Monthly Archives: November 2015

An Icy Road Here Does Not Mean an Icy Road Everywhere

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“Are you crazy?!”

That was the reaction of our Amarillo kids as my wife and I loaded up to head home on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

“Do you not want these grandchildren you love so much to grow up with two sets of grandparents? Don’t drive home!”

Normally, we can make that trip blindfolded. The problem is boredom. But the problem Saturday was ice. Not snow. Freezing rain. Ice. Lots of it.

Did I mention it was Saturday? They come before Sundays. As a pastor (Protestant with kids!) I decided long ago that I’d vote for an even trade between Saturdays and Sundays. Just switch ’em.

I like Saturdays (except for Saturday nights), and I love what happens on Sundays (though I also love Sunday nights; they’re as far as you can get from Sunday mornings). I just think Saturdays (especially the nights) would be improved by following Sundays. I won’t bore you with all of my reasons for thinking such nonsense, but . . .

Christians would go to church whenever Sundays happened. (At least, as many of them as go to church now.) Pagans would still have what they count as two Saturdays and the two evenings before them on which to misbehave and create mayhem. So I can’t see that the switch would much alter anyone’s plans.

It won’t happen, of course. I doubt even a current presidential candidate who, for votes, would promise to turn the moon into cheesecake could make it happen.

So Sunday was barreling down the track like a runaway train. Chasing Saturday. And Saturday in Amarillo was covered in ice.

I’d spent an hour or two helping one son try to shovel ice off the driveway. Snow’s easier. Another son had been on duty driving a fire truck on the ice. No fun at all.

Interstate 40, heading west, had been closed. Nobody up north of Amarillo was going anywhere. Churches were canceling or altering service schedules.

I’d heard of ice-wrought power outages back home, 95 miles southwest, I wasn’t hearing anything about road closures, cancellations, etc.

So we loaded up and slid that direction. Slowly. Carefully. One lane most of the way. Then, about 30 miles out, some clearing.

I drove into the church parking lot to check things out and turn up the heaters inside. I’d been dreading getting to shovel more sidewalk ice. But . . .

But though it was cold, and ice was covering trees and roofs, the walks were mostly just moist or dry! I stopped. My wife and I gazed through the windshield, and I just said, “This feels weird.”

We’d waked up at the North Pole, but now . . .

God cares how we feel. But it’s a mistake to let “ice” in one patch of your life’s journey convince you that the whole universe is icy. Our view is skewed by the weather under our own hats. It’s wise to take our own view into account; it’s very foolish indeed to completely trust it.

Only our Creator sees reality perfectly clearly. If you’re navigating an icy road right now, you’d be wise to let him chart the course, deal with the storm, and get you home.

 

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

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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“Give Thanks in All Circumstances”

 

thankful01 “O most gracious God,” wrote the eloquent sufferer, “on this sickbed I feel under your correction, and I taste of humiliation, but let me taste of consolation, too.”

John Donne, poet and priest, so wrote in one of his “devotions” in 1623. In Christianity Today some fifteen years ago, Philip Yancey shared a brief edited, somewhat modernized, excerpt of Donne’s “Devotions.”

As Yancey explains, Donne had fallen seriously ill. Not unreasonably, he assumed he had contracted the bubonic plague, the scourge filling graves with masses of people during those dark days. The “Black Death” had made its presence unmistakable. London’s church bells tolled “dolefully,” and Donne wrote his famous poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” reminding his readers that the loss of anyone is a loss to us all. So, don’t ask “for whom the bell tolls,” he penned, “it tolls for thee.”

In his “Devotions” (as Yancey shares them), Donne writes of all the blessings God has given.

“Nature reaches out her hand and offers corn, and wine, and oil, and milk; but it was you [God] who filled the hand of nature with such bounty.”

Donne thanks God for the blessings that come from fruitful labor, and he acknowledges that, no matter how hard and well the laborer has worked, it is God who guides and “gives the increase.”

He thanks the Lord for friends who “reach out their hands to support us,” even as he acknowledges, “but your hand supports the hand we lean on.”

I’m continually amazed at how suffering is used by some as Exhibit A against God, at the very same time as others, passing “through the fire,” eventually come out with faith strengthened and “tempered.”

On his sickbed, Donne writes, “Once this scourge has persuaded us that we are nothing of ourselves, may it also persuade us that you are all things unto us.”

In striking contrast to the verbal drizzle of those who promise health and wealth to the faithful, or to those whose “faith” is in consumer religion as long as it “meets their [most shallow] needs,” Donne reminds us that when God’s own Son on the cross “cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ you reached out your hand [Lord,] not to heal his sad soul, but to receive his holy soul.” And Jesus surrendered his soul to his Father in trust.

Donne would recover. His sickness was not the plague. But before he knew the certainty of the outcome, he was certain of his hope: “Whether you will bid my soul to stay in this body for some time, or meet you this day in paradise, I ask not.”

But he wrote his confidence: “I can have no greater proof of your mercy than to die in you and by that death be united in him who died for me.”

Following the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18) is not even a little easy. But if our lives show that our faith is in God—not in luck or our own power or circumstances—we will learn that easy lives and blessed lives are not the same thing. And not just our own faith will strengthened and affirmed, and not just our own lives will be blessed by that trust.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

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.

 


An Entitlement Mentality Is Deadly to Souls

 

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“This entitlement mentality is going to kill our nation.”

Repeatedly, we hear modern-day “prophets” mouthing that combination complaint-diagnosis-warning. I take no pleasure in believing that those “prophets” are very likely right.

Paul Harvey used to warn, “Self-government without self-discipline will not work.”

The entitlement mentality of those who make heavy demands while failing to shoulder any responsibilities is poison. And I hate what happens to the souls of those who adopt “victim-hood” as their identity.

I hate it even worse when I see that entitlement mentality creeping into my own soul. Like a bum hitching a ride on a freight train, that sick way of thinking steals its way onto my heart. I may not see it jump on, but I can know it’s there when I catch myself grinching and grousing because of something I don’t have but wish I did, something I used to have but don’t have now, something I have but feel I should have much more of. My joy is being derailed.

I can know for sure that the greedy and grinchy intruder, a poisonous parasite, has attached itself to my soul when I find myself often asking with deep poignancy, “Am I happy?” thereby ensuring that I won’t be, can’t be.

Real happiness is a by-product of living a life not centered on self, a life genuinely focused on others and the Giver of life.

A self-centered, inward turned, navel-gazing, “poor pitiful me” sort of life makes its own life a hell and issues in a hellish existence for those around it. With eyes locked in a selfish death-gaze, it can’t know happiness. In truth, real happiness is the last thing it wants. It opts instead, in a thousand twisted, sick ways, to slavishly suck all the bitter poison out of living life focused inward.

To look outward and center on the well-being of others would be to find health and healing, but the price for happiness—to turn its back on self—is a price it is absolutely unwilling to pay. Literally, here and hereafter, it would rather focus on self in hell than on God in heaven.

Before he healed a sufferer, Jesus once asked, “Do you want to be healed?” It was a real question. And this real question comes to each of us. Do we want to be happy?

Take some time. Think about it. Answer truthfully. Saying “yes” will mean giving up perpetually playing the victim. It will mean focusing on what we have, not on what we don’t. It will mean genuinely, in practical ways, caring more about others than ourselves. It will mean giving up claims to what we love to think we’re entitled to, realizing that even the things we are sure we’ve earned by our hard work or pedigree or excellent character are, in fact, not our “due” but are God’s gifts.

In his fine book Soul Keeping, John Ortberg writes simply but truly, “You can’t be grateful for something you believe you are entitled to. And without a grateful heart, the soul suffers because the soul needs gratitude.”

An entitlement mentality doesn’t just kill nations. It kills souls. To choose to be grateful is to choose life and happiness.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

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.

 


The Creator of the Universe Is the “Master Multitasker”

 

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The guy who wrote the book about men being from Mars and women being from Venus didn’t have to write a book to convince me. Both planets have some fine points, but the same, they are not.

Should we be surprised? Warning: If to feel good about yourself you need to believe that men and women are exactly the same except for plumbing (ignoring the bothersome fact that every single cell in their bodies is different because of their “chromosomal patterns”), you might want to stop here.

Research, with no ax to grind and no bias toward the citizens of either Mars or Venus, the guys or the gals, seems to show, time and again, that most guys don’t multitask as well as most gals.

I’m not sure why we needed to pay for such research. Just go into a grocery store, dads, with a shopping basket and three kids. Your wife will handle that task unscathed and even bring all the kids home intact. Try it yourself, and you will need sedation.

You will forget half of what you went for. You won’t be there twenty minutes before you lapse into survival mode, praying with poignant fervency just to get out. Once your prayer is granted, you’ll discover that you have to go back in because, in the fog of war and as you were refereeing a fight between the other two, you left a man behind “in country.” Little Bosco is still in the shopping cart and the manager is dialing social services.

Don’t even try to throw yourself on the mercy of the court, your wife. She knows she can text on her cell phone, make a call to her best friend, buy the groceries, get good deals, shuffle a stack of coupons, keep the kids in line, deny multiple requests for goodies, referee skirmishes, and plan the evening’s meal—all at the same time. (I don’t know how she texts and talks at the same time, but since she has only one phone, she’s still nine fingers and one ear ahead of the game. You, sir, will never be ahead of the game.)

Your wife is wired with multi-circuit precision. You are wired for high voltage but only one line, and you will burn out about seven years sooner, still unable to figure out how multi-circuited, multitasking folks like your wife do what they do.

The closest I ever get to what my wife does all the time is when I preach. I’m speaking. I’m checking notes. I’m watching for cues. I’m talking to myself while I’m talking. “Good, Bob’s got his Bible app open on his phone. Jane’s with me. Oops, looks like Sue’s bored and, yea, verily, that’s not Holy Scripture she’s texting. Jim’s eyes just glassed over; he’s heading into a coma. I better go for a little humor here. Wake-up call. Uh oh, lost another one. Ah, rats! There’s a ‘watch check’ and Ted just almost broke his jaw trying to hide a yawn. Better land this thing.” And so on.

So maybe I do break into multitasking on occasion. But I’ll never understand how my wife could take all the kids to the store and come back sane.

I can’t even begin to imagine how the God of the universe watches over sparrows and tides and oceans and amoebas, spins this world, and, with all of his heart, loves you and loves me. All at the same time. Now that’s multitasking!

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

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.


Suffering Is Often What Makes Growth Possible

 

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We know it, don’t we? We don’t like it, but we know it: we grow through suffering.

We dislike the accompanying book-end truth almost as badly: too much unbroken ease, comfort, and “success” constitute far more serious dangers to our souls than suffering and difficulty ever do.

Author Philip Yancey says that the amazing German theologian and pastor Helmut Thielicke was asked, years ago after an extensive tour of the United States, what he considered to be the greatest “defect” of Christians in America. His reply? “They have an inadequate view of suffering.”

Not just mistaken. Or wrong. Or misguided or naïve. Not just faulty or illogical. He might have truly said any of those things.

But the word he chose was “inadequate.” Just the right word, I think. Weak. Not up to the task. Not strong enough. Not able to stand the stress of any kind of real test.

A bridge may look fine. It may even look beautiful. But the only way to truly determine its strength is by testing it. Drive something heavy across it. See if it stands when gale-force winds lash it and waves beat against it. If its strength is illusory, you’ll soon know. If it is inadequate to a real test, that truth will soon be made obvious.

Now, real testing is never enjoyable. The tests that come to bridges, cultures, and individual lives are no fun at all. But come they do, and come they will.

In “The Lord’s Prayer,” we’re taught to pray simply for such earthly and non-glitzy concerns as our “daily bread” and, immediately, for what we need daily just as badly, the forgiveness we covet for ourselves and, inseparably linked to it, the mercy we desperately need to extend to others. Do we want mercy? The test comes in how willing we are to extend it.

But then comes another daily need, a recurring petition, “Lead us not into temptation.”

I’m told that perhaps a better rendering would be, “Lead us not into hard testing,” a petition I think many of us find ourselves praying with deeper poignancy the longer we live, particularly at those times when that cow’s already pretty much out of the barn. Times when, though we’ve no doubt the “testing” and trial could get even harder (with all of our hearts we pray for mercy that it won’t), we know for sure that it is already very, very hard.

Then with the psalmist we also pray earnestly, “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge / until this time of trouble has gone by” (57:1). And we pray that, if the suffering must be endured, “Dear God, may we not miss the shaping, the molding, the tempering that your Spirit can work in our souls only when the fire is hot and the anvil hard.”

In his fine book (what a title!) Creative Suffering, the faith-full Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier writes, “That which disturbs our lives, puts us out, irritates us, annoys us, affects us, makes us suffer—severely sometimes—does not make us grow and develop, but does make growth and development possible, on condition, of course, that we are not destroyed by it . . .”

Talk about an “inconvenient truth.” But true nonetheless.

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!      

 

 

 

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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