Monthly Archives: February 2015

Picking a Venue for Christ’s First Miracle

water to wine

Does Jesus ever do anything just as we’d expect?

If God became human and entered our world to save us—something we would certainly never expect . . .

If we realized (and we surely didn’t see this one coming, did we?) that God had actually entered the world as a baby in the village of Bethlehem . . .

If we could begin to wrap our heads around such amazing realities . . .

Well, then it is conceivable that we just might expect him, at the right time and at the right place, to begin to do some amazing things. We often call them “miracles.” In the Apostle John’s Gospel, in particular, they’re specifically called “signs.” They are evidences pointing to the power and, yes, deity, of the One performing the signs.

What venue would “God in the flesh” choose for such signs? When? How? Questions abound.

Modern politicians would put a gaggle of handlers to work trying to answer those questions to maximum effect.

Some mega-church pastors, at least the largely plastic type without a pastoral bone in their bodies, would put large staffs to work picking the place, promoting the event, positioning the cameras.

I’m afraid they’d be busy as bees falling, with incredible efficiency, to every temptation Satan once pitched to Jesus in the wilderness. To use power selfishly. To pull out all the stops to achieve the sensational. To (as William Barclay well writes), “try to change the world by becoming like the world,” making a very effective pitch to consumers rather than running off crowds by lifting up a cross.

So when and where would we moderns showcase the very first of the “signs”? Maybe on a huge feast day attended by as many as possible of society’s rich and famous. Maybe at a palace in a great city such as Jerusalem.

Time and place settled, we’d soon face a larger question. Miracles are by definition astounding, but we’d want the very first “sign” to be especially eye-popping, something on the order of restoring sight to a man blind from birth, casting out a legion or two of demons, maybe even raising someone from the dead. Cameras rolling, of course.

But Jesus does it all wrong.

When the time comes for his first miracle, Jesus argues that it’s probably not the right time. And, to us, the little village of Cana surely seems like absolutely the wrong place.

Instead of storm-stilling, or blind-lighting, or dead-raising, Jesus breathes new life into a simple village wedding feast about to run aground due to a lack of wine. He turns ordinary water into the finest wine, an act every bit as surprising as it is miraculous.

But once I’m over my surprise, I find myself loving Jesus’ choice. It points me to a Lord who cares about little events, little places, and ordinary people of precisely the sort the mighty in our world strategically blow right past and never even see.

That’s wonder-full indeed!


      You’re invited to visit my website at!  
Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Love Is Not King, the True King Is Love

valentines day 02

If you know me, you probably already know that I have WRSTE Syndrome.

You’ll not find this on a list of disease acronyms, be they tragic or trendy. No pharmaceutical company will spend millions making annoying commercials about it. (I’ve not yet figured out why that couple in the now-famous drug ad is sitting in two bathtubs. The drug-pushing company is not selling plumbing fixtures or foaming bath soap. Ah, well.)

By the way, isn’t it a hoot that those commercials are 1/4 ad and 3/4 lawyer litter? “This is great stuff, but be advised that some people have turned suddenly and irreversibly green while taking Prescriptex, a few have died truly ghastly deaths, and research has shown at least a 1 in 500,000 chance that if you abuse this medication your grandchildren could be born naked.”

But I digress.

WRSTE is an under-studied, under-funded, little-known malady, and I definitely have it: Would Rather Sing Than Eat.

Since I’ve been incredibly scrupulous about my diet all of my life, following the strict IOEIIITG Diet (“I Only Eat It If It Tastes Good”), I was a little surprised, years ago, to be stricken with WRSTE. That can be a problem. You see, “stuff that tastes good” tends to cluster around places where I’m asked to sing. That puts my diet and my syndrome in conflict. WRSTE always wins. I’ve got it that bad.

The malady is particularly troubling during Christmas (no surprise) and around Valentine’s Day (some surprise). Christmas food’s fantastic but Christmas music is even better!

And Valentine’s Day? Well, the fact that Cupid’s kingdom has become annually a bit of a singing-rich environment for me still surprises me. That I’m involved with Valentine’s Day much at all amazes me.

You see, my wife loves me not because of any romantic inclinations I might have to spend too much on cards ($6.50 for a card!? Really?) or splurge on flowers. I’ve been pretty successful at keeping those tendencies under control. (Guys, if your wife loves cards and flowers, by all means, go with the cards and flowers. My wife prefers cash.)

But some good folks at a nearby community civic club asked me to croon a tune or two for a Valentine’s banquet a couple of years ago, and, well,  a few more folks and a church or two have, too. (After all, I suffer from WRSTE.) But be assured that the American classic love song dynasties of Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett are under no threat from me.

My family’s got Valentine’s Day surrounded. Two brothers have birthdays within three days of Cupid’s Day, and my mother-in-law’s birthday is the big 14th of February itself. My brothers haven’t asked me to sing to them, but Vernell was fine with “Happy Birthday.”

Cupid’s songs really are kinda fun and some of the classic crooners’ tunes are timeless. I like singing them.

But here’s the deep truth worth singing about any day: Love is not king; our King is love.


     You’re invited to visit my website at! By the way, you’ll find there some samples of a few of the songs I’ve just written about here. 




Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“It’s Lovely to Let Out the Light, But…”

blitz blackout

It was 1945, a big and tough year in a line of extremely difficult years for a globe that had been squeezed in the clutches of world war.

Death and destruction had been the order of the day for way too many days. Whether it’s on a school playground or an entire world, when bullies are taking over, something beyond “a good talking to” (during which the bullies rally their forces, take more territory, and laugh at the talkers) finally has to be undertaken; if not, tyranny wins, freedom loses, and the weak are crushed by the cruel as the dangerously naive, blind to humanity’s fallen nature, wring their hands, weep, and wonder why.

In The Last Lion, their fine book on Winston Churchill, William Manchester and Paul Reid share a 1945 anecdote from Mollie Panter-Downes, longtime London correspondent for The New Yorker.

Victory in Europe would be joyfully declared on May 8, but old habits were dying hard. On May 7, “a predawn thunderstorm broke over London” with such a realistic “imitation of the blitz” (Hitler’s bombs raining down on London) that “many Londoners started awake and reached for the bedside torch” (flashlight) they’d become accustomed to keeping in their blacked-out bedrooms for use during each night’s raid.

“Nerves were still raw” even though Hitler’s V-2 rockets had been grounded since late March. The blackout had been lifted “after 2,061 consecutive nights of darkness.” London’s streetlights, now allowed, “failed to flare” when “the switch was thrown,” and though “most Londoners took down their heavy blackout curtains (which they converted to black clothes and funeral coverings,) they pulled their old curtains closed out of habit.”

One five-year-old girl who had never known any other kind of life, asked her mother, “It’s lovely to let out the light, but how shall we keep out the dark?”

It was a great question then and now. Hitler, the deranged “little corporal” and mass murderer was finally dead. Without the Russians, the war could not have been won, but they were led by Joseph Stalin, himself a monster who would kill more people even than Hitler. In May 1945, the Cold War was looming, dark and dreadful.

Plenty of dark times still oppress this world and threaten to engulf our lives. “How shall we keep out the dark?”

Well, we can be sure that God’s light lives in and warms our hearts even in dark times.

We can claim Christ’s promise to live in his people, affirming John’s words: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

We can refuse to trust life, a priceless gift but as literally impersonal as a rock and with no more ability to care for us. We can choose to trust God, the Author of life, the stable Rock always worthy of our trust, the Father who loves us completely. He created light, and he is far stronger than darkness.

In him, we can safely open the curtains.


     You’re invited to visit my website at!


Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Man’s Best Friend, Outside of a Dog


“Outside of a dog,” wrote Groucho Marx, “a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”

Groucho is also the one who said, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

When you think about it—and reading and thinking have always gone together—reading is well nigh miraculous.

Pick any amazing historical figure you care to mention. If they wrote anything, or if anything worthwhile has been written about them, you can get deeply inside their heads, think their thoughts, view the world through their eyes, listen to them deal with questions, handle criticism, overcome challenges. You can get on board with them as they live their lives—even if they quit breathing centuries ago.

No writer has influenced me more than C. S. Lewis. He died just as I was learning to read, but reading is why his death is no barrier at all. And I agree with him: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

You can travel anywhere, do anything, be anyone, through the pages of a good book.

Just this morning, I spent a little time trying not to get caught as I wormed my way through tunnels dug by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. I didn’t stay there long.

On this same morning I tendered my regrets to an Episcopal bishop who’d asked that I serve as interim rector at a picturesque though presently troubled little mountain church.

Not that long ago, I spent over forty days afloat in the Pacific after my bomber was shot down in World War II.

A week or so ago, I was in the room listening to Clementine Churchill telling Winston, soon after victory in Europe, that the lost election costing him his post as Prime Minister might be a blessing in disguise. I heard him growl back, “If it is a blessing, it is very effectively disguised.”

What books do for us is utterly amazing. Got questions? Really big ones? Read a book!

Does God exist? Why does he allow pain to exist? What is his will? Is Jesus his Son?

Read the Bible, the best of books, and let the Author use it to shape your faith. Read it even if you’re not a believer. Why? Because no one in a world shaped like ours can afford the incredible ignorance of not reading the book behind so much of the shaping.

If you’re a believer, why would you not read the words, in the Bible and elsewhere, of the most amazing believers this world has ever known, and learn from them?

Weary of this world at times? Who isn’t? So who in their right mind would stay in it all the time? Take a trip to Narnia or Middle Earth or even Mitford or Harmony or Lake Wobegon or . . . absolutely anywhere.

You can go wherever you want to go. Just open a book.

It’s no accident that God’s Son is called by the Apostle John “the Word.” And no wonder the Apostle Paul, even in prison, asked Timothy: When you come, bring my books.


   You’re invited to visit my website at!

Copyright 2015 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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