Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

When Almost Clean is not Enough

June 9, 2017

by Dr. Steven J. Callis

Washing cars to raise money is an idea that has been around for many decades.  You have seen people, usually teenagers, holding hand painted signs and trying to capture the attention of passersby.  Somewhere near their location is another group busily soaping and rinsing cars, and occasionally soaking each other.

                Often the price for a car wash is largely emblazoned on the homemade sign, maybe $3 or $5.  Some organizations simply ask for a donation which, in my mind, easily could exceed the standard rate.  From time to time there may be an organization such as a church youth group advertising a “Free, No Gimmicks” car wash.  Thoughtful youth leaders are teaching their students to give back to the community, and this event serves as their community project or ministry event.

                I distinctly remember a car wash our church youth group held when I was a teen.  We gained permission to use the parking lot at Third National Bank on Murfreesboro Road in Nashville, Tennessee.  This busy 4-lane road was a great location, and the bank was situated on the corner of two busy streets.

                Our 40-voice youth choir was planning a tour through the southeast all the way to Florida and back, singing in local churches each night and enjoying a few day trips for fun and exercise.  I was among the younger of the team members, and this would be my first big tour and my first car wash fundraiser.

                Somewhat late in the day a nice, large conversion van pulled in for a wash.  It was comical to watch the older teens try to reach the roof of the vehicle with their soapy sponges.  There were several students surrounding this van in hopes to finish it quickly.  Once it was washed and dried, our youth leader came over to inform us that the driver was unhappy with the job that was done, and that we were to do the entire vehicle again.

                After a more careful going over, the driver complained again that there still remained a couple of spots that needed washing.  Dutifully striving to make the customer happy, I suspect that there were murmurings amongst us that were out of the earshot of the owner.  Once satisfied, he laid out the cash – – a twenty dollar bill, probably 5 times what we were charging other vehicles.

                Of course, we suddenly loved that big van and its generous owner.  That’s when our youth leader informed us that the driver had planned all along to create that scenario.  He was impressed by the attitude of the kids who did what they were asked to do, yet with no glaring looks or smirks at the owner throughout the task.

                That day we learned that even though most customers were stopping simply to support the youth group, they should be able to expect a job well done.  Further, we learned that our behavior reflected on the entire group, in fact the entire church, and ultimately Jesus himself.

                Well, it is car wash season.  I hope you will find it in your heart to support youth organizations whose causes are worthy of your generosity.  After all, don’t you deserve to be driving the streets of your town in a shiny, clean vehicle?!

It’s Time to Take Out the Trash

May 23, 2017

by Dr. Steven J. Callis

In May 1987, the Bobro 400 set sail from New York Harbor with 3,200 tons of garbage. The barge travelled 6,000 miles in search of a place to dump its load. It returned to New York Harbor after 8 weeks with the same load.
 
That is an apt description of people who want nothing to do with Christian religion, or people who go to church but refuse the advances of God’s grace on their lives.  They live every day loaded down with guilt, sin, frustration, brokenness, bitterness, shame – and all the while, Jesus is waiting to take their garbage upon himself and bear that load in their place. 
 
Picture yourself leaving the house every day with a couple of bags full of garbage, carrying them on your back everywhere you go, and then returning home in the evening with those same two bags of trash.  Why would anyone do that?  They wouldn’t!  So why would we carry around our spiritual (sinful) and emotional garbage when there is Someone willing to take care of it for us?

The Choicest Seats are not Always the Most Comfortable

May 8, 2017

by Dr. Steven J. Callis

On a first date with the girl I would eventually marry, our ticketed seats to the gospel music concert in the large auditorium were located on the front row, the first two seats on the center aisle.  She was impressed that I had secured the best seats in the house.  It was as though we were being given an exclusive personal concert!

            One pastor told me that people in his church arrive early in order to get the best seats.  He explained that the sanctuary fills up quickly – from back to front!  It turned out that he was not exaggerating.  Five minutes before starting time there were literally no seats occupied in the front half of the auditorium.

            Over recent decades I have observed that the choice seats in an auditorium for most people are the aisle seats.  I just returned from a ministry leadership conference, and there truly were no bad seats in the house.  It was an excellent design with the floor slanting towards the platform, theater-type seats with removable drink holders; every seat provided quality sound and a good view of the stage.

            The rows near the back had about 20 seats in them, and I found a row with only two persons sitting in it: one in each of the two aisle seats.  The gentleman on the aisle I chose did not seem bothered when I asked if I could get by him to take another seat in the row.  However, by the end of the session he had grown obviously weary of people climbing over him to get in or get out of the row.  I wanted to remind him that he was the one who chose the end seat, but I knew he would not appreciate my helpfulness.

            What is it about the end seat that makes it so valuable and popular?  Is it the freedom of not being sandwiched between two persons?  Is it the convenience of being able to easily get up and leave?  In most cases the aisle seats are the first to be occupied, and then later arrivers must maneuver their way to the vacant spaces in the center of the row, stepping on as few feet as possible.

            You may have been at an event so crowded that someone on the stage had to ask everyone to move towards the center of the row to make room for those still arriving.  Yes, I am aware of the law known as squatter’s rights.  “I got here first.  If they wanted the choice seat, they should have come early like I did.  I planned ahead for this seat, and I am not moving.”

            I realize this is just a small, simple thing.  It does, however, expose the “me-first” attitude that our society has exaggerated over recent decades.  The apostle Paul wrote that being likeminded with Christ includes humbly considering others better than ourselves; that we should look not only to our own interests, but also to the interest of others.

            At a dinner recently someone at our table had already visited the dessert section before starting his meal, informing us that the sweets may be gone if we waited until the end of the meal.  Without thinking about it, I went on over and picked out a slice of my favorite choice, and another for a friend seated with me.  Of course, I had as much right to dessert as every one else at the event.  But I did wonder later if my somewhat selfish gesture kept another person from having dessert.

            When we view things from a Christ-minded perspective, it is no longer about our rights, but about others.  I selfishly hurried over to claim a small plate of 800 calories that I did not need in the first place, just so I would not miss out on that little treat to which I was entitled.  Yet, what I experience over and over again is that I am more at peace, satisfaction, and fulfillment when I live a life that is not primarily about me.  The deeper, truer joy is always in the giving. 

Funerals Bring out the Best in Us

March 17, 2017

Dr. Steven J. Callis

Being a pastor has afforded me many opportunities to preach or attend funerals over the years.  While these occasions provide some truly interesting stories, one common theme connecting them all is the goodness of the deceased remembered by family and friends.

In one instance where I had no personal connection with the deceased, I listened to the personal remarks of a couple of people and concluded that this person was truly a blessing to his family and church.  That’s when an elderly lady seated in front of me leaned over to her friend and “tried” to whisper, “Do you think they’re talking about another Bill Davis?”  Apparently, they thought that what we heard was too good to be true!

I recall only a handful of times when the obvious negative traits of the deceased were acknowledged.  Those speaking on behalf of the individuals were realistic and honest about the rough, sharp-edged, and even mean-spirited traits portrayed in these person’s lives.

These courageous friends and family dared to mention the ‘elephant in the room.’  Yet, their acknowledgment opened the door to also recognize some of the redeeming qualities in these individuals that may often have been overlooked by others or overshadowed by their own difficult personalities.

I was unacquainted with the deceased at the funeral I attended yesterday, but it was another of many instances where I sensed a missed blessing by not having the opportunity to know the deceased.  Though it was indicative that he persisted on having things done only his way, his love for family, friends, and church – along with an over-active sense of humor – endeared him to many people, and especially his teenage grandchildren, most of whom referred to him as ‘the greatest person they had ever known.’                 Our society has conditioned us toward suspicion, hesitant to give another person the benefit of the doubt.  We are quick to find fault and slow to look for the redeeming qualities in people.  We tend to make assumptions based on what we see (appearance) rather than what we could observe (character).

Further, we are swift to judge and unwilling to forget.  We are prone to allow a person’s single lapse in judgment or behavior to taint forever their image in our minds.  We typically are not big on mercy or second chances, which is part of our own unpalatable qualities.

The speakers at the funerals where the true colors of the deceased were stated unknowingly taught the listeners a lesson: look for and encourage the redeeming qualities of those present around us rather than waiting until they are no longer here to realize how their goodness impacts others.

I want to live my life in such a way that those who come in support of my family and to bid me farewell will readily remember the redemptive traits of behavior and attitude that, by God’s grace, I was enabled to portray.  The Bible teaches us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility to consider others more important than ourselves.”  That is what it means to live redemptively.

Marriage is a Great Way to Fly

February 24, 2017

Dr. Steven J. Callis

A hot air balloon sighting in our area is a rarity, so I was delighted a few years ago to see one in close proximity to our home.  It was flying lower than others I have seen, and by the time it was above our house, the vessel was within 400 feet from the ground.

                My middle school daughter and I decided to follow it in my truck, as it seemed to be searching for a place to set down.  About a mile down the road was a large clearing surrounded by a wooded area on three sides.  We stopped to watch, and as the balloon neared the ground it hit hard with a thud, and then its momentum dragged the basket across the lea, bouncing it along the way and, at one point, nearly toppled the occupants out completely.

                Then I heard a loud “whoooosh” and the balloon began to rise, barely missing the tree tops as it ascended back into the air.  We followed it into a neighborhood, and then to a public park where it skimmed slightly above the large pond before again ascending towards the sky.

                Finally, the pilot successfully landed the aircraft in a lot much smaller than the field in his earlier attempt.  He quickly anchored the vessel to the ground with large ropes, and then asked the bystanders for his location so that he could radio his son to come retrieve the balloon.

                There were about 15 of us watching with great interest.  While he waited for his son to arrive, he offered to take any interested onlookers up in the balloon about 200 feet while still anchored with the ropes.  My daughter took advantage of that opportunity.  Having seen his earlier attempted landing, however, I opted to be the videographer for her keepsake.

                It turned out that the young man and woman on board with him on this excursion were engaged to be married, and this balloon ride was a wedding present from one of their friends.  It must have been a friend with strong connections, because each of them was actually allowed to pilot the balloon, and one of them attempted a landing!   That explains the near disaster back in the open field!

                I thought how this almost married couple’s balloon ride paralleled the marriage on which they were about to embark.  There are high points, low points, and occasional bounces and rough spots along the way.  However, when a man and woman give themselves completely and unselfishly to the other, marriage can and should be an absolutely amazing journey!

                Unfortunately, we tend to get caught up in busy schedules, careers, debts, and other distractions that force the relationship to take a back seat where it is sometimes ignored, and at other times is a seeming nuisance.  The attention and efforts it received during the dating phase becomes crowded out by other concerns, and far too often both man and wife gradually change their quest from pleasing each other to satisfying their own ideals and ambitions, which inevitably leads to conflict

                I was not there, but I am quite sure that the people in the balloon were not wildly flapping their arms in the wind to make the aircraft fly.  They let the balloon and the wind do what they were meant to do, and the occupants simply enjoyed the ride and the beautiful view.  Marriage can be like that when we give ourselves completely to each other.    

Joy to the World: a non-Christmas Christmas Carol

December 9, 2016

Dr. Steven J. Callis

 

                JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD IS COME; LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING!  This exuberant song of praise and celebration is arguably the best known and most loved of all the traditional Christmas carols.  It seems almost a travesty to exclude it from any Christian Christmas program, especially one which is musical in nature.

                Listen closely to the lyrics the next time you sing it or hear it.  Have you ever noticed that this great song mentions nothing of the baby Jesus?  There are no references to angels, shepherds, wise men, or the Bethlehem star.  I made a quick survey of the Christmas songs in our church hymnal, and this is the only one that says nothing specifically about the Christmas story!

                Silent Night, O Holy Night, The First Noel, Away in a Manger, O Come all Ye Faithful, and even the less often sung, all declare the supporting characters and events of the birth of Christ.  However, in the festive Joy to the World, we sing only about Jesus the King and declare His victory over sin, bringing joy to those who heed His voice.

                The great hymn writer Isaac Watts composed the lyrics of this song in 1719.  The fact making it such a unique Christmas carol is that it was not written about Christmas at all!  It was a song, not about the first Advent of Christ, but about His second Advent; the Second Coming.  The original title was “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom,” Watts’ interpretation of Psalm 98. 

                In 1741 George Frederick Handel composed the music, and over a century later Lowell Mason wrote an arrangement that has stood the test of time.  Information on when and why the song became connected with Christmas is scarce.  However, the lyrics truly do ring out the message of the true meaning of Christmas.

                Advent is not only a time of anticipating the coming of Christ as Savior, but also a reminder that believers and followers of Christ live in hope and expectation of Jesus’ second – and final – coming to redeem His bride, the Church.  Just as people awaited the coming of the Messiah over 2000 years ago, so we wait with expectation today for His return.

                And so we will be presented with several opportunities this Christmas season to sing with magnificent jubilation this song of triumph as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior and declare our faith that He is coming again.  May you find true joy in Him this Christmas; a joy the world cannot take away.       

Martians, Earthquakes, and Reality

December 2, 2016

Dr. Steven J. Callis 

                Maybe it should have been broadcast on April Fool’s Day rather than as a Halloween episode.  News reports of an alien invasion by Martians were aired in 1938 titled, “War of the Worlds,” based on the H.G. Wells 1898 novel by the same title.  A radio drama directed and narrated by Orson Welles, it is said to have caused a mass panic, though some historians claim that “mass” is too strong a word because of the relatively small size of the radio audience.

                A similar event occurred in 1990, and the man at center stage was Iben Browning.  This report, however, was not a hoax or a drama program, but a genuine prediction of a major earthquake that was to transpire in the Mississippi Valley.

                With a doctoral degree in zoology, Browning worked in several scientific fields, including bio-engineering and “artificial intelligence”  – I will refrain from an attempt at humorous zingers here and let you insert your own. 

He eventually focused his interest and research on long-term weather forecasting and climate changes.  His prediction of a major earthquake caused considerable concern across the Midwest part of the country as residents and agencies prepared for a significant natural disaster that never came.  Experts examined his data and determined that his methodology was of a non-scientific character.

                Wikipedia describes him as being most notable for having made various failed predictions of disasters involving climate, volcanoes, and earthquakes, including the collapse of our government in 1992.  He wrote four books and held 90 patents.

                Since the first century, there have been approximately 175 official predictions of the end of the world; Armageddon, The Apocalypse, the second coming of Christ, and other similar terms of identification.  Nine of the predicted dates are still in the future. 

I appreciate the interest in the topic, and trust that the primary motivation is to prepare the general population for this climactic event.  However, speaking as the second person of the Godhead, Jesus declared that no one but the Father knows the time of the second Advent.  The repeated warning of the New Testament is to always be ready; be prepared and watchful, for it could happen at any moment.

Some people keep an emergency kit on hand in order to be prepared for crises such as power outages and water contamination.  The kit may include matches, batteries, flashlights, bottled water, non-perishable foods, and a battery powered radio.  They do not awaken each morning imagining that they will need the kit that day, but they are prepared if tragedy strikes.

Spiritual readiness works that way.  There is an awareness that Christ could return today, and we can live prepared for Him if it happens.  And it is that readiness which gives us purpose and mission to live each day with Him at the center of all we are and all we do.

Celebration of the first Advent, the birth of our Savior, is a reminder and an opportunity to prepare our hearts, evaluate the arrangement of our life’s priorities, and receive the coming of Christ.  Find a place of worship in your community this Christmas season and weekly hear the old but relevant story of God dwelling among us in the person of Jesus Christ.