Monthly Archives: June 2019

Genuine Freedom Must Be Cherished—or Lost

Freedom. It is not a gift any government benevolently bestows upon its citizens; freedom is the gift of God to everyone created in His image. It is the responsibility of governments to recognize and protect the freedom that is already the birthright of those given life by their Creator.

It’s a blessing to be able to celebrate on July 4th the birthday of a nation “conceived in liberty.” It’s good for us all to think about the nature of freedom. For those of us who bow before Christ as Lord, it’s particularly good to engage in some reflection regarding genuine freedom.

How important is freedom for Christians? So important that the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Freedom carries with it both deep privilege and deep responsibility. If we twist it into license to be as selfish and self-centered as we wish, how long will we as individuals, as families, as any group, as a nation, as God’s church, still be truly free?

Because it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle proceeds to issue a serious warning: “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

In context, St. Paul was warning the Galatians not to allow themselves to be misled by those who trusted in what they could do (and boast about it) rather than in (humbly accepting) what Christ had fully accomplished. A needed warning still!

Freedom is easily lost. Ironically, if we loudly claim our “rights,” all the while allowing most of our relationships to be ripped apart by our own selfishness, meanness, pettiness . . . If we allow ourselves to be enslaved by our own worst attitudes, addictions, and base instincts, we can yell continually about our freedom even as we are the ones throwing it away. No one is free who chooses to live like a slave.

As a Christian, I need to remember the price Christ paid for my freedom with his own blood. If I don’t cherish that gift of love and honor the Giver, I easily become enslaved by my own worst passions. Then, whatever else I am, the one thing I am truly not is free.

And what about my citizenship in America? Oh, my deepest allegiance by far is to Christ as the highest King. Still I think it very true to say that for me a lifetime of love and devotion to America and all that is best about 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.

We don’t have to be blind to our nation’s flaws; we don’t have to agree with the domestic or foreign policy of a particular administration of government or to have voted for this or that governor or president or particular politician, to begin to pay back that debt. We just need to be immensely thankful to live in a land where the voices of the people are heard—even if we sometimes wish they spoke with deeper wisdom.

We’re free not to acknowledge the gift of freedom. Free not to appreciate it. Free not to cherish it. We’re free to be selfish and self-seeking, ignorant and arrogant, ungrateful and blind, even as we take advantage of what we don’t appreciate. And, at least as long as enough better people still love this land unselfishly, our nation will still be free.

But we won’t be. And the prison of our unhappiness will be one of our own making; our slavery, self-imposed. Freedom must be cherished—or lost.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


One Thing Is Still Marvelously Full and Free

I still miss Andy Rooney. Where’s the old curmudgeon when you need him?

Rooney’s commentary at the end of 60 Minutes was always the cream of the show. (Speaking of dairy, I still thank him for pointing out that milk that a cow would claim is just 3.2% fat; I’ve never touched 2% or “skim” since.) After his death in 2011, five weeks after his last television commentary (number 1,097), the man has been irreplaceable. Go to commercial. It’s over.

One of my favorite types of Rooney commentary came when he’d speak over a desk strewn with a variety of items and discuss how consumers were getting ripped off. I thought of him today as I reached for the toilet paper. (Quite a memorial!)

That toilet paper roll was one of those fat ones. The package promised more sheets per roll. And darn well should. If it gets any more expensive, it’ll be cheaper to use dollar bills.

But, more sheets rolled up on the roll or not, I think I’ve uncovered a nefarious plot to filch consumers. Reach for that roll and you’ll find that it rattles around, side to side, on the TP roller. Why? Because the roll is at least an inch narrower than TP rolls used to be. So, less total toilet paper. And I’ll betcha dollars to paper perforations that the price did not go down when the company went to narrower rolls. I’ll call the roll. I call it skimpy even if it’s fat.

Call them out on that (oh, we need Andy Rooney!), and I suspect the companies would give moving speeches about their heartfelt concern for the environment; they’re saving trees. I’ll believe that explanation at exactly the same moment I believe that hotel chains’ primary motivation for wanting to wash your bed linen and towels less often is their desire to help “save the planet.” Or maybe when the skimpy roll sports a lowered price. Not gonna happen. We pay the same or higher prices; we get less product.

I’m not usually much of a conspiracy theorist, but I smell a toilet paper conspiracy. I’d be tempted to suggest we all go back to using Sears catalogs and outhouses in protest (our forefathers were incredibly conscientious about such recycling), but you can’t find Sears catalogs. Or outhouses.

I think the TP narrow gauge rip-off is the T-i-P of a much larger pattern of skullduggery. Have you measured a frozen corn dog lately? They’ve been bobbed. Same price. Less dog. And research shows that since 2006 most ice cream manufacturers have gone from a full half-gallon, 64 ounces, down toward 48. If I’m paying money for what is already mostly air, albeit wonderfully sweetened and flavored, I want 64 ounces of it.

Coffee? We’re mostly getting 13 ounces or less now, not 16. And count your Saltine crackers. Fewer per package. Peanut butter “jars.” Same size? Not really. Notice the indentation in the bottom? In a wine bottle, that’s called a “punt,” and there are a number of good and plausible reasons for it. Only one reason for dents in peanut butter jar bottoms. And it’s not positive. Candy bars? Shrinking because of the companies’ over-arching concern for the health of overweight consumers. Right. Products shrink; prices stay the same. Feel the hand in your pocket? It’s not yours.

One thing is still marvelously full and absolutely free. The riches of God’s grace. And that you can count on.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Swimming in a Sea of Selfishness”

Believe me, I write this column as no sort of spiritual giant; I don’t know my own weakness as well as I should, but I surely know it enough to see warning signs pop up everywhere when I’m tempted to feel self-righteous.

And here comes that dangerous word: but. But surely anyone with any spiritual sensitivity at all doesn’t have to look long at our society to see that we are, as I heard someone put it, constantly swimming in a sea of selfishness.

We do well to consider also that, even if we can aspire to a little unselfishness, our default mode is to be self-centered. Literally. Our view of the world, our contentment in it, is easily focused, judged, and completely dependent upon how comfortable, prosperous, and happy we are at any given moment.

Are we making increasingly more money? Living more prosperously? “Standard of living” above average? Didn’t lose too many golf balls on our last round? Got slightly nicer cars than our neighbors? Attend a church where all of our “needs” are professionally met, we honor our crucified Lord by rarely ever having to sing a song we don’t much like, and the performance is top-notch? Then life—or at least the top half-inch, whatever else is below the surface—is good.

Sadly, the evidence of our society’s soul-sickening shallowness is all around us. But sometimes some little thing makes it even more starkly obvious. One “news” item did that for me yesterday.

Talk about a slow news day! This item popped up on my iPad in one of those news smorgasbords that pull from lots of sources, including one source that never gives real news—unless you want to know who may be sporting a “baby bump” or what “stars” are beginning their latest affairs.

So I was not surprised to see, from that source, a headline discussing a famous pop star’s fuss with paparazzi. She didn’t seem concerned that photographs of her way short of clothes were everywhere. But it seemed to be driving her nuts (well, nuttier) that the pics, she claims, were altered to make her look forty pounds heavier than she is. She took to Twitter to urgently assure her fans that she is still “pencil thin.”

That’s a relief.

Okay. Seriously. Not many of us need an extra forty pounds.

But much more seriously, I feel sorry for this poor rich lady. I don’t think she needs to worry much about her weight. She seems very small indeed. I wish she could find, and let her soul be filled with, real meaning and healing and purpose and hope. I feel sorry for her children who will likely grow up in financial privilege but with impoverished values that lead toward despair.

A life filled to overflowing with what doesn’t ultimately matter, what will not last, and what cannot satisfy is a sad life. And I feel particularly sad for scads of sweet little girls who, growing up in a society that idolizes such people, receive yet another push toward physical anorexia and soul-shriveling poverty.

Our children deserve better. Real joy, not counterfeit. Real beauty, not soul-rot. Real riches, not just money. Real life that thrives by giving instead of shriveling by constant consuming.

Sadly, as I write this column, I realize what frustrates me most. It’s when I look inside and am forced to see how quickly my own soul becomes self-centered, shriveled, and pencil-thin.

To point toward what really matters and will bless, not curse, those who follow us, we have to know where real life is found. Our kids will look for it where they see us looking for it. What will they find?

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


To Be Truly Meek Is to Be Truly Strong

To be truly meek is to be truly strong.

The Bible says regarding one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known that the man Moses was the meekest of all the men on the earth. But in the Hall of Fame of Meekness (call it the Hall of Fame of Humility, if you wish), I’ve been privileged to know several individuals who deserve to be included. Among the greatest of the humble, in my opinion, was my father.

If you’ve been blessed to have such a father or grandfather or mentor, you’ll know firsthand how wrong our society is to equate meekness with weakness or sheepishness, a kind of “Mary’s little lamb” sort of thing. We know that Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.” But that’s every bit as hard for our world to believe as “blessed are the poor.”

Can you imagine a large corporation giving classes in “meekness” training? No, it’s “assertiveness” training. We have, sadly enough, magazines named SELF; you’ll never find one on an adjoining shelf named, NO, YOU FIRST.

Meekness is a quality you can’t afford, our society screams.

Meek people get run over.

Meek people are doormats.

Meek people never make it to the top—and, of course, our society never stops to ask if the price paid to get to “the top” is a price worth paying.

But, as is so often the case, our society is near-sighted and wisdom-parched.

Real meekness, genuine humility, is quiet but filled with wisdom when it speaks. It thrives in a soul shaped by character, integrity, prudence, and civility. It is at the same time gentle and incredibly strong. Wherever it is found, it is a rare and beautiful blessing.

My father was a gentle man, strong in all the ways that matter and last. The Apostle Paul closes his letter to the Ephesians, “Finally, brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (6:10). And “in the Lord” is where Dad’s strength lay.

Dad was strong in Christ. And so he could be gentle. He had nothing to prove.

Dad was strong in Christ. And so he could quietly trust in God. He had no reason to be loud.

Dad’s strength was in the Lord. And so he had no reason to quarrel with those who opposed him.

Anyone who thinks he fully understands Christ’s Sermon on the Mount could well use more meekness, more humility. We probably see now only dim glimmers of the beautiful reality Christ has in mind when he says that the meek will “inherit the earth.”

But surely at least this much is true. When the loud and arrogant, the bullies and the braggarts of this world are putrefying in well-deserved decay, their fifteen minutes of fame over, God is promising that the strength and wisdom of the genuinely meek will endure and continue to be a blessing.

I would very much like to live in a world where God has put people like Moses and my father in charge, where the meek rule by God’s power and blessing.

Yes, indeed, that’s a world in which I’d love to live. It’s a world in which I plan to live.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“I Dreamed a Strange Dream”

 

Everybody dreams. Or so the sleep experts say.

I feel most refreshed when I wake up with no memory of dreaming during the night. I feel most exhausted when I had a bad or intensely frustrating dream, got up a time or two in the night, and each time was launched right back into the same past-midnight mess.

If I remember what I learned in some long-ago psychology class—maybe I just dreamed this—we all dream during sleep, but the only time we remember the dreams is when we wake up during them. And even then, as you know, they soon vanish like morning mist.

What do you make of the ones that don’t? The dreams that are particularly memorable, for good or ill?

Some are jumbles that make no sense at all. I chalk them up to fried jalapenos the night before. Some are pretty easily and obviously “interpreted.” Still, if a counselor or therapist tells you, “Oh, I know exactly what that means,” you need to fire them. He/she might have a suspicion, and depending upon how wise or crazy (that’s a technical psychological term) the professional is, might be on target. But a good one will ask the client, “Tell me, what do you think that might mean?” And they talk.

I’m just gonna talk to you. I’ll tell you my dream and then ask, “Tell me, what do you think that might mean?”

In a recent dream (it was a Saturday night, by the way), I was at a Christian church—Protestant, for sure, and Baptist, I think (choir behind me; flanked by piano and organ)—preaching at a weekend revival. That was the first problem; I’d rather be doing the music.

Second problem, it was a short revival. We’d gotten our wires crossed. For some weird reason, the bulletin said the local pastor was going to preach the Sunday morning sermon (no offense to him, I guess we were already supposed to be revived after Saturday), but there I was again, and he kindly asked me to preach. And things went south.

I’d misplaced my suit coat. Looked all over, but couldn’t find it. Oh, well. And I’d had a message prepared, but when my time came to bat, I couldn’t find that, either. For some reason, though, I had with me two large folders full of old sermon manuscripts.

So I rifled through, retrieved one, and homiletically launched out, not very sure of where I was going. An illustration started at the bottom of one page. I’d written it, but didn’t remember it. I confidently jumped into it anyway, fervently hoping that it was continued on the next page. Maybe it was. But, at some point, as I recall, the pages were blank. I was about to crash and burn, fly that sermon right into the ground. And it was “pilot error” for sure.

Ya never wanna do that. Not standing in a pulpit in front of a crowd. And, worse, I had a pastor brother and friend or two, excellent preachers, sitting in the back of the sanctuary.

Ah, well, a choir member or someone near the front suddenly had some sort of medical crisis. Attention was diverted, and that sermon is forever unfinished. Unless I have to give it another try tonight. I hope not.

Jalapenos? Quite likely.

Or am I just a small church pastor dealing with the same challenges most of my breed are dealing with these days? Stuff we feel (mostly irrationally) responsible for but can’t control. And I’m letting that bug me worse than I thought.

Eight-word sermon to me: God is in control. Now, sleep, fool! Amen.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


%d bloggers like this: