Monthly Archives: April 2016

So What’s Your Contentment Number?



One to ten scale. One, terrible; ten, incredibly good. Here’s the question: In general, in your whole life, how content are you?

This is not a trick question. The first number that pops into your head is almost certainly the “right” one. Stop to think about this too long and you’ll mess it up. So . . . what’s your contentment number?

Play it close to the vest, if you wish. Your number is yours. I might tell you mine, if you ask; I might not. But I’m pretty sure I know one apostle’s “number.”

“I’ve learned by now,” he basically said, “to be quite content whatever my circumstances. . . . Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am” (Phil. 4, The Message).

The Apostle Paul would say, “Ten! I am a completely contented man, and it’s all because of Christ.” Wow!

Most of the time, I think I score pretty high. But it bugs me that I’ve wasted any time being discontent. I have no good excuse. Neither, by the way, does anyone else, though many, many folks have far better excuses than I do.

The hard fact is this—I don’t make the rules here, or I’d probably be tempted to ease up on this one—the poorest, most genuinely downtrodden, picked on, unfairly treated, sad soul you ever met, doesn’t get a pass on this, a waiver authorizing life as a “malcontent,” a “person characterized by being discontent.”

In this fallen world, lots that is bad, unfair, terrible, rotten, and not right, happens. In Scripture, I find many places where God looks at humans with mercy, compassion, and love. But not a single verse where God tells anyone that it’s okay to live with a chip on their shoulder, that in such an extreme case, discontentment makes perfect sense. I can find plenty of places where grumbling is clearly shown in God’s view to be far worse than a mistake; it’s a sin—even a capital crime.

God’s will for us—we may be sure of this—is that we live lives characterized by contentment rooted not in circumstances but in Him. When your digestion isn’t all that good and your back hurts. When your hair is turning gray and your body is getting old.

When your teenager is driving you crazy and may even have broken your heart. When your boss hasn’t given you or anyone else a real compliment since the Truman administration.

When your bills are coming in more regularly than your paycheck which is effectively shrinking. When the newest car in your fleet should be driven straight to a dumpster.

When the company where you’ve worked for twenty years has just been bought and, in the midst of their “Don’t worry! Just work harder and be happy” scripted pep talks, they just laid off one of your friends six months before his retirement, and you’re probably next.

I told you, I don’t make the rules. Nor did I say that I’m even close to being good at this myself. But when the Apostle Paul writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18), it really is the Holy Spirit’s recipe for our highest good. I didn’t say it was easy.

And I’m not telling you my number just yet.



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Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Why Does a Good and Powerful God Allow Suffering?



It’s one of the oldest questions in the world. And maybe the hardest: How can a completely good and powerful God allow suffering?

The question ranks among the handful that truly matter. As the question asked most often, most poignantly, in the midst of the deepest shock, pain, and perplexity, it defies the easy answers we let leak from our lips when we’re short of answers and our highest wisdom would be silence. Pain is the solvent that melts away glib answers, plastic platitudes. The real answer, like all real answers, is not easy.

It is given through tears. It requires rephrasing the question: “How can a good, powerful, and loving God not allow suffering?”

When God created humanity in his own image, he gave us the gift we call “free will” which gives life and love meaning but necessarily carries the possibility of pain. Unlike puppets dangling from a divine string, puppets who could never make the wrong move or dance the wrong dance, we can choose for good or evil. If the terrible choice for hate and evil and despair were no option at all, would choosing for love and goodness and hope mean anything at all? Only in a free universe are our choices invested with real meaning and significance as they open our lives up to genuine joy.

Would the love of your spouse so warm your heart if they had no choice but to give it? Would the hugs of your four-year-old daughter so light up your life if there were no possibility she might choose to turn away? Would our love of the God of all joy and light mean anything if he had not given us the freedom to choose to spurn him and follow evil and the Prince of Darkness instead? Real choices must have real consequences.

It’s one thing to ask those questions when life seems good. It’s quite another to ask them when the whole fabric of your universe seems to have been ripped into shreds, and pain and evil and wickedness seem to have won the day. Most of us have seen such times. And all of us will. But thank God himself that we have also seen the awesome power of goodness, fierce love, and nobility even in the midst of the deepest pain.

It’s a truth that rips our hearts apart, but God himself could not create a universe where beauty and goodness could mean anything real if there were no possibility of evil and thus pain.

To seek an easy answer is to ask to be deluded. The answer of the Christian faith—not of the sideshow barkers who often claim to speak for our faith—is anything but easy. God is so good, so powerful, so loving that through his own unfathomable pain, he took our hurt into himself. Literally. Genuinely. Powerfully. Forever. Christ’s sacrifice means that one eternal day pain and suffering will be forever banished. Oh, Lord, come quickly, and may it be so!

“Weeping may tarry for the night,” writes the Psalmist, “but joy comes in the morning.”

Dear God, when we or those we love are walking through an exceedingly dark and difficult night, grant the faith, the strength, and the vision only you can give us to look up for the light of the morning and trust that it will come.


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Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“What Have You Learned From Your Failures?”



Note: I just ran across this column/blog I wrote in 2012. I’d almost forgotten.  Aargh!

“What have you learned from your successes and failures?”

That was the question the interviewer put to billionaire Donald Trump a few months ago during Trump’s brief (and, I personally hope, never to be revived) flirtation with presidential candidacy.

His answer: “I don’t see myself as having failures . . .”

I was so surprised by the answer that I may not have heard if he later tried to pull that bit of nonsense out of the ditch. Could any sane person fall into a failure more foolish or fatal than to claim to have no failures?

Two kinds of people draw breath in this world: those who are seriously weak and flawed and know it, and those who are seriously weak and flawed and don’t know it. We’re far better off being, and spending time with, the former. The latter are uncommonly tiresome, obnoxious, dangerous—and well-avoided.

Yes, we’re far better off belonging to the first group and being honest about it. But I suspect the only way that priceless knowledge can be bought is with some very costly pain. Until we’ve been hit “up the side of the head” pretty hard with one of the major bricks life sooner or later throws at us all, I doubt we can offer much real and condescension-less comfort to others who are also ordinary humans—which means at times concussed, bruised, bleeding.

Until we’ve shot ourselves in the foot and have been forced to learn that, though God’s children all dance, they also all walk with a limp, I doubt we have much valuable to offer those who want to join the dance.

We may talk a good game about grace, about how we’re all sinners in the same boat completely dependent upon God’s mercy. But until we’ve swallowed enough sea water to seem to be headed under for the last time, I doubt we can really open our hands to reach up for God’s hand or to reach out a hand to genuinely help others.

Until we’ve been aghast to find ourselves down in the depths, we deep down think in our heart of hearts, even if not aloud, that we or our group are a cut above the rest. God’s favorites. The blue birds in the class. At least a little bit gifted and talented morally. We blindly think that all we really need is a little more time to try harder, get things all figured out, and sharpen up our act.

Until we’ve been jolted into sanity by hitting bottom, we center on our problem with sins rather than our problem with Sin, worry more about outward acts than inward putrescence, focus on specks of sawdust in other folks’ eyes rather than planks in our own. We waste time gazing through the wrong end of the telescope. Nothing clears up the picture more quickly than hitting the wall with some obvious failure and living through the pain that follows. Then grace means something because it is real and precious. It has always been our only hope, but now we know it.

And then if someone asks us how we’ve dealt with failure, the answer will be worth hearing.


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Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Christ’s Question to a Blind Man Is a Question to Us All


John 9 blind man

“Do you want to be healed?”

Jesus’ question in John 9 to a “man born blind” seems strange at first. The answer was, “Yes!” And it would, of course, be the sincere answer of many, then and now, should the Lord ask and the opportunity truly be offered.

But answering it might require much more honest, difficult soul-searching than we might expect. You see, the uncomfortable truth is that, for some of us at some times in our lives, we simply can’t afford to be healed. It may actually be the last thing we want.

Once this blind man was healed, good news! He no longer had to sit by the side of the road and beg. But more news: he no longer could, even if, for some reason, he wanted to.

In asking the question, Jesus is also asking this man to grapple with who he really is. The Healer is willing to heal him, if that is what he really wants. But Jesus is amazingly unwilling to force himself and his healing on anyone. The deep honesty Jesus asks this blind man to embrace is no easy thing.

Am I willing to be that honest myself? What if my blindness or disease is not so much physical as a “disabling” attitude—critical, grouchy, grinchy, selfish, hard, cynical, bitter, etc. Yes, it shrivels my soul, but maybe I’ve learned how to use it to control and manipulate the people around me—and they tiptoe around to let me and rarely call my hand. What if Jesus offered healing? Would I really want it?

Healing can be hard! I can’t help but wonder if this former blind man was ever tempted during incredibly dark times (even for him) to renounce his healing and pick up his beggar’s bowl? Was he ever tempted to go back to the begging he’d known rather than embrace the health that required so much and was at times so frightening because it was unknown?

I don’t know about him, but I know about me. I’m picking up my own “beggar’s bowl” every time in attitude or action I act as if I have a right to be treated as some sort of victim. I do not.

I’m in awe of the truly courageous people I see each day dealing with great difficulty—physically, emotionally, and otherwise—who refuse to see themselves as victims. But I too often see in myself—with far less reason—a surprising unwillingness to accept genuine healing and the responsibility that comes with it. I don’t like what it says about me when I find myself expending great effort to be sure that nothing as demanding as something approaching wholeness and maturity is required of me.

For “healed” folks, the drama is over. Now the duties, tasks, activities required of healthy people are required of me. I can no longer center on my hard lot, playing for sympathy, controlling others by my supposed status as a perpetual “victim,” if that’s my temptation.

Not everyone truly physically or emotionally damaged has the opportunity for health the man in John 9 did. But do we see that in some ways Christ’s question comes to us all at a very deep level? “Do you want to be healed?”

The answer will shape our lives and the lives of those around us, some of whom are the innocents who pay a heavy price if we actually have a choice—and choose to remain perpetual “victims.”



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Copyright 2016 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 Guiding Principle of Heaven Is . . .




In telling the story of his own conversion to Christianity, C. S. Lewis recalls George MacDonald’s striking words: “The one principle of hell is—‘I am my own.’”

But what if I’m not?

In our society, our culture, our world, our country, our very souls, we’re obsessed with the idea that we can almost have heaven right here if we just “get our own rights.” But what if that’s exactly backwards? What if the truly happiest person is the one who claims no rights?

Be careful with that thought. It might explode our heads.

What if I have a horrible progressive disease, and, with all my heart, I’d like to spare myself and my family the horrors ahead? What if “assisted suicide” is incredibly tempting? What if I find myself wondering if it would be the most selfish act in the world—or the least? But then I realize, “I’m not my own.”

What if I’m a woman considering abortion, but I find not only that the little one I carry inside me is not really “mine” but is God’s? And even I myself am “not my own”? What then?

Or much less agonizing . . .

I really don’t feel like going to church on this particular Sunday. I’m not so much sick as just a little “sick and tired.” Sure would like to sleep in! It’s my own little decision, right? No big deal. But what if I’m really not my own? What if what I feel like doing matters much less than what my Lord deserves and what others need me to do to be encouraging?

If “I am my own” is the guiding principle of hell, what if “I am not my own” truly is the guiding principle of heaven?

What if, not only what I do, who I marry, where I live, how I treat my kids, and literally everything else is completely colored by this startling truth? What if, because “I am not my own,” I can’t say anything I like or indulge myself in any bad attitude I care to adopt?

What if, if I’m His, I find myself acting not only as if “I’m mine” but as if my money is mine? What if I find myself living exactly at the same standard as others at my income level who claim no commitment to my Lord?

What if I allow myself to be as gossipy at work, as mean at the restaurant, as critical at church, as self-centered at home as . . . anyone else?

What if I find myself acting as if “I am my own” when the Apostle Paul’s words are quite literally true? “You are not your own. You were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6)?

What if my thought life, my work life, my home life, my sex life, my financial life, my play life, my life—is not mine? What if I’m not my own?

If that is true, it makes all the difference in this world. And in the next.

If it’s not true, then we should just roll over, go back to sleep, wake up, and get on with the business of demanding our own way all the time.

But I warn you, once we start thinking, “I might not be mine. In fact, if I have a real commitment to Christ, I’m certainly not,” then . . .

Then everything is changed and all tables are turned.

It’ll spin your head around.


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Copyright 2016 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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