Tag Archives: unselfishness

“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.

 


When Dust Returns to Dust, What Kind of Wealth Matters?

Wealth. How varied and strange are the uses of that word.

More often than not, when we use the word “wealth,” we’re talking about money, a necessary commodity, for sure. But measuring wealth is not as easy as it might seem. A boatload of financial wealth, if allowed to possess us, may amount to less than a nanoparticle of the wealth that matters, the sort that frees us. (Oh, and this is tricky. A grasping, greedy soul can be throttled by much or by little.)

Surely you don’t have to think long to call to mind some folks the world labels “successful” simply and only because they have money but who are utterly pathetic and appalling by any other standard. Wealthy, are they? Well.

If you have more dollars or dinars, more pesos or pounds, more shekels or shillings, more francs or marks or rupees or yen, than anyone else in the world, you will most certainly be called wealthy. Your life will be quite different from that of the poorest person on the planet—right up until one millisecond after both hearts stop and both souls are launched toward the only accounting that really matters.

But back in this world, some other accounting may actually continue for a bit.

The first spreadsheet will be a short one. “Amount of money dead filthy rich guy (or gal) or dead pitifully poor guy (or gal) takes to grave” will be zero. Naught. Zilch. Nada. May I press that truth home? The zero for deep pockets guy will look exactly the same as the zero for no pockets guy.

The heirs of our hypothetical not-breathing folks may be arranging for their bodily passage to putrefaction to be first class or coach, but it won’t matter a worm’s eyelash to the honoree whether he’s boxed in hand-waxed cedar (cushioned in comfort) or Amazon-recycled cardboard (stowed in a bag amidst those white packing “ghost farts”). Eventually, dust is dust is dust and pretty much just dust. Beautiful cemetery or pauper’s field, million-dollar mausoleum or a fish’s belly in the bottom of the sea, the location will matter not in the least to the deceased.

But another inventory and another sort of spreadsheet will be left behind in hearts that remain beating. Perhaps this inventory will be counted by tears of gratitude. By warm memories. By smiles. By a life well-lived. By a large soul that valued relationships far more than things and planted seeds of joy and love, mercy and trust, in all the good hearts it touched, seeds that will bear sweet fruit for generations to come.

In God’s economy, rich folks and poor folks and all the many more folks in between can all possess the wealth that truly matters and lasts beyond the grave. “Treasures in heaven” begin to be accumulated when we treasure what truly matters right here. If we’ve not given ourselves away to our Creator and to those we love before we leave, what we leave behind will only be dust.

It will matter not whether kings and queens attend our send-off. The sweet tear of a grandchild we taught to love the One who will bring us together again forever, and the “well done” of the Author of life who walked with us all of our life and receives us now, will be worth immeasurably more. Wealth indeed.

 

     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.


Genuine Happiness Is Never Found By Focusing on Self

 

One In C. S. Lewis’ account of his early life, Surprised by Joy, Lewis begins by writing about the two family strains that had come together to give him life. On his father’s side . . .

By the way, Dr. J. D. Grey, for many years pastor of New Orleans’ First Baptist Church, used to tell the story of a little lad who lived a long way from his paternal grandmother. When the boy went with his father to the railway station to pick her up, she hugged him and said, “Young man, I’m your grandmother on your father’s side.” To which the lad replied, “That may be, but you won’t be in the house ten minutes before you figure out that you’re on the wrong side!”

On his father’s side, Lewis descended from Welshmen: “sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical, easily moved both to anger and to tenderness; men who laughed and cried a great deal and who had not much of the talent for happiness.”

Lewis’ mother, however, like her family, was a woman of “cheerful and tranquil affection.” Her people “had the talent for happiness in a high degree” and “went straight for it as experienced travelers go for the best seat in a train.”

You’ve probably noticed long ago that not only is not everyone happy, a good many folks seem to possess little or no “talent” for happiness at all.

I don’t mean to be cynical, and I don’t think I’m telling you something you don’t already know, but you probably can’t make unhappy folks happy no matter what you do, and I suspect it’s unwise to waste too much time trying.

Some folks are unhappy at work. They’re unhappy at school. They’re unhappy at the Little League park. They’re unhappy at the grocery store, at the church, at the bank, and at the barber shop. See a pattern?

The sad fact is that unhappy people tend to spread their unhappiness like chicken pox in a kindergarten class; it seems to be a sad law that unhappy people never seem closer to a twisted sort of happiness than when they’re busy making other people unhappy. Misery does indeed love company.

Until unhappy folks make a decision to be happy, they won’t be. Not only can you not make them happy, if you spend a good bit of your time trying, you will only succeed in becoming the unhappiest of all. Even if you get a little fleeting smile out of them if you stand on your head and stack a dozen or so BBs on your nose, they’ll suddenly remember that they knew somebody back in Kansas who was able to do the same thing except he stacked two dozen BBs in the air sideways while singing “Climb Every Mountain.”

People who want to be unhappy almost certainly will be. So what to do?

Be sure you’re not one of them. (Focusing on Christ and on others and on your blessings and not on your own navel will go a long way toward producing happiness under your own hat.) Love them by behaving in Christlike ways toward them. Pray for them. Model thankful and joyful living as you thank God with every breath that he has taught you how to find happiness by focusing outside yourself.

 

      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.


The Guiding Principle of Heaven Is . . .

 

 

brokenheart

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.

 

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

      

  

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.


An Entitlement Mentality Is Deadly to Souls

 

entitlement

“This entitlement mentality is going to kill our nation.”

Repeatedly, we hear modern-day “prophets” mouthing that combination complaint-diagnosis-warning. I take no pleasure in believing that those “prophets” are very likely right.

Paul Harvey used to warn, “Self-government without self-discipline will not work.”

The entitlement mentality of those who make heavy demands while failing to shoulder any responsibilities is poison. And I hate what happens to the souls of those who adopt “victim-hood” as their identity.

I hate it even worse when I see that entitlement mentality creeping into my own soul. Like a bum hitching a ride on a freight train, that sick way of thinking steals its way onto my heart. I may not see it jump on, but I can know it’s there when I catch myself grinching and grousing because of something I don’t have but wish I did, something I used to have but don’t have now, something I have but feel I should have much more of. My joy is being derailed.

I can know for sure that the greedy and grinchy intruder, a poisonous parasite, has attached itself to my soul when I find myself often asking with deep poignancy, “Am I happy?” thereby ensuring that I won’t be, can’t be.

Real happiness is a by-product of living a life not centered on self, a life genuinely focused on others and the Giver of life.

A self-centered, inward turned, navel-gazing, “poor pitiful me” sort of life makes its own life a hell and issues in a hellish existence for those around it. With eyes locked in a selfish death-gaze, it can’t know happiness. In truth, real happiness is the last thing it wants. It opts instead, in a thousand twisted, sick ways, to slavishly suck all the bitter poison out of living life focused inward.

To look outward and center on the well-being of others would be to find health and healing, but the price for happiness—to turn its back on self—is a price it is absolutely unwilling to pay. Literally, here and hereafter, it would rather focus on self in hell than on God in heaven.

Before he healed a sufferer, Jesus once asked, “Do you want to be healed?” It was a real question. And this real question comes to each of us. Do we want to be happy?

Take some time. Think about it. Answer truthfully. Saying “yes” will mean giving up perpetually playing the victim. It will mean focusing on what we have, not on what we don’t. It will mean genuinely, in practical ways, caring more about others than ourselves. It will mean giving up claims to what we love to think we’re entitled to, realizing that even the things we are sure we’ve earned by our hard work or pedigree or excellent character are, in fact, not our “due” but are God’s gifts.

In his fine book Soul Keeping, John Ortberg writes simply but truly, “You can’t be grateful for something you believe you are entitled to. And without a grateful heart, the soul suffers because the soul needs gratitude.”

An entitlement mentality doesn’t just kill nations. It kills souls. To choose to be grateful is to choose life and happiness.

 

      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.

 


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