Monthly Archives: October 2012

Jacob & Esau: A Tale of Two Brothers

The big, hairy, red-skinned man threw his arms around the neck of his brother and wept. He hadn’t seen the man for over twenty years, and the emotions welled up within him and overflowed.

His brother was emotional, too. He was scared spitless! The last time the one had spoken to the other it had not been with loving words. In fact, Esau had promised to throttle Jacob at the first opportunity! Jacob was fully convinced Esau had meant it.

What a change in the attitudes of the two men! And Esau noticed another change almost at once.

“Whose are all these, brother?” Esau asked, motioning toward Jacob’s four wives, twelve kids, and large flocks. Jacob had done well!

Esau hadn’t done badly, either. The four hundred armed men accompanying his brother had not escaped Jacob’s notice! Esau, too, was a wealthy man.

But the changes in the two men went much deeper than their balance sheets. Some men would have cut Jacob’s throat. On sight. On site. And not without some real justification. Years before, Esau would have. And he’d have blessed any man who’d handed him a sharp knife for the task. But not now. He’d grown beyond that.

And Jacob? Here was a changed man indeed. When Esau had last seen Jacob, this moments-younger twin of his had been working hard to live down to his name. Jacob. The “supplanter.” The grabber. The lying, conniving cheat. Jacob had cheated his brother. He had coldly but effectively lied to his blind old father. He had not been much of a man.

But Jacob was no longer Jacob. Now he was Israel, a new man.

On the night before this meeting with his brother, Jacob had met a man who frightened him far more than Esau! He had met himself. As Jacob had wrestled with the angel of God, he had wrestled with himself. He’d been forced to decide whether or not a life lived without God’s blessing was worth living. He’d made his decision and held on to the angel who could have unmade him with a word. He’d taken the chance, for once, in an unrigged game. And he was blessed.

When he limped away from the battle, he was no longer Jacob the cheat. Now he was renamed by God himself—Israel, one who wrestles with God, and one who “prevails” and wins God’s blessing.

Few of us wrestle with angels, but we all wrestle with ourselves. In one way or another, we all come to the place where we are faced with the same decision Jacob faced.

Is God’s blessing the most important thing in our lives? Is having a relationship with him worth everything? Is it worth more than life itself?

No one can answer “Yes!” and remain unchanged.




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.

“Do Not Store Up for Yourself E-mail on Earth”

“You’ve got mail!”

That was the voice AOL users like me once heard every time we checked our e-mail (and still do, if we check it on AOL’s site). I suppose it was when I started using Microsoft’s Outlook to snag the cyber-stuff that the familiar voice from my computer went largely silent. (I don’t mind Outlook not talking; I’m just pleased when it works at all.)

“You’ve got mail!”

I wasn’t aware of the name behind that voice until today: Elwood Edwards. An old article on calls Edwards “the biggest celebrity you’ve never heard of,” and it tells how his voice came to welcome AOL users some 27 million times a day.

The guy who some folks have called “the little man on my computer” is six foot six, has been general manager for a TV station in Houston, now lives in Ohio, and had long done “voice overs” for commercials and promos. His wife was working for Quantum Computer Services whose CEO was a young guy named Steve Case. She heard Case say that he wanted to add a voice to their “user interface.” She suggested her husband Elwood whose voice was soon recorded on an ordinary cassette tape recorder: “Welcome!” “You’ve got mail!” “File’s done!” “Goodbye!” Quantum eventually changed its name to America Online, and the rest is history.

The “You’ve Got Mail!” audio file is still available online in a variety of formats that can be added to some e-mail programs if you’d like to hear that old welcome again. It’s remarkable how ubiquitous and oddly comforting that old sound was for so long.

The article goes on to mention that, though Edwards has had many offers, he’s refused to use the line in any off-color way. It has been “spoofed” a good bit on talk shows, etc., and I’m sure you remember it also as the title of a very popular movie. A TV station in Chicago once got Elwood to say for them in jest, “You’ve got no mail, loser!”

If I’d heard that notification last night, I’d not have felt like a loser; I’d have felt wonderfully free! And that’s how I DID feel.

Last week, my e-mail—new, old, saved, and otherwise—was bumping up toward the 3,000 mark, multiplying like paper on my desk and all other flat surfaces, metastasizing like junk in my garage. As I’d done countless times before, I started culling through it, trying to tame it, tossing the worthless and saving the worthwhile.

Then I snapped. I just deleted it. All of it. And it feels so good, so freeing, that I think I’m about to light my desk on fire in search of that same great taste of liberty!

Didn’t Jesus say something along the lines of, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his e-mails”? And “Do not store up for yourself e-mail in cyberspace where identity thieves hack in and steal”?

I’m sure he did say something to the effect that we’ll be a lot happier in this life if we’ll learn to travel light. I’ve got a long way to go, but learning where the “delete” key is on the computer is a move in the right direction!


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.

You’re invited to check out my website at!


Labels Can Be Frustrating–and Sometimes Dangerous


Sometimes labels can be confusing.

In the grocery store, “low fat,” “lite,” and “fat-free” do not mean the same things.

I quit diet sodas a decade or so ago, partly because they obviously make people fat. (Since I’ve already reached that goal, I don’t need extra help.) But I’d noticed that my Diet Coke can was labeled with a “nutrition facts” box. I know the Nanny State requires that label, but I also know that nutrition was the last thing on my mind when I wanted a diet drink. (I must not have cared much about taste either.)

For that matter, great nutrition is not my prime motivator when I want a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder with cheese at McDonald’s. I couldn’t care less about the fat content in the fries, though I care deeply about their taste. (I’m personally convinced that moderate amounts of just about any food you want to name will not hurt folks who have no malady which mandates a restricted diet. I also know most of us have a real problem with moderation.) If you want to worry about your fries at McDonald’s, there’s a “label” on the wall that will describe their fat content. There is no label that discusses how years of worry over such trivia will shorten your life or make you no fun to be around. Pass the salt.

Labels and more labels. At the pharmacy, Benadryl allergy medicine, “Sleep-eaze,” and Tylenol P.M. all make you sleepy for the very same reason—they contain exactly the same amounts per capsule of diphenhydramine, antihistamine which not only might make you drowsy, it’s so good at it that it is also marketed as a sleep aid.

Fine. Except that not only can labels be confusing, they can be dangerous.  I wonder how many folks overdose by taking a dose of antihistamine and a dose of Tylenol P.M. and unwittingly double dip? Neither label helps much.

Labels. They can be frustrating and silly, confusing and dangerous.

Nowhere are labels more confusing than on church signs.

In my own religious heritage are three groups with exactly the same roots. Not at all what our forefathers intended, now each group worships under its own sign—Church of Christ, Christian Church (independent), or Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In the North, the names Church of Christ and Christian Church are used pretty interchangeably. Horrors! Imagine the difficulty! A person might stumble into worshiping with someone across the denominational fence—and maybe learn something of value while the wall is inadvertently breached.

I’m not picking on anyone, but Baptists have exactly the same problem. Southern, Free Will, Primitive, etc.

So do Methodists. United, Cumberland, Evangelical, etc.

And so do Podiatrists. Lite, Fat-free, Non-fat, etc. Just kidding.

But I’m not kidding about this: If I were looking for a church, I’d look for one where the worshipers, no matter what the sign outside their building, genuinely worship under a “sign” that looks a whole lot like—actually, exactly like—the  cross.

It’s the one that really matters.



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.

What Is Truly Precious Can’t Be Stuffed Into a Bag

It’s time again for me to try to tame my computer bag. I already know I’ll fail. This bag will not be tamed. It eats stuff. While I’m not looking, it chomps down on gizmos and gadgets, cords and files, sticky notes and cough drops, until its weight gain and bloating become hazardous to my health.

So a couple or three times a year, rather than hire a fork lift or chiropractor, I try to tame it with a full-on tactical purge. If I can find the computer, I pull it out. I open the bag’s pockets and spill out everything else. I pretend I’m twins. Half of me is a little blue-haired 95-year-old lady carrying a heavy handbag. And half of me is the TSA agent spotting her at the airline gate as a possible terrorist whose bag must be completely gutted lest national security be compromised.

Then comes Judgment Day. What stuff will I stuff back in? What will get tossed out? I need my wife’s help for the culling. Sadly, she only throws away good stuff. (Case in point: A perfectly good recliner with only a spring or two blown sits out near the dumpster. I wish they’d take it away. I get nostalgic when I see it. One evening last week I took the trash out and then just sat in our faithful old recliner to watch the sunset.)

Before the Judgment, though, comes a serious inventory. That part is always interesting. I like it because I usually find stuff I thought I’d lost.

Since I recently replaced my old and better computer bag this inventory is lighter than usual. But still I found one computer and cord, a wall calendar, an old church newsletter, an old Sunday bulletin and “order of service,” planning stuff for six weeks of sermons, a Kindle, two external hard drives and cables for the same, two iPod devices and cables, disposable contact lenses, reading glasses, five highlighters, a wad of cough drops, three cigarette lighters (no cigarettes but cave drawings prove that real men have always felt better with fire and a knife handy and maybe a pipe so peace could break out), nine plastic zip bags full or empty, one digital recorder and cable, two flashlights, one laser pointer, five church “lists” of various sorts, one Book of Common Prayer, ear plugs, ear buds (one good set and one cheap set), 12 hard copies of old newspaper columns, file folders for one sermon and one Christian Appeal issue, a master copy of my new music CD, two hard copies of the CD’s cover layout, two bottles of super glue, a checkbook, a phone charger, kleenex, sticky notes, paper clips, three flash drives, and . . . more.

Ya think I don’t know how to travel light? I’ll never make fun of any gal’s bulging purse.

One of these days all of my stuff—bagged or not—will get parceled out to my kids. They’re smart enough to know that most of it will be outdated and worthless junk. Dumpster fodder.

The inventory that matters will be conducted by the One who reminds me that what is truly precious can’t be stuffed into any bag. It matters much more and weighs a lot less than what I try to lug around down here.



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.

You’re invited to visit my website at!  Thanks!

Real Joys Here Are Glimmers of Joy Hereafter


I once thought it was a bit strange that most of us think of “heaven” as being “up.” Since pretty much 100% of us who are still breathing (minus a few astronauts now pitifully reduced to hitch-hiking skyward with the Russians) live on a round planet, how can a place called “Heaven” be up for all citizens of this globe?

Now I’m a little embarrassed by the lack of biblical/theological understanding my perplexity betrayed. My ignorance on the subject is still vast, and unlikely to be cured much in the two hours I have before this column is due (the cure for ignorance is reading, and that takes some time). But I think I know a smidgeon more about the matter now than I once did.

Why should I have been surprised that most of us think of heaven as being “up”? The “heavens,” as in “the sky and the celestial objects hung there” are always for all of us here quite literally “up.”

And now, when I think of “heaven,” as in Heaven, I’m thinking less in terms of geography, earthly or celestial, and more in terms of what the Bible writers tantalizingly refer to as “the new heaven(s) and the new earth.” I’m trusting that our God, the Master Builder and Great Architect, the Consummate Artist and only True Creator, has at his side a palette of color and beauty and even dimensions dwarfing our accustomed three.

I don’t pretend to understand exactly what our Father is preparing for his children, but the hints and metaphors he has scattered around in his written revelation glitter like flecks of gold inviting us to dig deeper, live more joyfully, and with a purer longing for the completely unalloyed Joy found in God’s eternal Presence. As C. S. Lewis, drawing on Plato, reminds us, it’s not less real than the “heavens” we see here; it is far more real.

We can be sure that the essence of all that is truly good and joyful here will be found there, magnified a gazillion times. What do you love most purely, deeply, and joyfully here? None of what makes that truly joyful will be lost; it will be forever found and experienced completely.

Here everything from the color of the sunset, to the hugs of your little ones, to the smell of coffee, to the warmth of a well-laid fire in the hearth, to the sunbeams splashing through mountain aspens, to whatever you truly love that is good, be it great or small, brings genuine joy. That joy is real and beautiful and created by our Father to be received by his children with open hands and thankful hearts.

But the deepest joys we ever experience here are penlight joys compared to the full sun of Joy that awaits. Here such Joy would be too much for us, like trying to route Victoria Falls through a half-inch plastic pipe.

But our Creator is preparing a place for us, and preparing us for that place, where the unceasing torrents of cascading Joy washing over us lift us up to everlasting praise and complete fulfillment, utter contentment, and genuine life that here is only a fraction of the stuff of our best and highest dreams.

We won’t have to wait and dream there. Shadows will have given way to real, unfiltered, and eternal Joy.




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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