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3 Cheers for Education

May 17, 2018

Three Cheers for Education
by Dr. Steven J. Callis

It is that time of year when educators are challenged with the task of maintaining order and the learning process among students whose minds are already focused on summer vacation.  The double shot of spring fever and the rapidly-approaching final day of school are much akin to a sugar high in children; fidgety antsy, and excited.

Reflecting on my high school days brings to mind the annual junior-senior prism ball game.  Similar to dodgeball, but played with three balls, this event occurred within the final two weeks of the school year, consumed two class periods, and took place in the school gym.  Over the years it had grown to a fun, but highly competitive, athletic event pitting the junior class against the senior class.  Those choosing not to play sat in the stands and in the balcony rooting for their team.

Technically, this was not a sanctioned event.  Administrators did not promote it or encourage it, but they did allow it to take place without penalty.  Therefore, skipping classes for the game was harmless and without consequence – – unless you were a student in Mrs. Crow’s typing class.

It was my junior year, and I distinctly heard her announce to the students that anyone skipping her class for the prism ball game would receive the grade of “F” for the entire grading period.  Our argument that the punishment did not fit the crime fell on deaf ears.  Our reasoning that she could not penalize what the administration refused to reprimand fell empty at her feet.  Surely, we thought, she will not fail the entire class!

From a student’s perspective, the junior-senior prism ball game was to some degree a rite of passage.  At the time, our school included grades 7-12, so we waited five years for our turn to play in the big year-end event; and of course, the junior class was bound and determined to defeat the seniors.

One other huge consideration is that we understood this to be our final opportunity to play in this annual rivalry.  A new comprehensive high school was under construction, and our senior year would be lived out in a school four times the size of our current school.  Most seniors were unhappy that we could not graduate from what had been “our school” since 7th grade.  And we were correct: there were no prism ball games at the new school.

Prophetically, we made the predictable youthful decision and skipped typing class.  Mrs. Crow followed through with her threat, but somehow it did not impact our final grade for the year.    Whether she was protesting the event or she was so very committed to teaching, I must admit appreciation for what I learned in her course, it having proved significantly beneficial over the years of my studies and career.

Today I applaud our students – especially this year’s high school and college graduating classes – along with our teachers, staff, and administrators for their commitment to education and the development of our young men and women.  I still have my graduation cap; I think I will take it outside and toss it in the air for ol’ time’s sake!

 

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Regrettable Words: Spoken and Unspoken

May 10, 2018

Regrettable Words: Some Spoken, Some Suppressed
by Dr. Steven J. Callis

Have you ever uttered a statement, only to immediately regret that it passed your lips?  My email provider includes a feature that allows 30 seconds to “undo” a sent message.  Oh, that we had such a feature in the human body, but we all have learned the difficult lesson that something spoken cannot be unsaid.

Myron Augsburger wrote, “Words spoken prematurely cause extended damage.  Harsh words wound; critical words destroy.  Once words are spoken they cannot be recalled and we cannot be free from the responsibility of having made the statement.”

An unfortunate illness among young children is Hoof and Mouth disease.  In later years, that malady becomes “hoof IN mouth” disease.  The idea of putting a foot in one’s mouth actually did originate in the 1870’s and the deadly virus among cattle that was called “Hoof-and-Mouth.”  A fancier term for the slip of the tongue is faux pas, a tactless statement made in a social situation.

In a less innocent scenario, one may be guilty of hurling a cruel insult or criticism towards another person.  Often the critic may feel some amount of remorse later, but the damage is already done.  No amount of regret, and no act of restitution, will enable the victim to unhear what was said –genuine repentance is a huge step in healing the relationship, nonetheless.

While the words cannot be unsaid, there is still the possibility of making it right with the other person.  On the other hand, there is no recourse for words that have been suppressed for too long.  Garth Brooks sings the question, “If tomorrow never comes, will she know how much I loved her?” How will they know if we do not demonstrate our love and verbalize it, as well?

The Bee Gees released a song as a single in 1968 titled, “Words.”  The lyrics include this line: “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.”  The gist of the song is that words can make a person happy or make a person sad.  I would contend, however, that words unspoken can do neither.

You and I are responsible for the words we speak, and for the words we suppress.  Using the adage to look before you leap, let us add that one should think before speaking.  The apostle James wrote in a letter recorded in the Bible’s New Testament, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”  We must speak words that bear meaning and purpose, because words flow from the abundance of our heart.  And if we are truly thinking about our words and their purpose, we will not suppress those expressions that our loved ones need to hear.

Life is a Marathon

April 19, 2018

Life is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

By Dr. Steven J. Callis

 

In my formative years, my brothers and I were involved in sports year round: baseball, football, and basketball.  Certainly, our parents had their hands full trying to get the three of us where we needed to be for practices and games.  Nearly every day at least one of us needed to be somewhere for some kind of sporting event.

At the high school level I added wrestling to my interests and dropped baseball and basketball.  However, there was a requirement for varsity football participants to participate in a spring sport.  I had not taken up golf at that point in my life, and being out of baseball for a few years seemed to negate that option.  So, I joined the track team.

My short, stocky body was not suited for fast or long distance running, so I never really embraced that sport with fondness.  Hence, athletes running the Peachtree Road Race or the Boston Marathon amaze me.  Premiering in 1970, the Peachtree is touted as the world’s largest 10K race with over 60,000 participants.

The Boston Marathon originated in April 1897 with 15 contestants.  Today, this 26-mile race exceeds 30,000 participants and draws over 500,000 spectators, making it the world’s oldest annual marathon and among the world’s most popular race.

Of the many interesting stories over all these years, one that stands out involved Canadian participant Rosie Ruiz.  In 1980, this amateur runner crossed the finish line first in the women’s race. Marathon officials became suspicious when it was discovered that Ruiz did not appear in race videotapes until near the end of the race. A subsequent investigation concluded that Ruiz had skipped most of the race and blended into the crowd about one mile from the finish line, where she then ran to her bogus victory.  Of course, she was disqualified and stripped of her title.

Events such as these remind me of a promise from the Bible book of Hebrews, that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have already finished the race.  “Let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Unlike the incident of 1980, in the spiritual race it does not matter when a person enters it.  They key is to finish with one’s faith intact.  No matter one’s age, it is not too late to enter the race.

The athletes who compete in road races, both amateur and professional runners, are well trained and conditioned.  They spend months or even years in preparation.  Nevertheless, they will experience during their event fatigue, aching burning muscles, back aches, dehydration, and any number of other physical obstacles.

Besides the physical challenges, runners will face circumstances such as bad weather conditions, mental and emotional stress, the tactics of other runners, equipment issues, and such.  Physical, mental, and emotional stamina are essential in overcoming the various obstacles faced throughout the race.  They must remain focused on the finish line.

In the faith race there are many obstacles dealt by life circumstances: health issues, relationship challenges, immoral and addictive temptations, financial setbacks, and many other types of hindrances.  Finishing the race with Christ necessitates a determined focus on the One who has marked to race out for us.  The hurdles will seem insurmountable when we take our eyes off of Him.

Not Even the Shadow Knows!

February 11, 2018

Dr. Steven J. Callis

                It truly is an amazing and incomprehensible thought: that a creature weighing approximately 15 pounds with a life expectancy of only 6 years is actually 131 years old!  It sounds crazy, no doubt, but more than 40,000 people saw him in “person” last week.

                His name is Phil, and he lives in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  While it is true that Phil made his official debut in 1887, evidence of a Groundhog Day has been traced as far back as 1840 in the diary of a James L. Morris.  So, we really do not know Phil’s real age!  The folks in Gobbler’s Knob have turned to Phil every year on February 2 for his prediction concerning the arrival of Spring. 

                Today Punxsutawney has a population of just under 6,000 residents.  We can only imagine the organized chaos when nearly 8 times that many people inundate the small town to experience the celebration and hopefully catch a glimpse of ol’ Phil.  Considering that his accuracy rate has been estimated as low as 39%, he is quite a popular fellow.  Actually, he owes a much of his fame to the 1993 film which boosted attendance from 2,000 to 10,000 in a single year.  That number continues to grow.

                I normally stay clear of controversial topics, but there are some people who assert that last week’s Phil is not the same groundhog that appeared back in 1887; that he is not actually 131 years old.  They argue that each time the groundhog dies, he is secretly replaced by another groundhog so as to protect the Punxsutawney legend.  They are able to play the charade because, apparently, “they all look alike.”

                Weather forecasters have a difficult task.  To what extent, I wonder, is their job security connected to the accuracy of their forecasts.  Baseball players are rarely expected to get a base hit more than 25-30% of their batter’s box appearances.  Pilots, on the other hand, are expected to successfully land their planes 100% of the time.  So, what about the weather?

                Whatever their accuracy rate, it must be better than satisfactory, because they began to predict forecasts beyond the 24-hour mark.  There are 3-day, 5-day, and even 9-day forecasts on most local news channels.  As we might imagine, the accuracy of weather pattern predictions decrease for these longer periods of time.

                Punxsutawney Phil and local weather forecasters share a common challenge:  nature refuses to be bound by animal or human control.  I do respect our weather forecasters, but it is almost comical to see the possible hurricane models, all in different colors on the map, predicted by our weather channels.  Yes, I agree that the storm likely will take one of the 15 or 20 tracks that appear on the map!  Such storms will always have “an air” of unpredictability in them!

                In the book of Job, God laid claim to every power on earth.  Nature is God’s creation.  The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.  He orchestrates the universe; He is sovereign above the plants, animals, storms, seas, winds, and humanity with all of its agencies and technologies and politics and philosophies.  He cannot be bound by human thought or prediction.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:9).  Therein do we ultimately find our rest.

Enjoy the Luster of New Fallen Snow

January 18, 2018

Dr. Steven J. Callis

Even if you are not a huge fan of the cold white stuff, there is something quite picturesque about new fallen snow covering the ground and dusting the trees.  Many people in our area would say that we have received more than our share of snow this season, especially when it is accompanied by freezing temperatures and brisk winds.

Other regions of the nation enjoy the jokes and laughter at the expense of our predicament, but the simple fact is that we have seen minimal reason to expend the necessary funds to be equipped for significant snow fall and accumulation.  The assumption is that northerners know how to drive in the snow, but it can be argued that their road conditions are not as severe because their cities are better equipped for such circumstances.

However, no amount of discussion and debate can change the fact that snow greatly impacts life in our region.  Schools close, churches cancel services and activities, and a large sector of the business world is unable to make it to work.  To a degree, everything stops until the temperatures rise and the ice melts from the roadways.

The inconvenience that such weather causes can be frustrating.  Flights are delayed, road trips are canceled, plans are changed, special events are missed, and the media warns us to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to be out on the highways.  Can there possibly be a silver lining in this snow-filled cloud?

One reason for the frustration is that we are a society on the go.  We stay busy.  We discover new ways to save time and then fill it with more busyness.  We do not like to be still.  We do not like to wait.  We do not want to relax.  Cooped up in the house for a day seems to drive us batty.

Nevertheless, we all need down time.  Physically, emotionally, and socially, our overall health demands periods of rest.  I confess that I enjoy peering out the window to see few if any vehicles on the roads.  Decades ago, such a phenomenon would be a weekly occurrence, every Sunday.  Years ago we would experience it at least on holidays.  Today, even holidays do not take a holiday.  Sundays and holidays are treated no differently than any other days of the year.  Our world does not stop; it refuses to be still.

The snow, however, forces us to stop, or at least expects us to slow down.  Families staying home can eat together, play games, read books, play in the snow, and simply enjoy being together.  Personally, I welcome the excuse to take a break from routine and a full schedule.  The Bible teaches us that the Sabbath was made for man: a time to refresh, replenish, and re-energize in order to pursue our calling the rest of the week.

Could it be that this recent snowbound adventure will help us appreciate and create periodic opportunities to disengage for the sake of our health and our families?  If so, it will make us better in the long run.

It Just Would Not Be Christmas Without Him

December 29, 2017

Dr. Steven J. Callis

 

These recent weeks have been filled with shopping, seasonal music, pageants, programs, Christmas goodies, cantatas, lights, trees, decorations, special parties and meals.  Thinking about family traditions of the season, complete this thought:  “It just would not be Christmas without…”

Presents.  Based on the time we spend shopping and wrapping, and the register in the checkbook, this is a huge part of the Christmas celebration.  At some point in life we make the transition to finding more pleasure in the giving than in the receiving.  Either way, the gift exchange is crucial.

Music.  Christmas songs have a way of lifting our spirits and putting a smile on our faces.  From the sentimental “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” to the hilarity of “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy,” song writers have collectively expressed the desires of our hearts and the merriment of the season.

Christmas Tree.  For most of us, Christmas morning is centered around the tree, covered with lights and ornaments and special decorations.  Beautifully wrapped presents find their place beneath it.  Until that time, we enjoy moments of gazing at the twinkling lights in anticipation of what is to come.  Such as it was, even Charlie Brown just had to have a tree.

Foods and sweets.  I remember my grandmother’s annual baking of her Christmas divinity and her delicious chocolate fudge; what a treat.  Will you enjoy the traditional Christmas ham again this year?  My choice never reaches the table, but those Italian Christmas trees always sound good to me (pepperoni pizza slices!)

My dad always enjoyed giving ‘gag’ gifts at Christmas, and blaming it on “St. Nick” or “The Jolly Fat Guy,” or “Santa.”  We have tried to continue the tradition, but Christmas somehow is not quite the same without my dad and his pranks.  Oh, how he loved the Christmas season!

In reality, however, it is Christmas even though dad is no longer with us.  Believe it or not, we can have Christmas without the music, and the presents, and the festive decorations, and the goodies, and the gags.  The reason it is Christmas is because Jesus was born.  God chose to lay aside His “God-ness” and take the form of a servant, teaching mankind how to love.

He still comes into our crowded, frustrated, confused, world that is bent towards egotistical living, selfish motives, and ungodly intentions.  He still chooses to live right in the midst of the messes and crises and fears of your life, guiding your steps and thoughts to the extent that you allow Him to do so.

I remember times of my childhood that we would tear open the gifts in a matter of only a few minutes, and then I would sit back and briefly experience the empty feeling that comes when I realized that the anticipation far outweighed the gifting.  I did not realize at such a young age the reason for such a let down, and I quickly ignored it ands began playing with the presents and calling friends on the phone to see what they received for Christmas.  Looking back, however, I know the reason for the emptiness: there is one place in each of us that only Jesus can fill.

Far too many people will awaken on Christmas morning and attempt to have Christmas without Jesus.  They may find temporary satisfaction, and a passing form of happiness; but He is the one who makes Christmas real.  In Christ is lasting joy and peace.  It just would not be Christmas without Him!

Longing for a Silent Night

December 15, 2017

by Dr. Steven J. Callis

I love to sing the carol, though I am uncertain as to the accuracy of the title.  Nothing about the night itself was holy; except that God chose that time to enter the world with the ultimate solution to the sin and degradation that had disrupted the peace it was created to enjoy.  He brought holy to the ordinary.  The real questionable word in the title is that first word: Silent.

First, Scripture tells us that the town of Bethlehem was filled to overflowing with people.  It was toe-to-heal traffic walking through the marketplace.  There were no vacancies to be found in any of the hotels.  Crowds of people scurrying here and there will make noise!

Add to that the reason they were there in the first place.  As we might imagine, many people were disgruntled at the necessity of travel and a government-mandated enrollment.  Rome was the political center of the world at that time, and the ‘census’ was ordered, in part, to force universal allegiance to Emperor Augustus.  People traveled long distances to fulfill this decree; a pleasure trip it was not.

Mary and Joseph found a resting place in a dwelling meant for animals.  Animals are sometimes noisy, and often smelly.  This certainly was not the ideal atmosphere for bringing a baby into the world.  Further, most of our Christmas hymns highlight the role of the angels announcing the birth of the Christ; at one point, a multitude of angels, singing loud and strong in grand celebration.

No, God probably did not enter the world on a silent night.  In fact, it makes more sense that the One bringing peace to the world would do so at a time when peace was absent.  He came to a world in need of something it could not find or produce on its own.

People who are famous in the public eye have lived under the proverbial microscope for centuries, so it is nothing new.  With the significant and rapid development of our technological world, however, I cannot remember in my lifetime when nearly every action and every statement made by influential people – including those on both sides of the political aisle – is judged, criticized, and protested in a public, widespread forum.  Our society has become more selfish, spoiled, and vocal when they are not rewarded, which leads to a divided, restless, frustrated nation.  We are in a mess, and levels of tolerance are quickly diminishing.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow voiced our perplexity in the third stanza of his poem, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day:  “And in despair I bowed my head.  ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.’ ”

But the next stanza rings out with hope, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

No, our world is not silent.  It is still a dark place much of the time.  There is sadness, fear, pain, and loneliness.  Just as God’s pure love could shine brightly on that first Christmas night, so He continues to come into our darkness, bringing peace and joy for all people.  No matter who you are, or where you have been, or what you have done, God’s redeeming grace is available for you.  Jesus, our Savior, the Prince of Peace, is born.