Friday, January 27, 2006

Journey to Belief

Converse with 20 different Christians and they will tell you 20 different ways God piqued their interest in him and encouraged their belief in Christ. One such story comes from the Civil War General Lew Wallace who authored the book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

Wallace’s mother told him about the Wise Men searching for the King of the Jews. That story enthralled him through his adult years, and Wallace eventually wrote “The First Christmas,” a fictional account of the Wise Men. He didn’t submit it for publication, but put it away. When an adult, Wallace went to church off and on, but confessed his “attitude with respect to religion had been one of absolute indifference.”

He read sermons from some of the “best preachers" of his day—Bossuet, Chalmers, Robert Hall, and Henry Ward Beecher—but only for the "charm of their rhetoric.” In 1876, a “chance” meeting with atheist Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, breached his indifference. On a train together, Ingersoll discounted believers in God, Christ and heaven with “argument, eloquence, wit, satire,” and “brilliant antitheses,” Wallace later wrote.

General Wallace disembarked alone. Instead of taking the streetcar, he chose to walk a long way to his destination, because of his “confusion of mind.” He had no answers to any of the Colonel’s opinions. Wallace, ashamed of his ignorance, remembered the manuscript he’d written about the Wise Men searching for the Christ Child.

He decided to finish the story, through the crucifixion. He reasoned that the writing would oblige him to study the Bible and everything relevant to the event. He thought he would then possess “opinions of real value.” The book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ resulted. Wallace also journeyed to a belief in Jesus, “a conviction amounting to absolute belief in God and the Divinity of Christ.”

God addresses unbelief. “I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me.” He continues, “My purpose will stand; and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose” (Isaiah 46:8-10). God knows how, when and where to stimulate interest in himself, even through an atheist’s opinions.

The story of the Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur, and his own path to belief, became a stage play. An obstacle to the stage presentation was the chariot race, but eight trained horses pulled chariots and ran on treadmills in the play first performed on Broadway in 1899.

After 21 years of worldwide performances, an estimated 21 million people viewed the stage production. One historian said the play "brought millions to their feet to cheer and more millions to their knees to pray?"

Later, MGM produced the 1959 motion picture Ben-Hur, starring Charlton Heston, which won 11 of the 12 nominated Academy Awards. In 2003, an animated version, featuring the voice of Charlton Heston, released. This past week, I watched the DVD with my grandsons, ages 8 and 5.

During the movie, we talked of ancient Roman rule and Rome, Italy now. I explained the difference between lepers and leopards. They asked questions about Jerusalem culture, and questions about God. They showed empathy for the sick and oppressed. Those moments are treasures for this grandmother. And they had their beginnings in Civil War General Lew Wallace’s journey—a journey to The Christ.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Prayer Garden

A Place for Prayer

My grandsons, ages 8 and 5, are helping me build a prayer garden. Well, that’s what we’re calling it. Right now, the garden consists of one tree and some laboring grass.

The idea for a special place for prayer has been growing, seeded from several sources. A friend has a lovely landscaped area near her home that she calls her “prayer garden.” Also, the gospels tell about Jesus going often to an olive grove, a seemingly favorite outdoor chapel for him, apart from the noise and dust of Jerusalem. From Eden to Gethsemene, conversations with God have taken place in gardens.

I decided our family needed a prayer garden, too, but our yard is not the gardenish-type. It’s rustic to the bone. Plenty of trees dapple the lawn: pines, pin oaks, cedars, sweet gum, mulberry and mimosa. Another variety is a holly tree in its 50’s. Shaped like an open umbrella, the tree has a low-forked trunk, perfect for first-time tree scalers.

Dubbed the “climbing tree” by grandsons Jack and Adam, it will provide shady shelter in the middle of our quiet place. One day, I was telling my grandsons what we would put in the garden: a pea gravel floor, border rocks, a couple of molded plastic chairs and table, a citronella candle, and engraved scripture stones. Caught up in the planning phase, I forgot something very important.

Jack, grew very quiet. When I stopped reeling off the list of things we would “do” to create the garden, he simply asked, “Can we pray in it?”

Jack’s legitimate question focused on the main item for our prayer garden – prayer. Over the years, I’ve read countless articles about prayer, read e-mail prayers, kept a prayer journal and studied prayers in the Bible to discover the physical positions of the prayerful.

Those activities helped me learn about prayer and even tracked results, but they only enlightened “about” prayer. Too many times in life, I’ve been enamored with the prayer-helps instead of actually praying to God.

In the next few weeks, Jack, Adam and I will finish the prayer garden. Then the three of us will sit down in the shade of the holly tree, two seated in the green chairs. One of us will climb the holly tree to sit on a low branch. I’m counting on an eight or –five-year-old volunteer.

After we’re settled under our tree and in it, we’ll talk about the many times Jesus went with his disciples to the garden on the Mount of Olives, including the betrayal night. In the garden that dreadful night, the first word spoken to his disciples was “Pray . . .” (Luke 22:40).

The holly tree, antique rocks and mocking birds hymning will stage a wholesome place for little boys’ prayers. Add one listening Father and it’s the perfect combination—our prayer garden.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Transfiguration-Would I Be Left Behind?

G. B. Shelburne emails out nuggets of wisdom; with his permission I share this with you.

On the last day of his life, Peter waited in his Roman cell for the footsteps of the soldier who would take him to execution. He was sustained by what he had seen on a mountaintop with Jesus 40 years before. In his last letter Peter recalls that day. "We did not preach to you fables we cleverly made up. We really saw Jesus' shining majesty as God spoke from heaven about him."

If seeing the transfiguration of Jesus helped Peter live faithfully, why did Jesus give only three disciples that opportunity? Did he care less for the nine and for their faith? I think rather the nine were not ready to receive. Some blessings require a certain maturity. Before his death Jesus told the disciples, "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot receive it now." I am like that. Some things that used to wow me are no longer important. And things I couldn't appreciate then mean everything to me now.

Jesus said something scary yet wonderful: "Whoever has will receive more, but whoever does not have will lose even what he has." The more we grow, the more we can grow. The less we grow, the less chance that we ever will. What does that say about the growth opportunities we think we don't have time for?

If I had been there, would Jesus have invited me or would I have been left behind?


Copyright 2006 by G.B. Shelburne, III. May be freely reproduced or forwarded for non-commercial purposes. To subscribe, email

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Excess and Moderation

Driving to my home one day, I followed a motorist. On a 60mph road, her speedometer maxed at 25 mph. If she neared 30mph, she slacked off the gas; she crept to her house and I crept behind her. Another road, another day, a driver whooshed by so fast—I didn’t even catch the color of the car.

I find the biblical place of moderation a good place to camp. Today’s column will tackle the hindering habit of excess. According to the Encarta Dictionary, excess or surplus is “an amount or quantity beyond what is considered normal or substantial.” Excess behavior or an attitude “goes beyond what is socially or morally acceptable, or beyond what is good for somebody’s health or well-being.”

Almost anything in life can be taken to the extreme. A variety of average experiences can become excess either in the plus or minus column. For instance eating—one can eat too little and too much. Binging and purging are both excessive behaviors and may result in severe health problems. Money can be hoarded or worshiped, squeezed or squandered.

Other extremes include those who abide by stringent self-made rules, while their counter citizens stick decals on shirts and cars saying, “Rules—made to be broken.” One may take a vow of silence, while another uploads 1,000 songs to an Apple iPod and tunes out the world. Teetotalers and alcoholics thirst on opposite ends of moderation.

The key to moderation is to follow God’s lead. Solomon wrote “The man who fears God avoids all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18). Extremes hinder. He explained, “Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself . . . Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time?” (7:16, 17). Excesses can shatter the good life.

When Jesus, meaning Savior in Greek, came to earth, he came to rescue us—to rescue us from ourselves. He came to show us moderation and good extremes, and he patterned both.

A prime example of moderation is Jesus’ associations. He didn’t exclusively cohort with the rich and famous, nor did he only align himself with victims of poverty. He befriended everyone no matter their life positions.

Jesus cautioned against judging another person’s choices to the left or right of moderation. John the Baptizer led an austere life, shaped by prayer and fasting. On the days he lived in the wilderness, he ate locusts and honey. (My husband thinks he caught a rabbit now and then.)

Jesus said because John fasted and didn’t drink alcohol, people said, “He has a demon” or he was crazy (Matthew 11:18). The Son of Man, Jesus, fasted and feasted, and they said about him, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’” (11:19).

Jesus finished up his teachings on that day with these words, “But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” Or as Eugene Peterson says in the contemporary language The Message, “Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they?” God is a better judge of life behaviors.

The scales of life found Jesus balanced. He practiced good extremism, and was excessive and lavish in his love for God and fellowmen. To follow Jesus, live a moderate life, and don’t set limits on loving God and his children. Go all out.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

My theme scripture

Hopes and Dreams for 2006

In Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion, December 2005, an article about the New Year is titled “Hopes and Dreams.” Hopes and dreams aptly describe some resolutions I’ve made at year end. By mid-year, they were more dreams than reality.

A resolution is a “firm decision to do something.” At the beginning of a new year, I often pledge to make “me” improvements. Like highway zero-mile-markers, like baptism into Christ, a new year beckons with opportunities to travel a new path or an adjusted one.

I’ve found these three helps to carry out New Year resolutions: a memorized theme scripture, breath prayers and God’s involvement. At the end of December, I meditate on the year ahead. God is invited to this soul search as I look at the known appointments for the next 12 months. Also, just as King David wanted to build a better place for God to dwell, so do I. My life, his temple, often needs renovation, home improvements.

One year, God and I worked on my communication skills, and Paul’s wisdom words became my unifying scripture. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders. Let your conversations always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” I wrote the scripture and the year on many index cards and placed them where I saw them every day.

That year, besides the scripture, I memorized breath prayers, a few simple words uttered to God for immediate help to reach my goal. “Zip my lips” became a favorite. “Sprinkle my words with grace” I said often.

This year for present needs, I’ve settled on this theme scripture: “O LORD, listen to my cry; give me the discerning mind you promised (Psalm 119:169 NLT). Amid the tugs of life, I need discernment to make wise decisions.

Psalm 119 is a favorite because throughout its 176 verses the principles of ask, seek and knock are presented again and again. Some days, I get bogged down in details, surrounded by paper work, and clamored by noise. For those type days in 2006, I plan this breath prayer, repeating the psalmist’s plea. “Come and find me” (vs 176).

Personal improvement is at least two-fold, to better represent Christ to seekers and to please the Lord. An aside is becoming more pleasant in the presence of others. Family, friends, fellow Christians, church committee members and coworkers will thank you!

Hopes, dreams, resolutions—make them a reality. This year include God, his word and heartfelt “Come and find me” prayers. Give God permission to ask, seek and knock in your life.

Friday, January 06, 2006


If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. Ecclesiastes 11:4 NLT

One habit that hinders personal progress is procrastination. The second week in March is designated as the official week of procrastination. So, if putting things off is a vice, one could wait until spring and the official calendar days to think about changing this negative habit.

Procrastination is defined as putting off a task until tomorrow, usually something that is dreaded. While humans constantly procrastinate, I can find no reference to God as a procrastinator, one who shuns the work at hand. The psalmist says, “As for God, his way is perfect” (18: 10).

What if God grew too lazy to send rain? Has God ever been too distracted to wake the sun? Was there ever a time when God became sidetracked by warring children and ceased to keep the stars in place? God is dependable—not a procrastinator.

People who wait until tomorrow tend to break promises to themselves and others. How many times have I said, “Tomorrow I’ll eat less, wash the car, and visit Aunt Sally.” But when dawn arrived, excuses marched in with the sun rays.

Professional coaches who help with organizing say the number one reason for avoiding a chore is that the task is dreaded. Cleaning out the horse stall, mowing the yard, balancing the checkbook—all of that work is beneficial if done timely. But delays of weeks can bring on five-star disasters. David Allen says stress doesn't come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what was started.

Most people must take care of day-to-day chores through household members. “Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday.” Another witty anonymous soul said, “If it weren't for the last minute, I wouldn't get anything done.” But living life on the last minute hand of the clock means many frazzled moments. By now, I’ve identified several responsibilities I habitually put off. But what’s to be done about them?

The best suggestions I’ve found is to break tasks into small manageable segments, then spend 15 minutes (not last minutes) to work heartily on the project. Through seven days of fresh-morning-minutes, bit by bit, snarls and kinks are straightened. Unkempt corners are de-cluttered, and paperwork is put away. A week of hard work can equal a finished job. Snippets of time spent on put-off projects equals peace. When a long delayed chore is finished, give yourself a pat on the back. Dust off your hands and tackle another overdue job.

Laziness underwrites procrastination. Jimmy Lyons said, “Tomorrow is the only day that appeals to a lazy man.” Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, and it is can be fatal to spiritual progress.

Attentiveness to daily tasks acknowledges God, our constant caregiver. Industry honors the Creator and keeps one in tune with the workings of his world. The God who changes seasons on time, who regulates the tides, who keeps a house in place through gravity can assist anyone with the problem of procrastination.

Don’t hesitate. Today, ask for help.

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