Tag Archives: heaven

“He Was Gathered to His People, Old and Full of Years”



What my wife had in mind, a long time ago now, was simply to collect and display some old family photographs. Specifically, she wanted me to scan an old photograph of my maternal grandparents, a little picture that has long sat on a shelf in my study at the church. So I did.

I knew I’d had that little framed photo for a very long time, but I’d forgotten just how long. When I carefully pulled it out of its frame to place it on the scanner, I noticed the handwritten inscription on the back of the picture. I recognized the distinctive hand immediately. It was Grandmother Key’s writing, for sure.

“To Curtis Kline, 1965. Granddaddy and Grandmother Key.”

One look at that script launched me on a trip down Memory Lane. I remembered my little grandmother’s gentle but raspy voice and how she always called me “Curtis Kline.”

You know how names work. They morph a bit. To a couple of brothers and a few friends, I’m “Curt.” To some of my larger family, I’m “C. K.” And I come to “Curtis” just fine.

But to Grandmother Key, I was always “Curtis Kline.” And, as I saw that fountain-penned script, I could almost hear Grandmother saying to my mother, “This is for Curtis Kline for Christmas, and here’s one for Jimmy.”

You see, I’m pretty sure my younger brother Jim got one, too. And I’m sure his would be inscribed to “Jimmy.”

Looking closely at that picture, I was also struck by the fact that, though I’ve always looked something like Granddaddy Key, the resemblance is definitely increasing. The mouth. The eyes. Well, the whole face.

And, yes, increasingly, the white hair! I never knew his hair to be any other color. He had all of his hair, thick and full, but he ran out of pigment early. For as long as I remember, Granddaddy’s hair was snowy white cotton.

Granddaddy ranched and trucked all of his life. He died in 1975. Six years later, in 1981, Grandmother followed. But Grandmother and Granddaddy don’t seem that long gone. They’re still a big part of who I am every day.

I’ve always sort of liked the way the writers of some books of the Old Testament, after they’ve told the story of someone’s life, will say something like this: “And he was gathered to his people.” Sometimes they add this further description: “old and full of years.”

I don’t think I’m all that old yet. I will admit that claiming to be “middle-aged” is becoming a little tougher than it once was. I’m 58 now. It could be the middle, I suppose, but I very much doubt I’ll make it to 116. At least, with all of my heart, I hope not. Enough really is enough, and I’m looking forward to something much better.

I’ll admit it! I’m in the process of filling up with years, but I don’t think I’m quite full just yet.

But, you know, being “gathered to my people,” in God’s good time, strikes me as not at all a bad thing.


      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.

“This Baby Could Live To Be 142 Years Old”

baby 01

Time magazine recently featured not a cover girl but a cover baby. The cover proclaims, “This Baby Could Live To Be 142 Years Old.”

Hmm. He’s such a cute little kid. I find it hard to believe that the little guy could have already committed such a dastardly deed that he’d deserve the kind of fate Time seems determined to pin on him.

I’m kidding. Mostly.

But, really, though long life can be a beautiful blessing, I’m not sure 142 sounds all that appealing. (The Bible’s Methuselah, at 969, has long had my heartfelt sympathy.)

I suppose if all your eggs are stuck in this earthly basket, hanging onto the basket with knuckles white might make some sense. But you can hang on too tight. Left to themselves too long, eggs get rotten and go bad. (I remember one that made its presence known behind a couch in our house six months after an indoor Easter egg hunt.) For those who, loving this amazing gift called life, trust that the Giver has the next life more than amply covered, enough here really is enough here.

I’m in no hurry to go on, but death worries me not at all. More daunting is the act of dying itself, but I figure God’s grace for each day will be present on that one as well.

I doubt it will happen this way, but if I had my choice, I’d like to be 90-something and skiing down a beautiful mountain at the end of a great family ski trip. I’d like for onlookers reporting my demise to say, “We just don’t know what the ol’ geezer was thinking! He took the biggest ski jump of all and just before he nailed that tree he had the biggest smile on his face. And this is weird—he seemed to be singing at the top of his lungs!”

Seriously, the older I get, the more real heaven becomes to me, and the more I understand the early Christians who prayed with deep feeling, “Lord Jesus, come quickly!”

I’d love for that to happen before my next breath. Outside of the Bible, the writing of C. S. Lewis has most convinced me that if we’re thinking of heaven with any sense of loss at all, we’re mistaken.

God’s people won’t lose anything. We’ll gain everything! The true essence of everything that gives glimmers of joy here will not only be present there but glorious beyond imagination. No muted glory there. Glory full on. Beauty. Joy. Love. Laughter. Nothing God makes that is good is ever lost.

God’s people can have St. Paul’s confidence that to remain here means fruitful labor, but to go on and be with the Lord is “gain” in every way! And I think we can be sure that having a genuine hope in what is coming hereafter will always make us more useful, more hopeful, more joyful right here right now.

I hope that cover baby grows to love life and the Lord who gave him the gift. If he learns where real hope lies, he’ll have learned what counts vastly more than counting years.


       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.

Notes from the Coke County Pastors’ Conference

Robert Lee-JLS

As I write this column, I’m attending the Biannual Coke County Pastors’ Conference.

“Biannual” is not one of my mother tongue’s brightest children. Wishy-washy, and depending on which authorities you consult, it can mean either “occurring twice a year” or “occurring every two years.” “Semi-annual” and “biennial” already handle “every two years.” I need “biannual” to pay for its keep, quit playing it both ways, fully adopt the best verdict, and mean “occurring twice a year.”

The Coke County Pastors’ Conference occurs twice a year. Biannual.

But if you call Coke County to inquire about the conference, most folks—county, clergy, Chamber of Commerce, and the smartest yard dogs—won’t know anything about it, even though it’s been happening biannually for well nigh 30 years.

That’s probably because the conference leaders, four of them, billed on all advertising as having accumulated collectively 175-200 years of ministry experience, are all my brothers, sons of G. B. and Wilma Shelburne. And we are the full roster of planners, speakers, attendees, and target audience members.

Oh, and I exaggerated a bit about the advertising; honestly, there is none, though we do send each other notices about the upcoming event each time around, including inquiries as to whether any one of us has a pending funeral (we’ve accumulated two since we’ve been here this time), wedding, church meeting, etc. Anything that might affect conference attendance. (And it better be a very good reason!)

The conference is held at the lovely and historic Key Place in Robert Lee, Texas. Well, we think it’s lovely, though our wives would pay good money not to stay here. (They’d likely engage in pernicious behavior, vacuuming and such). But it is certainly historic, our Granddaddy and Grandmother Key’s old home here.

Some sessions are held at the old kitchen table. Same table as a thousand years ago when we were kids except now we’ve got a light fixture on the ceiling above the table, not just old wires holding a socket and bulb with moths and other flying insects in continual orbit.

The best sessions are night meetings around the fire pit in the back “patch.” (“Yard” would be far too pretentious.) On one side is the pecan orchard. One tree is hardly an orchard, but this sole survivor is grandfathered in. On the other side is a densely-brushed creek, surely home to some interesting neighbors we never see.

In the midst of other serious business at the conference, we manage to confer some on, well, pretty much everything.

Granddaddy Key was a wise man. When he planned and built this humble Key Place in 1928 he blessed far more folks than he could imagine.

I wonder. What might the Father of us all have in mind even for this little place when “the heavens and earth” are all made new? And when our Lord says he has gone to prepare a “place” for us, that sounds exciting to me. All God’s family together.

I doubt we’ll need to do much conferring. Just some amazing praising!


    You’re invited–yea, verily, encouraged–to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!



Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

“I Go to Prepare a Place for You”

Robert Lee-JLS

“Place” matters.

When God created humans, he did not fashion us as disembodied spirits; he gave us bodies formed of matter, and a place in which to live. In fact, we do well to remember that Christianity is the only world religion that teaches the resurrection not just of the spirit, but of the body—an amazing “spiritual” body, yes, but a body nonetheless (see 1 Corinthians 15).

Our Creator gives wonderful hints in Scripture not just of a glorious future, but of an amazing place: “new heavens and new earth.”

Perhaps it was author and pastor Eugene Peterson whose words about this first hit home with me. Each one of us is born not just into this world but into a place in this world, a “locating” of ourselves that affects us deeply.

Just the tip of the iceberg is another author’s contention that even politically, folks living in cities and crowded places tend to focus more on law/regulation and folks living in wide open spaces focus more on freedom. “Place” shapes us and our perceptions and values.

Most folks who know me and my extended family very well know that my brothers and I, all four of us pastors, have for many years met twice a year at our maternal grandparents old homeplace. That small town (Hey, small towns, thank the Lord, remain the biggest and best parts of our nation!) and the little house there are precious to us. I promise you, though, most folks with no ties to that place would take one look at the house and drive on down the road to a motel.

For over 20 years, twice a year (over 40 “meetings,”) we’ve gathered at that place, come together for strength, rest, counsel, and fun, to recharge so as to have something to give back in our daily ministries and vocations.

It’s been rather amazing that for four guys, the nature of whose work means being always “on call,” the times when funerals, pastoral needs and crises, etc., have torpedoed the Robert Lee gathering have been fairly rare.

Last week’s Robert Lee gathering was, sadly, an exception. Two of us, the young troublemakers, just couldn’t pull it off this spring. I managed to get over to the old place for a few precious hours one day. Even more than usual, I found myself thinking of the blessing that place with my brothers has been, and of some lessons time has taught.

When I step through that old gate, I’m setting foot onto the place where my Key grandparents lived almost all of their lives. Joys. Sorrows. Times of great happiness. Times of deep and agonizing perplexity. Life. With God’s help, they made it through.

I see still piled by the wire fence around the “patch,” Grandmother’s collection of little rocks with hollows in them to be filled with her little cacti. Her life, and Granddaddy’s life, in this place affect me every day in many ways that I know and more that I do not. The place that molded them still shapes me.

I look back over the “brothers’ gatherings” there. We always bring laughter. We’ve also brought tears. Carefree times. Careworn times. Great times. Difficult times. But all times together. All those times in that place, more than enough to make it for us holy.

I remember Dad being there with us. And I thank his Father and ours for that place.

I’m so thankful we serve a Lord who has promised, “I go to prepare a place for you.”

The perfect place.


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

Copyright 2014 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 Only Stuff Worth Piling Up Is “Treasure in Heaven”

piles of records

A few weeks after my father passed away in January 2000, my siblings and I re-gathered to go through his stuff. And I resolved to keep less stuff.

Dad left us, and many more people as well, a legacy worth more than gold. He also left a prodigious amount of paper.

Some of it was correspondence of real historical value for anyone interested in the history of “our” little group of churches. I’ve only scratched the surface, but the letters I’ve read bear testimony to the Christlike heart, wisdom, and gentle spirit of my father, his devotion to his Father, and the struggles he, perhaps as much as any single individual, helped lead this little group of churches through. By God’s grace, Dad left a legacy of love that will long be blessing folks who never even knew him.

Yes, and I repeat, he also left much paper. Records. Files. Bible teaching materials. Most in English. A good bit in Spanish. (He loved to teach and preach in Spanish and did so fluently.)

Dad kept records of every sort. Amidst years of bank statements, I found the check he wrote to Amarillo’s Northwest Texas Hospital at my birth. I’ve never thought of myself as any great bargain, but it turns out that I was. At least if you compare 1957 dollars to 2013 dollars. My younger brother found the check paid for him as well. I don’t remember if we compared amounts, but it would be only proper if they got him a good bit more cheaply.

When our sister died in 2007, my brothers and I gathered in Houston for more stuff-sifting. She had the same packrat propensity but on steroids. And I swore a solemn oath to keep less stuff.

Ah, but there’s a reason Jesus told us to avoid oath-making. And, sadly, the only resolution I’ve ever come close to keeping is my resolution never to make resolutions.

Give me a full month to do just two things—breathe, and work on tossing the “stuff” that’s threatening to bury me—I might make a small dent in the pile. If this were the only reason my kids should pray for my longevity, it’s a good one.

But yesterday UPS delivered to my door a new shredder. Only three or four “overheat” cycles later, I’d destroyed a decade or a few of old checks and bank statements. I feel freer already.

I knew better than to look at the checks much, but just the glimpses I caught as I was feeding the machine took me on side trips down Memory Lane—and bolstered the not-so-surprising but stark truth that we write in our check registers the real story of what, and who, is most important in our lives. Two file boxes down the road, I’m nowhere near where I need to be on this journey, but . . .

Jesus told us a long time ago that the only stuff truly worth piling up is “treasure in heaven.” The rest of it, you can’t take with you.

With apologies to my children, may I say a resounding and heartfelt, “Good!” When I’m gone, I suggest to them some combination of a front end loader, matches, and a landfill—and a swift kick in the pants to any sibling who says, “Oh, I don’t know, we might need that.”


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


Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Real Joys Here Are Glimmers of Joy Hereafter


I once thought it was a bit strange that most of us think of “heaven” as being “up.” Since pretty much 100% of us who are still breathing (minus a few astronauts now pitifully reduced to hitch-hiking skyward with the Russians) live on a round planet, how can a place called “Heaven” be up for all citizens of this globe?

Now I’m a little embarrassed by the lack of biblical/theological understanding my perplexity betrayed. My ignorance on the subject is still vast, and unlikely to be cured much in the two hours I have before this column is due (the cure for ignorance is reading, and that takes some time). But I think I know a smidgeon more about the matter now than I once did.

Why should I have been surprised that most of us think of heaven as being “up”? The “heavens,” as in “the sky and the celestial objects hung there” are always for all of us here quite literally “up.”

And now, when I think of “heaven,” as in Heaven, I’m thinking less in terms of geography, earthly or celestial, and more in terms of what the Bible writers tantalizingly refer to as “the new heaven(s) and the new earth.” I’m trusting that our God, the Master Builder and Great Architect, the Consummate Artist and only True Creator, has at his side a palette of color and beauty and even dimensions dwarfing our accustomed three.

I don’t pretend to understand exactly what our Father is preparing for his children, but the hints and metaphors he has scattered around in his written revelation glitter like flecks of gold inviting us to dig deeper, live more joyfully, and with a purer longing for the completely unalloyed Joy found in God’s eternal Presence. As C. S. Lewis, drawing on Plato, reminds us, it’s not less real than the “heavens” we see here; it is far more real.

We can be sure that the essence of all that is truly good and joyful here will be found there, magnified a gazillion times. What do you love most purely, deeply, and joyfully here? None of what makes that truly joyful will be lost; it will be forever found and experienced completely.

Here everything from the color of the sunset, to the hugs of your little ones, to the smell of coffee, to the warmth of a well-laid fire in the hearth, to the sunbeams splashing through mountain aspens, to whatever you truly love that is good, be it great or small, brings genuine joy. That joy is real and beautiful and created by our Father to be received by his children with open hands and thankful hearts.

But the deepest joys we ever experience here are penlight joys compared to the full sun of Joy that awaits. Here such Joy would be too much for us, like trying to route Victoria Falls through a half-inch plastic pipe.

But our Creator is preparing a place for us, and preparing us for that place, where the unceasing torrents of cascading Joy washing over us lift us up to everlasting praise and complete fulfillment, utter contentment, and genuine life that here is only a fraction of the stuff of our best and highest dreams.

We won’t have to wait and dream there. Shadows will have given way to real, unfiltered, and eternal Joy.




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.

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