. Was that why Rome’s emperor was dreaming of more denarii? Or was he just a flashier than usual politician but, at his heart, still the ordinary kind who has very few original ideas but has this very unoriginal one regularly? More taxes.

A real historian could probably tell you. I am not a real historian and am thus speaking, as usual, off the cuff and likely out of my head.

In any case, Caesar Augustus needed to count heads to fatten the tax rolls and thus filch more shekels from the populace.

So some serious counting was already underway when Joseph and Mary found themselves in Bethlehem waiting to be counted. They’d already counted to nine months. No obstetrician required for that.

Mary needed to avoid sharp objects. It didn’t take our presently popular skin tight pregnancy fashions (“Oh, this makes me look so fat!” Duh. Donchathink pregnancy and plumping up in the midsection kinda go together? And did you really think that shrink wrap as a fashion statement would be slimming?) . . .  No, it didn’t take modern fashions to make it clear that Mary and Joseph were now counting hours (just a few) and minutes, not days, to launch.

Counting heads. Counting tax money. Counting contractions.

Maybe it should be no surprise when we find that at least one Bethlehem innkeeper was counting rooms available. The math was easy. None. He’d punched the button and the neon NO in front of VACANCY on his sign was glowing gloomily.

And that’s how Mary and Joseph ended up in a stable, and a manger became the crib of the little King whose universe dwarfed Caesar’s empire.

And that’s how, as wordsmith G. K. Chesterton poemed, to go really home, we ourselves go “[T]o an older place than Eden / And a taller town than Rome. . . . / To the place where God was homeless / And all men are at home.”

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 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’m Pretty Sure I Can Wire Around That” 

“I’m pretty sure I can wire around that.”

Right.

That’s the sort of statement that fits in very well with other Famous Last Word pronouncements of the Tim “the Toolman” Taylor variety.

“Nah, don’t flip the breaker; I’ll work it hot.”

“The can says it’s flammable, but this stuff almost never explodes.”

“Forget the extra jack; I’ll just crawl in under there.”

“Just put in a bigger fuse.”

I’ll admit that a light in my head flipped from green to yellow when I heard myself say those words: “I think I can wire around that.”

The weather was turning cold. We’d already had a few freezes. The plants I cared about were already tucked into my shed/greenhouse.

When I built that edifice, I didn’t know how versatile it would be. It doubles, triples, quadruples as a man cave and occasional magic fairy princess/powerful elf prince castle. During the current pandemic it also serves as a medical test facility. If you enter and don’t smell paint or other aromas from a recent grandchild/PawPaw project finished in the castle, or cigar smoke from . . . well, if you don’t smell some such aroma, you better get a COVID-19 test.

I do love that facility, and, yes, we’ve put it to very good use.

To do its job, though, during this time of year, it needs a little temperature adjustment. Plants freeze without heat. Occupants freeze out without heat.

To be sure I could answer that need, I built the place with a circuit/wiring that will handle more than one heater, etc., along with some power tools. The best heaters I’ve been able to find thus far are of the “milk house” variety.

And. They. Are. Lousy.

But they’re cheap. In every way. You can get one for just a bit over twenty bucks. And I admit, you’ll get a season or two or maybe even a few out of it. The same Chinese (I think) company makes almost exactly the same heater for a dozen (at least) brands.

I need to research this. I think I’ll find that these “milk house heaters” look very much like older, much more expensive, much more durable “milk house heaters” that, perhaps, dairies and farms once actually used.

Did I mention that the new ones are really cheap?

That’s how I ended up with a “milk house heater” bone pile in my garage. Over a few years, I’d stacked up about six dead or dying and utterly undependable units. They’d passed the “bang it hard on the floor and it might turn on” stage and could only be trusted to let your greenhouse plants freeze and then thaw into jelly.

Time for heater postmortems. Conclusion? Every one succumbed to the failure of an incredibly wimpy “thermostat/safety switch.” Good luck fixing one of those that’s fried. Good luck finding a replacement part for a twenty dollar heater. I tried.

Right after the postmortem. That’s when many guys will hear the words coming out of their mouths: “I’m pretty sure I could wire around that.”

Me, too. And, yes, you could. But stop. Wait a few seconds for the safety device in your head to kick in with two words: Bad Idea. Or maybe a name: Tim Taylor.

Sometimes we get away with wiring past safety features. Sometimes it’s fine to laugh at and skip over “lawyer litter” warnings written for fools.

But when our Creator has plainly written words of warning, we’d better read and heed. When the caution light in our souls goes from green to yellow (and even red), we wire past it at great peril to ourselves and others.

Out in my dumpster. Six heaters. All dead. Not parts enough for one Frankenstein heater. I admit it: I tried.

 

 

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Give Thanks in All Circumstances” 

“O most gracious God,” wrote the eloquent sufferer, “on this sickbed I feel under your correction, and I taste of humiliation, but let me taste of consolation, too.”

John Donne, poet and priest, so wrote in one of his “devotions” in 1623. In Christianity Today over twenty years ago, Philip Yancey shared a brief edited, somewhat modernized, excerpt of Donne’s “Devotions.”

As Yancey explains, Donne had fallen seriously ill. Not unreasonably, he assumed he had contracted the bubonic plague, the scourge filling graves with masses of people during those dark days. The “Black Death” had made its presence unmistakable. London’s church bells tolled “dolefully,” and Donne wrote his famous poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” reminding his readers that the loss of anyone is a loss to us all. So, do not ask “for whom the bell tolls,” he penned, “it tolls for thee.”

In his “Devotions” (as Yancey shares them), Donne writes of all the blessings God has given.

“Nature reaches out her hand and offers corn, and wine, and oil, and milk; but it was you [God] who filled the hand of nature with such bounty.”

Donne thanks God for the blessings that come from fruitful labor, and he acknowledges that, no matter how hard and well the laborer has worked, it is God who guides and “gives the increase.”

He thanks the Lord for friends who “reach out their hands to support us,” even as he acknowledges, “but your hand supports the hand we lean on.”

I’m continually amazed at how suffering is used by some as Exhibit A against God, at the very same time as others, passing “through the fire,” eventually come out with faith strengthened and “tempered.”

On his sickbed, Donne writes, “Once this scourge has persuaded us that we are nothing of ourselves, may it also persuade us that you are all things unto us.”

In striking contrast to the verbal drizzle of those who promise health and wealth to the faithful, or to those whose “faith” is in consumer religion as long as it “meets their [most shallow] needs,” Donne reminds us that when God’s own Son on the cross “cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ you reached out your hand [Lord,] not to heal his sad soul, but to receive his holy soul.” And Jesus surrendered his soul to his Father in trust. 

Donne would recover. His sickness was not the plague. But before he knew the certainty of the outcome, he was certain of his hope: “Whether you will bid my soul to stay in this body for some time, or meet you this day in paradise, I ask not.”

But he wrote his confidence: “I can have no greater proof of your mercy than to die in you and by that death be united in him who died for me.”

With Donne, we can be confident, not in ourselves but in our Lord all along the journey. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 6, God’s children have already experienced a death and resurrection. I’ve been reading theologian Thomas Long’s excellent book Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral. He urges us to remember that, just as the community of faith gathered at our baptisms as we were “buried with Christ by baptism into death” and then been raised to “walk in newness of life” as we begin our journey with our Lord, the community of faith will gather once again in faith and with singing as we are eventually “buried with Christ” again in “the sure confidence that [we] will be raised to new life.” And so Donne believed. And so we believe, as Long writes, “In the Christian faith, the dead are going somewhere. That is [literally] the gospel truth” and, though our relationship with them has changed, it has not ended.

If even death itself cannot cut us off from Christ and all who have died with him to be raised with him, how could we be severed from our Lord’s love and power even during the most difficult circumstances? Donne wrote during the unspeakable horror of the Black Plague, but his confidence was in the Author of life. Surely, even during terribly difficult times like, say, a pandemic, our Lord is the same Lord.

Following the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is not even a little easy. But if we’ve already died with Christ and been raised, our faith is in God—not in luck or our own power or circumstances. We often need to be reminded, but it is nonetheless deeply true: easy lives and blessed lives are not the same thing.

Let’s give thanks and trust the Giver of all blessings. And not just our own faith will strengthened and affirmed. And not just our own lives will be blessed by that trust and gratitude.

You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.