Monthly Archives: October 2016

Conspiracy Theory and Grocery Store Revelations




“Honey, if you’re going to the store, would you pick up . . .” asks my wife.

Well, first of all, I try to avoid going to the store. I’m not good at it. And I’m easily distracted.

I see prices on the rise, and I’m suspicious. It may be low on the sights of conspiracy theorists (and Andy Rooney isn’t around to expose this), but have you noticed how toilet paper rolls wobble around on standard holders? Why? Because the rolls aren’t as wide as they were, say, a day or two ago in the 90s. I didn’t measure any corn dogs back then, either, but I think the little guys have been bobbed. Same thing with ice cream “gallons” and coffee “pounds.” I wonder when a dozen eggs will be 10.

Then the store changes its floor plan, its “here’s where the stuff is” layout, on purpose, to get more of our dollars as we wander around (my theory), even though shoppers despise it, and a guy like me can stumble around fog-fritzed for months in search of a jar of olives.

I also subscribe to the “deadly rays” theory of store lighting. (Another conspiracy.) Something in those lights is designed to befuddle and bedaze you, and as you wander, lost, you don’t even notice yourself tossing into the basket jars of pickled okra and other stuff you don’t need.

I figure the shopping cart handle has been surreptitiously salted with genetically altered viruses to go straight to your brain and turn off sales resistance neurons. The viruses on the handles of those small grocery “baskets” must be particularly strong because you always end up loading them down and trading them in for a ginormous cart. I figure, too, that the lighting rays near the checkout stand are the most powerful in the store. Why else load up baskets with 12 packages of breath mints and a “magazine” that should only be used for toilet paper?

Anyway, my wife says, “Pick something up.” I say, “Sure.” And I forget it. She could staple a note to my forehead, and unless the blood trickling down forced me to remember the note, I’d still forget “it.”

She says it’s because I’m absent-minded. I say (maybe borrowing from a Chesterton quote, but I don’t remember) that I forget stuff not because my brain doesn’t work but because it’s always working (I didn’t say “working well.”) I’m “pre-occupied” with way more important stuff than getting fiber laxative that is/isn’t orange or does/doesn’t contain sugar.

I blame part of this on gender. I know it’s politically correct to assume that men and women are exactly the same except for plumbing, even if, chromosomally speaking, guys and gals differ in every cell of their bodies. If I have a PC bone in my body, I’m not aware of it, but is anyone really surprised by research that says women are wired to be much better at multi-tasking than men?

The guy under my hat has multi-stuff to think about. I’m forced to think some of those thoughts pretty much at the same time. So don’t be surprised if while at the store pondering the various views of interpreting biblical apocalyptic literature, I forget the fabric softener.

I’m thankful our Father has no trouble at all remembering every sparrow, numbering the hairs on our heads, and loving each of us completely—all at the same time. And I figure He is immune to grocery store light rays and viruses.


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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.


Ponder the Common “Musca Domestica Linnaeus”



“Ponder, for a few moments, the humble housefly.

Well, first of all, “Musca domestica Linnaeus,” the common house fly, maddeningly common, is anything but humble. Unbidden and with no introduction at all, it will enter your home, light on your person, fly up your nose, or into your ear.

I was preaching last Sunday when, yea, verily, in my pulpit, a fly tried to light in my eye. It could have been worse. The act of preaching requires an open mouth, and the creature could have easily flown kamikaze-style right down my gullet. I’ve heard of such, even with a Scripture reference: “He was a stranger, and I took him in.”

I despise flies. The little pests “originated on the steppes of central Asia” (Wikipedia), but are now found—no surprise—pretty much everywhere that’s not frozen year-round.

Hard to imagine what a fly “knows,” but the little winged pests in my locale are quite aware that cold weather will soon spell their demise. Open a door for two seconds, and you’ll invite in four flies. Prop open a door—say, a church door—for any reason for very long and, I promise you, someone will be fighting flies all week. And these flies, at this time of year, are especially “sticky,” “clingy,” and as annoying as, say, two 2016 un-presidential presidential candidates.

I refuse to live with them. The moment I hear the infernal buzzing of even one of the little, uh, blighters, in my home or office, I’ll stop almost anything I’m doing and go on the hunt because I know there will be no peace until one of us is dead.

By the way, this is free: Flies “take off” backwards. If you’re aiming at one, aim a few fly-lengths behind him. (It pays to know the ways of your enemy.)

I’ve never known anyone to look at a close-up photo of one of these little beasts and feel warm and fuzzy. They’re disgusting creatures with filthy habits. They richly deserve to be swatted, squashed, spray-poisoned, systematically eliminated, and yet . . .

Why God created them, I’ll never know. But that said, how many decades of decades, if ever, would it take a gaggle of scientists and nanotech engineers to build anything even close to a fully functional and realistically annoying robotic fly? (Imagine what the NSA or CIA could do with a fleet of such. On second thought . . .)

We can go to the moon (well, in the past we could; now we’re reduced to hitching rides into space with the Russians). But building a functional fly-sized fly would be way more elusive than a modern moon-shot.

All of God’s creatures are amazing. Even the bacteria hitching rides on the feet and backsides of a flying fly. (I still wonder why we call flies flies and don’t call roaches “crawls.”)

As we ponder God’s creation, even the incredibly annoying common house fly should make us feel suitably small and lead to some much-needed humility.

But swat away! God’s got plenty of the amazing, disgusting little pests. It would be a blessing if they were much less common.


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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.

“Would You Speak About ‘Ministry Today’?”



“Would you be willing to speak briefly to my seminary students?”

In the weeks since one of my best friends and most capable colleagues made that request of me, along with eight or nine other ministers, a fine group whose quality I can only dilute, I’ve been pondering what to say about “Ministry Today.”

The first challenge is relatively minor. He said “brief.”

The second is that my only real qualification to give such a speech is that I feel incredibly unqualified to give such speech. That, by the way, will be one point: Never trust any minister who claims to know all about “doing” ministry.

I’m pretty sure that my task is more than simply to mention how many pastors in “ministry today” need anti-anxiety medication. I doubt my friend wants me just to discuss various pharmaceutical options.

One major point might be that ministry today brings with it some challenges somewhat unique, but that in most ways ministry today is hard because real ministry has always been hard on any day.

Still, as is historically true, prosperity brings challenges more threatening to deep faith than hard times and persecution ever bring. We “swim in a sea of selfishness.” The consumer religion approach—“Have It Your Way,” looking for the best value in “religious goods and services”—which fits our culture like a glove rather than transforming it, is as deadly as it is tempting.

To the ministry students, I will probably say, you need to ponder often and deeply what real “success” in God’s kingdom looks like. The church needs pastors, not religious rock stars. It is very difficult to be a real pastor to a flock so large that you don’t know the faces and names of the sheep. A large church can be a great blessing, but so can a small one. And let’s be honest: Most large churches in our land aren’t large because they’re good at bringing unbelievers to Christ; they’re large predominantly because they’re good at making small churches smaller.

I’ll probably also (ironically, I’m afraid) tell the students to guard their hearts against cynicism.

I’ll warn them against the idea propounded by church growth seminars that most churches are just one amazing program or one big change away from explosive growth, an idea that invariably produces explosions and hurts most the very sheep who least deserve the wounds.

I’ll tell them to look at Moses and his faithful leadership. I’ll also tell them to think about, pray about, and take steps to avoid,  the mistake even Moses made by allowing weariness and frustration to lead him to “strike the rock” (Numbers 20). It’s every tired pastor’s temptation.

I’ll tell them, don’t forget whose kingdom it is you’re giving your life to help build. (Clue: It’s not yours.)

I’ll urge them, love the Lord. Love the flock, real people with real faces, joys, and sorrows. Never dishonor them and demean your calling by using them to feed your ego, as if they are simply a stepping stone on your career path. Remember that these are God’s people whom you’re privileged and called to walk beside as you make this journey together, learning each day to live in faith, in grace, following the Lord.



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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.

A Fool-proof Formula for Everything? No Fooling?



American magic.

It’s a funny term, particularly when spoken by missionaries who deal with witch doctor types and superstitions regularly. You just don’t expect them to look back across the Pond, smile, shake their heads indulgently, and say, “Yep, that’s American magic.”

You see, magic, at its heart, has to do with manipulation. You get the formula right— eye of newt, tongue of frog, liver of lobster—and out pops a potion-produced prince or hex or whatever.

American magic? It’s the idea that there’s a fool-proof formula for everything. There’s not. And we’re fools if we think so.

The hard truth for sinners like us, and like everybody else, is that we’ll never get life right. Deal with it. Actually, God already has, and we’re not God—which is quite a load off. God absolutely will not allow us to file Christianity in the Self-help Section of life.

But American magic, peddled by folks who may wear business suits but still bear a serious family resemblance to their brothers across the ocean dressing for shaman success in loin cloths, says that if you just work hard enough, long enough, and, with exactly the right formula, you can’t help but “succeed.” Add on to the garage and order your Ferrari!

Want to build a mega-business, a mega-church, a mega-life? Somebody will sell you a formula. If it doesn’t work, you just didn’t cook it right.

Want to live almost forever right here—or maybe five minutes longer than folks who ignore a good many health rules but in the dastardly unfairness of life chose parents with better genetics than yours? We’ve got non-transfat, non-caffeine, non-gluten, non-[pick any three letters of the alphabet], non-taste formulas for that, and we’re busily commissioning food police to help us make food choices that masquerade almost as “moral” choices.

Couple the right number of sets and reps and rounds with the other gerbils on the treadmills, the right vitamins, and an amazingly dreary preoccupation with abs and gluts, and off you go to live long, healthy, thin, annoying lives.

Well, maybe. (I admit that even the Apostle Paul said that “bodily exercise” has at least a little value.) But life is unfair. Even American magic fails. The economy tanks. We pick one of two appalling candidates for president. Merger mania mangles your company. One microbe or cancer cell cancels out a lifetime gym membership, and a life. And you’re surprised to find yourself standing before the Almighty with low cholesterol and great abs but a tad ticked in a postmortem sort of way that, drat it all, you died anyway!

So what to do?

Maybe get some perspective. A life lived joyfully in love is far better than a life just lived lengthily any other way. Moderation in enjoying lots of good gifts at the right time and with the right kind of gratitude to God will bless most of us a good deal more than world-class low cholesterol.

It ticked Pharisees then and now, but Jesus eschewed magic and lived a life of trust, not manipulation. He lived a life of divinely robust holiness that could never be confused with pious sterility and the cut-rate pseudo-sanctity that’s as shallow as it is stern, and all about lengthy lists of things we don’t do and don’t chew.

Magic doesn’t work. Trust does.



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

“There’s an All-seeing Eye Watching You!”



My tastes in music and my theology have certainly changed since then, but when I was a small child, my favorite song was one we sang occasionally at church (I’m very glad we don’t do that now) and pretty often at home (at my request).

That’s another story, but, yes, as hard as it is for most of us to imagine now, when I was growing up, my family spent quite a bit of time singing together around the table or in the living room at home.

We were at home occasionally back then instead of bouncing, kicking, throwing, putting, or serving all manner of balls every evening of the week. Those are not at all bad things, you understand, but our society does seem to have a serious problem with balance and priorities, don’t you think?

To make the music work, so that a family filled with low-voiced altos and basses could manage to fake four parts, we lowered the pitch of the songs pretty drastically. My sister sang the melody, Mom sang alto (I can still hear her smooth alto tones), Dad stretched to catch the tenor (a tenor, he was not, but he strove manfully onward) and, as my voice changed, I picked up the bass. My younger brother, who had the hardest time sitting still for family singing sessions, fidgeted, and, when my much older brothers and their wives were around, we just parceled out the parts as needed. We still find time to sing on the rare occasions when we’re all together, and though Mom and Dad and my sister are gone, they still seem very much a part of the proceedings.

Okay. Back to that song.

For at least a little while in my young life, my favorite song was a questionable piece entitled, “Watching You.” I’m told that I used to prance around the house singing, “Otching Ooh!” (way before I could sing bass). Not filled with the greatest music or the best theology, that song pictured God as an “all-seeing eye watching you.”

I was very young at the time. I obviously wasn’t old enough to have smoked grapevine on a Scout campout or puffed pencil shavings in an old pipe back behind our house (that was a very hot smoke!), or the idea of an all-seeing eye watching me would have been a tad less comforting. The fact is, at that age, I didn’t care what the song said, I just liked snappy and upbeat music, and it had that, if not much else.

My musical tastes have changed a lot since then, and so has my understanding of God. Is God watching me? Is he watching you?

Yes, I certainly believe that he is. But not as an all-seeing cosmic code enforcement officer or a humorless EPA or IRS bean-counting bureaucrat just waiting to catch us in a mistake.

No, our Father watches us through the eyes of love because we’re the sons and daughters in whom he delights.



     You’re invited to visit my website at!



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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