Focus on Faith

Some Words About Computers and Copyists 

At our church, we recently replaced two old computers. It was time, and it needed to be done, but, as much as I enjoy playing with new technology and was looking forward to being able to boot up a computer without having time to go get coffee while it started, I was dreading the process.

What you’re looking for when you do this is, of course, more productivity. What you know, if you’ve ever done it before, is that the new productivity will likely come, but the change will entail a number of days of much less productivity as you try to adopt the right facial expressions and employ the right incantations needed to get everything to work.

I finally got one of the machines mostly up and running with all of the needed files and software copied and reinstalled. It takes some unbroken (which means rare) time to focus on such, and I was thankful to have some.

So one down, one to go.

I went upstairs. That new computer had been sitting unplugged in and brain dead for several weeks. I’d already taken pics with my smartphone of all the old connections and bought a new cable or a few for the new “plumbing.” So I crawled under the table and started the unhooking and re-hooking process. When I finally pushed the button, it lived.

I got all the files transferred that needed to be moved. And then I installed our new “worship media” program, an update to its predecessor that we were still using after 10-12 years, mostly because I didn’t want to waste time learning the new one. I’d pay them not to issue updates very often. If it works, leave it alone. But it was time for the change. 

It’s good in the 2020s to remind oneself that folks have worshiped just fine for two thousand years, no computers or software necessary. I think we could. But, like most modern worshipers, we’ve gotten used to shooting songs and video slides and sermon points and illustrations up on a screen.

I have a friend who also likes skiing who decided to take up snowboarding. He said that it takes two full days of falls, tumbles, and misery—and then, on the third day, something clicks in, and you’ve got it.

I’ve decided that’s true with this updated program. Misery for two full days. And then you begin to see some light.

Again, one of the things this program allows you to do (the old one did, too) is to put song lyrics up on the screen. You can create your own, but, if you’re lucky, you can find most songs in a large database of songs. Handy, right?

Yes, but can you imagine how many hours it took a bunch of folks to enter all of those lyrics? And can you imagine that not all of the scribes were as careful as you might wish? Do these people not proofread? And can you imagine that, if you’re an English major, you might very often quarrel with their punctuation? And can you imagine how many songs have had a word or a few changed down through the years? I ran into some of the latter reality when I found myself researching the lyrics of some great old songs I recently recorded on a new music album. Some of the changes are interesting, but you need to get them all nailed down and choose before you hit the recording studio and the meter is running.

When I run into some occasionally sloppy lyric copying in that song database, I admit to muttering under my breath a sharp critique of the copyist’s skill.

But this week I found myself intensely thankful for some other copyists whose work we take for granted. If you do just a little research into the people who copied manuscripts of our Bible, you will find that, from the Jewish scribes and then Christian monks and others, their work is, for the most part, utterly amazing. As the years have passed and more early manuscripts have been found, we find even more evidence of how incredibly accurately these amazing people did their work. Are there textual “variants”? Yes, but very few very important, and anything significant at all (none of which “affect Christian doctrine”) is now noted and footnoted in most Bibles, something like, “The best manuscripts indicate . . .”

I’m thankful also for the amazing scholarship of highly trained and disciplined experts in evaluating manuscripts and manuscript fragments and doing the pain-staking research to help us have incredibly accurate Bible texts. If you want just a glimpse of some of this, look up the Wikipedia article regarding the Novum Testamentum Graece (The New Testament in Greek, Nestle-Aland edition). This very important edition of the Greek New Testament was first published in 1898 and is now in its 28th edition listing the textual manuscript variants, allowing scholars to evaluate them. It forms the basis of most of our translations of the New Testament. I’ve got an edition, and it’s rather amazing. I’d be happy to show you.

All said to say this: Every now and then, it wouldn’t hurt to look up from your Bible and whisper a prayer of thanks to God for generations of guys (I picture them in in bed sheet or monastic garb) sitting for hours and days on end silently doing their holy work. What they did and their incredible accuracy was and is utterly amazing and faithful service in giving us words inspired by the Author of us all, pointing us not just to holy words but to the very Word himself. And that’s the point.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“In the Year That Queen Elizabeth II Died . . .” 

Tomorrow, as I’m writing, the funeral for Queen Elizabeth II will be held at Westminster Abbey. (My invitation seems to have been lost in the mail.)

Seventy years and 214 days. According to Wikipedia, her reign is “the longest of any British monarch, the longest recorded of any female head of state in history, and the second-longest verified reign of any monarch in history.”

In Isaiah 6, when the prophet Isaiah wants to tell his readers when his amazing vision and his divine commissioning took place, he simply says, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, and seated on a throne . . .”

Isaiah remembered. And he knew his readers of that day would, too. Most scholars seem to think that Judah’s King Uzziah died in about 739 B.C. He had reigned for 52 years, and under his reign, Judah had prospered. His accomplishments, innovations, faithfulness, and even his sad ending (leprosy) are fascinating. It doesn’t take five decades for a ruler to leave an indelible mark, for good or ill, and for people to “set their clocks” by him.

Depending on our years (and even, for those who are younger, on the memories of our predecessors), we remember the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the day the World Trade Center towers (and freedom itself) were attacked—and so much more.

“In the year that Queen Elizabeth II died . . .”

Not a bad marker for our times, whether we’re British or not. For many of us, until September 8, 2022, we’d never drawn a breath when Queen Elizabeth was not reigning. And what a fascinating and exemplary reign it was!

Her reign spanned the governments of fifteen prime ministers, beginning with the one man most “indispensable” in winning World War II, Winston Churchill, and ending two days before her death (!) as she met with Liz Truss and officially invited her to form a government. According to the BBC, Truss was born 101 years after Churchill was born. The astounding numbers and statistics of a 70-year reign are unending. 

But far more remarkable here than quantity is quality. I make no apology: I am in awe of this incredible individual, and I doubt the world will ever see her like again.

I find myself wondering about the hand of Providence and asking questions that no mortal can answer. “Ifs” abound.

If King Edward VIII, Elizabeth’s uncle, had not abdicated his throne (in 1936) for “love” (the quotes seem richly deserved) and cast aside his duty, his far more honorable brother would not have become King George VI, and, of course, the world would have never known Queen Elizabeth II.

She did her duty and much more than any country, any subject, could possibly ask or expect from a sovereign, and she blessed not just her country, but our world. Honor, integrity, character, and wisdom. She was, I think, filled with them all.

What would our world look like if more world leaders simply and selflessly embraced their duty? What would our families and our communities look like if more of us, not royal at all, simply did the same?

For commoners like me, the etiquette regarding royal titles is a bit baffling. I believe Queen Elizabeth II was properly addressed as “Your Royal Majesty.” (Evidently, “Your Grace,” as the way of addressing the British monarch went out when the graceless Henry VIII decreed otherwise.)

Nonetheless, in this very memorable time, the week that Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral was held at Westminster Abbey, I find myself immensely thankful for . . . her grace.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“Attitudes Are More Important Than Facts” 

Knowing right from wrong is important; knowing when we’re right but wrong is a fruit of deeper wisdom.

It is, you see, frighteningly easy to be “correct” on an issue but to be very wrong indeed in attitude and thus inflict damage on our own souls and collateral damage on the souls around us.

Being “right” and being “good” are not necessarily the same things, but I like very much the words of the little girl who is purported to have prayed, “Oh, Lord, please make the bad people good and the good people nice.” Out of the mouth of a babe some serious wisdom!

Perhaps we could pray similarly, “Oh, Lord, please help us to learn, when we’re wrong, to recognize what is right, and then, we pray, when we’re right please help us not to be insufferable about it.”

If, by God’s grace and power, our souls are growing in love, humility, and grace—then perhaps we can stand being “correct” and not incur the soul-withering damage that Satan most often inflicts on very correct people.

Of course, the damage the enemy can inflict upon us when we’re wrong is real and consequential, too, but of a far less subtle sort.

A person who knows that a tomato is a fruit may well pass an exam in Botany 101, but if he tosses it into a fruit salad in his Culinary Arts class, he should be tossed out on his ear. Then, if he responds appropriately to the situation, he just might be in a position to actually gain some wisdom that’s worth more than raw knowledge.

All of this leads me to wonder: Does the worst spiritual damage occur when we are correct on the issue and wrong in our attitudes (a very popular approach cherished by Pharisees throughout all ages), or when we are wrong on the issue but still manage to keep mostly healthy attitudes? Or if we just go all in and embrace the wrong view of the issue and pair it with an arrogant, malignant attitude? A wretched trio of choices, these, and all of their attendant mixtures, no better.

Perhaps the answer and the soul-prognosis lie in how completely we surrender ourselves to the tasty and tempting elixir Satan offers regarding issues and attitudes, and how deeply we quaff its poison. We do well to ask for God’s help in guarding our attitudes, most particularly, I think, when we are so confident of our correctness that we allow humility’s guardrails to give way and fail. The only safe course is to be truly surrendered to our Lord’s will, not ours, and thus become each day more like him, free to be our truest and best selves.

This really is serious stuff. Look at our politics. How hard is it to find a politician—or a sycophant follower of said politician—who, whether or not correct on a particular issue, manages to spread his diseased attitude more quickly than a kindergartner spreads chickenpox? Peruse a social issue or two or twenty. Watch as a church or denomination “splits the sheet.” More important, look at your own life—beliefs, actions, and attitudes. Oh, we can be ever so “right” and still be terribly wrong.

No one can snuggle up to a skunk—even one with impeccable views on politics, social issues, and even Scripture—and not end up with a smell that is far more noticeable than any pristine viewpoint perfection.

George MacDonald said it succinctly long ago, and it’s still true: “Attitudes are more important than facts.” And he’s right on both that fact and that attitude.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Why Are These Water-logged Disciples Afraid? 

The Son of God. Utterly exhausted.

Mind-boggling. And directly tied to the most amazing truth in the universe. God is not an impersonal “force.” He is not a Creator who creates, sets in motion, and backs away.

In the Grand Miracle, as C. S. Lewis has called the Incarnation, God sends his “only begotten Son” into this fallen world. A virgin’s womb. A manger. A divine rescue.

Jesus Christ will teach and heal and show us the Father as only the Son could. One amazing day, he will allow himself to be nailed to a cross. Literally take on himself all of our sin and guilt. As only God could do. And die. As only a human could do.

And then, the Resurrection.

But in an amazing scene, on a boat, on a lake turned into a maelstrom of wind and waves and white water, when no one else aboard can see anything at all but looming destruction, we get a glimpse into, well, everything.

The Son of God is exhausted, utterly spent, as only a human could be. He is asleep in the stern of the boat, his head on a cushion. Once that head lay perhaps on a blanket, certainly cradled in a manger. Soon that head will be pierced by a crown of thorns.

But now the storm rages, and Jesus, Son of the One who “never sleeps, never slumbers,” is deep in sleep.

The disciples crewing the boat are far from asleep. Watching the waves breaking over their craft, they know that the boat will soon be swamped. What dreams swirl gently in the Prince of Heaven’s head as his terrified friends are watching their lives sinking away? No one will ever know. But for these sailors, this is nothing less than their worst nightmare. Surely, all is lost! And Jesus sleeps.

Until they shake the Lord awake: “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re about to drown?!”

Roused, he gazes straight into the full fury of the storm and then issues a stern “rebuke.” The word indicates a “chastening,” an “admonishment.” As I believe others have noted, it’s almost as if Christ is correcting an unruly and boisterous child: “Quiet! Be still!”

The Lord of the wind, the waves, and all of creation makes his will known and his power felt. And we’re told that “the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

Imagine the scene just moments earlier. The howling wind. The crashing waves. The screaming disciples.

And now, complete calm. The sudden silence is as loud in its own way as was the storm just moments earlier.

Out of the quietness comes another rebuke. Or maybe that word is too strong? But Jesus’ words are certainly a bit of a chastening as he pointedly asks his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Mute, they are still afraid. No longer afraid of the storm, they are “terrified” and awestruck: “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Who indeed? No better question was ever asked. None more important. Then and now. For us all.

A near-death experience and straight-up honesty pair well together. While the disciples are drying off, we might as well admit that no answer, even the “non-answer answer,” is available that doesn’t require some sort of “faith.”

Are the water-logged disciples quaking in fear and awe because they don’t know the answer? Or because, more clearly than ever before, they do—or are beginning to? The “baptism” that might well have drowned them has opened the way into a washed off world and a sun shining through so brightly they can hardly stand it.

What’s left is that question.

An utterly exhausted man, so spent that he sleeps through a storm. The Son of God, so powerful that he scolds the mightiest forces of nature, and creation itself cowers and retreats into silence.

Fully human, this Lord. Fully divine, this Lord. The truth will soon be written large as he willingly hangs on a cross, suffers and dies. Creation will darken and wail as the heavens weep torrents of rain. The universe has never seen such a sacrifice.

But that day on the Sea of Galilee is a fitting prelude.

Lessons are more abundant even than the water, but as the storm fades, one thing remains, washed into blinding brilliance and refusing to be ignored. That question.

It will do us good, though it’s not for the faint of heart, to spend some time in that boat with the disciples and their Master.

And answer.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Proper Dish-washing as Hypocrisy Deterrent 

Be not deceived! Proper dish-washing matters. At least, Jesus seemed to think so.

In Matthew 23, he scalds the “religious leaders and Pharisees” for their hypocrisy: “You are frauds who scrupulously clean the outside of your cups and make them shine while the inside is full of mold and maggots. You love to look outwardly religious, the most pious of the pious, but your souls are full of greed, rapacity, dishonesty, and extortion.”

Earlier in the same chapter, Jesus warns his disciples: “You should listen to what your religion scholars and Pharisees tell you. They are proficient in their teaching about Moses and religious law. But don’t do what they do! They don’t practice what they preach. Even as they load people down with rules and don’t lift a finger to help carry the load, they do whatever they very well please and bask in the honors accorded them as ‘holy men.’ Their religion is a sham and a show, and they have no real love for or relationship with God at all.”

And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? For our hearts and our worship to be filled with life.

Jesus warned us about being judgmental. But he seems to be seriously recommending some discernment. Being judgmental makes us arrogantly assume that we’d never fall into the ditch our neighbor has fallen into. Being discerning means asking God to help us see and avoid ditches and recognize folks who’d lead us to jump into one.

Jesus doesn’t say, forsake “the temple” and “organized religion.” He’s not recommending “Jesus and me and the TV.” Or the wildly popular approach, “I’m so spiritual I can hardly stand myself, but, of course, I’m not religious. I am religiously not religious. [Pat self on back.] I’ve had it with religion.” Said, of course, very religiously.

The problem is, you see, we’re human. That means sinful and easily deceived, self-deceived, and Satan-deceived. If we worship at our own church with a membership of one, we needn’t think we’ll get away from human hypocrisy. Our church of one will almost certainly be awash in it.

That argues, I think, for our sincerely praying that our own relationship with our Father is real and honest, though we often fall short. It argues for making the effort to have a real relationship with others who are working to have a real and honest relationship with Christ. The job is too big to tackle alone. And it requires discernment, up and down whatever religious “structure” we’re part of.

Though Christ’s church is his beautiful Bride, we needn’t think we’ll escape some bouts of ugliness and hypocrisy in the human expressions of his church here. All the vessels are leaky, but it’s still far better to be in one helping bail than to be outside by ourselves treading water.

The principle is far-reaching.

Some teachers teach selflessly, love teaching (in spite of the foolishness being continually piled on them by state bureaucracy, clueless politicians, etc.), and bless children immensely. They work within the flawed system to be a far better blessing than the system deserves. Why? They love their students. You couldn’t possibly pay them too much. But a few other teachers within the same school or district or state? Well, their motives are on the opposite end of the scale. You could not possibly pay them too little.

We all see this in so many arenas of life. It may be more starkly apparent with regard to faith and religion, but should we be at all surprised to find in groups of religious leaders, large or small, in whatever religious tradition, some who love their Lord and his people unselfishly, even while some are political schmoozers who’ve glad-handed their way to the “top” and love, as Jesus said, “the best seats” and the praises of their followers more than God’s approval? At every level, we can find those who truly love God. At every level, we can find those who are hypocrites.

I’ve enjoyed over the years a series of mystery novels set in a monastery in 12th-century England. Spend much time reading that series, and it will become clear that a humble monk in that quaint monastery knows and follows his Lord far more intimately than does their land’s archbishop whose religion centers mostly on his religious career and power. But would we be justified in such a situation as painting all lower level monks as truly holy and all bishops as hypocritical scoundrels? Of course not. (Or would we be justified in feeling self-righteous because we’re sure our group gets the organizational chart right, eschews overt hierarchy, and is above the fray and not as tempted by religious show and hypocrisy as others?) Then and now, life is never that simple.

Small church or mega-church, humble pulpit or mega-diocese, those who love Christ and his people far more than they love themselves bless us all. And those more power hungry than pious are a trial and a stumbling block to us all.

No perfect system exists. We do well to ask for discernment. We do well to pray for our Lord’s help to be a blessing wherever we find ourselves trying to serve. And we do well to realize that the only way for us, fallen creatures that we are, to avoid as many snares and as much hypocrisy as possible, is to genuinely love our God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We’ll need our Father’s continual “dish-washing” help to get that done. To know how often we do a poor job of it? That’s progress.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

It’s Raining Where It Never Rains 

Where I live, it never rains. In the past it did, at least, a little bit. As the old joke used to go, “Our annual rainfall is about 17 inches. You should be here on the day we get it.”

But a few years ago, it pretty much quit. Raining, I mean. Water droplets in the air were never very plentiful here, and wind and dirt have long been far too readily available. When rain chances are near zero, the chance for wind and dirt, accompanied by rodents, chihuahuas, and small children flying by through brown air are depressingly higher.

Gotta be climate change, right? If it doesn’t rain here. If it floods a couple of states away. If my truck’s oil needs changing. If my years-ago-broken toe aches. If it snows. If it doesn’t snow. If the dog seems restless. If Putin wakes up surly, Biden wakes up befuddled, or Trump wakes up with a storm around his noggin more strangely orange than usual. Someone mutters, “Climate change.” Heads bow knowingly in silent and worshipful affirmation.

I do not doubt, by the way, that the world’s climate does change and is changing. I do doubt that the world is on track to end because of it. (Poker metaphor: I’ll “call” your scientist and “raise” you another.) And I very much doubt that ham-stringing our economy, throwing billions skyward, and begging for Middle East fossil fuel rather than using our own will accomplish anything beyond making expensive offerings to a relatively new and incredibly self-righteous green religion.

Pharisees are pharisees, unhappy people who are the center of their own religion and are never happier than when they are making other people unhappy. I fight my own pharisaical tendencies but talking about “saving the world” in the same breath as “electric vehicle” is not the brand of self-righteousness that most tempts me. Besides that, I need to pay a bill or two and have no time, climactically speaking, to save the world this week. Maybe a week from Thursday? It seems to me that we have more pressing potential disasters on the radar.

Ah, but as Paul Harvey used to say, “Wash out your ears with this!”

It never rains here, but it has been raining here now for two days! “Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain.” The notes of that old song play nicely in my head along with the soft patter of gently falling, perfectly soaking, rain. Driving home from church on Sunday, I saw kids out playing in the rain. Some of them may have never seen this before.

A nice recliner, a steaming cup of hot tea or coffee, a good book, a nap, a sleepy dog, a full rain barrel, and plants visibly perking up and taking notice. Heaven!

G. K. Chesterton once wrote about “The Romantic in the Rain”: “It scrubs the sky. Its giant brooms and mops seem to reach the starry rafters and Starless corners of the cosmos; it is a cosmic spring cleaning.” Yes! Right here in late August. Right here where it never rains. Water! Right here!

“Drink more water!” we are incessantly admonished. Normally, I find that difficult. I prefer water as a “mixer,” heated and dancing through a tea bag or strained through a coffee bean. I want liquid when I’m thirsty, but as regards water straight up, I could almost be a teetotaler. When I’m truly parched, I might throw moderation to the wind and guzzle H2O, but, even then, I’d generally prefer it on the rocks with a splash of lemon.

But, as Chesterton says, “The enthusiastic water drinker must regard a rainstorm as a sort of universal banquet . . . Think of the imaginative intoxication of the wine drinker if the crimson clouds sent down claret.” He pictures purple clouds raining port wine and trees clashing boughs “as revelers clash cups” as the rain falls. The trees drink to “the health of the world.”

Ah, yes, he writes, the rain falls and the treetops bow their heads downwards, the pavement and sidewalks become mirrors and “gorgeous skyscapes,” and we get “the sense of Celestial topsy-turvydom,” a “bright, wet, dazzling confusion of shape and shadow, of reality and reflection, . . . and the strange sense of looking down at the skies.”

Strange, but beautiful. A world washed off, clarified, beautified, and enlivened by God’s good gift of rain.

Rain where it never rains. A brief and very welcome climate change for which I am truly thankful.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Consorting with Skunks Carries Consequences 

We ran over a skunk the other night.

My wife, her former judicial honor who still wields authority in my direction even if she is no longer officially invested with such, would say, “What’s with the ‘we,’ Bucko? You did that, not me.”

Well, she was in the car. Yes, I was driving. But I maintain that since the beast was in the middle of the lane, the middle of my lane, as he waddled across the road, the only proper course for the captain of any automotive ship was to take him out. Dead on. Very bad things happen when you swerve in such a situation. So I, or we (my wife being a startled and quickly wide awake accomplice), nailed him.

We were heading home from a particularly poignant time with dear friends. The highway was long, empty (well, mostly), and dark. Gas prices have meant that I’ve been reduced more often than usual to driving my wife’s minivan. It’s a very utilitarian and useful vehicle, presently in much demand, I hear. But it is not a manly vehicle, such as, for example, my truck. If that’s a sexist comment, I feel terrible about it.

But the practical point is that the minivan is, by design, low to the ground, and skunks, though lowly creatures in many ways, are not low enough to the ground. He or she (I’m not really sexist at all, you see) might have just barely escaped my pickup under-carriage, though I doubt it. But we were in the van. No chance. In the millisecond when I thought a miracle might have happened and the skunk had perhaps done a very un-skunk-like thing and ducked, well, no.

Kerthump! Bump! Bumpety-bump! Goodbye skunk.

Then came the smell.

I didn’t have time to take a rear-view look for a carcass. The multiple bumps, rather than one significant thunk! led me to believe that he was not impaled in our vehicle’s grill. (We once had a pheasant as a temporary hood ornament.) I felt no deep need to turn around and officiate at a burial.

I’ve not done the research to know if skunks who die violently automatically spray as their teeny-weeny brains and their sphincters cease communication. I’ll look it up later.

But our association with that skunk was, I assume, as deadly as it was brief. All the ill-fated beast did was to brush up quite quickly and uncomfortably beneath the minivan’s low under-carriage. And that was enough. For death. And for a distinctly skunk-ish odor.

If the skunk actually sprayed, we weren’t around long enough to catch much of it. But just an incredibly speedy brush-up produced a malodorous aroma that took miles to shake off.

There is, dear readers, a lesson in this. In its eau de parfum essence, the moral is “If you don’t wish to stink, don’t snuggle up to skunks!” It really doesn’t take a long association with one before you begin to acquire its odor.

Practical illustrations and warnings abound. You can quickly supply some of your own, but here are a few of mine.

I’m thankful for people of good will who work within to try to improve them, but our two major political parties, especially at the highest levels, seem determined to reward lunacy or cowardice (pick the mix you prefer) and have little place for prominent candidates who display wisdom, courage, and integrity—and don’t leave a distinct aroma in their wake. Non-stinkers in either party’s national arena will pay a heavy political price. Pay it or stink? Sometimes the choice is that stark in politics—and in more than a few other venues.

Surround yourself at work or business with those whose only real desire is for power or “success”? Enthrone as heroes loud “stars” whose “values” are of the lowest sort? Trade integrity for advancement? Ditch good morals for pleasure or just popularity? How much of that stinkiness can we partake in and not begin to exude a tell-tale scent ourselves?

In our homes, our workplaces, our play-placesand our hearts—we need to take care. Our incredibly gracious Lord will help us, forgive us, lead us. What our King desires for us is our highest good. He wants us, in all of the arenas of our lives, to honor him with “the sweet scent,” the “exquisite fragrance,” of those whose lives are quietly but truly devoted to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 and its various translations).

That’s a far higher calling than just not stinking. But asking God for help not to become stinkers is certainly a good start. And, be not deceived, even now many, maybe most, people know a stinker when they smell one.

Full disclosure: One skunk was harmed before the writing of this column.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 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 Light Shines in the Darkness” 

If all of our eggs are in this earthly “basket,” how sad.

I find myself thinking of the Apostle Paul’s words written, of course, specifically to Christians: “If for this life only we have hope, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

No pity needed this morning. But I must admit that I’ve lost faith. I’ve lost faith in those who have enough blind faith to claim to believe in nothing and esteem their own blindness as some sort of tragic courage. Fashionable, yes. Popular, yes. Courageous, no.

What nonsense! Nobody believes in nothing. A truly irreligious person will never be born. Everyone bows before something or someone—even if their god is the most pathetic of all, Self. God himself is the One who gives us the ability, even in the face of increasingly staggering evidence, to doubt that he exists. How big of him! How small of us.

We spent several hours yesterday with dear friends at a hospice facility (about 90 miles from our home) as they held vigil around the bed of one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever known. We got home late last evening and awoke to word that she’d passed away, went truly home, at about 4:00 this morning.

Am I more emotionally tender than usual this morning? Oh, yes. I could easily fill a book with descriptions and anecdotes all about the myriad blessings God has given me and mine via that sweet lady and her amazing husband.

Beautiful, wise, intelligent, loving, kind, dignified but fun, unfailingly gracious. Oh, I could go on.

But then, years ago now, Alzheimer’s. The diagnosis was correct—and so soul-chillingly wrong. Never was there a more inappropriate target for that horrible disease. But when light seems to fade and darkness threatens to rule, stars make their presence more fully known.

Even if these sentient stars would much prefer a completely hidden luminescence, our High King presses the darkness in which evil often does its work into service for the beautiful and the good. And those who would most eschew accolades for heroism, too busy in the midst of the onslaught doing what is needed, to have any thought of self or patience with others who stand in awe of their actions, soldier on and rise like stars to shine in the darkness, oblivious to their own shining.

My friend keeping vigil last evening would say that the breathtaking faithfulness he has shown his amazing wife is not breathtaking at all. He would impatiently and quickly deflect any such praise cast his way by saying that he has only done what he long ago promised. He would say, quite rightly, that she for decades has been unflinchingly faithful to him and blessed him and their family (and so many more) unimaginably. He would say that, had the situation been reversed, her love and devotion to him would have been as dependable and brilliant as the rising of the sun. Yes, oh, yes, it would.

And so, he would use one word for what he’s done. Nothing. Nothing that she wouldn’t have done a thousand times over. Nothing that she didn’t deserve a thousand times over.

Those of us, the many who love them both, will not quarrel with him or gainsay his protestations. We’ve long ago taken his measure. And hers. And been blessed and honored to be their friends.

I’m not sure that dignifying disease by using words to personify it is particularly helpful. Disease is an “it,” a thing in this fallen world which cannot consciously love you, hate you, care a whit about you. Life itself is, of course, an “it.” That life itself cannot care for us, love us, hate us, seek to help us, desire to destroy us—or anything else—should be no more surprising than to discover that our favorite chair doesn’t love us enough to rush to meet us at the door as we arrive home in the evening or hate us enough to laugh when we catch and break our little toe on its wooden chair leg as we make our way through the dark room at night.

But the Author of life is not only “personal,” he is our Father who can and does love us completely. Our hope is in the One who made us. Our hope is real because of our risen Lord. No pity needed.

This morning I’d so like to say, “Alzheimer’s be damned! You wretched creation of Satan, go back to hell where you came from! Did you really think you would win this battle?” But a disease can neither relish our whimpers nor cringe at our taunts.

It might indeed make real sense to curse Satan, “Go back to hell! You’ve lost again what you thought would be a victory. Did the cross teach you nothing? How long will it take you to learn that for Christ’s people, even a cross you wield as a weapon of despair will become death to death and a stake in your own black heart? What a slobbering fool you are! Early this morning, you lost yet again.”

But rather than rail against the darkness or its sniveling prince, I’d much rather bow before the Father of light and thank him for the light that “the darkness will never overcome.” In the midst of darkness, we’ve seen awe-inspiring light reflected from the lives of dear friends.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Gifts Given, Gifts Shared, and Joy 

If you know me, you know that I like to sing. I’ll sing when nobody’s listening. I’ll sing when 12 people are listening. I’ll sing when 612 are listening. Give me half a chance, and I will sing.

I’ve sung all of my life. It was not unusual for our family to sing together at home. (I know. Too often, families today can hardly imagine ever being at home. And singing at home? “Are you kidding? Did you grow up on Mars?”)

We really did. Not the Mars part. The singing part.

I also sang at church. I sang at school. At various times, I sang with groups of, as I recall, 4, 25, 35, 100 or so. A quartet. A school ensemble group. A church singing group. A school choir. And so on.

I’ve done some recording. Four of my own albums and a couple or three with other folks.

But I’d sing in the shower, in the back yard, and on a desert island. I’ve never known singing to hurt anything, and it helps almost everything. You don’t have to be good at it for it to be good for you.

“God’s joy is too deep not to sing!” I’ve used that as a kind of motto on cards, stationery, etc., and I think it is deeply true.

I don’t sing as a modern “artiste” whose songs are a way of expressing disgust, despair, and decrying relentless pain in a world devoid of meaning. I don’t believe that this world or my life are devoid of meaning. “Victimhood” and singing, when combined, are off-key.

I don’t feel the need to scald my vocal cords with “explicit lyrics.” If I couldn’t do better than sing songs where I wallow in angst and nihilism and try to drag others in with me, I hope I’d just be mute, and thus do everyone a favor.

If I’m singing, it will be something I find beautiful, something I find filled with hope, something I find pointing to the Source of joy, whether it’s a hymn, a song just for fun, a sentimental old love song, or so many others.

I know there’s very much a place for some sad songs that help us deal with suffering and pain. If you doubt that, just look at the Psalms. But you’ll also notice that even the psalms written in the blackest despair and not disguising anger at what seems a very unjust situation, well, they almost always end with hope. As well they might. The One who splashed the stars across the sky and, you might say, “sang the stars” into existence, is One in whom hope is always available, even in darkness.

I’ve sung for lots of different types of groups. Churches, clubs, special programs, weddings, funerals, etc. Mostly I sing gospel sorts of songs.

But a few years ago, much to my surprise, my song repertoire enlarged to include some of the great old “American Songbook” songs. You know, the “For Sentimental Reasons” sort of songs so beautifully written by folks like Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers (and many others) and sung so well by Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett (and so many others).

I love singing those old jazz tunes. They’ve lived for generations, and I want to do my part to help keep them alive. It seems clear to me that all songs, all music, of whatever style, if it’s beautiful and lifts our souls is all God’s blessing to us and for us and to be enjoyed in the right way in the right times and places.

I’ve never cared much for the term “Christian music” as a genre. I know why the term is handy, but music doesn’t have to have overtly religious words to be well done and a blessing.

So I was singing for a sweet group of about 20 folks at an assisted living home recently. This time around, I was singing mostly the “For Sentimental Reasons” songs. I’d driven about 150 miles, round trip, to sing for those folks. I’d not get a dollar a mile for the “honorarium,” though a couple of folks bought albums. But I felt like a rich man when I’d sung the final note.

Why? Because I got to see some smiles, watch some eyes light up. The joy God gives me in singing became the joy my hearers that day lovingly received.

Early in my concert, an elderly man and woman quietly got up from their chairs and began to dance. I loved that! Then, at the end of the concert, a sweet little lady came up to me and said, through tears, “Thank you for giving me my husband back for just a little while.” Better than a big check, I’d say. If I gave her a gift, she gave me a larger one.

In just a few days, I’ll sing basically the same concert for a sold-out crowd (not primarily because of me, I assure you) far larger and for around ten times the honorarium. (I don’t do many programs that lucrative, but things even out, my “habit” still pays for itself, and I’m thankful!) But whatever size the crowd and whether or not any honorarium at all is involved, it’s hard to put a price on joy.

For me, yes, “God’s joy is too deep not to sing!”

What about you? Oh, it may not be singing. But what fills you with joy, gives you the sense that “this” is what you were created to do?

Maybe it’s just (just!?) being an encourager with the right words at the right moment. Maybe it’s any of a jillion talents or gifts or abilities. Whatever it is, it’s a joy to you and others, and it’s given to you to share. Given by the Source of joy.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Coffee Drinkers “Less Likely to Die” 

As a serious lover of coffee, and as a mortal, I read the headline with interest: “People With Daily Intake Of 1.5 to 3.5 Cups Of Coffee Less Likely To Die.”

I find this headline problematic on several levels. First, it’s lousy capitalization. No matter which style manual you use, this title has problems.

But you see the bigger problem, don’t you? I suspect that your experience is the same as mine, and I’m telling no secrets here. But, in my experience, though I find coffee beneficial on many levels, no matter how much of it anyone drinks, everyone dies—100%.

I found the same headline showing up on other news outlets (sometimes with better capitalization), and they added two words, “by 30%.”

That confuses me even more. Does that mean only 30% of the people who are somewhat serious coffee drinkers might not die? Even the lower percentage would be impressive. Sort of like saying that “I’ve had three dogs, but only one of them could speak coherently.” But, sadly, even the lower percentage, both of coffee drinkers and talking dogs, flies in the face of reality.

If you read further, you’ll discover that the study was done in China. The thugs in charge there lie as often as they tell the truth, but I figure this is accurate.

Chinese scientists monitored 171,000 people for seven years. At the beginning of the study, none of the participants had cancer or heart disease. According to Luke Andrews, the “health reporter for DailyMail.com,” the research team “found those who regularly drank coffee were about a third less likely to die than those who did not.”

Does that help explain? Not by much.

The article goes on to tell us that the researchers found that “it didn’t matter whether the coffee was plain or sweetened with sugar.”

Well, at least there’s that. But I still find the explanation lacking.

Reading on, I learn that during the seven-year study, the deaths that occurred numbered 3,177 (“including 1,725 from cancer and 628 from heart disease”).

It seems that simply “drinking hot drinks” lowered mortality somewhat, but the participants who reported at the start of the study that they drank “1.5 to 3.5 cups” of coffee daily, well, they were 30% less likely to die—during the seven years.

The researchers went on to mention (this is my paraphrase) that many health benefits have previously been reported in studies regarding coffee. (I’ve been noting those for years.) But this study was not specifically designed to study coffee consumption. Their “coffee discovery” was just “observational,” a surprise, and they are drawing no major conclusions from it.

If you’re interested, do a web search (plugging in something like “1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee”), and you can read a lot more.

For my part, I’ll add this information regarding the benefits of coffee to my personal stash of such material. I’ve felt better for a long time now knowing that my love for coffee has been good for me, not that I’d have stopped drinking it if the evidence had pointed in the other direction.

Ever since health “evidence” mistakenly touted margarine’s benefits over butter—and thus robbed me of years of buttery flavor—my policy regarding most “health news” is watchful waiting. I can usually wait out the reports I don’t like. Since they change more easily and quickly than I’m willing to change my habits, this approach has worked well. Folks who worry too much about such are more likely to die early of stress than those of us who don’t. That’s my own study.

With regard to coffee, which I hold in very high regard, I can’t imagine how anyone wakes up, thinks, or writes without it.

But the truth is that my interest in this particular coffee article waned a good bit after I realized that the study is not indicating any sort of immortality connected to coffee consumption.

I’m okay with that. In this present world, enough’s enough. And I am completely convinced that the Author of life has the ultimate immortality thing well in hand.

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com, 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 2022 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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