Monthly Archives: September 2014

“Lord, I Believe! Help My Unbelief!”


Two little twin boys recently walked up to our house with their mom and little sister. They could hardly wait to show us their two buckets filled with several layers of . . . woolly worms! Woolly caterpillars. The kind that seem to be everywhere right now. Pretty cool little creepy crawlies, those worms! Pretty cool little guys, those great little twins!

Now catch this woolly transition: Woolly worms are one thing. Woolly thinking about faith, and particularly about faith and prayer, is another.

The “prayer of faith” is a biblical term. But both prayer and faith get twisted pretty often by flashy TV preachers and their bunch into something much more akin to magic and superstition than Christianity.

What I’m thinking of is the very common, very mistaken, notion that praying with the kind of “faith” that is the key to “powerful prayer” means working ourselves up into some highly emotional and extremely subjective state so that we can make a desperate request of God absolutely expecting him to answer with exactly what we want. We’re most likely to get exactly whatever the “it” we want is, this approach says, if we “amp up” our “faith” so as to bar the doors of our minds to any possibility of our not receiving “it.” If we don’t get “it,” then the purveyors of such “faith” tell us that we just didn’t “believe” hard enough, and we must work harder to banish all doubt.

Such an approach is unbiblical, mistaken, and often, arrogant and cruel. As C. S. Lewis once wisely wrote, this kind of thing “is not faith in the Christian sense; it is a feat of psychological gymnastics.”
For a picture of real faith, and for a real corrective to the other sort, Lewis points us to the Son praying to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” The perfect Son. The perfect Father. The perfect prayer. Perfect faith. And the answer was No.

And may I point you to another amazing picture of another poignant scene? Another father. Another son. Another prayer.

The son is terribly afflicted by an evil spirit. (The disciples have struck out on casting it out.) The father “prays,” asking Jesus, “If you can do anything,” (it’s the same Greek root word for Jesus’ request to the Father: “if it be possible”), “heal my son.”

Jesus replies, “‘If you can?’ Everything is possible [the same word again] to him who believes.”

I love that father’s response: “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” And, despite faith-flaws and weakness, the answer to this father is Yes, and this son is healed.

We have a Lord who counts our honesty about our weakness—even our weak faith—as much more valuable than our ability to build in ourselves some emotional state that supposedly excludes all doubt.

Faith in God, even a little faith, much smaller even than the “mustard seed” sort Jesus also taught about, is still real faith. Perhaps faith in the quality of my ability to believe is also faith of a sort, but it’s the wrong sort. It’s faith focused in me, not faith focused on God.


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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.

Christian Appeal Devotional Magazine–Free Subscriptions


Hey, folks! This is a special note (and I send out such notes very rarely from this blog) to let you know of an opportunity for a FREE subscription to a great little devotional magazine.

As some of you know, I’ve been working along with my brother Gene for 30 years or so on a little monthly devotional magazine, The Christian Appeal. Gene, our Senior Editor, had been editing the magazine for over 20 years when he asked me to come on board as Managing Editor. So . . . for over 50 years, this little magazine has been going out monthly and blessing, we pray, many folks. We’re very thankful for the ministry of this magazine and all who’ve made it possible (including the churches Gene & I both serve that have made this a part of their ministry as well).

For many years, our charge for an annual subscription was $7 (or less). We’ve always been funded primarily by the contributions of a number of generous supporters who believe in what we’re doing. Last year, with the blessing of our Board, we decided to begin offering the magazine for FREE to anyone who requests it. We’re so thankful to the Lord and His generous people for making this possible.

So . . . I just thought I’d extend that offer to you!

If you’d like a FREE subscription to The Christian Appeal monthly devotional magazine, just e-mail a request to me, including your name and mailing address, at

Or you can send me a note from my website at Hey, the advantage of going through the website is that you can buy 10 or 15 CDs and books from me while you’re there. They’re not free, but are a great value!  😉

Seriously (well, seriously, they ARE a great value), I think you’d enjoy the magazine, and we’d love to send it to you. You’ll quickly realize that we do our very best to make the magazine as nonsectarian as possible, something that we hope almost any Christian could pick up and enjoy and feel good about sharing with friends.

I’ve included a couple of pics of an upcoming issue (our November issue) which will feature a great article by Dr. David Langford as he reminds us of the great blessing of “community” that Christians enjoy as being valued members of God’s family, the church. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said that Christians have many, many, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters! This might be a particularly good issue to share with your own church family!

And the subscriptions are now free! Just drop me a note if you’d like one.

Note: No attorney friends told us to put “lawyer litter” here, but I probably ought to say that this offer is, of course, subject to print run and supply availability. We probably can’t handle 50,000 requests. But I’ll be very surprised if we can’t handle yours! (And if you like it, e-mail me about your church, small group, or Sunday School class perhaps receiving a free bundle to pass around to members.) Blessings to you!



The Unity That Matters Most Will Never Be Open to a Vote

Scotland vote

One of God’s best blessings to us is that we cannot see the future. To do so would rob the best surprises that await us of some deep joy even as it could easily cast us into danger and even despair as we agonized over difficult waters that we have no need or strength yet to navigate.

That said, as I write today, I wonder how tomorrow’s vote will go. By the time you read this, we’ll all know, and the election will be old news.

Oh, you didn’t know an election was being held tomorrow? Well, for you, it’s probably not. Nor for me.

But tomorrow Scotland’s voters will cast a vote “for” or “against” independence for Scotland. For 307 years, since the Act of Union, Scotland has been united with England as Great Britain (later including Wales and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom). But if voters tomorrow say Yea, Scotland will “secede.”

I have little right to an opinion (although if I wanted a hyphen, I’d be by ancestry an English-American, but I don’t, and I won’t push that!). I do think the Scots should have the right to make the decision.

Hey, I’m a Texan. A 2009 poll showed that two-thirds of Texans believe that when the state joined the United States, it stipulated the right to secede if the need ever arose. (That is actually a myth, though dearly held; the “Lone Star State” does indeed possess the right to divide into five states, should the voters ever so choose.)

And, of course, Texas did indeed secede at one point, but the federal government was pretty ticked off about it.

All of that just jumped to my mind when I read about the referendum in Scotland.

Scotland really can choose to leave the British union. (And by a “simple” majority vote! How simple-minded is that rule when the issue is so large!?)

The decision is theirs. I just hope they make the right one and stay put.

Partly because I love Great Britain, if for no other reason (and there are many) that when England fought alone against the Nazis for over two years, she paid a horrible price, and the world will always be in her debt. What’s bad for England, I do not like. Partly because “independence” may be the Scots’ decision but it holds massive consequences for the British, European, and world economy, for Britain and the world militarily (NATO, nuclear weapons, ports, and oil), and the global fight against terrorism, and more. I mean, really, could you find a more stupid time to do anything, even in the name of freedom, that makes free nations weaker?

I hope Scotland’s voters have enough sense to realize that being free means at times willingly curtailing your freedom to help freedom’s larger cause.

I like it when on rare occasions we see people celebrating what really unites them. It blesses us all when free people actively choose to be more united and not more divided.

Jesus will love the Scots whichever way they go, but even a very quick look at John 17 will show exactly what our King’s will is for unity in His kingdom. No election needed.


        You’re invited to visit my website at!



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.

“How Long Do Half Chihuahuas and Half Shih Tzus Live?”


I love my dog. I really do.

Most of our family, except for one or two who harbor the little canine no serious ill will but might not be first in line to give her “mouth to mouth” resuscitation should such be required to save her, feel mostly the same.

So it was a very level question when we were discussing doggy years and canine ages, and one of my daughters-in-law piped up from the couch, “You should Google this: How long do half Chihuahuas and half Shih Tzus live?”

Wise girl. So I did. And this is the truly wise answer that popped up: “Doesn’t matter whether it is the front half, the rear half, the left half, the right half. Half a dog cannot live.”

I way more than half laughed. When I recovered enough to read the answer aloud, way more than half of us hit the floor in laughter.

Eventually, I read on: “If you mean a ‘cross-breed,’ the answer is as unpredictable as about everything else about cross-breeds.”

The fellow whose screen name is “King Les the Lofty” went on to discuss cross-breeds in general, those two breeds specifically, and finally, with several wise caveats, he submitted his educated guess: “15-19 years.”

His quick-witted Highness also showed some real editorial skill. He tossed this in for free: “By the way, breed names are proper nouns and thus require a capital letter for each word in them (except for internal connectives such as ‘de’ or ‘of’).” I like this guy.

So here’s the good news for my dear dog and my dear daughter-in-law: The diminutive pooch will likely live a good while longer.

And here’s the bad, but not too surprising, news for all of dog-dom, and you don’t need a degree from Texas A & M–you don’t even need to be dog website royalty–to mark this down as infallibly true: “Half a dog cannot live.”

You know what? Half systems of “righteousness” can’t either.

The Apostle Paul did not refer much to “dogs,” half or whole, in his letters to the Romans and Galatians. But if we really grapple with what he wrote there . . .

If we don’t just jerk out of context a verse here or there to further calcify what we already believe and don’t plan to change no matter what Paul (or even God) says . . .

If we don’t flip over to the Book of James and twist words to try to get James and Paul crossed up . . .

Then we’ll find that only two systems of “righteousness” (“salvation”) are available. “Grace through faith” or “law through works.”

Bottom line: Trust God and his goodness (through Christ and the cross.) Or trust yourself and your own goodness. Paul loves us enough to be blunt. He won’t allow half choices, mixed choices. We must choose. Grace or law? Faith or works? God or us?

Oh, yes, if you choose to love and trust the Lord, you’ll get to work. Joyfully. Not to be Christ’s but because you are Christ’s. Forever. For sure.

But if you choose “salvation by law,” get ready to work like a slave. Never sure you’ve done enough. Always afraid you’ve missed the mark.

I guess it’s bad news: Half a dog can’t live. Count on it.

But here’s the best news: Anyone trusting in Christ, and not at all in himself, can live. And will. Count on it. Count on Him.


     You’re invited to visit my website at!



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.

Large Blessings Often Come in Small Packages


I’m still pondering a column my brother Gene wrote for the Amarillo Globe News over a decade ago.

Gene begins: “Can I be honest with you without leaving the wrong impression? Can I share one of my most constant concerns without making you think I am airing sour grapes or criticizing your choice of churches?”

My short answer to him would be, “I doubt it.”

Oh, I agree with him completely, and I think he’s right on target. But I’ll betcha he made some folks mad. Some who didn’t understand him. Some who did.

Gene continues: “For more than 40 years I have ministered to small congregations that never seem to have enough people to fill some high-need categories.

“If my church had three or four more young families, we might have enough toddlers to make Bible study fun for Ethan.

“Right now our music minister would almost kill for a tenor or two, . . .

“Small churches always have gaps in age groups and abilities. . . . In most tiny churches just a handful of new people would make a huge difference in that congregation’s sense of well-being and vitality.

“All of this makes me wonder . . . I wonder why so many Christians who love the Lord and his church choose to cluster in huge churches where their talents may not be used or needed.

“I wonder if worshipers whose voices get lost in the multitude have any idea how much their notes of praise could enrich the worship experience of a smaller band of believers.”

Do those who make a church choice largely based on what the huge church can do for them “have any idea how rewarding it could feel to know that their personal contribution to the life of a smaller church was making an obvious difference in that church’s ability to serve the Lord and his people,” perhaps even to exist?

“I praise God for the large, active congregations that bless our community. But in my pastor’s heart I have a passion for family-sized churches . . . If you are looking for a church, let me encourage you to find one that really needs you. Think small.”

Folks, in my little great community, all of our churches are small compared to the Walmart Supercenter-style super-sized churches of many cities. I’m thankful when churches of any size, including mega-churches, truly serve the Lord and serve well (but I confess the utter disgust and revulsion I feel toward some large churches who do their best to ravage small ones and do so devilishly in God’s name).

Large churches can offer whole catalogs full of programs. Little churches can never match those.

Unless you want to know for sure that you matter. Unless you want your presence, your energy, your time, your treasure, your talents, your family, to make a genuine difference. If you want to be loved intensely and be blessed immensely by relationships, real and deep and worth more than gold, you might be very wise to think small.

I have days when I think that surely in this hemisphere some people exist who still believe that. On those days, I’m greedy enough to hope that our little church gets both of them.


    You’re invited to visit my website at!



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.


Do You Remember Your First Day of School?

back to school

As I write, it’s the first day of school in our community. Do you ever forget how you felt on your own first days of school?

I had great parents, but I am still a little irritated about a bit of a misunderstanding on my first day of kindergarten.

It was a private kindergarten. Back then, the school had no real need and even less desire to pick up kids at hospital neonatal units. But Mom and Dad thought kindergarten would be good for me. They didn’t have any extra money lying around, so they must’ve thought this was important. I think they were right.

To my dying day, though, I’ll swear they told me that we were going to visit the kindergarten, but I didn’t have to stay that day unless I wanted to.

We went. It seemed fine. But I decided that, all things considered, I had better things to do. I would, of course, consider the kindergarten option as I had time and opportunity, but, for the present, I figured I’d just go home and play with my little brother, thank you very much.

You see the train coming, don’t you? Yes, my parents left me right there on the tracks. I mean, at the kindergarten. I remember some tears on both sides.

I also remember, later, growing seedlings in cardboard milk cartons, coloring pictures, molding clay, etc. Months later, I graduated with honors.

Honestly, I don’t know how I ranked in the class. We didn’t learn the alphabet in kindergarten then, and I don’t remember any algebra. (Not really any from high school, either. I pretty much sang my way through secondary school, but that’s another story.)

I do remember my sweet kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Marvine Francis. And she remembers me! I was thrilled to get a note from her just a few years ago. She must’ve started teaching when she was 12.

Mrs. Francis got me off to a great start and then promoted me up to Mr. Birchfield and Mrs. Carmody at Amarillo’s San Jacinto Elementary School the next fall. They, too, were amazing. You’d have to work hard to find parents who loved kids more than my earliest teachers did. Ah, great teachers have always been one of God’s very finest blessings!

My wife and I talked to our three school-age granddaughters yesterday. Two were pretty excited; one, about half-excited. I was always more than halfway like her not-so-excited half. I always deeply mourned the loss of summer. It felt like my parole was being revoked.

One of our sweet gals is officially starting kindergarten. I remember when her daddy started. My wife took him to his first day of school. I couldn’t have done it. As she hugged him and left him at the classroom in the school just down the street from our house, he looked up and said, “Mama, something’s wrong with my eyes.”

No, something was right with his eyes. And hers. And mine, too. Pure tears are good for eyes. I bet his are a little moist this morning. Mine are. Again.


      You’re invited to visit my website at!



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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