Monthly Archives: October 2014

Warning! Paragraph One Is a Lie!

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Not only does size matter, it’s the only thing that matters.

That statement is a lie; it smells of the smoke of hell. But few lies are more deeply held by our terminally shallow society. We might as well tattoo it on our foreheads. We embrace it like a lover. We suck it in like life-giving oxygen even as its pollution shrivels our souls. Why not bow down and chant Paragraph One ten times daily? We can’t imagine that it might not be true.

But, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Wash your ears out with this!”

“Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.”

The statement has been attributed to Albert Einstein, but the online “Quote Investigator,” traces it to sociologist William Bruce Cameron (1963). I’d just trace its truth a good deal further back. Back to our Creator.

In a fallen world, spreadsheets and bank statements and analyses of gross national product, etc., probably must be counted. Quantified. Measured. Weighed.

But not everything can or should be. Not what really matters. Taking a cue from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I wrote a book one time entitled How To Measure a Rainbow. I’m pretty sure the point was, you can’t do it! But, oh, how we try!

Even in the one organization devoted to a King and kingdom whose life-giving values are always counter to this world’s dance with death we blindly fall to Paragraph One.

In his heartwarming memoir The Pastor, pastor Eugene Peterson calls his colleagues to be true to their calling and not desecrate their vocation by becoming “religious entrepreneurs with business plans.”

For years, he met with a group of pastors encouraging each other to live life with and love God’s people, something far deeper than just morphing into religious CEOs running organizations in competition with other religious CEOs. They were pastors calling people to worship God and find their identity in Him.

Occasionally, a group member desiring to “maximize his effectiveness,” meaning he wanted a bigger church so badly he could taste it, would cut and run. (Of course, there were other moves in and out and to different churches for valid reasons.) But the pastors tried to remind each other that bowing to size and seeking to worship (and be worshiped by) a crowd is idolatry and that God’s people, congregations of whatever size, are to be treated with respect and dignity as holy and of immense value not because they are large. Because they are His.

Knowing that we are God’s, we worship Him. Everything else springs from that worship. To worship means “to acknowledge worth.” If we are first and foremost worshipers of God, then our outreach and evangelism and mission work and service become the beautiful fruit of worship. If we don’t, it begins to rot by becoming just something else we try to count and quantify and stick on a pie chart so we can worship our work, our “effectiveness,” ourselves, rather than our God.

Worship reminds us that Paragraph One is a lie.


     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.

Grace Is What Sets Christianity Apart

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Philip Yancey writes that at a British conference scholars from around the world were discussing the most basic beliefs that set Christianity apart from other world religions. As they debated some important possibilities, C. S. Lewis wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and he was told that they were asking what Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions might be. He answered, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

Yancey continues, “After some discussion, the conferees had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

We could never be saved by our own effort or by keeping any law, as St. Paul makes clear.

“We all [sinned], all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5, The Message).

It sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? Yes, and that’s a good sign! Real grace always sounds that way as it amazes those who receive it. (Read the Gospels!)

Real grace is always a little and maybe a lot scandalous. If no one who thinks you’re too gracious, you’ve probably not felt and internalized enough of the grace of God yourself. If our churches aren’t regularly accused by some folks of being too gracious—too loose, too accepting, too free from law— that’s a very bad sign. It almost certainly means we don’t understand how much grace we’ve received and how rich is God’s supply. Read the Scriptures! The Good News, the real Thing, the real Lord, has always scandalized people by the depth of his love and mercy.

If you’re God’s child, you don’t have to live a fearful, tentative life. Indeed, how dare you!? You don’t have to be careful lest you exhaust God’s amazing resources by being too loving, too gracious, too joyful, too genuinely free. God’s supply of love and grace, joy and freedom, is boundless!  You don’t have to live like the “one talent” servant in Christ’s parable (Matthew 25:14-30). Afraid that he might make some mistake and tick off his master, he made the worst mistake of all, not loving his master. If we’re living lives cowering in fear, afraid to dance before our God because we might miss a step, we’re making the biggest mistake of all, not knowing and loving our Father as we should—the Father who continually amazes his children by the depth of his love and mercy, his grace and joy, and the genuine freedom that only he can give.


     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.


Notes from the Coke County Pastors’ Conference

Robert Lee-JLS

As I write this column, I’m attending the Biannual Coke County Pastors’ Conference.

“Biannual” is not one of my mother tongue’s brightest children. Wishy-washy, and depending on which authorities you consult, it can mean either “occurring twice a year” or “occurring every two years.” “Semi-annual” and “biennial” already handle “every two years.” I need “biannual” to pay for its keep, quit playing it both ways, fully adopt the best verdict, and mean “occurring twice a year.”

The Coke County Pastors’ Conference occurs twice a year. Biannual.

But if you call Coke County to inquire about the conference, most folks—county, clergy, Chamber of Commerce, and the smartest yard dogs—won’t know anything about it, even though it’s been happening biannually for well nigh 30 years.

That’s probably because the conference leaders, four of them, billed on all advertising as having accumulated collectively 175-200 years of ministry experience, are all my brothers, sons of G. B. and Wilma Shelburne. And we are the full roster of planners, speakers, attendees, and target audience members.

Oh, and I exaggerated a bit about the advertising; honestly, there is none, though we do send each other notices about the upcoming event each time around, including inquiries as to whether any one of us has a pending funeral (we’ve accumulated two since we’ve been here this time), wedding, church meeting, etc. Anything that might affect conference attendance. (And it better be a very good reason!)

The conference is held at the lovely and historic Key Place in Robert Lee, Texas. Well, we think it’s lovely, though our wives would pay good money not to stay here. (They’d likely engage in pernicious behavior, vacuuming and such). But it is certainly historic, our Granddaddy and Grandmother Key’s old home here.

Some sessions are held at the old kitchen table. Same table as a thousand years ago when we were kids except now we’ve got a light fixture on the ceiling above the table, not just old wires holding a socket and bulb with moths and other flying insects in continual orbit.

The best sessions are night meetings around the fire pit in the back “patch.” (“Yard” would be far too pretentious.) On one side is the pecan orchard. One tree is hardly an orchard, but this sole survivor is grandfathered in. On the other side is a densely-brushed creek, surely home to some interesting neighbors we never see.

In the midst of other serious business at the conference, we manage to confer some on, well, pretty much everything.

Granddaddy Key was a wise man. When he planned and built this humble Key Place in 1928 he blessed far more folks than he could imagine.

I wonder. What might the Father of us all have in mind even for this little place when “the heavens and earth” are all made new? And when our Lord says he has gone to prepare a “place” for us, that sounds exciting to me. All God’s family together.

I doubt we’ll need to do much conferring. Just some amazing praising!


    You’re invited–yea, verily, encouraged–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.

“The Most Beautiful Experiences of My Life Were With . . .”

worshiping 01

What would you say if I told you that it really is possible to have a wonderful group of friends that truly are as close as family?

What would you say if I told you that it really is possible to surround yourself with a group of folks who love you so much that they are always willing to laugh when you laugh and cry when you cry?

What if I told you that you can have the strength that comes from being a very significant part of the lives of people who, while they are very different in many ways, deep down share the same most hallowed convictions and beliefs and would die rather than deny the Lord behind those beliefs?

Ah, you’re getting ahead of me now, aren’t you? You know what I’m talking about.

Are you lonely? You don’t have to be! Are you happy? You’ll be even happier sharing your joy. Are you sad? You don’t have to cry alone! Not if you’re a genuine part of a church family—-and not just a consumer church Piety Mart where “all your needs are met”—but a “family” where relationship matters and you are there because you want to glorify your Lord and you care about helping meet somebody else’s needs and encouraging God’s people.

Let’s be honest. If you’re a Christmas and Easter and largely politely fictitious member who no jury in the land would “convict” of membership on the basis of such hard evidence as attendance and giving, well, you’ll get more than you put in, but church simply can’t be the blessing for you that it could be.

I’m talking about being a working, productive, significant, integral part of a real live Christian family. I’m talking about being so much a part of a Body that losing you would be for them like cutting off a finger or toe. Losing you would hurt! You’d be missed!

I know all the dodges.

Do you have to go to church to be a believer? It’s a bad question. It’s like asking me which of my legs I’d most like to cut off. A better question is, if I did cut one off, how long would it be of much practical use? How could it help the body it was severed from? Could it “glorify” the Head by refusing to help the body walk?

Maybe you had a bad experience in church. Maybe the preacher preached that everyone except folks just like him were condemned to hell. Or maybe you went to one that taught a “do it yourself” salvation and barely pointed to Christ at all. If you want more than that, good for you, but don’t quit! I took a bite out of a rotten apple once. To be sure it doesn’t happen again, I haven’t eaten a bite of anything since! I’m kidding, but quitting church because of a bad experience is about that sensible.

I’ve had some bad experiences in churches, too. Some. But the lion’s share of the most beautiful experiences of my life were in or because of church, and I’d be a pauper, and not a very smart one, if I denied myself those rich times because of some bad ones.

If you’re not a genuine part of a church, a real Christian family, you’re much poorer for it. Don’t rob yourself!


    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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