When a Small Church Is Large

No doubt about it, I have a heart for small churches. And that means, most churches.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for churches of all sizes who preach the good news about Christ. And all churches, whatever their size, have their share of challenges.

According to Aaron Earl’s article in Lifeway Research, based on a 2020 “Faith Communities Today” (FACT) study surveying 15,000 “faith communities,” seventy percent of the churches surveyed had less than 100 members and averaged 65 in weekly attendance.

That’s not too surprising. And “weakly” attendance isn’t surprising, either. Well, you know what I mean.

Since I came on board, many things in our society that I grew to think of as precious have been on the decline. I don’t take it personally.

A time-tested “logical fallacy” that has been in play since Eden is a particular favorite of ours in this Golden Age of Stupidity (that’s Lance Morrow’s apt term). It’s the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. That’s Latin for “after this, therefore because of this.” Think of the neurotic rooster who became terrified that he might oversleep, forget to crow, and therefore cause the sun not to come up, at great inconvenience to us all and resultant global calamity. We must love that fallacy because we “use” it all of the time. It’s the main framework for some of our most popular Internet conspiracy theories and a favorite in the toolbox of the populist politicians we love to let pull our strings.

All to say, I’m not neurotic enough to think that my ministerial “career” coinciding with a serious period of church decline is anything more than, yes, coincidental. But the fact remains that I’ve rarely ever known a time when most of the churches I’ve known best were truly growing. (Shifting members around to make large churches larger and small churches smaller is not real growth.)

If you’re a member of a relatively small church, you’re in good company. Yes, the largest number of churches in our land are small.

The good news about the bad news is that, if you believe that relationship matters, well, in a small church, “where everybody knows your name,” it really does. If you’re not there, somebody notices. If you’re not doing your part, a part doesn’t get done. And it’s good news (mentioned in the survey cited above) that the members of small churches are generally more active in attendance, giving, and other involvement. No surprise. This issues in the right kind of accountability and fertilizes the ground for the genuine sharing of life—joys, sorrows, and all.

Of course, the small church will have far fewer programs for you. You might not find a light-show-choreographed Sunday School class featuring a coffee bar and focused exclusively on left-handed dental hygienists with birthdays in months ending in R. But I’ll betcha the small church will do you a much finer funeral with more genuine tears. (Think about it.)

So, I don’t worry much about large churches. Not about their numbers, at least. But anything I can do to help a small one (small for good reasons and not small because of enmity and divisiveness), I will do. It’s fun to sing for a banquet for five hundred, but singing for twenty folks in a small church sanctuary brings its own joy. I like encouraging little churches and telling them the truth that their faith and commitment are not unseen and ignored by everyone. They are deeply appreciated and of incalculable value in God’s kingdom.

I thought of some of this as our church’s steeple tried to dance off the roof recently. Old structural support. Very high wind. How to fix it was a bit of a conundrum. It’s the focal point of our little building’s architecture, and it makes a beautiful faith statement, especially at night, shining above that end of town.

I can now report that we got it fixed. I had nightmares about a huge financial hit, but we came out very reasonably. I’m thankful. But though we were fine writing the check, a friend who understands and loves small churches sent $100 just to say, “We appreciate and love that little church. Those decades of faithfulness matter.” Such encouragement is worth more than gold.

So, when my wife and I heard that a little Methodist church that we know in a little town that we know had had its metal roof blown off by the same windstorm that we thought would topple our steeple, we sent a little check to add to what others who care for them are contributing to their roof fund. That church is small. The bill for the new roof is large. 

Small churches can use help and encouragement. They are of immense value.

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 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“This Is the Day That the Lord Has Made”

“This is the day that the Lord has made / We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

If you find your brain putting the tune to those lyrics in your head, you probably learned it in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. It’s a nice song, with a great message, though it is most certainly a potential “ear worm.” As “ear worms” go (songs that get stuck in your head), it beats the daylights out of “Achy Breaky Heart” and such mind-numbing atrocities. But I confess to a bit of a strained relationship with it.

I don’t ever expect to wake up with a desire to break into a jaunty song, even one with an uplifting message. (I did sing an early morning live music program at a coffee shop once for a couple of hours and actually enjoyed it.) It’s not that I wake up in a bad mood, I just am not a “morning person.”

It really is science, you know. We are all born with a certain “chronotype.” It’s literally in our genetics and hard-wired into our brains. Look up “suprachiasmatic nucleus” (SCN). I can point you to some good books on the fascinating subject of chronotypes, but it won’t take much thought for you to know if you’re a lark (morning person), owl (as in night owl), or a “third bird” (somewhere in the middle). You already know, and it’s clear that everyone who is breathing is on the scale somewhere. Obviously, we all have to learn to shift, like it or not, into the mode that jobs and families require. But we’re all at our best when we’re in our natural “zone.”

The above really is true, but I wish you luck in trying to convince most morning folks that their chronotype is not inherently more virtuous.

In any case, I prefer to greet the morning as quietly as possible, easing into conversation and light.

So, I admit that the “This Is the Day” song is one I’d prefer to have wafting through my brain cells a bit later in the day. And when I leave the house, and it’s already windy with a brown haze rising up to foul the atmosphere, I know I should be thankful anyway. I know that I am incredibly blessed, and nonetheless tempted to be whiny. So, sing me that song? Please, no. By the way, my considered opinion is that the “new heavens and the new earth” will feature only gentle breezes and no dirt in the air. I refuse to blame God for sandstorms—and anything else far, far worse.

Maybe that’s why I felt a little better when I realized that, in context, the verse that is the basis for the aforementioned song is not actually talking about any, or all, of our days; it is talking about a specific day. It’s the “day of salvation,” the “day” when Jehovah saves his people. Through his mighty power, the “stone” the “builders rejected” becomes the very “cornerstone” of God’s kingdom. Christians believe that the true cornerstone has a name: Jesus Christ. (Read Psalm 118, and Matthew 21:33-44 in which Jesus himself references the psalm. For a thought-provoking article on this, Google the name “Andy Kessler” and “What Does Psalm 118:24 Mean?”).  

I’m not sure what it says about me, but I could easily be the guy who, when asked if a cup of coffee was half full or half empty, replies, “It doesn’t matter. Either way, we’re not gonna have enough coffee.” That said, I’m very much aware that, through Christ, whatever sort of day comes, his people will find in him more than enough strength and hope, grace and love. I just find the realism of the Son of God refreshingly reassuring and grounded in truth: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 14:33).

Trouble, yes. But also, assured and ultimate victory in Christ. Both assertions very true, no matter one’s mood. Both very true, no matter if the day is a great one or, not so much.

In the same way, I like it when Jesus says, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). And that, in this present world, is the plain, realistic, and unvarnished truth.

As the recent ads have said about Christ, “He Gets Us.” He surely gets me.

Trouble is real. But joy and hope in Christ is real, too, and far longer-lasting.

Back to the song. You don’t have to tell me. I’ve long ago realized that I get no pass on the “rejoicing” part. Of course, the Psalms take reality head-on, and you can find yourself and any of your “days,” good or bad, all over them. Every emotion humans can experience is found somewhere in the Psalms. But they do indeed say a lot about rejoicing.

And you don’t have to remind me (I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t, though you probably should) that the Apostle Paul famously said, “Rejoice in the Lord always . . .” (Read Philippians 4:4-7.)

I’m working on it. But I admit that, if you want to find me a tad more toward “glad,” it’s best to wait until mid-morning.

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 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Waiting for the Deepest Joy

It’s a sure sign that you’re beginning to learn at least a little about something when you begin to realize how very little you really know about it at all. And it’s an equally sure sign of how little you know if you allow yourself to suspect that you’re the smartest person in any room. Other folks with more sense (it would seem that anybody would have more sense) will leave the room as quickly as possible, whether the room is a coffee shop or the Oval Office.

Corollaries to this truth are clear: Never trust anyone who has a simple solution to every problem. And never trust anyone who feels no humility at all in the face of serious problems, all of which he writes off as “simple.” It takes an incredibly, and dangerously, simple-minded person to think that most real problems are simple. (It often takes a duplicitous politician of the most foolish and pernicious sort, but any of us can fall prey to this malady.)

Examples abound, but here’s one out of my own experience. I never knew how very little I knew about recording music until I was involved in the recording of four of my own albums of music. It is some of the most fun, and some of the hardest, work I have ever done. Getting ready, being sure you’re ready, takes a lot of work. If you don’t do the work beforehand, all the preparation it takes to be ready for the actual sessions, you’re wasting some expensive studio time and the time of some incredibly talented people. This also, by the way, becomes clear: you can’t have a successful project without the help of far more amazing folks than you might have thought. (I can easily count more than twenty people seriously involved in the production of my last project.) And, yes, having done this several times now, I am beginning to figure out how very much I have left to learn about, well, name any aspect of the process.  

Here’s one funny little thing I’ve learned: the longest note in any song is the last note. The singer knows how long the last note needs to be held. But the music needs to be held longer. And the audio engineer is ultimately the person who punches the button that stops the recording. Wait, wait, wait a little longer, and . . . not yet . . . not yet . . . now. It seems to take forever.

And this is with professionals. How much harder is it for folks who aren’t professionals but are doing the work, usually well, of playing the music in other venueschurch, for example—to learn to let the song play out, and not stop it just a second or a few nano-seconds early? Most of the time, you won’t notice much, if it stops just slightly early. But a significantly early “stop” equals what I call “audio whiplash.” It’s jarring. It almost physically hurts. If you’ve gotta stop it early, oh, please, fade it out.

I suppose some life lessons lurk in this. One lesson might certainly have to do with patience. Waiting to punch that button takes some serious patience.

Another lesson might be colloquially put, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Like most folks, I thought this was perhaps the most famous of the legendary Yogi Berra’s quirky sayings. Google this, and you’ll find out that maybe it was, sort of, but not exactly . . . But the saying most certainly became the title of a 1991 song by Lenny Kravitz.

In any case, it’s true. The song, the story, the life, is not over until the very end. And, even then, Christ’s people are trusting their Savior for the kind of wonderful life, real life, that never ends and is only the beginning of the most beautiful song of all.

That’s worth remembering always. It is particularly worth remembering when the notes of your present “song” are sad and difficult, maybe even heartbreaking. Just ask God for the courage to sing the next note, to wait for the music to play out. The times when it’s hardest to wait are the very times when waiting is most important.

The great old Scottish author and preacher George MacDonald is pointing us to deep truth when he says, “The glad creator never made man for sorrow: it is but a stormy strait through which he must pass to his ocean of peace. He makes the joy the last in every song.”

Wait for it. The joy, the beauty—much more than you can begin to imagine—will come. No one who has trusted him with the music has ever been disappointed.  


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 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

We’re All Looking for Home

I don’t know why, but I found myself recently looking at some Google Maps views of an old house.

How, I wondered, could it be that old? It was the house that was “my” house, my home, from the moment Mom and Dad brought me home from Amarillo’s original Northwest Texas Hospital. It remained my house for all of my school years.

I knew every nick in those wooden floors (Mom would pour wax on the floor and send us off with old towels; we’d spin around on hands and knees as human buffing machines) and every inch of its old paneling. I remember pulling kitchen chairs up to the sink where my two years younger brother and I would squabble over who washed and who dried the dishes. I remember the family table and, above it on the wall, the print of Warner Sallman’s famous “Head of Christ” painting.

I even remember my tricycle, believe it or not. Jim had a smaller one, red and white. Mine was orange and white and a little larger. I remember getting my chins bruised when I’d head down the little hill at the end of the driveway and try, too soon, to get my feet back on the pedals. Oh, and I remember our skateboards. Two by fours with metal skates nailed to the boards. A sidewalk pebble could fling you into next week.

I remember the tree houses Jim and I built in the back yard and the way we’d string rope from one old elm tree to another to build tents and play with the cool stuff we bought at the old Army Surplus store on Georgia Street. Grenades were not sold there, so we just used dirt clods from the alley when battles called for them.

A good family friend, Lee Meadows, worked at the hospital, and he donated to us the bottom frame of an old hospital meal cart. It came with four five- or six-inch wheels, two stationary and two free-wheeling. We rigged a top for it out of scrap lumber, and we’d take turns, one sprawled out on the top and one of us pushing as fast as he could down the driveway and then spinning the thing to see how centrifugal force would affect the rider. It was cheaper than Disneyland. (And we were as likely to go to the moon as to Disneyland.)

I’ll never forget some wonderful snowy days when we could open our bedroom windows, pull off the screens, and launch ourselves out of the house and down snow slides. My lifelong love affair with snow started in Amarillo. (Mom and Dad had already had three kids. After #3, they waited fifteen years to get it right with me. Then quality control botched it with Jim. By the time we came along, they were tired, and we got away with a lot.)

I remember fond hours spent in the garage and creating all sorts of experiments and a few minor explosives on the old workbench (it was scorched by a lab fire or two). We made use of a chemistry set augmented by chemicals we could buy at Jack Bell’s Pharmacy over on Line Avenue.

I recall our “territory” expanding from the house and its yard to the neighborhood, enlarging as we grew. We were particularly fond of what we called “alley-ratting,” which meant checking out the neighbors’ trash. The neighbor directly across the alley, Mr. Sarpolis (Google “Doc” Sarpolis, and you’ll find he was rather amazing, though we didn’t know it), smoked cigars that came in glass tubes, and those became test tubes for our endeavors. We found a lot of great stuff. (These days, you’d probably prick your finger on a needle and catch a dread disease.)

And I could write a book about our dear next door friends, Harold & Phyllis Harris. I think I loved their teenage daughter, Pam, even before I fell in love with Doris Day.

Jim and I often played at West Hills Park, just another street down from the house. Later, we’d become businessmen with two newspaper routes (in the days when you had to put the paper on the porch and not just somewhere in the vicinity of the property). We threw papers for years, starting out on foot, graduating to bicycles and, finally, a VW beetle.

Eventually, paper route customers became lawn care customers. And a few years later, we found employment working after school on the greens at the nearby Amarillo Country Club.

But the little house on Goliad Street was the center of it all. Home base.

Okay, I begin to see now how the house could be called old. But, honestly, it really looks today very much like it did in my growing up years, though improved. The dear friends my folks sold it to took great care of it and raised their own family there.

The more I think about that place, the more stories come to mind. How time passes!

I don’t know where you call home or where your own “home place” is; I hope it holds mostly good memories. But I do know this: home, and I mean our true Home filled with utter joy, is where, in the deepest parts of our souls, we all long to be. It’s the place we’re really searching for, consciously or not, all of our lives. And my faith is in the One who promises to lead us all the way Home.

I’ll bet my old home has had quite a few new floor coverings since I was there. I wonder, but I’ll bet that, down on the wooden floor underneath the new stuff, right in front of the wall where the old upright piano stood, is a greasy place marking the spot where I once dropped a plate full of my mom’s amazing enchiladas. 

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 2023 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 Could Always Be Worse”

Disgusting, this day. At least, a chunk of it. Almost, I might even say, one of those “no good, very bad” days you’ve heard about.

Oh, but it could always be worse, someone says, rather unhelpfully. Well, of all people, Christians have the very best reasons to be optimistic and positive. But I hereby confess that I have some days when, to the cheery person assuring me that “it could be worse,” my reply might be, “I believe you. I don’t doubt that it could be worse. And I would not be at all surprised if that’s exactly where ‘it’ is presently heading.”

So thanks, my optimistic friend, for trying to cheer me up. But I already feel bad about how bad I feel, and now I feel even worse. Just give me a few minutes to feel good about feeling bad, okay? Go away.

I’m writing on a Sunday. By candlelight. I led worship this morning and preached, singing and teaching about the good news, the only news that ultimately matters. But I already knew that, at the end of the service, I would need to let our folks know that a couple in our church, folks we love deeply and they, us, would soon be moving out of town. We pray that it’s a wonderful new chapter for them. But when we talk about being “a family united in Christ,” we mean it. Or, to use the Apostle Paul’s metaphor, the church is a body with many parts. Bodies can indeed lose an arm or a leg and still function, but what body ever quits missing that part? So, a loving and lovely but bittersweet morning. That is not the disgusting part. And then . . .

Then we went out to eat with a good many of our church folks. Fun time, as usual. And then . . .

Then the blasted wind really cranked up. A predicted percentage of rain here rarely produces anything but mud on the windshield. But a prediction of wretched wind (that’s a meteorological term) never misses. The wind today has been as bad as I’ve ever seen it. Horrible. Unrelenting. Dirty brown. And did I mention “disgusting”?

There is never a good time for such, and, certainly, not today.

You see, our church steeple has been trying to leave the church, and we’ve been doing all we can to convince it to stay. After lunch today, I went back by the church, and that spire was starting to dance. Our temporary best-we-could-do fix was failing. No more options. All I could do was watch it teetering. I’d have given (sorry to say) less than even odds that it would hang on all day. I love to see it pointing toward the heavens, but we had a very good chance of watching a real “steeple chase.”

I stayed at the church for a while. Leaving would feel like abandoning ship. But I soon realized that nothing could be done. A good neighbor across the street promised to call if the steeple sailed. Feeling sunk, I drove home, cursing the wind.

For a while, I could see the steeple from an upstairs window in our house. Binoculars helped. And I could see it quite literally shifting angles. And then . . .

And then the wind increased, and I could barely see across our street. Horrible! I was expecting a steeple call at any moment. And then . . .

Then the power went out. In a power outage, even sane people will stumble into a room and flip the light switch. And, in a power outage, well, if your water comes from a well, you know that no power soon means no water. (You may need to explain this to big city dwellers.) This means, among other things, that you’ve only got one or two toilet flushes until you have no toilet flushes, so you take emergency measures and soon find that flushing is also an unconscious action. You also discover that battery power on phones, iPads, computers, etc., is not unlimited. You find that you should keep candles where they can easily be found. You find that rechargeable flashlights should be recharged more often. And you find that you quickly miss, as the old ads used to say, “the convenience of electric living.”

It really has been, in some ways, pretty close to being a “no good, very bad” and disgusting day. But here’s the thing. I have friends who are presently dealing with heartbreaking grief. I have friends dealing with cancer. And I often think these days about Ukrainians dealing with death and horror and living day in and day out in danger, perhaps in rubble and without power, all because a sawed off, putrescent little dictator with a massive inferiority complex thinks he can throttle them and thumb his nose at the world. (If allowed to, he won’t be the only thug encouraged by our weakness or naïveté to try such a play nor will he stop there.)

This day could be worse. Oh, yes, it could.

It’s still blowing. Still brown, dirty, and disgusting. Even the sound is horrible and relentless.

But the power just came back on. (I’m thankful for linemen and very thankful not to be one.) And my kids and grandkids are all well and safe at home. No bombs dropping on their heads.

And our steeple is still standing. Maybe it will make it through the night. We’ll soon know. But whatever happens, the One to whom it has pointed for decades is still the Father who loves us even on our worst days.

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 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 Job for a Steeple Stabilizer

I like steeples. I’ve always liked them. The church I grew up attending was an A-frame structure with a fellowship hall attached, and it looked like a church. But a steeple would have improved the building.

I like them. And that is one reason I was particularly hurt when our church’s steeple recently decided to consider leaving the church behind, presumably to seek spiritual care and ecclesiastical mooring elsewhere.

Okay, I will admit that steeples don’t have spirits, but they point our spirits in the right direction. No, you don’t have to tell me for the ten millionth time that the church is the people and not the facility, up to and including the steeple. But a good church (the building) is a very special place. Place matters. So much that is beautiful and holy has gone on in “our” particular place, so many amazing people have worshiped in that place, that you won’t catch me considering it “common,” though its bricks and mortar, rafters and joists, are about as common as any you’d find at Tomas’s Totally Fine Tacos.

And “recently” deserves a line or two. For years, when I’d be working on the audio-video computer, etc., up in the front part of the balcony, and the weather was windy at all (which is almost always), I’ve heard some bumping sounds that I thought were just normal building noises.

But during a recent particularly disgusting blow, I looked outside at the steeple and then decided I’d better take a look inside by removing access panels from the balcony’s ceiling. Yep, two iron brackets and their steeple-tethering bolts and nuts were moving more than you’d like for your steeple hardware to move.

This may have been happening for years. But it’s one of those things that, once you know about it, well, something needs to be done. And that is a problem.

If you become afflicted with a boil on your nose and go to an “ear, nose, and throat” physician (an otolaryngologist) seeking health and help, you are likely to be disappointed. Though you quite naturally consider the pain to be a proboscis (nose) problem and the doctor’s credentials specifically mention noses, the nose guy will probably blow you off and send you to a dermatologist.

And what about a steeple guy or gal? Were we in New England where beautiful steeples abound, I think we could find some bona fide steeple specialists. But we’re not. The best we can find might be folks whose work very occasionally involves steeples. They like doing roofs. Or they like doing carpentry. But steeples? Not so much.

If you’re a steeple specialist and you read this, please call me. The last time I was up on the roof doing external steeple work—just replacing lights—I was moved to prayer. And I resolved it was the last time. (Not for prayer.) Even from the inside, I’ve already done more work temporarily “shimming” those iron braces than I’d really care to. If you hear of a pastor being rescued by the fire department as he was stuck up inside a steeple, you’ll know I made a very poor decision.

Steeple amputation is something we’re not considering. That church was built for and with a steeple. Some churches are not, and that’s fine. Some churches (as in, the people) have done an amazingly fine job with buildings of all sorts.

Nothing matters, of course, if the church’s first and deepest love is not Christ. But I wish all well, whatever their style in worship or architecture, whatever their number in attendance, who proclaim his name.

I will admit that I don’t care much for the presently popular “church in a box” architecture coupled with the meant-to-be-exciting, trendy, one-word church name, all of which could easily belong to one of the presently popular “houses of worship” built to enshrine various sports endeavors. It all seems so canned, shallow, and temporary.

If a church proclaims Christ, the fully human, fully divine Son of God as Lord, I rejoice.

But if I ever am involved in building a church (as in, the building), though such architecture is presently unpopular, it will have a steeple, bells (as in a carillon system that sounds like bells which is about as much as most of us could afford), and, very likely, kneelers, since bodies and spirits are connected and kneeling is good.

In any case, I very much hope that our steeple chooses to remain with its present congregation. And, yes, if you’re a plumber with a steeple-stabilizing side job and you’re good at it, please call me. I’ll have my cell phone even if I’m up inside the steeple.

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 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.

Super Bowl LVII Is Now History

I was sick and missed school for a day or two in Second Grade when the teacher who followed Mrs. Blackburn was teaching our class about Roman numerals. I don’t remember her name, though I’m sure she was a great teacher. The fact is that Mrs. Blackburn was beautiful and kind, and I was in love with her. Since she left us to give birth, I seem to have had a rival.

In any case, I was left with a seriously broken heart. But it wasn’t my heartit was a virus—that caused me to miss the lessons on Roman numerals. I’ve done my makeup work since then, but I’m still a bit weak on the subject, which means that I am sometimes a bit slow in finding the right chapter in excellent old Bible commentaries and in Super Bowls. As I write, Super Bowl LVII (that would be 57) was played yesterday, but I mistakenly called it Super Bowl 52 (that would be LII) a couple of times before the game started.

By the way, do you remember who won Super Bowl LII or even who the teams were? I’m sure some of you do, but I don’t have a clue. Who was the famous football player who was asked by a sports announcer if he thought that year’s Super Bowl was the “ultimate game ever”? Well, he was very pleased to be there, but the player simply replied, “Did they play the game last year? Will they play the game next year? [Pause.] Well.” Perspective is good.

That said, I thought yesterday’s Super Bowl Fifty-Something (make that LVII) was an incredibly good—yea, verily, even great—game. Granted, my opinion here is worth incredibly little. I’d rather watch an old John Wayne movie than most sporting events of any sort (unless I’ve got kids or grandkids playing), and I think anyone who pays the price charged for Super Bowl game tickets is certifiably insane. I’d pay not to go and to be able, instead, to watch the game at home on a good TV with good friends, good food, and a pillow thirty paces away and ready for use when it’s over. And that’s what I did.

But, as worthless as my opinions here really are, here are a few observations.

I enjoyed watching a game where the opposing quarterbacks were both exceptionally classy guys with deep respect for each other. Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) and Jalen Hurts (Eagles) are both winners.

Folks always like to fuss about officiating, but, at this level, I think the officials are almost always incredibly professional. And one of the classiest things I heard after the game came from Eagles cornerback James Bradberry who drew a game-altering holding penalty very late in the game. When asked about it after the game, Bradberry just said, “It was a holding. I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide.” Ya gotta appreciate a guy who just tells the truth and won’t whine.  

Of course, there’s more to a Super Bowl game than the game. A few of the commercials were funny. Automakers hawking electric cars are still full of prunes, in my opinion. And I’m inclined to think that the “He Gets Us” Jesus commercials are really quite (surprisingly) good and more than defensible.

Ah, and don’t forget the Halftime Show. I’d really rather forget most of them. They make me cringe, and I very much doubt they’ll ever feature any “star” whose music I enjoy.

By the way, I very much enjoyed hearing Chris Stapleton sing the national anthem. I wish he’d sung the halftime show. But I guess he’d have looked silly in a red costume like Rihanna’s. It would be a bust indeed if he sang in a red plastic bra, though some such is probably on the way for a year or two from now. 

The announcers said that Rihanna’s show was loved by jillions of folks tweeting cheers. The folks at my house just endured one more such show knowing we’d eventually get through the 29 minutes. I’ll admit that flying the singers and gyraters around was impressive. I still haven’t figured out the white, baggy ski-suit folks. I’ve heard people say they were sort of video game characters and that was the vibe being attempted. They reminded me of bleached Star Wars Jawas (Google it). Anyway, if the choice was to watch a 2024 Presidential Debate featuring a rematch between (please, no!) Elmer Fudd and Jabba the Hutt (Google them and then tell me the characters and politicians don’t fit), I might rather endure a Super Bowl halftime show. For me, “endure” is almost always the right word.

Anyway, Super Bowl LVII, 57, Fifty-seven, is now history. Ya never know exactly what to expect when these roll around. Kind of like life, I guess. Big wins, big losses. Tears of joy, tears of sorrow.

I wish both quarterbacks could have won. The Kelce boys, one on each team, had parents who were proud of them. Mom cheered from a luxury box; Dad, from the stands.

I hope you know that you’ve got a Father who’s incredibly fond of you and cheering you on in a far more important game.

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 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.

Pigs, the Space Station, and Perspective

Perspective. It matters. You’ve heard the “ham and egg breakfast” wisdom? The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. (Of course, these days, anyone who needs eggs is pretty committed, too.)

Point of view. How we see. What we see. How we evaluate what we see.

I was out in the backyard one recent evening trying to catch a glimpse of the International Space Station zooming by. And I wasn’t just looking up and hoping for luck.

A couple of years ago when my brother told me that NASA would send you emails or texts regarding dates and times to see the space station flying overhead, I signed up. (You can, too, at https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/.)

So, yes, I was outside that night. Not very late, but very dark. Pretty cold. Staring out toward the northwest, about ten degrees above the horizon. That’s approximately a couple of handwidths high at about five degrees per hand. Just extend your arms all the way out and pretend to be measuring a horse. Your arms need to be extended all the way out or your perspective will be messed up. One hand. Two hands. Stop. (Notice that I’m slipping in the word “perspective” here on purpose.)

According to NASA, when the space station is visible at night, it’s the third brightest object in the sky. And it’s most certainly the fastest moving object visible in the sky. Fast moving and quickly gone. You usually have 3-6 minutes to catch a glimpse of it as it blazes across the black velvet.

So I was outside. Looking out toward the northwest, as that email notification advised. And there it was! No doubt about it. Bright, check. Fast, check.

Of course, I’d seen it before. But what I saw that night was a bit unusual.

First, a couple of planets appear unusually bright this month, and I almost mistook one of them for the space station. Almost that bright, it was not sky-streaking. And I’m pretty sure it was a good bit farther away. Ya think?

Second, a plane was flying by as I’d spotted the real space station. From the ground, it looked like they were going to pass dangerously close to each other. NASA and the FAA were gonna have a hard time explaining such a mid-air collision. Maybe they’d issue a press release like all organizations do when they’ve messed up. The standard lawyer, risk management, cover your tail section, verbosity: “Please be assured that safety is our primary concern, and in our tireless and unending efforts to serve you better . . .” We blew it. But we can’t exactly say that.

But you already know that such an air disaster is not going to happen. It’s much more likely that Trump and Biden would embrace, uttering to each other words of heartfelt admiration, and ride off together into the sunset.

Nah, no mid-air collision. Just an odd perspective that evening.

As I watched, the space station flew into the branches of one of our big trees and was lost.


Well, I did lose it in the tree. I kept looking for it past the three promised minutes of visibility. I knew that tree could eat a kite, but I never expected it to obliterate a space station. That’s crazy, you say?

Well, I’m just reporting on what I saw. My shivering “guy on the ground” perspective. Of a planet. A plane. A tree. A space station. And three contradictory and reality-challenged views.

Notice that reality is not changed even a little by a skewed perspective. Remember “the blind men and the elephant”? One, feeling the elephant’s leg proclaimed the beast to be tree-like; another, feeling its trunk, was sure it must be snakelike.

And all of this leaves me wondering. Not about chickens and pigs, space shuttles and trees, or blind folks and elephants.

Nor does it leave me truly wondering about reality. Real is real. Truth is true. You don’t get your own reality or your own truth any more than you get your own personal law of gravity; neither do I. Both are, I believe, rooted in God’s very nature.

Genuine truth is not changed by the depth or intensity of our feelings about it. Like this or not, some opinions regarding truth are closer to the mark than some others. And that matters. A map that’s accurate is a blessing. A map that’s largely erroneous is misleading and dangerous.

But just a little thinking of the kind we’ve been doing here should add a good bit of humility, mercy, understanding, and grace to . . . our perspectives. If our Creator’s view is, as his people have always believed, not limited at all, no wonder our Father is the God both of all Truth and of all Grace. No wonder. But it’s the greatest wonder of all.

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 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.

Right on Time, Here Comes Punxsutawney Phil

When I start writing about the weather, my readers might logically suppose that I’m feeling uninspired, dull and unimaginative, and short of things to write about. They would be right. My apologies.

Strange. I just looked back at a few old columns (I’ve got well over a thousand of them), and I see that on several occasions, about this time of year, I’ve written about the weather. So maybe I’m on track. And so is the year. Right on track.

Christmas is over. That’s depressing. The decorations are down. That’s depressing. I’m working on taxes. That’s depressing. It’s been January for almost a whole month. Aside from a few birthday bright spots, January is, to me, depressing—except for the theoretical possibility of snow, the most beautiful weather-wonder our Creator ever creates.

Full disclosure: I’m the grandson of a rancher, but I do not have cattle, or I might be less excited about the white stuff.

It has, thus far, and yet again, been a wimpy winter in my neck of the woods. I’m not qualified to discuss the reasons why. I’m not terribly conversant about La Niña or El Niño. I have some opinions about climate change and weather patterns and how much we humans affect such, but I’m not religious about those opinions. I can, however, smell climate politics. 

Convocations of very religious folks (most of whom wouldn’t admit their religion is a religion) remind me, as I’ve mentioned before, of gnats congregating on an elephant’s posterior debating how to best save the elephant. I doubt if he knows or cares. I could be wrong.

I remember when many experts were wringing their hands over the population crisis, by which they meant, too many folks. Now we’re hearing scary stuff about the opposite. I don’t doubt that climate patterns change. But what to do? I don’t know, and I figure that by the time they come up with an electric pickup I’d want to buy, my kids will have confiscated my driving license. I am, however, concerned that the more real danger is that, busy sanctimoniously “saving the world,” we allow real enemies to make a bigger mess of it while we’re worried that our popsicles might melt. I could be quite wrong.    

I am not a meteorologist or the son of a meteorologist. My only qualification to have an opinion at all is that I like seasons, and I like them best when they behave like the seasons they are. If I wanted perpetual spring, I would live . . . elsewhere.

Each season has just claim to fame but winter may be my favorite. Of course, it’s working at an unfair advantage: it’s got Christmas. And, at least when my wife and I go to the mountains to get it, winter has that snow I mentioned. And roaring fireplaces. And skiing. And hot chocolate. And books by fireplaces.

But in my opinion, this winter, despite a few very, very cold days (we’re in the midst of some as I write) has been wimpy and windy. Almost—and I find this chilling—springlike. Not “springlike” as in birdies singing, trees budding out, new life bursting forth from the ground. No. Picture rodents and small children flying around in the atmosphere as acres of parched land rise up to switch counties. Springlike. And the real thing will be here soon enough.

We surely don’t need “Goliath” type blizzards (December 2015), but I’m always a bit disappointed when winter in these parts consists of about 62 flakes of dry snow. Wimpy.

So I’ll be watching with interest as the redoubtable rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, emerges on February 2, Groundhog Day. I hope he sees his shadow. If we can get the real thing, a little more winter is fine with me. By the way, those who keep track of such things say that Phil’s prediction is reliably unreliable. But it’s fun.

If you’re a beach person, we’re still friends. If you worry about cow flatulence, I’m sorry that you have to deal with such anxiety. Our faith—the kind that really matters—is not dependent upon our climate agreement. We might disagree on how best to do so, but folks with faith in our Creator all agree that he did an amazing job spinning this globe, and we should do our best not to mess it up.

I hope our trust is in the Author of life and all seasons. Whatever the weather (forgive me if I’m tempted to cross my fingers here regarding blowing dust and wind), our Creator makes “everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

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 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

January 20: Penguin Awareness Day

I may need to apologize to a penguin.

Are you aware that Friday, January 20, 2023, was Penguin Awareness Day? I wasn’t, either, until I ran across a “news” blurb flashing across one of my screens late that day, and by then it was too late to do anything very practical about it. (And I just assumed that most likely the event was designed to help people to be more aware of penguins and not for penguins to be more aware of their surroundings lest they step into traffic or something.)

Greeting card companies probably have some (overpriced) cards for that day. Black and white. Maybe tuxedos with black tie ribbons? I could have bought one had I not been so callously unaware of the special day. Better yet, I could have spent the entire day in heightened awareness of the particular difficulties faced by penguins in our modern world. At least, I could have posted well wishes on Facebook. Maybe “liked” or “loved” some awareness-provoking pictures of penguins. Alas, too late.

I figured I had two good options. I could make it a point to apologize in person to the very next penguin I bumped into, or I could just wait until next year’s Penguin Awareness Day and do something really special. Whichever comes first.

My oversight was nothing personal. As far back as I can recall, I’ve had nothing but the warmest feelings toward penguins and, indeed, the whole penguin community.

I assume they have one. A community, I mean. We all seem to have a “community” these days. The right-handed community. The left-handed community. The right-handed and green-eyed people who like chocolate community.

Anyway, I’ve made a special note on my phone’s calendar marking January 20 for those specially-beloved waddlers lest I blow right past their official day yet again.

Ah, but my callous oversight has made me think. Wondering what other special days I might be sauntering past with nary a thought regarding their specialness, I did some Internet searching. Turns out that there’s not a day in the year that’s not been designated as a special day. If you don’t believe it, navigate over to HolidaySmart.com and browse a bit.

The folks at that website somehow neglected to mention that January 11 is my birthday, but they did tip their hat to that auspicious calendar square as being, among other claims to fame, Hot Toddy Day. Good to know.

Just for fun, I looked up my younger brother’s birthday. Cheddar Day. I’ll send him cheese if he’ll send me . . .

As exhaustive (and exhausting) as that website is (I mean, you can’t take a breath on any day and not be trampling on top of somebody’s “day”), it’s quite thorough. I did notice, though, that they completely overlooked Hobbit Day, Sept. 22. (You can look it up.)

With apologies again to penguins, I give up. I plan to try to act like my littlest grandkids and recognize every day as a special day, a day given to them by God to use to run and laugh and play and hug and learn. A day from which to squeeze out every last bit of joy before getting some great sleep so you can do the same to the next one. After all, it was just the other day—a day I’d already mentally pronounced as windy, dusty, and generally unpleasant—when I heard one of those little snaggle-toothed princesses remark, “It really is kind of a beautiful day.” And in her company, ya know, it really kinda was.

I know now that the day Kendall dubbed “kind of beautiful” was also World Quark Day, and Tin Can Day, and Good Memory Day. That last was right on target. But she’s already told me a bunch of times on more than a few days, “Today’s my best day.”

Come to think of it, that’s not at all a bad thing to note on a calendar. I think it even overshadows Penguin Awareness Day. No offense meant to the penguin community.

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 2023 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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