Monthly Archives: July 2013

Lazarus Was Dead, But Hope Had the Last Word

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Lazarus was dead. Of that sad fact everyone was now absolutely sure.

He had been barely breathing when Mary and Martha, his sisters, had sent the urgent message to Jesus to beg the Lord to return to help the desperate friends.

They needed Jesus badly, and quickly. Yesterday, if possible, and it wasn’t possible. Even for the Lord. But the odd truth is that after he’d received the message from these dearly loved friends, Jesus had not hurried.

When he finally arrives back near Bethany, the funeral wreath, so to speak, is on the door. The “sign-in” register for friends and family who come to pay their respects is on its little stand just inside the front door of the house. And death has very effectively wrapped the whole household in its icy grip.

As is often the case at a time of grief, along with the mourners is arriving also a sad troop of dreary thoughts I’ll just call the “if only’s.” Those thoughts are popping into everybody’s heads and springing out of some lips.

Martha greets Jesus first, and she does so with tears and an “if only”: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Then Martha goes to get Mary to come out and see Jesus, and what are the first words from Mary’s lips? “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Even when others nearby, seeing Jesus’ tears, are moved to say, “Behold how he loved him!” some of them say, basically, “He opened the eyes of a blind man! If only he had been here, could he not have kept this man from dying?”

Notice that another statement logically follows these “if only’s.” It is this: “But it’s too late now, of course.” If only Jesus had been here, there could have been a healing, a celebration, and a feast, but it’s too late now, of course. Now there’s only a trip to the cemetery and a sad viewing of the grave.

We understand the thinking.

“Ah, Lord, if only you’d been here,” we’re tempted to say, “when in my life this terrible thing happened, when I failed so completely, when I was hurt so terribly, when . . . If you’d only been here, but it’s too late now, of course.”

Now I’ve already fallen into sin, betrayed my friend, stumbled into addiction, blundered into bitterness, embraced resentment, or embarrassed my Lord. It’s too late now that ______ has happened. (Fill in the blank with any failure, sin, or tragedy.)

“No,” God says, “it is never too late.” If death can be swallowed up in victory by the power of the One who is “the resurrection and the life,” nothing else in all creation can separate us from his love, his power, and the genuine hope that points to new life, new joy, new laughter.

Lazarus was “dead as a doornail,” but that wasn’t the end of the story, and it’s not the end of your story or mine.


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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“White Space Is Not Your Enemy”

white space

I just ordered a book recommended to me by a friend helping me with some ideas for the cover of my new Christmas record. (A CD is still a “record,” as in “recording.” And, no, it is not difficult at all to sing “Let It Snow” with deep feeling on a 100-degree day.) The title grabbed me: White Space Is Not Your Enemy. The book is a guide to “graphic, web, and multi-media design.”

For 30 years as of September, part of ministry for me has been the monthly editing and designing of a little devotional magazine The Christian Appeal. My brother launched the magazine in its present format 50 years ago, and one of his first design tips to me, the wet-behind-the-ears managing editor, was this: Don’t be afraid of white space. Modern readers drown in type.

It’s not just that modern attention spans are minuscule and most folks won’t read at all if reading takes much effort. For a supposedly literate society, we are frighteningly illiterate. (TV Guide doesn’t count.) No, it’s deeper than that.

A good bit of white space on your page or screen automatically gives value to, focuses your eye on, the relatively few items that win a place there.

Oh, you can get a bunch of words on a page if you load it up, shovel them in, decrease the font size, increase the kerning, cram them in so tight that words will leak out on the floor if you don’t belt the magazine shut with a rubber band. And guess what? People won’t read it. More white space. Fewer words. And the words get read. And they become more precious as communication happens.

“White space is not your enemy.” I wonder what this truth might mean in, say, art, or music, or . . .

How important is “white space” in public speaking, or, I hate to mention this, preaching? Ouch! Sometimes less is more.

What about teaching? I’ve had the chance to lecture some college English students. I know the pressure. So much material. So little time. It’s so hard, but so important, to stop, slow down, shut up for a minute. Think together. Give and take together. White space.

God knew we needed white space in our lives for life itself to blossom and be rich and full and joyful, creative and productive. That’s what the Sabbath commandment is about. Time to rest. Time to let God “re-create” us. We desperately need some “white space.” We need to stop “doing” for a moment so that, when we’re back to the “doing,” what we do will be worth something. And worth doing. And maybe even done with some joy.

You might run with this “white space” idea a bit and see how a little more of it might be a blessing in other areas of your life. It might occasionally involve using the OFF switch on your cell phone or iPad, for example. Just a thought.

Now, let me see if I can re-format this column so all the words will fit.

What? White space, you say? Well, that was tacky of you. But you’re right. Cutting stuff out to get that precious space is really hard. And worthwhile.

You’re invited to visit my website at!
Copyright 2013 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 To Do When You’re “World-weary”



I need a word, and perhaps the hyphen-spliced alliterative combination-word above is not too far wide of the mark.

Webster’s online says the word has to do with “feeling or showing fatigue from or boredom with the life of the world and especially material pleasures.”

I’m not sure that last half suits my need, though I’m sure it fits the word. It brings to my mind a tired old James Bond-sort of guy whose Aston Martin has rusted out, whose spy-chasing, women-collecting, Martini-swilling days are pretty much over and, even if they weren’t, he’s “been there, done that.”

Even old Solomon, who’d drunk all the wine, had all the women, and sung all the songs this world has to offer, ended up tired and done in, labeling this world’s glitter as “weariness.”

“World-weary” fits ancient Solomon and my arthritic old spy guy like a glove. (It’s also probably why they never let Bond get all that terribly old.)

But I’m not needing so much to lease the “world-weary” word for its “bored” or “jaded” or “blasé” component; I need the first part that connotes the “fatigue,” “weariness,” soul-sucking “sadness” that focusing on this world brings on.

Turn to the 24-hour news. (Better yet, don’t.) The media, supposedly values-neutral, both an impossibility and a lie, are yet again ratings-baiting and joining Hollywood in shoving their values down our throats with a depth of self-righteousness barely equaled even in religion when it becomes mean and twisted. This sensation. That sensation. This protest or riot. This celebrity melt-down. More of the same. Over and over.

All around us, the world seems to crowd in, and, because of too much time spent in this world, or, at least, focusing on this world, we become soul-sick and tired and . . . world-weary.

What to do? Try this . . .

Pray the prayer of the early Christians: “Lord Jesus, come quickly.” Pray not in depression but in hope, knowing that one day genuine healing is coming. The victory is already His. The snake still writhes dangerously, but the serpent’s head was cut off at the cross.

Soak up God’s promises and his word. Walk with Christ in the Gospels and be healed as he heals others. Get an infusion of hope as the writers point to a time when God’s glory will again be revealed in the “new heavens and earth.”

Go to the Psalms. You can always find yourself there. In joy. In pain. In trouble. In hope. In perplexity. And, yes, in the midst of “world-weariness” as you and the psalmists crave the help that comes only from beyond this world.

At least for the English major under my hat, I find it good medicine to leave this world occasionally. I turn off the news and read myself into Middle Earth, or Narnia, or some other word-world, where in the face of long odds, evil is vanquished by truth and beauty and joy. Those precious gems are God’s wherever they are found, and are no less real for having been infused into word-worlds which point beyond themselves to Joy’s Source.

God’s good news and reality are far more real and deep and long-lasting than anything you’ll see on the news. His joy is the antidote to world-weariness.


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Copyright 2013 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 Are the Salt of the Earth”

salt and light

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus once said to his disciples.

German theologian Helmut Thielicke makes an important point regarding Christ’s words when he notes that Jesus did not say, “You should be the salt of the earth.”

No, Christ said, “You are the salt of the earth.” Jesus is calling his disciples to become in real life what he has already proclaimed them by his power to be. (In much the same way, and by exactly the same power, it is biblically true to say that Christ’s people are both “saved” and “being saved.”)

Jesus knew quite well what his disciples were by themselves. They were inconspicuous “nobodies” by the world’s standards. Peasants, fishermen, rabble-rousers. They were “insignificant” people, a miserable little crowd. Only Jesus knew how miserable. He knew better than they when they would falter and fail, how they would sleep when they should have been watching, how they would deny when they should have been confessing.

Christ knew that the Twelve themselves would be fussing at the holiest meal they ever ate with their Lord, and he would be the only one who would stoop to serve. He knew that Peter would whip out a sword to defend him one moment and a tongue to deny him the next. He knew that they would scatter like frightened quail when he needed them most.

Those early disciples were, Thielicke points out, a wretched little troop. Come to think of it, they looked almost exactly like his disciples in our present age.

But Jesus looked at them, knowing full well who they were and what they would do, and he proclaimed them to be the salt and the light of the world. Just like he does us.

Obviously, the power to become what he had called them to be lay not in them but in their Lord. The greatness wasn’t in them. Not a bit of it. It was in their Savior. What they had, Thielicke writes, was a “borrowed greatness, but it was greatness.” And so those disciples of Christ became what their Lord had called them to be.

As Thielicke notes, in affairs of state, in their homes, in prisons, even in the Roman Coliseum, and all over the world, Christ’s disciples spread salt—sometimes the salt of their own blood—but they seasoned the whole world.

Today we still taste their influence. Our world is still brighter because of the reflected light they shared. They became what they were called to be. And so must we, if we would wear his name.

Salt and light. Simple things. But they say a lot about the kind of people Christ’s followers are to be, the kind of lives they are to lead, and the blessing they are to be in an otherwise bland, decaying, and dark world.

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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Genuine Freedom Is a Very Costly Gift

Over 28 years ago, when I moved to small town America, I discovered the largest and best part of America, the small town part, and Independence Day came alive with color.july 4-001

I felt like a deprived little rich kid growing up in a mega-church who thought he knew what a church dinner was but then found himself in a small church family, went to a church dinner, and was pretty sure he’d discovered heaven!

Oh, I’d always enjoyed Independence Day, but I never knew how wonderful some small town celebrations of it can be!

July 4 in many ways is just a date, but all wrapped up in that date for U.S. citizens, along with mental images of hot dogs, ice cream, and fireworks, are deeper impressions of freedom and liberty—and sacrifice.

Odd, isn’t it, that freedom itself is never free? Its very costly price was paid in real blood, sweat, and tears. Many, like me, who have personally paid so little of the price but who share mightily in its blessings, tend to forget what a costly thing it is.

I hope we don’t forget. As a Christian, my love for this nation pales beside my allegiance to Christ, and I realize that freedom is God’s gift, not the gift of any nation, benevolent or despotic. All of God’s children are truly free, even in lands where their own governments are deathly afraid of such freedom and kill to deny it.

But it is still true that a lifetime of love and devotion to this nation where freedom has long been recognized as a precious gift is not enough even to begin to pay back the debt of gratitude every citizen of this land owes.

It’s a debt not just to a flag or nation, and certainly not to a government. It’s a debt to the ordinary men and women who put their lives and liberty on the line by showing extraordinary courage and unselfishness by laying aside their own comfort and personal pleasure so that other ordinary people, like you and me, could enjoy the blessings of life in a nation where freedom is cherished.

You don’t have to belong to a particular political party to begin to pay that debt. But you do need to realize that your freedom to belong to any party you choose, or none at all, did not come cheaply.

You don’t have to agree with the domestic or foreign policy of a particular administration of government to begin to pay back that debt. In fact, you can—and probably will—be quite sure that a particular administration is shameful. (Someone always feels that way.) But you do need to be thankful to live in a land where the voices of the people are heard, even if you sometimes wish they spoke with much deeper wisdom.

You do not have to be blind to serious failure and wickedness to love this nation and be thankful for what is still good and true and beautiful about it, and to pray that many of its citizens always acknowledge as their King the One who died so that we might be genuinely free.

Real freedom is never free. It is always costly. And recipients of costly gifts should at the very least be very thankful people indeed.


You’re invited to visit my website at!


Copyright 2013 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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