Focus on Faith

“I Wonder What They Were Fussing About” 

Before I pondered the possibilities, I began wondering if that first sentence needed to end with a question mark. Come to think of it, same question regarding the one I just wrote.

I’d answer, no and no. Both of my questions are technically “indirect questions” which, punctuation-wise, are more akin to statements than to questions. No question marks.

As an English major, editor, and sometime copy-editor, I easily fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” Even before the question mark question, I was questioning my first sentence’s structure. You see, I ended it with a preposition, and that, you probably remember from a mouldy old English class, is a no-no, unless you know you’re doing so for a very good reason, so I gave the alternative a test drive.

“I wonder about what they were fussing” crashed immediately, so I quit wasting time dealing with questions no one but finicky grammarians worry about. Better make that “dealing with questions about which no one but finicky grammarians worry.”

I then went back to the original question, one in which the pronoun “they” languishes in desperate need of an antecedent. I hereby supply that need: Euodia and Syntyche. In “I wonder what they were fussing about,” “they” is them. And woe is me! If I keep playing this game, we’ll never get out of the grammatical quicksand.

Save me, please! Just give me your guess. What do you think was bugging Euodia and Syntyche?

First, do the names ring any bells? Hint: Those are two ladies whose names are immortalized by the Apostle Paul in the Bible, specifically in his “Letter to the Philippians.”

“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to stop arguing with each other and agree in the Lord” (4:2).

A very little deduction (reading the surrounding verses, and maybe even all four chapters of the Bible book) will make a few things relatively clear.

The apostle writes the letter to folks with whom he had a heartwarming history and more-than-ordinary friendship.

Euodia and Syntyche were among those who had worked hard alongside Paul in helping further the good news of Christ.

The apostle is in prison (actually, house arrest in Rome), but in the midst of the mostly good news he’s had from Philippi is the bad news that these two valued Christian workers are in a fuss, and it’s become at least a hindrance and a nuisance, if not worse. Though each one surely thought she was right and the continued spread of the Christian faith was dependent upon everyone agreeing with her regarding the color of the carpet in the sanctuary, both were wrong in bowing to the temptation to fuss.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t decorating preferences, but here’s the point. Paul doesn’t tell us if either one was right, just that they were both wrong to fight. As all-consuming as they’d allowed their issue to become, all that we know now is that they fussed, and it’s easy to infer that the Apostle Paul thought their fuss was worse than dumb. In fact, he is forced to tell the two “fussers” to “get over it and get along,” and he enlists the aid of a mediator to drive the point home.

Sadly, Euodia and Syntyche, who had been among the apostle’s valued helpers, had become, as one preacher later christened them, Odious and Soon-touchy.

The scenario is as modern as tomorrow, and irony abounds.

The danger was that the division between the two could spread, and that had become an issue far more dangerous than their “presenting” issue. (Again, we don’t even know what it was.)

The two might not have been willing, at that moment, to drink coffee (or eucalyptus tea or whatever) at the same table, but the fuss coupled the “fussers” names firmly together forever.

Count on it. If we bow to the same temptation that nailed these two together, people will remember that we were “fussers” a lot longer than they’ll remember our fuss.

I hope they grew up and got over it. I’m confident that they were both better folks than their fight might indicate. However you wish to phrase it, the answer to my initial question regarding the topic of their fuss is that no one knows or cares. And that’s the point.

The real answer to their fuss, and any future fusses we might ourselves foment, comes a couple of chapters earlier in the amazing Chapter Two: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, gave up his divine privileges, took the position of a servant,” and died for us “on a cross.”

Sometimes losing is the only way to win.

    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.

In a “Deepfake” World, Who Can We Trust? 

I never thought this could happen, but I know now that it could. Imagine for a moment.

Imagine the losers of our last two presidential elections calling a joint press conference and apologizing to the American people. First of all, you’ll have to imagine politicians sincerely apologizing for anything, but stay with me on this.

Imagine words expressed with deep feeling: “We lost. We just flat lost. We ran lousy campaigns and failed miserably to add to our voter bases. Behaving shamefully, we [they take turns here] blamed nefarious Russian hackers or election fraudsters with superpowers. We are sorry. We sincerely apologize for all of the time, money, and damage to the Constitution our post-election delusions have cost.” 

Personally (and, for my part, we’re still fine if you disagree), I’ve long thought that a couple of moderately priced mirrors given to each of those two after, four years apart, they lost their elections, could have spared our nation a lot of unnecessary expense, trouble, and turmoil. They could just chant in turn: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall / Since in this universe / the culprit I could never ever be / Tell me truly, I pray thee, / O thou wise panel of reflection / The answer to this question: / Who cost me my election?”

The wall-mounted mirror flips around, and the non-mystery mystery is solved. Times two.

That won’t happen. But we know now that the video of the press conference I mentioned really could be released. Alas, real is what it would not be. But it would look real—incredibly real—because it would be a well-crafted “deepfake.”

Have you seen the recent news regarding “deepfakes”? Particularly famous right now are the deepfakes of Tom Cruise that have received millions of TikTok views. I just watched a 60 Minutes news segment pointing to the recent deepfake videos and their creator. The report focused on the ways that artificial intelligence and computer/software technology make it possible to create high-quality videos of people, famous or otherwise, saying and doing things that they have never said or done. It looks so real! The possibilities are actually as frightening as they are mind-boggling.

I’m astounded at the internet conspiracy rot that people willingly consume already. But what if we can’t even believe that the person in the video we’re watching is the person he or she claims to be (or a real person at all), much less that what is being said is in the same universe as “accurate”?! Oh, we’ve long known that technology is a two-edged sword, but, wow!

Recently, even before I started reading about deepfakes, I was rocked on my heels a bit by technology. I’d tried to copy something on our church’s copy machine and evidently pushed down a bit too hard on the glass. The scanner that moves down under the glass (when the “copy” button is pushed) was caught in a bind, I later suspected, because it quit moving, rendering the copier useless. I was afraid that I’d need to call the repair guy, but I figured I could take a few screws out, remove the glass, and maybe free up the scanner light. And that’s what I did. Happy ending, right?

Yes, but I was just re-installing the glass when I got a call from the repair guy, the gentleman I had not called. The machine had called him to report, I suppose, that it was being assaulted by a non-repair guy. It evidently forgot to say that I had indeed fixed it. Still, I was impressed—and somewhat shocked. If my copy machine is capable of tattling on me, can I trust my electric toothbrush or my waffle iron?

Who, and what, you trust in this life is a very big deal. Who can I really count on? What’s the truth? Of course, we’ve always had to make those decisions, but in a “deepfake” world, we need to be increasingly wary of “what I just saw” on the internet. The manipulation of social media, political operatives, our nation’s enemies, and the list goes on, is growing, not decreasing.

I do know this: God’s people have been commanded to love him with “all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.” We ignore the “minds” part at our own peril.

Who do we trust? The One who loves us, whose promises never fail, whose message of good news is absolutely true, and who wants for us only our highest good.

    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.

“You Kids Close the Door!” 

I confess.

I just committed three killings, and I enjoyed each one. Even as I write, I’m planning another. Maybe more. [Update: Yes, now four. Make that five.]

It’s barely 10:00 a.m. Murder and mayhem before lunch. And I’m still far short of Friday’s serial killing count: almost 100 shot and killed while I was grilling burgers.

When I stop to think about it, I have to admit that the creatures I delight in killing are as amazing as they are disgusting. Their design is utterly incredible, particularly considering the miniaturization involved. They walk, crawl, run, and loiter, equally at home whether they’re doing so right side up, upside down, or sideways. Most amazing of all, the little creatures fly.

Why, pray tell, if flies are called “flies,” are roaches not called “crawls”? I’ve long wondered. But I digress.

Yes, of course, I’m writing about the common fly. All too common. But amazing. Can you imagine the covert intelligence coup it would be if the CIA could create an artificial fly to use as a “bug”!?

I love the changing seasons, and, as I write, we’re enjoying the beginning of a really nice autumn (fall). Yesterday was one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever seen. Completely comfortable temperature. The closest thing to “no wind” that we ever see here. Remarkable! As my wife enjoyed a nice cigar, the smoke went—this is amazing in our country—almost directly up! (Some, maybe most, of the details in that last sentence have been changed to protect the guilty.)

The only problem: flies. And until we get our first freeze, they will be increasingly problematic as they sense their impending demise.

I don’t feel sorry for them. I despise them. I refuse to coexist with them in the same house or room. I will drop everything to kill one. Could I accomplish their complete destruction with one word of cursing, I would utter it.

If it worked, I’d try cursing and eliminating mosquitoes and grackles next. And, of course, I’d probably somehow foul up the ecosystem in the process. Maybe before I wiped out those pests, I could submit an inquiry regarding potential consequences. Maybe at a climate change conference, they could take up the issue. Perhaps for a moment, gnats conducting meetings on the rear end of an elephant and regularly issuing solemn and grandiose statements about their plans to “save the elephant” could spare a little time. I doubt the elephant would notice.

You say that this is all excessive? Maybe so. Look at some magnified photos of a fly and try warming up to such a creature. Ramp up your research and do a little investigation of “Beelzebub, lord of the flies” and tell me you don’t see at least a hint of the demonic. Or just try preaching or singing with a kamikaze fly aiming at your throat. Then see if you don’t think that an exorcism or a mass killing is not in order. (I recommend a “Bug-a-Salt” gun. Look it up. Fine and fun killing machine.)

And here’s a fun fact for you from the University of Florida: “The potential reproductive capacity of flies is tremendous, but fortunately can never be realized. Scientists have calculated that a pair of flies beginning reproduction in April may be progenitors, under optimal conditions and if all were to live, of 191,010,000,000,000,000,000 flies by August.”

Swat away, my friends.

Make sure the grandkids close the door behind themselves.

Repeat after me: Suffer not a fly to live.

For my part, I intend to keep on preaching and singing the truly Good News (but with a flyswatter cocked and loaded nearby). God’s blessing of a fine fall will also soon bring a very excellent “killing” freeze, and we’ll have yet another reason to be thankful before Thanksgiving.

    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.

“Our Father Wants to Give Us the Best” 

“Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it.”

So writes the wise old Scottish preacher and author George MacDonald.

It’s true, isn’t it?

Our Father tells us that happiness lies in learning to be content with what we have, whether we have a little or a lot. He tells us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), and “all these things”—things like what we need to eat, drink and wear—will be ours as well. Do we believe him?

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message gets to the heart of this. It’s more than possible for us to be “so preoccupied with getting” that we’re unable to “respond to God’s giving.”

Ironically, as we max out our stress levels to grasp for “bigger, better, and more,” we often settle for far too little—little, less, and counterfeit. Assuming that having “stuff,” and a lot of it, will make us happy, we fill our hands with trinkets and become unable to open our hands to receive the real wealth our Father wants to give us.

We make the same mistake with closed hearts. Our God would fill them, were they open to filling, with the genuine joy he wants to give. It’s a gift beyond price. But too often we choke our own hearts, occluding them with rock-hard resentment. Christ offers to nurture our souls with food that fulfills; we choose to chew a cud of bitterness that poisons our hearts and sickens our relationships.

Our Father tells us to love our spouses with Christlike love, selflessly putting their good above our own so that they live knowing that we cherish them and their trust. United in love and deliciously liberated from fear by vows freely taken and sincere, real love flowers and two become one in soul-filling joy, and the children that come never have to live a single day wondering if they are loved. Ah, God would always give us the best, and this gift is priceless.

But our world, in the name of “free love,” rushes to embrace slavery like an illicit lover. It settles for lust and self-serving lies, a parody of love that takes rather than gives, uses rather than cherishes, and runs from one loveless bed to another. Usually, it’s the women who are cast aside, the children forgotten as the poor excuses for men move on to “father” more fatherless children. Oh, for all of his children, our Father wants so much better! 

God made us. He knows us, and he knows what makes for our genuine happiness and contentment. God knows that if we live our lives, hands and hearts closed, always grasping and struggling to “get ahead” by this world’s standards, we’ll never know peace. God knows that shallow lives are storm-tossed lives with no safe harbor, and so he challenges us to trust him instead by choosing to live joyful, gentle, prayerful lives and thus find a “peace that transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Our Father knows that to center on him as our Pole Star is to chart the right course in life. He knows that lives lived in his love, mercy, and grace are lives able to go down deep where real contentment is found, rich and full and forever.

Do we really want the very best for our lives? We have a Father who really wants to give it.

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.

You’re invited to visit my website, 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!

Sniffing Out Real News from the Garbage 

I’ve never considered myself to be much of a prophet—not in the popular sense of the word.

If you read the Bible books that bear the names of the prophets of old, you’ll find, as my Old Testament professor was fond of saying, “The Old Testament prophets were more ‘forth-tellers’ than foretellers.”

Yes, indeed, some amazing foretelling, by God’s power, is certainly there. But much more involved was “forth-telling,” proclaiming whatever message God gave them to preach, and the forth-telling often caused these amazing God-servants a very high price. It was rarely much fun to be a prophet.

No, I’ve never been much of a prophet, not in the foretelling department. And probably not all that great in the forth-telling department either.

So, recently, I’ve been more surprised than anyone to discover in myself some hitherto unrecognized powers of prediction.

It works like this: if I’m perusing what claims to be news on my iPad or cell phone, and I see a headline, I’m often able to predict fairly accurately what particular news media organization is behind it. Alas, this is no proof of my “predictive” ability; it is a sign of rotten journalism.

I’m not sure that any of us, years ago, knew whether news anchor (and now news legend) Walter Cronkite leaned left or right politically. We just trusted him to give us the basic facts of the news and then let us decide what to make of that information.

But these days, just read the headline, and it’s not hard to figure out with just a couple or three guesses which media outlet is behind it. And I’ll bet my “powers” in this regard are not better than yours. Anyone who sifts through a compilation of media “reports” does this all of the time. We know that most of the “news” reports we hear are at least a little—and often, a lot—skewed by the political perspective of the organizations putting them forward. Unless we possess the mental capacity of an eggplant or just enjoy being manipulated, we’ve had to develop the good sense to know which way slanted news needs to be nudged to be more “bubble in the center” believable—and which needs to be tossed out with the garbage.

That, friends, points to a sorry state of affairs regarding journalism. Add in a social media-fed willingness to seek out and gorge ourselves with the slants and the flavors of the partial or total falsehoods we and “our bunch” most enjoy believing, and it’s a downhill spiral.

Peruse the compiled “news” stories on, say, Apple News or Flipboard or any other such compilation, and you’ll see some serious news items (but watch the bias), some frivolous news items about the latest celebrity marriages, failed marriages, and meltdowns, and more than a few “stories” so silly that they’d sully the National Enquirer. They’re all tossed in there together. And we must make a choice as to what matters and what is just salacious, stupid, voyeuristic, foolish, and insulting to the intelligence of the average 10-year-old. Only a very foolish person indeed would believe that it all is real, that it all matters, and that it all is equally important.

The media need to do a better job. We need to push for it and expect it. And we need to grow up, occasionally try thinking a rational thought, and be less willing to dance puppet-like as idea-barren politicians and loud media pundits derive power and ratings by pulling our strings.

It’s a wretched mess; allowing myself to “feed” on it can make me sick and cynical. I think a prescription for better spiritual health for me is this one: I need to spend more time bathing my soul in the written word of the One who “changes not,” no matter the day’s latest headlines. I need to spend more time talking to the One who knows us completely, who knows our every need, and who is always ready and willing to truly quench the thirst of parched souls.

His message is real news, good news, and filled to the brim with truth that we’ll never find on MSNBC, CNN, or FOX. I’m no prophet, but I predict that, focusing on our Father’s good news, we’ll find real joy. And the subscription is free.

You’re invited to visit my website, 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 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.

“Step Out of the Traffic!” 

Be still, and know that I am God!” says our Father through the psalmist’s words in Psalm 46. And he continues, “I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world” (46:10).

As usual, I love the way Eugene Peterson captures the feel of this in his Bible paraphrase The Message: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.”

If I’m never still, I’m never fully honoring God as God; I’m trying to be him (and running myself and those around me into the ground). I’m acting as if, feeling as if, scurrying about as if, were I to stop scurrying, the world itself would stop spinning.

God knows us so well!

Why does he tell us to be generous with our money? Because our souls prosper when we acknowledge in practical ways that our money is not ours; we are simply stewards of blessings given by the Father who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” We’re to hold onto money loosely lest it hold onto us mercilessly. We break the hold of this potential idol by giving away, in ways that honor our King, more of it than we can easily afford to give. And our checkbooks (or debit or credit card receipts) write the story of our priorities.

It’s the same, you see, with our time. It is no accident that one of the Big Ten commandments is that we “remember the Sabbath.” (And to those who say this commandment no longer applies, I’d say, show me another of the Ten we can break without doing real harm to ourselves or others. In this universe, the principles behind them all are as unbreakable as the law of gravity.)

A lot is going on in this commandment that tests our priorities and reveals who or what we worship. Yet again, it’s part of the exam the Great Physician performs on our hearts. More is at work here than I begin to understand, but part of it surely is telling us that our regularly slowing down to rest and honor God reminds us that our trust—and our real worth—is in him, not in our ability to “produce,” though, ironically, we’ll find that we do our work far better if we’re not doing our work all of the time.  

“Work is not always required,” wrote the wise old Scottish preacher and writer George MacDonald. “There is such a thing as sacred idleness.” Oh, yes! And it honors God. But, oddly enough, taking time for regular rest almost always requires from us more discipline than refusing to rest. We too often take the easy way out. We hurry and scurry and run, along with the rest of the rats, a race that often seems devoid of much lasting purpose. Accolades can be genuine honors. They don’t always mean that we’re becoming strangers to our families and trading our most precious relationships for trinkets. But they easily can. And they’re poor but ruthless gods.  

Too often we find ourselves mindlessly rushing along “in the traffic.” Maybe if we run fast enough, we won’t have time to think about the troubling reality that we don’t know where we’re going. Maybe we won’t have to ponder the high price we’re paying—and forcing our loved ones to pay—as we live life so badly out of balance that a wheel or two is bound to eventually come off.

Our Father knows that we desperately need to take some regular time (a little daily, weekly, etc.) to breathe eternity into our souls.

And when we have an option to take longer times off, sometimes we need weeks (or more) that are richer and deeper than just expensive opportunities to run faster in our play than we normally run in our work. Surely they occasionally need to be times intentionally devoted not just to diversion, but to real rest.

It was also George MacDonald who so wisely wrote: “The lightning and thunder / They go and they come: / But the stars and the stillness / Are always at home.”

Most of us have lightning and thunder aplenty. Let’s learn to honor God by regularly allowing him to spin the world without our help. Let’s trust him enough to bask occasionally in the glow and beauty, the rich meaning and deep well of wisdom, found in “the stars and the stillness.”

Seeking that kind of rest is, ironically, often as difficult as it is necessary, but it is deeply rewarding. And we can be sure that our God who himself “rested” after his work of creation, will bless us as we seek to honor him in rest.

You’re invited to visit my website, 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 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.

Red River Rocking and the Community House Porch 

It’s so good to be back!

I’m sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of the Red River Community House, Red River, New Mexico. It’s a Sunday evening, Labor Day weekend. This morning I sang and preached at the RRCH. Usually we’d do a concert in the afternoon, but COVID-19 resurgence concerns made that probably unwise this year. I’m just glad to be back at all. No surprise, Labor Day weekend 2020 was pretty much completely cancelled.

I’ve tried to look back a bit. If my calculations are correct, my wife and I have been coming here, generally to sing, preach, and sing some more, for eight years, minus the better-forgotten 2020. And for most of those years, we’ve been back to lead the Christmas Eve candlelight service at RRCH.

And more. The older bunch of our grandchildren learned to ski here. Watching their daddies teach them, I remembered teaching their daddies. But their daddies are better skiers than I am, and they became pretty good at skiing backwards (the daddies). I never did that. Not on purpose.

I remember getting ready for a sweet ski day. At the rented cabin (we graduated from mid-sized chalets to large houses as “we” grew), pandemonium would reign as we geared up for the day and got the little guys all buttoned up and weather-proofed.

“Ski school!” I always suggested to my sons. You’ll get to actually ski while they get expert training. You’ll get plenty of time teaching them anyway. I know you love them. It will drive you crazy, though, not to point it down the hill at speed. But the teaching will pay big dividends one day. It’s worth it!

“PawPaw,” the voices would implore, “will you ski with me?” “Oh, yes!”

One day I was about twenty yards behind one of the sweet grand-girls heading down the hill. We were moving kinda fast. “You okay, Brenley!?” I yelled. No reply. Just a happy dance on the skis, and on she flew.

I’m afraid I’d hurt my back if I tried to do a happy dance, on skis or off. I knew then, though, what was going to happen. One year, in a few down the line, I’d be gearing up, and I’d hear one of the grandkids quietly say to another, “Ya know, we ought to ask PawPaw to ski with us today.” A “pity” vote. That kinda hurts. But a “love” vote, too. And that’s what matters.

I’m rocking on the RRCH porch this evening. It’s still, and the sun’s going down. Here comes the wonderful coolness. Earlier a deer loped down the middle of the main street. The mountain above town is green and lush with vegetation. I admit, I tend to like it better when it’s white. But that will come.

And that’s sort of the point. I’ve sat on this porch in Red River time and time again. In seasons of joy and, yes, seasons of sadness in our own lives. I’ve not found many truly hard times yet that the mountains didn’t make just a little more bearable, but I’ve shed some tears right here. More times, I’ve smiled sweet smiles here with dear people that I love, and in these mountains, my soul sings.

I love mountains. I love porches. And I particularly love this one. Since 1940, this place has been a meeting place to share in, yes, community, and family, and faith, and worship.

God bless the wise people who conceived and built this good place. I don’t know a tenth of the names and a hundredth of the faces, but, as I sit here, sweet faces flash through my mind. My family. My brothers and sisters in Christ who carry on the great work of this place and have blessed me by allowing me to share along with them our deepest hope.

I think “place” matters to God. And in this place my heart smiles.

You’re invited to visit my website, 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 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.

“That’s Good, But Let Me Help You Make It Better!” 

My good friend Darrell Bledsoe, whose list of incredible accomplishments as a music producer, musician, choral director, songwriter, arranger (and the list could go on) is more than impressive, was my friend before he was the producer of my own four albums of music.

Early on in our really enjoyable journey together, as we were beginning work on the first album, Darrell smiled and said, “Curtis, I’ll have a lot of suggestions along the way in this project, but I’ll always bear in mind that this is your album, and you’ve got the final say. If we disagree, I will fully support your right to be wrong.”

Well, four albums later, we’ve never disagreed on much. If your feelings are easily hurt, you’d better not step into a recording booth expecting to produce anything of much quality. If you have a great producer, he’s a great one for a reason.

So if you’re singing into the studio microphone and the music in your headphones stops for the tenth—or twentieth—time, and the producer’s voice says, “That’s okay, but there’s a better ‘take’ in you. You’re singing about joy here, so let’s hear it with more joy!” Or “Stop! You’re pitchy on that phrase! One more time.” Or “No! You’re singing that on the beat; this is jazz, and right here you need to swing it!” Or “Let’s do this phrase again. More emphasis on this word. Remember the dotted quarter note here. Did you realize you’re not putting the “-ing” on the word in this verse, but you did in the last one? Do it again! But have fun with this, too! Your smile will show in the recording!”

Yeah. Be natural. Smile. And think of all of the above all at the same time.

Recording an album is the hardest, most fun work I’ve ever done. It takes so many folks working together to make the music you want to make—the beautiful kind that you’ll all be proud of. A good producer, one who knows how to get more out of you than you know to get out of yourself, is an incredible blessing. Darrell and I have had so much fun!

It was also fun when Darrell called me and said he was just putting the finishing touches on his autobiography, and he asked if I’d be willing to do the copy editing. Well, of course, I would! And I was grinning when I said, “Darrell, I’ll have a lot of suggestions along the way in this project, but I’ll always bear in mind that this is your book, and you’ve got the final say. If we disagree, I will fully support your right to be wrong.”

Ah, it was fun, too. And fun to work together.

To have someone in your corner who knows about notes and words and all the little tweaks that make good work excellent work is a blessing. But it’s true in all of life, isn’t it? I’ll bet names come up in your mind immediately. Teachers and mentors who cared not just about quality work but who cared enough about you to help you do better, be better, than you ever could have without their molding, shaping, and, yes, insistence: “Let’s do that again. That’s good; you can do better!”

What a wonderful picture George MacDonald paints of our God, our Father, our great Mentor, as MacDonald says, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.”

I love that. God loves us, delights in us, and completely accepts us already. It’s vital that we know that. But we can also know that he loves us too much not to help us be better, more than we ever dreamed that we could be.

God is our Creator, our Father, our Author. And, yes, on so many levels, our Producer.

“Oh, you did well on that! But let’s try it again, and this time . . .

“I’m proud of you, my child. Let’s make some more music together!”

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.

Compound Interest and the Health of Souls 

I’ve got a fascinating fact for you, but first, a question. (Stop me if you’ve heard this.)

If someone (with money to burn or semi-truck loads of pennies) were to give you the choice of taking either one million dollars in cash right now, or a penny, one cent, that would be doubled every day for one month (30 days), which would you choose?

Let’s stipulate that no calculators are allowed. Take all the time you want, as long as it’s not more than 30 seconds.

The fact that I’m asking alerts you to a twist in the tale, doesn’t it? Maybe that would be enough to prompt you to opt for the penny.

I hope so. Because I’m told that the “penny option” works out to . . . wait for it . . . $5,368,709!

And that, friends, illustrates the wonder and beauty, if you’re on the receiving end, of compound interest. I’m sure more than a few financial planners have used this rather amazing mathematical truth to encourage their clients. I’m also sure that it’s far better to be on the receiving, rather than the paying, end of compound interest. Credit cards come to mind. Thus the practical financial truth behind this mathematical truth is not hard to grasp.

What I’d like to ponder now is not as easily proven, but I’m betting that it is every bit as true. I do know for sure that my mother thought it was true and acted accordingly.

Rule Number One in Mom’s house was this: “You Do Not Lie.” She put it more positively at times: “You Do Tell the Truth.” But even our Creator went with the former version in one of the Big Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Do not lie.

Why not? Because lying is against the very nature of God who is the embodiment of all that is true. He will not lie. He literally cannot lie or be false to his own nature in any way. And his children cannot become liars without also becoming hurt and hurtful.

So you could count on the fact that my mother would never put up with anything that smelled of falsehood. Her nose told her the truth with incredible accuracy.

In a tight spot because of a transgression? Better just confess it and fall on the mercy of my mother’s court. All of her five children learned at a very early age that honest confession brought much less trouble and far less  severe punishment than trying to worm your way out with a lie. I don’t think I ever tried it more than once. Maybe twice. Punishment was quick and sure.  (As was forgiveness following the pain.) And if that little woman ever dreamed of saying, “Just wait until your father gets home,” I assure you, I don’t remember. Mom handled the situation.

My mother believed in compound interest regarding souls. She loved us fiercely and was not willing for her children to learn to twist their souls with lies and thus grow up to be Liars.

We can do the spiritual math by acknowledging the honest truth that this works with lying, unfaithfulness, bitterness, resentment, hatred, greed, arrogance, etc. If we begin by playing with such and allowing them into our souls, we can end up “compounding” the problem, shriveling our souls and, yes, we become hurt and hurtful.

Ah, but let’s end on a high note. Spiritual compound interest can also make us rich in the only ways that really matter. If we choose to ask for our Father’s help to be loving, merciful, forgiving, honest, faithful, generous, etc., trusting our souls to the Lord of all joy and beauty and real life, you can bet your eternal life that his Spirit working within can “compound” the health of our souls in amazing ways.

We’ll never make a better investment than to trust our souls to the One who wants more genuine spiritual blessing for us than we could ever imagine.

That’s the truth. Count on it.

    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.

The Fraternity of the Furrowed Brow 

What does it mean when you lose your smile?

I once heard a “face reader,” a fellow who works with jury consultants, businesses (hiring personnel), and large corporations say that 40% of our facial “terrain” is inherited but 60% is what we’ve unconsciously made of it. He and his colleagues claim to be able to tell a fair amount about personalities and character traits by “reading” faces.

Oh, I know. Part of this sounds a little hokey. But I figure there’s also something really in play with part of it. (I won’t guess as to the percentage of truth versus moonshine.) But before we knock it too much, we should admit that we all “read faces” regularly and often. Consciously or not, we pick up on laugh lines, worry lines, stress lines, vertical “freight train” focus lines, “burnout” lines (whether we use those terms or not), and we make a quick evaluation. If we’re wise, we’ll change what were our initial impressions if more time and info support an alteration, but most of us aren’t such fools that we ignore our first impressions altogether. Yes, it can be judgmental; but it can also be wise discernment. And we all do it—or suffer unpleasant consequences. 

This is interesting stuff. But back to that smile. The lost one.

I believe what the wise man (Proverbs 17:22) tells us: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.”

The loss of a smile can be temporary, of course, as our faces and lives are assailed by a particular grief, pain, illness, tragedy, anxiety, or difficult patch in the road.

But sadly, our smiles can also fade more permanently. And the harsh and stark truth we’d better acknowledge is that we have more choice in this than we tend to think. The reality that won’t give any of us a “pass” is that everyone occasionally faces the hardships I mention above, but not everyone loses their smile forever. Ironically, we face a choice as to what we do with our faces. Some of our various troubles and miseries we cannot choose (some we can), but we can choose our attitudes. That is both a hopeful truth and one that, when I’m wallowing in self-pity, I despise. But a truth it is.

It’s true in all of life, but one of the areas lately where I tend to “lose my smile” has to do with politics and world events. I need to unplug regularly and quit scrolling through the varied and often slanted news “reports.” I get focused on the mess as our politicians, for example, hand blood-bought territory back to terrorists for free and foolishly send terrible messages to friends and foes. Or since neither side politically will work with the other and make needed compromises to at least do something constructive about our borders, we do nothing. I’ve never been more disappointed in the majority of our politicians who only have ideas about how to be re-elected. No other real ideas at all as they pander to dimwits on both far ends of the spectrum and seem to consider character, integrity, and wisdom disqualifiers for any hope of winning high office. They hold in disdain their few colleagues who try to show such.

If I spend a good bit of time focusing on what I see as incredibly foolish failures, what do you think happens to my smile? How long until I lose it permanently? And what would that say about who I’m ultimately trusting in my life?

I wrote what follows a good while back poking fun at “progressives,” but it has a much larger application.

Strange to say,

Surpassingly weird in its own unsmiling way . . .

You never saw dark, stark Puritan folks ages ago,

Darker, starker, than “woke” blokes eight minutes ago.

Whaddaya say we nonetheless live life and smile?

And let them all marinate in their own bile,

Those lifelong members (with apologies to general genderocity)

Of that sad fraternity of the furrowed brow.

I hasten to say that the “fraternity of the furrowed brow” has club house chapters for both the left, the right, and even in-between.

I think that anyone can join it. Just focus on what is messed up in this world (it’s much easier to find than a smile) and forget who the King is. God’s people always have a reason for hope. The victory is his—and thus ours. It’s bought. It’s paid for. It’s won. Whatever happens here that is a matter for genuine tears.

If we lose our smiles for long or forever, we’ve lost our focus for far too long. I often need to be reminded 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.