Focus on Faith

“See The Good” 

“See The Good.”

Large letters on a big billboard. White words on a black background. Caps and lower case, just as rendered here. 

 I don’t know who paid for the billboard ad. It’s possible there was some fine print at the bottom claiming responsibility or enlarging a bit on the three-word admonition, but I drove by too fast to notice any.

“See The Good.”

Almost immediately, I saw the bad. Or, at least, the wrong. Maybe you did, too.

I think they messed up by capitalizing the “T” in “The.”

Granted, there are more important things to consider here. Like the meaning of the real message. I do indeed want to talk about the meaning of the 10-letter word-forest, but I’ll do that after I take a look at one letter that’s an overly tall tree. Yep, that “T.”

I really can’t help it. If a firefighter drives by a house and sees smoke leaking out of the garage, he won’t notice if the house needs painting.

I’m an English major. I’ve done a little bit of English-teaching. I’ve been editing a little devotional magazine for almost forty years. I’ve done more than my share of copy-editing.  May I modestly just tell you the truth: if you toss a paragraph or two of words my way, I can toss it back to you in better shape than it was when I caught it.

That “T” should be “t.”

Unless they capitalized that “T” on purpose for graphic (as in “graphic design”) impact.

Or unless they capped that “T” for an even deeper impact. Maybe the advertiser wants us to see that “The Good” is big enough and important enough that it almost deserves to be personalized as its own entity: “The Good.”

And so, now seems like a good time to talk about “The Good” that we’re being encouraged to see—and why focusing on it is, at least in the mind of whomever bought that ad, worth some expensive rent.

According to the dictionary (Merriam-Webster.com), the “good” is “something that is good.” And that’s not much help. But read on down.

The “good” is “something conforming to the moral order of the universe.” It’s something that contributes to the “advancement of prosperity or well-being.”

Not bad, those definitions. Good, really.

At the heart of the “moral order of the universe” is God.  All that is right, beautiful, uplifting, and true deserves those adjectives because it squares with what “is.” It is loving, not hateful. It is right, not wrong. It is straight, not crooked. It is beautiful, not ugly. It is true, not false.

It’s easy, and tempting, to focus on what is bad, wrong, sick, twisted, and hurtful. But much that is very good still exists in this world. How said if we let ourselves become blind to it.

I don’t know the names or the motives of the advertisers or their organization, or whether or not they are accustomed to behaving wisely or foolishly. But the advice itself on that billboard is good. I won’t quibble any longer about the “T.”

We are, after all, told in Scripture that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights . . .” (James 1:17).

Yes, let’s keep our eyes on “the good.”

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.

Father’s Day and Gratitude on Any Day 

I’m writing this on Father’s Day.

About an hour from now, it will be the day after Father’s Day. But I will never have a day when I don’t think about my father. I’ve never lived a single second of any day having to wonder if he loved me.

My father was the best man I have ever known, and I’ve known some incredible men. I don’t say that with arrogance. I’m obviously stating the obvious when I ask, who has any say in whom his or her father will be? Or, for that matter, whether he or she will be born American or a Ukrainian, or black or white, or into a wealthy family or a poor family, or brown-eyed or blue-eyed, or with “good” genes or “bad” ones?

Does it take much thought to realize that anyone who gives in to arrogance or prejudice or haughtiness of any sort regarding his or her birth situation is a fool?

We are all given at birth—at conception, really—an incredibly long list of genes, attributes, and circumstances over which we have exactly zero control. Eventually, the time comes when we begin to realize that, just by being born, just by being given that gift, we have been the passive recipients of both blessings and challenges. As we grow, we begin to be increasingly aware of both. Yes, and then we have some choices to make.

We’re here. What now?

Some people, given at birth a lot that is good, selfishly squander it. Others build on it, and live lives of blessing, gratitude, humility, and mercy.

Some people, given at birth a lot that is challenging, whine through life as victims stunted by resentment. Others choose to courageously build in the midst of difficulty, and live lives of blessing, gratitude, and mercy.

I was born with a boatload of everything good that truly matters. And I don’t for a moment pretend that I really understand the challenges of those born into great difficulty.

But think about it: In the final analysis, does any approach to life for any of us really “work” unless we find ways to embrace gratitude? To someone. For something.

Born into great abundance or born into deep difficulty, you and I had nothing to do with it. What then? Living a life of arrogance is stupid and helps no one. Living a life as a perpetual victim is equally foolish and helps no one.

Only gratitude “works.” I do not say that it is easy.

Nor did the Apostle Paul. Still he urges us to “be thankful in all circumstances.” Are you good at that? I’m not. But that changes the truth, just as real as the law of gravity and just as foolish to deny, not at all. We must deal with it. Gratitude is the only thing that really works and, multiplied out, produces a life direction that leads to growth and not despair.

Applied to fathers, I think it works like this.

If like me, you were given a wonderful father, remember that you did nothing to deserve that blessing. Be grateful to the Father of us all and ask Him for help to pass that blessing on to your children.

If like so many, you never knew your father or had a father who fell far short, remember that you did nothing to bring on that challenge. But be grateful nonetheless that you know now (and, oh, I hope you do!), that you have the best Father of all, and ask Him for help to give your children the blessing you have always longed for.

Here is the truth. All of us, whatever we were given at birth, were born by the will of a Father who could not possibly love us more and who will never choose to love us less.

That is the truth. If we know it, here’s the right response. Gratitude. Humility. Hope. Mercy. 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.

Thanksgiving in June 

I feel like I’m writing this particular column about five months early. It’s the kind of thing that I’d normally center on just before Thanksgiving.

As I write, it is not Thanksgiving. It is not November. It is mid-June. We’ve not even reached the summer solstice yet. This year, that astronomic event officially occurs on Tuesday, June 21, at 4:14 a.m. (CDT). Set an alarm on your phone.

But it certainly feels like summer. We hit 108 degrees yesterday. The plants in my yard were drooping into depression and flirting with death. Today we cooled to a high temp of 103. I call that “hellish.”

Not. Even. Officially. Summer.

My heartfelt prayer is simple: Let it snow! Though I may be feeling distinctly bear-ish and grouchy about such ridiculous temperatures, I do agree with them—bears, I mean—about hibernation, but I’d come at it in reverse. I’d try to hibernate somewhere nice and cool during the hottest days of the summer. I’d snooze through the convection oven days blissfully dreaming of civilized temperatures, pristine ski trails, and snowball fights with the grandkids.

Reverse hibernation. Much to commend it, I think.

It’s possible that a significant portion of the ravings above might sound grouchy to you. They sound grouchy to me, too, a fact which, of course, tilts me toward a dive into even deeper grouchiness.

I still remember one occasion when a sweet little granddaughter explained to another sweet little granddaughter: “PawPaw’s cranky today.” I remember because “grouchy” and “grandkids” are rarely in the same universe with me. It was not a great day.

Surely you’ve noticed this. What ticks you off more than realizing how little reason you really have to be ticked off? Griping was meant, by Satan, I suppose, to be momentarily pleasurable. It’s like picking a scab. Squeezing a pimple. Nursing a grudge. We’ll chance an infection, flirt with hardening of the heart, because it feels good at the time.

But a realization that my grouchiness is thin-skinned, dim-witted, and petty messes with its poisonous pleasure. It’s annoying when, with the words of Scripture and the pointed prompting, I think, of the Holy Spirit, our Creator quietly but powerfully piles on. A few pointed Bible verses begin buzzing around your head like benevolent mosquitoes (what a concept!) threatening to sting you back into a better mood. You’d rather just swat them away and enjoy being grouchy, but on they buzz.

Beeeee thankful.”

Worse: “Be thankful in all circumstances.”

Still worse: “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Worst of all: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”

And that is how I land in a much-needed but not very welcome “Thanksgiving in June.”

I’m griping about the vicious heat and gripping drought. And then I remember the people whose hearts are broken right now in Uvalde. Then I think of Ukraine and the senseless devastation and pain. Schools and hospitals being bombed. An evil and malignant dictator and his thugs.

No bombs are falling on my head or tanks rolling down my street. I’m not devastated over the loss of a little one. 

And I am forced to admit (forced is the right word) that my Father is right. A person—even a person like myself, unusually gifted at griping—cannot possibly gripe and give thanks at the same time. No one can pull off that sort of twisted spiritual ambidexterity.

Our Creator, well aware of this truth, makes it pretty clear that we (I’ll pull you into the same boat I’m in) must choose. Be it November, June, Thanksgiving or Ground Hog Day: griping or gratitude. Which will it be?

I’m tempted to get cranky thinking about it.

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.

An Almost Instinctive Urge to Head South 

Every year during the second week of June or so, I start feeling an almost instinctive urge to head south.

At first, this might seem surprising to anyone who knows me. It surprises me, too. I’m not usually particularly interested in heading south.

Let me explain.

I was born, and plan to live and die, a Texan. This does not mean that I’m blind to the assets and blessings of other states. I find myself longing right now, for example, for some time in the mountains of New Mexico (and I’m particularly thankful for readers of this column who live there). My soul seems to require regular infusions of mountain air and beauty found there in such plenty. And, if you live as relatively close to the mountains as I live and you don’t get a white Christmas, you’re just not trying hard enough.

I do like where I live. No, not the wind and blowing dirt. But this place does have some seriously strong points (easier to find when a drought is not oppressing us), and ties to people (most of mine are here) are stronger than bullet points on a good tourist brochure. For good or ill, I’m seriously Texan.

But, truth be told, the part of Texas that I actually want to live in (I’m perfectly fine with visiting other parts) is on top of, not below, the Caprock Escarpment. The thing is, if you drop below “the Cap,” as we call it, well, you drop. You lose altitude, and you lose it quickly.

Say, for example, you drive from the Greater Muleplex (I’m talking about Muleshoe, Texas) to Post, Texas. You’ll drive 112 miles. Not that far. But you will lose, since you’re dropping off the Cap, almost 1,200 vertical feet. And with that loss of precious altitude, you will find yourself beginning to lose the cool night air of the Texas high plains. (They are literally “high.”)

If, from where I live, you want to find the ocean, you certainly can. Just drive south with me for over 600 miles (you’ll never leave Texas), and you’ll drop from an altitude of almost 3,800 feet down to, say, about 7 feet, if you’re visiting Galveston. Everybody needs to spend some time sometime at the ocean. And I’m in a wonderful hunt for a kind of seafood that I don’t like. But it doesn’t take me much time in that heat and oppressive humidity to reaffirm my preference for water that is frozen. A lake or ocean person, I am not. If I’m down south for more than a few days (even though we once lived in Houston as I was going to school, and it was good time), I find myself soon longing for cool night air—which is found at civilized altitudes.

So why the urge to go south in June?

Well, June beats August.

But the real reason is that, for all of my growing up years, our family went to Kerrville, Texas, on or about the second week in June. Dad had, years before I was born, started in Kerrville a training school for ministers and church workers. My older siblings remember Kerrville as home. Eventually, the school moved to Amarillo (as the students were having a hard time finding jobs in Kerrville; it was still years away from becoming a booming retirement community). But for decades after the move, the Kerrville “Summer Session,” a number of days of Bible training, singing instruction, and sweet fellowship, took place early in June. We memorized Bible verses, did short “talks,” learned to read Scripture, lead songs, and, along the way, catch fireflies and roll down the hills of green grass out beside the church. The little church had theater-style seating, and Mom always had a few of those old fold-out hand fans. Remember those?

I’ll never forget the wooden water keg on a stand out beside the side door of the church. The keg was tapped at the bottom and filled with ice water. The paper cone cups dispensed nearby were also perfect for catching fireflies. At night, you could see the little lights flickering through the white paper, if you’d caught one or a few. If they were inadvertently squished, they quit flickering, but they still glowed for a while.

We’d almost always stay at the Wagon Wheel Motel. (Shuffleboard, but no pool.)

On an afternoon or two during that time, Dad would take the family over to San Antonio. We’d go to the zoo, the botanical gardens, the museum, an old mission or a few, and even, thanks to my sister, the Lone Star Brewery (purely educational with, for kids and teetotalers, root beer samples). Also during that week, we might paddle around in the “river” at Hunt, Texas, or even go visit the Mooney aircraft plant.

Yep, the Kerrville “Summer Session.” It was in June. It was a big part of my childhood. About as close to being a vacation as anything Dad ever took. But it was a sweet time and a gift from God for some golden days that I will remember all of my days. Those “beginning of summer” days were a bit short on altitude, but they were long on blessing.

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.

When Tears Speak More Loudly Than Words 

I’d promised myself not to write this particular column. But it’s a promise I found that I could not keep.

Like anyone who has a heart and who has heard of the murders at the school in Uvalde, Texas, my heart is breaking. That kind of evil takes our breath away.

Of course, the national media seem to have plenty of breath, plenty of bandwidth, and plenty of ink available. And, of course, they have to report it. But I’m not convinced that wallowing in it is necessary.

Many of them are not shy about crossing over from “reporting” to using this atrocity to further their own political ideas. Both left and right are masters at manipulation. And we, both right and left, are, oh, so, willing to be manipulated. By the national media. By political parties. By our favorite politicians. Both “sides.”

And so, far right or far left, the loudest voices with the least real courage and fewest actual ideas hold sway. Since we’d very much like to live in a world where complex problems have simple answers, we lap up mis-leaders’ lies like a cat chugging antifreeze.

We chug on even when a teenager with a heart already incredibly twisted by evil methodically kills 21 precious people, mostly little folks, the kind whose lives give us light and joy and hope whenever we’re around them. How dark it seems when that light is, at least in this world, extinguished.

Can you imagine the depth of evil necessary to do what the murderer did over and over again? I don’t want to mention his name. (His first name is a sad mockery.) I know that God loved him and will be the One who deals with him, and, honestly, I’m glad we don’t have to. I pray for all of the many—the ripples of this blood-bath are far-extending and certainly include those who loved him—who have been and are being devastated by his wicked decision.

Lessons need to be learned, but I can’t help by adding much to the too many words already being cast about. That part is sadly predictable. Those words—their multitude and their volume—come from all of those you’d expect. For most, their greatest wisdom would be much more silence at this moment. But the parties and politicians now trying hard to out-shout each other are saying almost exactly what they always say. 

I find it hard to imagine how a bevy of grand-standing politicians converging on Uvalde will do anything but make an unbelievably horrific situation worse. I could wish they would all be struck suddenly mute for at least enough time to let us weep in heartbroken silence for a while, spared their witless word fog and shameless self-promotion.

Most of us are still in shock, trying to make some sense of the senseless.

If at this moment you can react to this “slaughter of the innocents” in a way that is mostly rational, what is wrong with your heart?

Right now, it doesn’t help much to realize that, as one commentator mentioned, a child is still far more likely to die in a car crash on the way to school than to die in a school shooting. There is a time for such a realization; today is probably not that time.

Statistics are usually face-less. The Uvalde victims and their families are not, but I confess that I really don’t want to see the faces of the victims and their families right now. I’m not sure I have any right to such an intrusion. It feels wrong. It feels like a trespass, even though I can well understand that the families would want us to see how beautiful and amazing their precious ones were, so that perhaps we might share more in their grief and loss.

But I see precious faces already. I see the faces of my grandchildren. Yes, I still have them. But I can all too well imagine . . . and that imagining is more than heartbreaking enough to send me to my knees on behalf of those whose loss is so poignantly real and deep.

So I ask again, who can hear of such an unthinkable atrocity and react rationally?

But the time certainly comes when, even with trails of tears still on our cheeks, we must try.

Can we stop such horror completely? I see no rational reason to think so. But surely we can take some wise steps to try to at least make atrocities such as this one less likely. Can we take more prudent steps with regard to background checks, “red flag” laws, etc.? I don’t know. But we’d better do better. I do know this: Those on both extremes on this issue who just yell at their counterparts on “the other side” make losers of us all. As usual.

We will never turn in all of our guns, nor should we. Did we learn nothing from Prohibition? Many ordinary people became “criminals.” Real criminals became more numerous and richer than ever. (And, though I know the analogy breaks down if taken too far, good luck at curing obesity by taking away forks.)

The societal unraveling evidenced by mass shootings has far deeper roots than anything attached to triggers and firing pins, and I doubt that any “solutions” that only involve triggers and firing pins will ultimately be very helpful.

For now, I pray. Mostly, I pray for those families and all who are hurting.

And, for now, I’ve said too much. Souls in pain need some silence to start healing. Tears speak more wisely than words. And when the time comes to speak, the words will mean more.

God give us the courage and wisdom we need for deep healing, the kind that’s found through repentance, not arrogance and “simple” solutions.

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.

“A Man in Whom There Is No Guile” 

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, a chapter utterly amazing from its very first verse, we have, among much else, the story of Christ’s calling of his first disciples (apostles).

Two of them did some of the greatest work of their lives right then. Andrew went and told his brother Peter about Jesus and, literally, brought him to Christ, saying, “We have found the Messiah!” And when Jesus, on the next day, himself calls Philip (who was, like Andrew and Peter, from Bethsaida), Philip then summons Nathanael to come and meet Jesus.

Remember Nathanael’s reaction? “Really!? Do you mean to tell me that anything good can come out of Nazareth, that dump of a town?” (My paraphrase.) “Come and see,” replies Philip.

As Nathanael is approaching Jesus, I see Christ looking up, smiling, eyes twinkling, and I’m reminded again why the disciples not only loved the Lord, they liked him intensely.

“Look here,” he grins through the words, “a true son of Israel! A man in whom there is no deceit—not a false bone in his body!” (my paraphrase, along with NIV, The Message, etc.). Many older versions say, “A man in whom there is no guile.”

What a fine compliment from anyone about anyone, but Jesus himself is giving this one: “I tell you, friends, here comes someone who is utterly honest, open, true, trustworthy, and good as gold! What you see is what you get, and what you get is genuinely good.”

That’s what Jesus said long ago about Nathanael. And that’s what I tell you right now about my friend Allen Ketchersid. Anyone who knew Allen would agree.

Many of Allen’s family and friends came together today in Bloomington, Indiana, to thank God for the faith-filled life of our friend, who passed away completely unexpectedly on May 16.

The Ketchersid and Shelburne clans share some amazing ties, deep friendships, and a common allegiance. My dad was Allen’s father’s teacher. Allen’s father, Eddy, was my teacher. Eddy was actually living in our family’s home in Amarillo when my surprising birth (Mom was 42) meant that I needed his room and kicked him out.

Among our two clans, the number of years of professional Christian ministry (beginning with both “patriarchs”) amounts to over 300 years. (I know. At first, I didn’t believe that number myself, but I’ve done the math multiple times.) Add to that many more years of other church leadership, service, and ministry. The parallels and ties between the families are rather astounding, and, no surprise, we are dear friends.

I could go on. Life, real life, is about relationship, as Christ has taught us. What a blessing from God this relationship has been since before I was born.

Allen himself was one of the best men I have ever known—a fellow pastor, an incredibly esteemed colleague, an amazingly astute and wise leader. Utterly devoted to his Lord and his family, he was one of one of the best friends a person could ever have.

As I worked as a ministry “intern” with his father, we rode to college together. We laughed with each other and with each other’s siblings. We grew families, served churches, edited publications, and on I could go.

What a good man!

On the Monday that Allen died (a massive heart attack, it seems), his family and friends were in shock, but my wife and I drove, as planned, to Amarillo to attend a granddaughter’s kindergarten graduation planned for the next morning. (Oh, how Allen loved his grandchildren, too!)

I was driving to a grocery store, and I stopped behind a guy in a black SUV. On each corner of his back window, he’d carefully applied two decals (a matched set, I guess), each proclaiming in lewd words and stick figures (I apologize to you for this) his message to anyone following him: “____ U” and “____ It,” meaning the world, in general, I assume.

I wondered why anyone would go to such pains to show his hatred and disdain for everyone and everything. It angered me. Then saddened me. And I was already sad.

I don’t know what kind of wreckage that pathetic man in that SUV is leaving in his own life and the lives of everyone he touches. I can only imagine. And I guess he continues to spread it.

But I also know that people don’t have to live like that. As weak as we all often are, it is still possible to try every day to share love and friendship, truth and grace and mercy, and to honor the One who gave us the gift of life and hope by sharing that gift in a way that brings blessing and joy.

I know it’s possible. Allen did it.

Yes, you’d have liked him. A man as good as gold, not a false bone in his body.

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.

“There Are Two Ways to Get Enough” 

“There are two ways to get enough,” writes G.K. Chesterton. “One is to continue to accumulate more and more; the other is to desire less.”

If you look in my garage, you’ll quickly see that I flew past “enough” a good while back. It looks like a very poorly arranged department store. I’ve got sections for automotive, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and lawn care. I’ve got a special section for stained glass and art glass supplies, a section for sports and leisure, and a few shelves devoted to motorcycle repair and maintenance. Oh, and don’t forget the paint section filled with gallons of probably now-worthless paint.

I’ve got tool upon tool, but I’m still always willing to have a later, better, more efficient type of the type of tool that I already have. I even have a few tools that I’ll never use again and certainly should never plug in again.

I know that Chesterton wasn’t talking specifically about cluttered garages. I suspect he was talking more specifically about houses and lands, money and investments, and luxuries of myriad sorts.

Most of us are inundated in luxuries, even if we don’t think of them as such. Just let your water heater fritz its element. Cold showers are, in my estimation, incredibly unpleasant, but they will wash away dirt. Or what if my cell phone suddenly goes dead, its electronic fingers released from my neck, its call-making ability nixed, and I lose access to several hundred apps, 295 of which are nowhere near “essential”? Once I quit shaking and get out of phone-detox, I suppose it’s possible that I might learn to “desire less.” I might learn that the well-being of my soul is not connected at all with the remaining battery life of the cell phone which owns me and throttles my relationships with people in the same room.

But it’s not just my cell phone that owns me. It’s the mind-set of accumulation.

More and more. More stuff. That’s why the “storage industry” (buildings, containers, etc.) is growing so amazingly quickly. We have too much stuff! And we don’t know how to “desire less” in a way that really culls the stuff and doesn’t just stack it.

Jesus once told a parable to illustrate his previous statement: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12). It is called, rather pointedly, “The Parable of the Rich Fool.”

The original parable features a great crop year, surplus grain, and the building of more and bigger barns to store it all up.

Today we might be more likely to say that “a certain guy made out like a bandit as his business and his investments all at once suddenly ballooned in value. Possessing more stuff than he could ever imagine and engaged in a world-class spending spree, this terminally superficial fellow with tons of stuff (but very little real substance) buys more and more stuff as his investments keep ginning. He ends up buying whole blocks of storage facilities in which to store stacks of expensive toys and so much stuff that he’s forgotten that he even owns much of it.

And then . . .

And then suddenly, a blood clot or a popped aneurysm drops him in his self-centered tracks. He “ends up.” Literally.

In the “eulogy” at his service, he’s hailed as quite a businessman. Truth be told, he wasn’t much of a husband or father—not really much of a man at all—but a number of the folks at his funeral (who grudgingly took time from their own “accumulating” to show up) consider him “successful.”

But, in the verdict that trumps all others, God calls him a “rich fool” and posts a question: How much of his stuff was his after he hit the ground and they carried his carcass toward the funeral?

The story sort of makes one wonder. Maybe we really would be wise to try to “have enough” by “desiring less.”

The Apostle Paul once made the same point (as paraphrased in The Message): “A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.”

What’s real contentment worth? Much more than all the stuff in the world.

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.

A Time to Talk About Our “Times” 

For a long time, I’ve found the study of time—specifically, how we perceive its passing, and how it’s connected to our biological and circadian rhythms—fascinating.

Research rolls on, but it’s quite clear that, whether you’re a morning person, night person, or anywhere in between—a lark, an owl, a “third bird,” of whatever—your preference is not just your preference. It’s far more hard-wired biologically than we’d ever dreamed before this subject was seriously studied.

Oh, you can, and must, force yourself to roll out early, work late, or do whatever your employment or family obligations require, and some factors such as your age and health (of course) will also affect this a bit. The research, for example, is abundantly clear that earlier school starting times for all kids, and especially teenagers, are a terrible idea if you want them to be capable of learning anything. (And “capable” is the right word.)

Yes, you’ll do what you must do—you are a conscientious and responsible person— but the fact is, you’ll never be truly “in the zone” (your best time of productivity, efficiency, and creativity) in the morning if you’re an owl or at night if you’re a lark. And, though this analogy might be a bit overdone (but it might not be, and if it is, it’s very little past the mark), a lark has about as much chance of effectively becoming an owl as a right-handed person has of becoming a left-handed person.

Interestingly enough, since this is biologically wired, genealogical and family studies are also fascinating. You don’t have to be a scientist to look at your own family, and your extended family and the predecessors you knew well, to “plot” where on the chrono-biological continuum (I may have butchered that description, but you know what I mean) each member falls and the various folks in the family who are “birds of a feather.” Heredity is most definitely and seriously involved.

Already interested in this topic, I was glad to find that when I read Claudia Hammond’s Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, I’d boarded a train. The next stop was Till Roenneberg’s Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired. Then came Daniel Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. And I hope not “finally” as in a caboose or a final stop, but a bit related and fun, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. I love trains!

A side point: Those are all non-fiction books. Fine. But I hope it’s also clear that one of the best ways to make our journey through this world worthwhile—and not to let it drive us crazy—is to hop on some book-trains (great fiction and stories) that take us around this world, out of this world, and, most of all, out of ourselves. Why in the world would we want to stay always trapped in our little part of the world and stuck in our own little heads when wonderful journeys are ready to open up all around us as we simply open a book?

Garrison Keillor is right when he says, “One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don’t read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they think the sun is shining.”

Speaking of time—as we recently were—the wise writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that “there is a time for everything, a season for every matter under heaven,” and he lists a bunch of the “times” of our lives. He doesn’t mention “a time to read,” but, as a writer, I’m quite certain he takes that for granted.

One thing I think is sure: Our Creator has the times of our lives—whether we’re larks, owls, or any other bird in between—well in hand. And this thought is worth pondering: God is able to use and redeem all of “the times” of those who trust him.

If this is a rotten column, I offer this excuse: I wrote it in the morning.

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.

Chronological Snobbery: We Can’t Afford It 

“Chronological snobbery” is the term C. S. Lewis used, in his book Surprised by Joy, to describe “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”

My over-simplified description is that it’s the un-examined belief that since we have come along at a later date than our ancestors, we are therefore wiser. “Years ago (and pick any time past) they used to think A, but now (pat ourselves on the backs here for the virtue of having been born more recently) we think B, and have thus arrived at a higher plane of knowledge, wisdom, and even morality.”

Really? I see very little evidence of that. But, if you begin to look for chronological snobbery underlying a vast amount of our era’s thinking, you’ll soon see how pervasive it is.

Of course, one of our largest temptations is to mistake factual knowledge and information for wisdom. I’ve heard varying estimates of how fast our world’s store of information is increasing. No doubt, the advent of computer technology has, by any of the many estimates you’ll find, exponentially increased the speed with which such knowledge accumulates. Warp speed. At a mind-boggling rate.

A nerd at heart, I am fascinated by technology and thankful for a very large part of it. And I love having vast amounts of information as close as my computer.

But, for the life of me, I can’t find any evidence that we are wiser than our ancestors. I see plenty of evidence that we are snobbish about “knowing” more, but no evidence that we are wiser in the use of what we think we know.

Can we “do” more? Yes, in many areas. But do we know more about what is worth doing, what is truly valuable in life, what constitutes a life well-lived, and what really is ultimately the meaning of life? Are we any better at all in understanding and dealing with human nature? If anything (and I may fall prey here to chronological snobbery in reverse of the popular direction), it seems to me that we may know far less than many of our predecessors about what is truly important, and are thus condemned by our own arrogance to the same failures (and maybe worse) than those of our forebears.

I find myself agreeing with writer Lance Morrow who laments that we are living in “the Golden Age of Stupidity.” Among others of abundantly available examples, he mentions the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, the Jan. 6 atrocity, and the “need” for two sexes to divide into 100 genders.

Lewis points to the heart of the problem when he talks about our “uncritical acceptance” of the fact (?) that ours is the age that has finally “arrived” [my term], and so our own era’s assumptions must be valid simply because they are recent, and I’d add: modern, popular, and passionately held.

We tend to easily discard the wisdom of the ages for the findings of the latest opinion poll. An opinion poll may tell us a lot about the respondents and their cultural climate, but it tells us nothing about how well a particular opinion will stand up to serious rational thought.

“Was it [this or that assumption] ever refuted,” Lewis asks, “(and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood.”

And then he goes on to say that, as we think about this, we begin to find that every age is filled with its own “characteristic illusions” that are so widely accepted that no one “dares to attack” them or “feels it necessary to defend them.” Ours is no exception.

Look for it, and you’ll find chronological snobbery lurking everywhere.

We point to this or that failure (real or just out of fashion) discovered in the life of a heretofore respected historical figure and adjudge he/she as completely discredited, even as we dance to the whims of our time and disregard the wisdom of the ages.

We gorge ourselves on the latest Internet conspiracy theories and subject ourselves to a drought of wisdom by never reading an actual time-tested and revered (for good reason) book. Even the dead—and maybe particularly the dead—have so much to teach us if we’d just let them. We’ll not invariably find their vision clear, but it will always be nothing short of a miracle to be able to see through their eyes. Casting that miracle aside as we find reading, and thus thinking, far too difficult, we flick our index fingers, and, with the attention span of gnats, scroll on. No wonder we blunder. We’ve poked our own eyes out.

Maybe if we could at least realize how prone we are to chronological snobbery, we might open the door to some humility. To some truth. To some testing of our own biases and assumptions. And who knows? Maybe even to some wisdom.

Here’s a very old proverb that has stood the test of time: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).

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.

Faith and Prayer, Healing and Rain 

I’ve been thinking some more about this “rain thing.”

I recently wrote about rain—specifically, the heart-breaking, soul-sucking, economically disastrous lack thereof.

And, not long ago, I wrote a column about faith and healing, centering on the wonder-filled account in Mark 2. Jesus is teaching, and a paralyzed man is brought to him, carried on a mat by four friends. The room is so crowded that the only way they can get the man to Jesus is to cut a hole in the roof and lower him down. (A mess, I bet.)

What Jesus does is amazing on every level. First, he sees the faith of the “friends.” And then he says to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

The toxically religious leaders, always ready to throw cold water on any spark of joy lest a fire of it break out, immediately begin to grinch and grimace and, ironically, hit the nail on the head: Who does this guy think he is?! “Only God can forgive sins.” Bingo!

Then Jesus raises the ante. I paraphrase for brevity: “Which is easier? To forgive this man’s sins or to heal him and let him dance out of here? So you’ll know that I have authority to do the former, I hereby do the latter.” And he did.

In the column I wrote, I wondered what most folks might choose if we could only pick one: forgiveness or healing. Jesus asked, “Which is harder?” We might well ask, “Which is more important? Which is better?”

I know. So do you. If you think that means for sure that I know which I’d choose, your opinion of me is higher than my opinion of me.

This brings me to a little thought (maybe thin on a point or two) about rain, faith, and healing.

But, in general, it seems clear to me that God has set up the physics and biology of this world to work pretty predictably and well, though not always as I like. If I kick a door frame and break my little toe, both physics and biology are at work. Not God’s fault. But that my toe heals is his blessing and design. And the rain? It “falls on the just and the unjust” and follows the physical laws of creation. Most often, we’re blessed by it. But hail, floods, and such? Not so much.

Most of the time, I think, God chooses to answer our prayers by helping us deal with what is. And that is a very real answer, though I’d usually prefer “what is” to be changed to “what I want.”

But the fact is, Jesus prayed. He taught us to pray about any concern, any need. He taught us that prayer matters. Relationship matters. We’re kids. God is our Father. We can, we should, ask, and trust that our Father will answer by giving us what we need, what is the very best for us, now and forever.

And so, I pray. For others. For myself. For our world.

When I pray about health situations faced by my family, my church family, and others I love, I pray for healing, and I shoot for the moon, assuming that, since God invited me to ask, why not ask big?

And what about “answers”? That term seems subjective, but you know what I mean.

Do I sometimes get the answer I want? Yes. Always? Not even close. What about “flashy” answers? Rarely. The vast majority are, in my opinion, just as real but without obvious fireworks. (If I always need fireworks, is that less faith or more? Less, I think.)

Do I sometimes pray and then watch the health situation deteriorate, and then hate what looks like the end result? Of course.

But that I don’t see the whole picture, and that I too quickly assume that answers must be obvious to me in the “here and now” to be answers—well, that just proves my nearsightedness and that my basic assumptions about “effective” prayer are often quite wrong.

Am I assuming that great health and longevity here are always the best for me and those I love? I probably am. Is that correct? I doubt it.

But is that what I want? Yes! And I can be white-hot-angry when folks I love are hurting and my prayers seem to be bouncing off the ceiling.

God wants us to be honest about our feelings. Read the Psalms! Am I sometimes angry and disappointed? Yes. But I often need to be reminded that the Bible portrays God as the Father who loves us with a ferocity we can hardly imagine and who knows what needs to be built in us that is a much better “end product” than constant doses of health, wealth, and prosperity could ever produce. In my better moments, I know that I can trust him completely, even if I’m shooting up a hot prayer to heaven’s Complaint Department and my eyes are red with angry tears.

And now, let’s pause to pray for rain. Rain. Right now rain. Lots of it. Now. Please! Has it not been dry long enough!? Would rain right now not be among the very best blessings God could give us? Oh, yes!

I hate this drought, as my Father well knows. I’ve shaken my fist in the dirty face of the wind and used words saltier than “Peace! Be still!” To no avail.

But could it be that in the face of some deplorable meteorological physics, God can teach us something and build something in us that “rain on demand” could not? (Not that we’ve been anywhere close to “rain on demand.”)

One day, the rains will come (the real thing and not blowing mud), and I will thank him. But even I know that faith which just shows up when I’m in good health, enjoying a nice annual rainfall, and feeling warm, fuzzy, and (I’m afraid) spiritually a cut above my fellow mortals, is cut-rate faith. Not much faith at all. And not the kind my Father knows I need.

 

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.