Monthly Archives: June 2014

Freedom Is God’s Gift, But It Is Never Free

Milton Eugene Cotten--7-8-1945

The closer a soldier was to fierce combat during any war, the less likely he’ll want to talk about it years later.

My wife’s father, Milton E. “Mick” Cotten, served for 41 months during World War II. He left Turkey, Texas, in March 1942, and was honorably discharged as a Technical Sergeant in September 1945, a good example of the folks Steven Ambrose writes eloquently about in his book Citizen Soldier.

Mick had no particular desire to be a soldier. Like most who did the real fighting and bleeding, he just wanted to survive and get the job done right—and as soon as possible—so he and his buddies could go home. He didn’t like to talk about what doing that job entailed, and he almost never did.

I do remember some fire in his eyes when the name of General Patton came up. Mick rarely said anything bad about anybody, but he was among the “ordinary” soldiers who despised Patton as an arrogant jerk who needed to think more about his troops and less about his own glory.

We’ve done a little research to trace Mick’s path during WWII. I don’t know how excited he’d be about this. Like so many others then and now, he went to war so most of us wouldn’t have to, so we could get on with our ordinary lives. I do think he’d like us to remember the “ordinary” folks who paid a price because they knew day to day life in freedom is precious.

Mick fought in some serious battles, including the bloodiest battle of that bloody war, the “Battle of the Bulge.” We have a little notebook where he listed the names of men in his mortar and other squads, shortages of men in squads, colors of smoke for forward lines, flanks, etc. And names and addresses of some of his men’s next of kin.

Mick fought in three major campaigns and more smaller ones. He was wounded on Dec. 3 and Dec. 16, 1944. Shrapnel ripped into his body and through his hand. He lay in the snow in Normandy, saved from bleeding to death by miserable cold.

A War Department telegram informed his parents that he had been seriously wounded. Mick then wrote from the hospital in England, where he got a letter from his friend and lieutenant calling him the best non-commissioned officer in the company and saying, “That hole in your right chest had me pretty worried.”

Mick did finally come home. He married, and he and his brother-in-law ran a gas station in Turkey, Texas. He farmed there for the rest of his life. My wife remembers as a little girl sitting on his lap, tracing with her fingers the shrapnel scars on his chest.

Her mother framed Mick’s medals in a “shadow box.” He’d earned, among others, two Purple Hearts, the French Croix de Guerre, and a Bronze Star. There was talk from one of his former officers that a building at Fort Knox might be named in his honor. (It never happened. Budget cuts.)

Did you know you can buy medals online? You can get that French “War Cross” for $35.99. A Bronze Star is $22.99. A Purple Heart, $44.99.

But Mick, and many others, who have served and are serving our nation in whatever war in whatever capacity, paid a lot higher price. And they didn’t do it for medals.

Freedom is not free. The blood on lots of hills screams out that truth. And none screams it more loudly than blood shed on a hill called Mount Calvary.


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Copyright 2014 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 Has No Problem Identifying His Children


battle of the bulge

During one of the most famous battles ever fought, the World War II “Battle of the Bulge,” the Germans made use of a battalion of men commanded by Major Otto Skorzeny, “the most daring commando in the German army.”

According to author Stephen Ambrose in his book Citizen Soldier, 500 or so volunteers from that battalion were dressed in American uniforms and dispatched across the lines to wreak havoc and confusion, perpetrate mischief, and cause misery and mayhem in any way possible. They spread misinformation about German strength and troop movements to lower morale among the American troops, misdirect the Allies, and generally spread seeds of panic. They shifted directional signposts to wrong directions to cause further confusion.

Ambrose writes that once the American troops realized what was happening, the word spread amazingly quickly: “Trust no one!” American soldiers, particularly Military Police, began to quiz anyone who looked suspicious or who was crossing a barricade, with such questions as, “Who plays center field for the Yankees?” (I’d have been shot as a spy if they’d asked me that one!) “Who is Mickey Mouse’s wife?” “What is the capital of Illinois?” (Ambrose says that even General Omar Bradley was detained for answering correctly, “Springfield.” The MP was sure it was Chicago.)

But the spy-detection gambit that most caught my interest had to do with a proofreading mistake (and proofreading mistakes are the bane of this minister/writer/editor’s existence!).

It seems that a German in an American officer’s uniform was stopped at a roadblock. The man’s English was flawless. In fact, many of Skorzeny’s men had spent some time living in America or Britain; one wonders how much trouble we could save ourselves if we just quit training our enemies?

This guy’s identification papers were also perfect. In fact, it was the perfection of the German forger who produced his papers that cost this man his life as he was later shot as a spy.

Ambrose says that the authentic Adjutant General’s I.D. card that all American soldiers carried had at its top these printed words: “NOT A PASS. FOR INDENTIFICATION ONLY.” But the German forger had corrected the typically efficient bureaucratic spelling mistake and taken out the offending “N” so that the spy’s card read, correctly but fatally, “IDENTIFICATION.”

I am thankful that God the Father has no problem at all correctly identifying his children. We may get our bloomers all bunched up and fuss about various rituals and rites, some of which are beautiful, meaningful, and God-prescribed (but not for arguing about).

But the Apostle Paul makes it quite clear (read his letter to the Galatians!) that THE proof that we’re God’s children is not ritual-based: it is that his Spirit lives in our hearts giving us life and producing wonderful “fruit,” proof positive that we’re God’s people.

Oops! Did I say God has no trouble “identifying” his children? Maybe you better make that “indentifying.”


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Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Even If Fidgeting Is Genetic, a Little Rest Is Divine


Scientists have discovered, I’m told, a gene for “fidgeting.” I guess I’ve got it.

When sitting down with your legs crossed, do you find your in-the-air foot speed-wiggling for no apparent reason?

Has your spouse surprised you by suddenly erupting in your presence, “Will you STOP clicking that blasted pen!”? You didn’t realize you’d committed any crime—well, at least, not that one—but there you were, guilty as sin, nailed for incessantly and quite unconsciously rapid-fire firing off a pen-clicking mechanism.

Answer yes to those questions and, yes, you, too, carry the fidgeting gene.

I suppose fidgeters should form a victims’ group. Our society loves victims. There could be money in this. Surely our fidgeting is not our own fault. Who to sue?

If you’re a fidgeter, I guess you could try to overcome genetics by cutting down on your coffee intake. I’ve thought about cutting back to one pot. But that approach seems fraught with danger. I can’t imagine how anyone could expect to write anything coherent or, for that matter, think two logical thoughts in a row, without the beneficent aid of a cup or a few of dark-roasted brew.

How many sermons have crashed on take-off even at the composition stage, long before they reached the pulpit, because the reckless sermonizer was short of coffee? How many columns and essays have decomposed even as they were being composed, simply because the writer was so undisciplined and lax in his craft, so criminally careless with the precious words entrusted to his care, that he tried, without the aid of coffee, to send them down the runway and expect them to fly?

One wonders.

Besides that, the list of the health benefits of coffee-drinking just keep piling up. Google it. (By the way, did you notice that butter has now been pardoned by the food police? Cheesecake will surely be next!)

Ah, but how to deal with fidgeting?

I’m told that some fidgeters, trying to bravely bear up under the weight of their affliction, enter the ministry. That way they rarely have to sit through an entire sermon.

For about two nanoseconds, I thought I had the answer: “Fidgeters Anonymous.” But that’ll never work. Not the anonymous part. Everyone around us already knows who we are.

But it would be a great club! (We could meet at Starbucks.) I couldn’t prove it, but I’ll betcha dollars to java-dunked donuts that both the Apostles Peter (jumping out of a boat to water-walk) and Paul (rapid-fire, take-no-prisoners prose) would be honored posthumous members.

God created, and loves, both fidgeters and non-fidgeters. Both groups have inherent strengths and weaknesses. But in the not-so-anonymous Fidgeters’ Club, we probably should post prominently a framed copy of God’s Fourth Commandment. The Almighty seems to think we all need to take some time to be still.

Fidgeters need to, even if it’s genetically difficult. And non-fidgeters desperately deserve a break from fidgeters.


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Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

The Best Father of All Is the Father of All

Shelburne Portrait-small

Sunday is Father’s Day, and I’ve found myself thinking of Dad more than usual. That’s saying something because I already think of him every day.

My father was the finest man I’ve ever known, and being his son is undoubtedly the second finest blessing of my life, which has been filled with blessing.

The most noteworthy thing about our best blessings is this: They are undeserved. They are gifts of God’s grace.

Of the many conclusions that can be drawn from this grace-truth, two are obvious.

1) What did I do to be born my father’s son? Not a thing.  So . . .

2) Why should I ever allow myself to be even remotely prideful about being his son? Refer to #1.

I have never drawn a breath of this world’s air at a moment when I had to wonder if my father loved me with all of his heart. I wonder what life on this globe would be like if all sons, all daughters, could, with deep gratitude, say the same thing? It would be infinitely better! It would almost be heaven.

If, like so many, you didn’t have that blessing, I’m sorry. Neither you nor I can change that now. But we can do two things that will make a world of wonderful difference, change both the present and the future, and have beautiful and eternal consequences.

First, whatever relationship we fathers have had with our own dads, we can be very sure that our sons and daughters (and grandsons and granddaughters), of whatever age, know we love them deeply.

I know that’s not always as easy as it sounds. The fathers we had are, well, the fathers we had. For good or ill, in ways that are delightful or daunting and depressing, and maybe all of those things at once, we fathers tend to be fathers like our own fathers were fathers. No surprise.

But a second truth can change everything. Refer to the second paragraph of this column. Being the son of the finest man I’ve ever known is, I’m sure, the second finest blessing of my life. But the best blessing of my life is one that you and I share: We are the children of the finest Father of all.

That means each of us has a Father who loves us completely and whose love we can share with our children and their children.

As children of our Father who is love, we are loved. Always.

As children of the best Father of all, we are accepted. Always.

The wounds so many people bear because of deeply flawed fathers find healing through the best Father’s sacrificial love and the wounds his Son willingly bore on a cross so that through faith we could truly be children of our Father.

By the way, once we realize that we’ve already got a perfect Father, it’s probably good to realize that earthly fathers can be far from perfect and still be amazingly fine gifts from the Father of us all. I’ve known some dads who I thought should be horse-whipped. I’ve known more who could use a little slack. It’s cheaper than a tie but better even if it’s harder to give.


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Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“The West Wing” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!”

white house

It’s Christmas at the White House, and those entering find their eyes treated to festive decorations and their ears filled with the music of the season.

Most folks are enjoying the spectacle. But not Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff in the Bartlett administration. Josh’s nerves are about as frayed as they can get. Though he is well on his way to physical recovery from wounds received weeks earlier during an attempt on the life of the president, it’s becoming obvious—except to him—that his emotional recovery is far from complete.

Josh’s friends and coworkers are worried about him already, but when in the Oval Office he actually snaps verbally at President Bartlett, Leo McGarry, Chief of Staff and a father figure to Josh (and the other staffers) sees that he needs help. On Christmas Eve, Josh finds himself in a Leo-mandated session with a psychiatrist specializing in post-traumatic stress.

That’s the storyline for a great episode of The West Wing. I love the series, though I’ve wondered why. I like President Bartlett, though I can’t imagine I’d have voted for him. I like the series in spite of, not because of, the political views of its main characters, though now they seem “middle of the road” to what we’ve seen in real life.

I like the incredibly well-written, smart dialogue. I feel complimented that those making the series, unlike the producers of most of TV’s vast vapid wasteland, assume that some folks watching might be more intelligent than your average rutabaga.

I love the series because of its amazing setting but mostly because it centers on the human relationships between its characters. I like Leo McGarry, more and not less because he is flawed, a recovering alcoholic who genuinely cares for those who work with and for him.

So, Josh has met with the psychiatrist. A hard but very good Christmas Eve meeting. It’s over. Josh is walking down the hall toward the massive Christmas tree. And Leo is sitting there.
Josh is surprised and says something like, “Leo, did you wait around for me?” In answer, Leo tells him a story:

“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey, you! Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole, and moves on.

“A priest walks by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it into the hole, and moves on.

“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole.

“Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now, we’re both down here!’ And the friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.’”

Good lessons here. But the main one I draw myself from this great story and this conversation between two Jewish friends on Christmas Eve is summed up in a song title: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!” Think about it.



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Copyright 2014 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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