Monthly Archives: May 2012

Freedom Is a Costly and Precious Gift

I am writing this column on a beautiful and calm morning. It’s a holiday, and I’m planning to be seriously involved in doing almost nothing serious today.

I’ve watered the fresh concrete in my driveway, trying to help it cure slowly and hoping to get it to grow. So far, that’s worked.

I’m sitting on the back patio, life-giving coffee and a deadly pellet gun on the table by my side. The coffee?  Well, everyone knows it’s foolish to try to write without coffee. And the pellet gun? Well, grackles occasionally show up to try to eat my dog food and chase off civilized birds. I’ve heard some of those nasty grackle-birds are endangered. I doubt it, but with all of my heart, I hope so. They’ll be more endangered if my aim is good today.

Today is Memorial Day. It’s a special day when we especially remember the sacrifice of those who have risked, and many lost, their lives and liberty to keep us free. To remember means to think.

Being still and enjoying time like this is something we should do more of. Thinking tends to happen on the rare occasions when we stop “doing” long enough to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

As I was thinking some this morning about those who have given life and liberty to safeguard the life and liberty which are God’s gifts to us, I thought of a short radio speech given almost 90 years ago in England.

Winston Churchill was talking about “The Causes of War.” He said that many people are convinced that the best way to avoid war is to “dwell upon its horrors,” to spend a lot of time talking about and focusing visually and rhetorically on the horrible cost of war in bloodshed and suffering. Yes, he said, such focus may indeed have genuine value in keeping civilized people from invading and subjugating other nations.

But it is very little help at all when rogue nations with power hungry and blood-thirsty leaders attack others. As we now know, to endlessly negotiate with a Hitler is as effective on the world scene as giving moving speeches on the playground to the school bully. Bullies like to talk. It gives them more time to brutalize the weak, and is very encouraging to them as it proves beyond any doubt the weakness of the speaker.

Oh, yes, Churchill allowed, it’s a fine thing to remind ourselves never to attack and pillage other peace-loving nations and to negotiate solutions to reasonable differences with other civilized nations.

But how do you effectively deal with nations who laugh at the idea of freedom and whose brutal and truly evil leaders gobble up and enslave nation after nation? Very differently.

Freedom is God’s gift to us, and it is precious. Thank God for all those, and their families, who have paid a very real price so that we can live in a land with mornings like this one.



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

It’s No Secret: I Love the Church!


I love the church! Not just (just?) the church universal, that marvelous and miraculous Body of Christ composed of all God’s children, everyone who ever has or ever will wear Christ’s name, all the sons and daughters of God . . . Oh, I love “that” church, too.

But I also love the local expressions of that Body, the little bands of disciples—all of them small indeed compared to the grand Body from which they spring—working in a million places to glorify God and share Christ’s love. I love the church.

Oh, I know, loving the church is not always in style. Lots of “Baby Boomers” like me, sentenced to too much time in the 60s and 70s, find it hard to trust any institution. (And it IS unwise to completely trust the human side of even a divine institution.) Some folks, also like me, grew up in “separatist” traditions or groups who tended to talk more about “the church” than they did about the Lord of the church.

For lots of reasons, it’s easy to lose respect for the church as seen in her all-too-human local expressions. Some lose respect for the church in general because many churches are small, and our culture only respects “large.” Some folks point to little churches that seem short-sighted and poorly “run.” And some are. Some lose respect because some large churches seem so plastic and choreographed that they feel fake. Yes, and some are, and could put on a fine show without God at all.

And we all know that when bad things happen in the church, the spectacle is particularly unseemly. When a church gets caught up in power struggles all dressed up as pious piffle, or divides and walls itself off from the rest of the Body over molehills of supposed “doctrine” masquerading as mountains . . . When “issues” prance around like the old naked emperor with no clothes, most sensible folks (in the church or outside it) see how bad that looks. It’s like a hairy wart on Miss America’s nose or, sadder still, a cow patty dropped on top of a luscious cheesecake. It’s all the more ugly because we know how beautiful it can and should be.

But I still love the church. I’ve seen her beauty. I’ve felt the warmth of her embrace and seen the depth of her love, and the very best blessings of my life have been gifts from the Lord given through her hands.

I love the church, and I love the little church I’m a part of, and I hope you love yours. Through our doors and into our “family” have come F-16 pilots and janitors, 4-pound newborns and 103-year-old little ladies, teachers and farmers and brand new parents and brand new great-grandparents and . . . Well, an amazingly diverse group of folks!

Each Sunday young families do the hard work of rounding up and dressing up the precious little rug-rats and heading through these doors. Much older folks navigate via walker and wheelchair to these pews. Folks in every stage of life between infancy and antiquity come in to honor their Lord, to be a blessing and to receive a blessing.

And yet again I am amazed at what the Lord of the church does in the lives of his people.

I love the church!



Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

God’s People Are “More Than Conquerors”


When St. Paul stakes with words God’s claim of sovereignty over the circumstances of our lives and proclaims the Almighty’s promise of ever-present and never-failing love, the great apostle does so with his eyes wide open.

“What can separate us from the love of Christ?” he asks, and when he lists among the weapons of the enemy, “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword,” his list is much more than hypothetical. These are the words of a man who has opened his eyes on many mornings and seen these very darts of Satan aimed ominously in his direction.

Long before Peter Jackson’s breathtaking motion picture trilogy captivated the hearts of theatre audiences, The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien was my all-time favorite book. (Tolkien thought of it as one but the publisher thought one massive volume would be massively daunting to readers, and it became three books). I’d far rather spend one day in a hobbit hole with Frodo Baggins than a week in a mansion with any king or president or head of state I can think of.

Some of my favorite lines in the first of the trilogy’s books,  The Fellowship of the Ring, are these as the faithful dwarf Gimli comments to the king of the elves: “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” And Elrond the king answers, “Maybe, but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.”

The Apostle Paul had seen the nightfall. He’d seen trouble, hardship, persecution, and all the rest. He’d been on the receiving end of the very worst of Satan’s weapons. And that makes his resounding affirmation of faith all the more impressive and trustworthy. No empty words, his.

Paul had indeed seen the nightfall, but still he writes with utter confidence, not in his own strength but in the strength of his King: “No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God!

God’s people are more than conquerors even in the midst of tragedy when tears seem to be more constant than any other companion. God wraps us up in a Father’s embrace in the midst of our tears, and the Almighty cries with us. Remember Jesus’ tears before the tomb of Lazarus?

God’s people are more than conquerors even as they are lying flat on their backs wracked with the pain of physical disease because they know that through Christ all pain and suffering will one day be forever banished and, even now,  the disease that can kill our bodies can never kill souls filled with God’s genuine life, and one day death itself will forever die.

God’s people are more than conquerors, and nothing in all of creation or beyond can take away the victory that is ours in Christ Jesus.




Copyright 2012 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 Fallen World Is Out of Kilter, But One Day . . .


“The Online Etymology Dictionary.”

That’s the name of a website I discovered recently. No, it’s not a site devoted to knowledge about bugs. That’s “entomology.” Etymology is indeed a “-logy” so it’s “the science of” something. But not creepy-crawlies. Etymology is the science of word derivations. The site’s owners describe it as “a map of the wheel-ruts of modern English.” Nicely put.

I’m glad somebody created such a site. I’m imagining them as a group of under-appreciated, underpaid, societally under-valued, mildly depressive but devoted English majors who are also afflicted with the kind of itch history helps scratch.

Even for a society on technological steroids, it’s probably good to keep around a few of the old fossils just described. Math and science folks help us know how to go really fast and do cool stuff. Humanities folks help answer pesky questions about which direction we’re going and what cool stuff is worth doing (and where there’ve been wrecks we maybe should avoid).

I feel better just knowing that the Online Etymology Dictionary is available and doing good work for humanity. It’d be a shame for some fine old English words and phrases to be lost or orphaned and nobody know from whence they came. Sometimes a phrase comes along and just begs you to try to meet its parents by following the wheel ruts back up the road a bit. I was grabbed by just such a phrase recently, and that’s when I discovered this site.

If something is “out of working order or alignment,” “out of order,” “not in good condition,” we might say, “It’s out of whack.” But we’re just as likely to say, “It’s out of kilter.” We know what that means. But why does it mean what it means? What, pray tell, is the “kilter” something might be “out of”?

My money was on “kilter” being an old nautical term. I like old nautical terms. But no. Or maybe a surveyor’s or navigator’s term. Nope.

I learned that the phrase first shows up in the 1620’s. “Kilter” is a variant of the English “kelter” which pops up around 1600 and means “good condition, order.”

But why does it mean that? The word was sired somewhere! You never met a word without some verbal ancestors. Alas, this one is short on birth records. That’s too bad, because it’s a cool word and part of a great phrase. It’s a shame Al Gore wasn’t around to invent the Internet a few hundred years earlier. Maybe if the Online Etymology Dictionary had been around a good bit longer, a good phrase wouldn’t be so sadly orphaned and, just maybe, the world would be a little less “out of kilter.”

I hope you’re not feeling “out of kilter.” Yes, we live in an “out of kilter” world. But we can thank our Father for the gift he gave to be sure that one day, pure joy and complete goodness and order will reign, and nothing and nobody will ever again be out of . . .

Well, you know.




Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

%d bloggers like this: