Monthly Archives: July 2017

Repeat Regularly: “There Is One God; I Am Not Him”

“Oh, I guess I’m just a perfectionist,” I opined, in an “Aw, shucks!” sort of feigned shame tone, as I tried to hide the weird contortions required to pat oneself on the back.

But twisted pride is one of perfectionism’s pernicious symptoms. Perfectionists like to think they are a cut above ordinary folks. We have, we think, higher standards, work with more diligence, and see more clearly than pretty much everyone else.

Granted, low standards, lazy workers, and the lousy outcomes produced by such are not hard to find. But those ills are never cured by perfectionists; if anything, they are made worse. Even folks who do an average to slightly above average job just want to give up under the incessant pressure of a perfectionist’s thumb; folks on the lower end of the scale won’t even try.

Perfectionism’s thinly-veiled arrogance, along with out-of-balance priorities, and deep (and sick) need to be in control, spells death to any sort of genuine contentment and pushes family, friends, and co-workers, away. Perfectionism sucks the air out of any room and throttles healthy relationships. And perfectionists are sadly unable to see perfectionism’s malignant imperfection.

Yes, its pride is stinky. But the real rot at its heart is the poison of fear, the soul-throttling terror of never being able to measure up, which leads to frantic effort—never ceasing, never resting, and, of course, never succeeding—to be completely in control.

In the final analysis, perfectionism is idolatry, and idolatry always fails. Since we are incapable of being in absolute control of our own lives—and were never meant to be—we fail at being our own gods. And since others were never meant to acknowledge us as their gods, we fail at forcing those around us to “have no other gods before us.” Bowing down to the true God is freeing; bowing down to a perfectionist is enslaving and utterly exhausting. Eventually, the slaves will revolt. The spouse has had it. The kids’ act out or get sick. The co-workers quit.

Based on miserable insecurity and fear, not on “high standards” as the perfectionist likes to suppose, perfectionism never works. “Good enough” will never be “good enough” under a perfectionist’s reign. No victimless malady, it will render both the sufferer and those who suffer the sufferer miserable.

And forget the myth that perfectionism is productive. Study after study has shown the truth one song-writer put into words: The way to write a really good song is to write a good many bad ones. Living life in a fear-based, frantic attempt to produce perfection really means not producing much at all (and certainly not enjoying the process).

Anne Lamott has written, “I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

For Christians, the truth is even more serious. Perfectionism is a denial of the gospel, a slap in the face of the Savior, as perfectionists live and act as if they need no saving at all, certainly not as much as ordinary folks. But to accept Christ’s sacrifice requires admitting our utter inability to save ourselves. It’s only when we confess our powerlessness, weakness, and imperfection that he enables us to throw off the fear, futility, and idolatry of perfectionism, to embrace his deep peace and joy and live truly gracious lives in the sure knowledge that we are saved by sheer mercy and grace.

Maybe I should delete all of the above and just write (and repeat each hour) an eight-word anti-perfectionism creed: There is one God. I am not Him.

 

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

 

Copyright 2017 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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Wonder of Wonders, God Signed on the Dotted Line!

How long do you have to live to learn to be really careful before you sign anything on that famous “dotted line”?

It seemed so easy at the time. That new ride was cool. But we were just a few “easy payments” into the seventy-for-darn-near-forever of them before we realized that they weren’t much fun and not very easy. Now we’re wondering if we’re working to one fine day finally own that vehicle or if it already owns us. Very legally. Our signature on the line was all it took. Hmm. Maybe “paid for” easily trumps cool. Dotted lines are speed bumps to rattle our brains into thinking before we sign.

We warn each other, usually from sad experience: “Better read the fine print! The devil’s in the details!” Most of us have learned that “what we don’t know” can definitely hurt us, especially if it’s in the fine print of a contract.

Along this line, dotted or not, I always feel just a little nervous when I’m installing a new computer program and that very familiar screen pops up so I can just click on “I Agree. I’ve read and understood the vast verbiage of legalese below.” Sure.

What do 99.95% of the best people you ever met do at that point? They lie. Cllliiiickkkk! And Mother Teresa or St. Francis of Assisi would do the same thing.

Of course, we haven’t read it and never intend to. Even if we tried, we’d need a Rosetta Stone course in legal mumbo-jumbo to understand a tenth of it.

But we click the button anyway. We all play the game, lest any software attorneys be rendered homeless and left unable to drop lawyer litter on our screens. Most of the time, it matters not one bit or byte. But for all we know, we might have just promised to dedicate our firstborn child to a cult of nudist vegans in Tasmania, or, heaven forbid, to never again scarf down a medium rare steak, or to swear off chocolate for the rest of our days.

Oh, it’s probably not that serious, but I guarantee you, and you already know, in lots of situations, you’d better read the fine print before signing on the dotted line, sealing the contract, doing the deal, agreeing to the agreement, consummating a covenant. Not looking before you leap has consequences.

Yes, our signatures say yes. To some sort of agreement. To some serious obligation.

Such agreements are no new thing. Covenants. The party of the first part agreeing to buy something, sell something, do something for, to, or with, the party of the second part. Nothing new.

Ah, but what if it’s the God of the universe who signs on the dotted line? “Testament” means “covenant.” Read in the Old Testament about the agreement God made with his people on Mount Sinai, and you’ll be amazed.

But far more amazing is the covenant we call “new.” (Read about it in the New Testament.) The Father initiates it, gives us his Word on it, fully pays the price for it with one Lamb, one Son, one sacrifice for all forever, an agreement sealed with the most precious drops of blood, infinitely costly to him, but free to all who believe. An amazing covenant! Grace indeed.

Wonder of wonders, God signed it.

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! And special news: An amazing, exciting, and inspirational story written by Capt. Red McDaniel, Scars and Stripes: The True Story of One Man’s Courage Facing Death as a POW in Vietnam, has now been narrated by Curtis as an audiobook. You can purchase and download the book, or listen to free sample, on Audible.com, Amazon.com, or iTunes.com. 

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Only Broken Disciples Find Grace to Be Whole

“You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” said the servant girl.

Peter, standing near the fire, startled, began backtracking. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and slinked over out into the entryway.

But the girl is speaking again, not keeping her opinion to herself: “This fellow is one of them.” Again Peter denies it, but the meddlesome girl has struck the match, and the flames are spreading. Others chime in, “Of course, you’re one of them, for you’re a Galilean.”

Yes, a Galilean fisherman, to be exact. He certainly knew some knots, and he didn’t have to reach all that far back to pull up some “nautical” terms. He cursed and swore, “I do not know the man!”

When his Lord needed him the most, Rocky crumbled, and he thundered about the man he loved more than anyone else in the world, “I tell you, I don’t even know who this man is!”

Then the sound of a rooster crowing struck his ears for the second time, even as the words attesting to his cowardice hung in the air, and he was assailed by the memory of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, “You will all deny me.”

As the whole bunch indignantly protested, one loud voice had rung out above the rest. “Lord,” Peter had opined, “even if all the rest of these deny you, I never will!”

Oh, be careful, Peter! Tread lightly, disciples then and now! We are never more dangerous or more in danger than when we’re feeling more “spiritual” than others nearby.

In that courtyard, Peter remembered Jesus’ words to him: “I tell you the truth, today—this very night—before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.”

As the rooster’s raucous call echoed away, another sound replaced it. Peter’s own sobbing. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and the rock was crushed.

On the miserable scale of human foul-ups and faithlessness, this was no small failure.  But Christ does his best work not when we’re fat and sassy and so “spiritual” we have to tie rocks to our feet to keep from ascending prematurely. No, he lifts us up when we’re broken, and we know it.

After the resurrection, Peter and crew have gone back to fishing. The risen Lord has given them a miraculous catch and cooked breakfast for them.

Then Jesus gazes at Peter. Three times he asks, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Three denials by the fire in that wretched courtyard. Three affirmations by the campfire by the sea. And three times Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.” And, yes, Peter would.

Jesus loves this broken disciple far too much to let him wallow in his woundedness. Healed with a kind of wholeness he could never know when he was cocksure of his own strength, he was filled with new gratitude, new love, new wisdom, and mercy enough to share.

Now rolling down his cheeks are tears of joy as his Lord has lifted him higher than he could ever rise when he was sure he’d never fall.

 

You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! And special news: An amazing, exciting, and inspirational story written by Capt. Red McDaniel, Scars and Stripes: The True Story of One Man’s Courage Facing Death as a POW in Vietnam, has now been narrated by Curtis as an audiobook. You can purchase and download the book, or listen to free sample, on Audible.com, Amazon.com, or iTunes.com. 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


In a World Full of Questions, a Few Answers Matter Most

 

It is no proof of superior intelligence, but even as a young man I was theoretically sure that I would not always be a young man.

As I (rarely) contemplated middle or old age, though they seemed light years away, I figured that a major consolation of being old and crotchety, say, 45, would be that by then I would probably have found answers to a great many of life’s most vexing questions.

I’m an incredibly vibrant 60 years old now. Since I can’t imagine much worse than living to be 120, I’ll admit that 60 may, at the very least, bump the outer range of middle age.

The bad news (which is not really bad since it means I’m still seeking and inquisitive) is that I have more questions than ever. The good news is that the older I get, the more I realize how few of those questions really matter much. In fact, I’d say that life’s biggest questions could be numbered without getting much past the fingers of one hand. (I can probably do with five, if you would later let me add a related question or two beneath a couple of these.)

Does God exist?

What kind of God is he?

Has he revealed himself to mankind and how?

Is he absolutely good, absolutely powerful, and absolutely loving?

And, if the answer to that last one is yes, then why does God allow pain and suffering?

These are questions of belief. That does not at all mean they can’t be approached rationally; it does mean we will always, even when we’ve seriously and diligently sought their answers, still have to say, “I believe that . . .”

And, it seems to me, even after we’ve come to confident peace about the first four, and even the fifth, we will repeatedly face situations in our own lives and the lives of others that bring us back pretty regularly, and sometimes poignantly, to that last one.

Two words are “the answer.” Free will. Of this, I am sure.

And two more points here, one of which I know, and one of which I believe. 1) “Knowing” the philosophical answer to the “problem of pain,” does not take away pain. Agonizing pain is still agonizing. 2) With all of my heart, I believe that our deepest pain hurts our Father even more than it hurts us.

In The Cross of Christ, John R. W. Stott asks, “In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”

He writes, “I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, . . . detached from the agonies of the world.”

But he continues, “Each time after a while I have had to turn away . . . to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, . . . plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.”

God suffers to one day end all suffering.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Freedom Is a Costly and Precious Gift

Until my family and I moved to Muleshoe, Texas, over thirty-two years ago, and I discovered the largest and best part of America, the “small town” part, I had never experienced Independence Day as it really ought to be experienced and celebrated. Since that time, I’ve gained new love for this special day.

I don’t know exactly what July 4th means to you. It’s just a date, but all wrapped up in the date, along with mental images of hot dogs, ice cream, and fireworks, are deeper impressions of freedom and liberty—and sacrifice. Very real sacrifices made so that our nation might remain free.

Odd, isn’t it, that freedom itself is never really free? It is, in fact, a very costly thing. The price was paid in literal blood, sweat, and tears. Many, like me, who have personally paid so little of the price of freedom but who share mightily in its blessings, tend to forget what a costly thing it is.

I hope we don’t forget. As a Christian, my love for this nation pales beside my allegiance to Christ who paid the debt to make me truly free, but it is still true that a lifetime of love and devotion to America, this grand experiment in self-government, is not enough even to begin to pay back the debt of gratitude every citizen of this land owes.

It’s a debt, you see, not just to a flag, a nation, a form of government. It’s a debt to the men and women who put their lives and liberty on the line—ordinary people who showed extraordinary courage and uncommon unselfishness by willingly laying aside their own comfort and personal pleasure so that other ordinary people, like you and me, could live as free men and women in a land whose founders recognized liberty as an “inalienable” gift bestowed not by any government but by our Creator.

The debt we owe to those who’ve gone before is real. You don’t have to belong to a particular political party to begin to pay it. You just need to realize that safeguarding your freedom to belong to any party you choose or none at all did not come cheaply.

You don’t have to agree with the domestic or foreign policy of a particular administration of government to begin to pay back that debt. You don’t have to be pleased with the quality of the nominees for high office. You just need to be thankful to live in a land where the voices of the people are heard—even if you sometimes wish they spoke with deeper wisdom and civility.

You don’t have to like everything that has gone on in this nation to begin to pay back the debt we all owe. You just need to love this land.

You’re free not to. That’s the amazing thing about freedom. You’re free not to acknowledge the blessing, not to appreciate it, not to cherish it. You’re free to be selfish and self-seeking, ignorant and arrogant, ungrateful and blind to what is still, in the midst of all of her many shortcomings and challenges, very, very good about this land.

But as long as enough people of good will choose to love this land unselfishly, living and working in ways that show a practical willingness to make sacrifices, large and small, to make this country better, one choice at a time, our nation will still be free.

 

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

 

Copyright 2017 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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