Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Rule That Will Bless Us: No Whining Allowed

My mother-in-law has just moved from her apartment down and around the corner from our house, where she moved around five years ago, to assisted living in a community about 75 miles away.

I don’t like it much. I know—we’ve all heard the jokes about mothers-in-law. And, yes, I’m afraid we’ve all seen some who deserved both to be the brunt of jokes and to be drop-kicked a blessed distance away.

But by far most of the mothers-in-law that I’ve known actually do the job quite well and are a major blessing. And I’m convinced that mine is the best of all. Vernell simply amazes me, and from the first moment over 37 years ago when it began to look like I might become her son-in-law, I knew for sure I was getting the better end of the bargain.

I would describe her first as Christlike, and that means loving and unselfish and grateful and winsome and . . . all sorts of good things. I could talk for a very long time about all the good things she is.

But one thing keeps occurring to me, and it centers on what she is not and never has been. She has never been a whiner. (I wish I was more like her!)

Dr. Charles Siburt, a truly amazing Christian man, professor, minister mentor, church fuss mediator, etc., passed away recently, and a friend of mine remembered him saying this: “There is no way to modulate the human voice so as to make whining an acceptable sound.”

My mother-in-law would have liked him. Vernell is one of the most patient and forgiving people I have ever known, but my wife, truly her daughter in this respect as well, will tell you that her mother has never had much patience for whining or whiners. Juana remembers, for example, coming home from school as a child and starting to fuss about a situation, another student, or a teacher.

“Now, Juana . . .” her mother would say, and then give a lesson on “Why We Don’t Whine, Why Whining Is Obnoxious, and Why You Are Never Allowed to Become a Whiner.” She didn’t actually give the sermon a title, but that’s what the lesson was. For most of the rest of my wife’s childhood, two words were all her mother had to say to silence completely any whiny utterance: “Now, Juana . . .”

The gift Vernell gave her daughter has been passed on. My sons and I know quite well that if we feel like whining, we’d better look elsewhere than to the wife and mom who loves us too much to let us get in the habit of emitting whiny sounds.

Vernell has buried two fine husbands, and she genuinely grieved, but I’ll always remember what she said: “I don’t like this, but if I were the only one this had ever happened to, I might have a reason to complain.” Wow.

She will be happy in her new home. You can count on it. She plans to be.

It’s okay for us to be sad that she won’t be as close by. Healthy tears are allowed. Just not whining.



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.

Adam and Eve’s Kids All Harbor Delusions of Divinity


We are most certainly Adam’s kids, are we not?

It’s part and parcel of the sinful human nature, this desire that we all have—even those of us who have bowed to the lordship of Christ—to want our own way more than we want our Creator’s. Like Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost who would rather “reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” I like being my own boss. In the final analysis, what that really means is that I harbor delusions of divinity, which is as crazy as it is sinful.

But I’m not God.

I can’t make myself one second younger, a fact I noticed as I had occasion to walk through the doors of a funeral home recently and saw a gray-haired guy staring back out of the reflective glass—as if the funeral home wasn’t itself reminder enough of coming attractions!

I can’t manufacture one sunset or blanket even an acre of this world’s real estate in white snow. I don’t have any idea how long the proper gestation period is for mountain goats, or what kind of food a three-toed sloth likes best. Given about two minutes in charge, I’d make a mess out of running this world. Barney Fife did a better job of running the Sheriff’s Office in Mayberry for a couple of hours while Andy was gone than I’d do running the world. And Barney almost destroyed the town!

Sometimes I think I can run my own life. Why would I think that? I couldn’t even make my family’s fleet of automobiles all run at the same time while we had teenagers at home.

And in front of my chair is another great example. I’m sure I remember having a desk here. Maybe I still do. Somewhere. Files and folders are stacking up. Post-it notes are piled up half an inch thick. Even after I’ve tossed, filed, and arranged a bunch of it, it still needs more rearranging than I presently have time to give it.

I know from past experience that even my best attempts at achieving some kind of order are still pathetic and will be all for naught in about ten minutes. Sometime late at night when no one is at the church, gremlins—or maybe, more appropriately, church mice—will appear in this room and throw paper everywhere. Somehow those mice will multiply the stuff on my desk. They’ll throw some kind of chemical in the trash basket to set off a chemical reaction causing paper to start bubbling over the edges. And they are particularly bad about hiding stuff. These mice are maddening!

So, back to those delusions of divinity . . .

Forget it! It’s a full-time job just to keep my desk clean, and I fail miserably. So I’m trying to remember that keeping this world spinning, and keeping my life running as it should, is work for Someone far bigger than me.



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.

Experts Are Never in Short Supply


We don’t hear much about surpluses these days. Shortages, yes. Surpluses, no. But I suppose one thing will never be in short supply. We may even have a surplus of . . . experts.

Flip on any channel. Lift up any rock. Look around any corner. And you’ll find yourself eyeball to eyeball with an expert.

Looks like a great job, if you can get it. Granted, folks who are the “genuine article”—really proficient and knowledgeable in their field—pay a high price to earn the term (and are usually slow to accept it).

But folks eager and willing to wear the “title” are easy to find. Whether you’re coaching or teaching or preaching or retailing or farming or . . . well, just about anything else, experts abound. Long on opinion. Short on training and experience. But  ubiquitous and possessed of an astounding propensity for volume.

Sometimes I just think we have too many of them, and I know we do when I fall to the temptation to become one of them myself on pretty much any issue.

I do wonder about them.

If you’ve had your TV on at all recently, you’ve seen scads of political ads. Have you noticed how many are negative? The experts say those ads work. I know they work on me. They make me long for a “None of the Above” option at the voting booth. My non-expert opinion is that any expert who tells a candidate to go negative ought to be fired and forced to find useful employment actually producing something of value.

Economic experts will also tell you, at least this week, I think, that inflation is under control. I wonder about that expert opinion. But maybe they’re right. I do seem to be noticing a considerable amount of “deflation” recently. (Andy Rooney used to do a fine job on this kind of stuff. Alas, . . .)

Have you noticed?

At first, I wondered why the toilet paper roll in our bathroom was scooting back and forth on its little TP roll holder. Because it has shrunk, that’s why. The roll is narrower than it used to be.

Still in the bathroom, I opened the cabinet to get out a bar of soap. The package is the same, but the soap almost knocked the end out of its box before I opened it. It’s bumping around in there, a lot smaller than it used to be.

And now, let’s talk about really serious stuff. I popped a frozen corn dog into the toaster oven the other day and suddenly realized that the poor dog has been bobbed! Who committed that atrocity?

Yeah, and we all know that we may indeed scream for ice cream, but while we’re at it, we oughta scream a little at the makers who abandoned the good ol’ half gallon for the metric system and a lot less. They’re selling air anyway, but now we get a lot less of it. (The folks who keep the full deal and make that an ad pitch not only make some of the best ice cream, they’re smart.)

None of this shrinking stuff ever affects the size of the price, and I wonder: Do these companies have experts who tell them that most consumers are blind and dumb and just won’t notice?

Thank the Lord indeed that one thing will never shrink, never be in short supply, and always be priceless but freely given. God’s love.




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.

When All Boats Leak, Any Boat Beats Treading Water

I confess. It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone can be completely convinced that their Christian tradition is absolutely the best, 100% on target, and exactly “the one” regarding which the God of the universe would say, “Yep, you folks have got everything right. Everybody else who is saved will be saved just by the skin of their teeth, but you folks have it right. I’m really proud of you.”

The Apostle Paul made it pretty clear that none of us “gets it right” and that the only way anybody will be saved is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. The playing field is absolutely level, and we’re all, apart from the grace of God, a bunch of sorry losers whose performance on the field is shabby at best. The Good News is that because of what Christ has done on the cross, the focus is no longer on us, it’s on God! If we can just get over ourselves, we’ll realize that when we as God’s people foul up, which is often, we should thank God for his grace and get up and go on. And when we do well, we should thank God for his power at work within us that makes anything good possible. Either way, the focus is on him.

To use a musical analogy, because of what Christ has done on the cross, the focus is not on the note I just mis-played or even on the fine performance I may have tooted with my little horn. The focus is on the Composer/Conductor who is the One behind all of the beauty of the music. That I am in the orchestra at all is an amazing tribute to his mercy and grace.

And what about that little section of the orchestra with which I worship on Sundays? What about the brand name on the sign that “denominates” us? If my tradition is part of the Body of Christ, it’s for the very same reason that I am: grace. Not because we “got it right.” This doesn’t at all mean that we have no responsibility to render our service to God with hearts committed to pleasing him. It does mean that we realize that every prayer we pray, every sermon we preach, every song we sing, are all acceptable to him only because of his grace, not because we’ve done so well.

On the one hand, I believe that each orthodox Christian tradition has blessed us by seeing and building on some different aspects of the truth of the gospel, and anyone with an open heart can learn something good from each one. (Of course, anything any of them has built stands only if it’s built on the foundation of Christ’s cross.)

On the other hand, I don’t mean to be cynical when I say I’d bet my bottom dollar that there’s not a single one of them (including my own and yours) that wouldn’t have treated Jesus just as those very upstanding and “religious” scribes and Pharisees did 2,000 years ago. They crucified him, and we would have, too. Thank God our faith is in Christ, not in our religious tradition. And his Church is bigger than our churches.

Church-wise, all the vessels on the sea are leaky crafts. But almost any of them is a great deal better than treading water. So pray about it, get in a boat, thank the Master of the sea for it, and love your fellow sailors in all of the boats. Do all you do out of love for the Captain of all and under his power, and look to him for setting the course. Then sail on!



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.

Swimming in a Shark Tank Is Thought-provoking

Very, very little about “reality TV” is real.

Put a little lipstick on a pit bull and you’ll have something a lot more “real” and a good deal nicer than, for example, supposedly “real housewives” who are mostly collagen, silicone, high maintenance attitude, and genuinely devoid of anything genuine. But such mind-numbing voyeuristic freak show TV replicates itself at an astounding rate. “Real Housewives of Paducah”?

I suppose the “Shark Tank” series on ABC is a kind of reality TV, so I feel a little embarrassed when I’m swimming by flipping channels and that show occasionally snags me. I’ve gotten hooked a few times.

On “Shark Tank” a panel of “sharks,” successful (whatever that is) business folks who have achieved the kind of amazing success (whatever that is) that we all are supposed to desire, listen to pitches by fledgling entrepreneurs hoping to enlist some serious denarii to take their businesses or business ideas onward and upward to serious success (whatever that is).

The “sharks” are brutal in their examination of the entrepreneurs and their products/ideas. But if the sharks are convinced that the pitch has merit, they’ll offer bunches of money to the entrepreneurs (and often compete or join with each other in doing so) to get the business funded or seriously expand it. In return, they get an agreed upon share in the company and a percentage of its income.

I’ll admit, it’s interesting to watch. The business ideas are interesting, as are the entrepreneurs themselves and the evaluation of the “sharks.” If I were starting a business, I hope I’d be open to frank counsel from someone who has successfully done so.

But swimming with sharks has some inherent dangers, and it brings up some questions.

I know our society always equates success with an impressive spreadsheet and “bigger and more.” Is that all it takes to be a “success”? Is there ever a time to wisely say, “Enough”?

If you’ve got a really great idea and your product is already selling pretty well, do you really want to get in bed with a shark? (Mixed metaphor, I know.) Can you ever really trust a shark? Is working with one much fun even if it produces more dollars? How much is happiness worth to you? Even if the shark is pretty honest, have you ever known a big personality/big money shark who didn’t always honestly think that any success in a joint venture was because of him and any setbacks because of his much less savvy partner(s)? Have you ever met a shark who wasn’t at least a little, and probably a lot, dangerous?

I wonder how many of these sharks bought their “success” with a long line of wrecked relationships and broken families? Is that a price you’d be willing to pay? Who and what are you willing to sacrifice on the altar of your “success”?

Our society’s definition of success is one thing; we do well to think long and hard about God’s definition. That’s a reality check you won’t find on “reality” TV.



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.

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