Joy to the World: a non-Christmas Christmas Carol

Posted December 9, 2016 by stevenjcallis
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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

Posted December 2, 2016 by stevenjcallis
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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.

Presidential Elections Past and Present

Posted November 6, 2016 by stevenjcallis
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Dr. Steven J. Callis

            The current U.S. presidential campaigns have certainly stirred the emotions of the American people.  Accusations and scandals are in the headlines constantly.  Truth seems to be obscured, and both of the main parties have had their share of embarrassing moments.  The candidates, their staff and families, the parties, and the media all have been blamed for this nation-dividing campaign.
            However, history has recorded previous election tidbits that parallel this election season.  For example, in light of our “early voting” option, t
he US Constitution does not state when Election Day should be, so in the early 1800s, people could vote from April to December.  In 1845, Congress decided that voting day would be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
            In reference to race and gender, t
he first woman to run for US President was Victoria Woodhull in 1872, nearly 50 years before the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote in presidential elections.  Her running mate, Frederick Douglass, was the first African-American ever nominated for Vice President.

            Media has come to play a significant role in our election process.  The ultimate “whoops” moment in a US presidential election happened when the Chicago Daily Tribune headline mistakenly declared that Dewey beat Truman in 1946.

            Mudslinging is not new to politics.  During the John Quincy and Andrew Jackson election year, Jackson called John Quincy a pimp, and Quincy called Jackson’s wife a slut and his mother a prostitute.

            Congress gave Native Americans the right to vote in presidential elections in 1924; however, some states banned them from voting until the 1940s.  American women won the right to vote in 1920. In 1872, Susan B Anthony, a white social reformer and feminist activist, was arrested for attempting to vote in the presidential election.

            The United States presidential election of 1876 was held on Tuesday, November 7, 1876.  It was one of the most contentious and controversial presidential elections in American history. The results of the election remain among the most disputed ever.  In four states, each party reported that its candidate had won.  The question of who should have been awarded these 20 electoral votes is the source of the continued controversy.

            Admittedly, ours is not a perfect system.  It seems that as one glitch is resolved, we find new ways to confuse the process.  Could this be the reason for low voter turnout in presidential elections?  It is a concerning fact that, despite the billions of dollars spent on campaigns, roughly half of the American population does not care enough to vote.

            My vote seems like a small grain of sand on the coastal beaches, but it is a vote – my vote.  It matters to me who leads our nation, and the direction our country takes for the betterment of society and the world.  It matters to me that we faithfully build upon the foundation laid by our founding fathers and for which our veterans and active military fight to preserve. 

            I refuse to take this privilege and responsibility lightly.  If you have not already voted, I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to stand up for your beliefs.  May God’s hand of grace and mercy be upon this United States of America.

Trunk Treating Offers a Guarded Environment for our Kids

Posted November 3, 2016 by stevenjcallis
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Dr. Steven J. Callis

Dressing up like a football player was not only an expression of a dream, but it was a costume that was readily available.  I loved playing football as a kid, and I had all the right equipment: shoulder pads, helmet, and all.  I do remember my older brothers making a costume for me out of a pillow case when I was little, but I really liked being a football player.

                Things were different in those days.  Children went trick-or-treating with no worries.  The popcorn ball or chocolate chip cookies wrapped in cellophane from Mrs. Carney were safe to eat.  There was no danger in stepping inside Mrs. Fowler’s house for a cup of hot chocolate.  We had the freedom to walk to other neighborhoods for a chance to increase the amount of our sweet plunder.

                My best friends back then, Mike and Max, lived two neighborhoods over.  On Saturdays or summer days my mom thought nothing of me being outside all day long.  She knew I would come home if I got hungry or tired, and that not doing so meant one of the other moms fed us lunch.  My mom took her turn feeding us from time to time, as well.

                Today’s practice of “trunk ‘n treat” began, at least in part, as a safe alternative to traditional door-to-door hunting.  A host of vehicles in a church or school parking lot offers a safer environment.  And think of the time and energy the children save when they only have to walk ten feet between treaters!

                Shopping malls also offer a safe environment for this annual candyfest.  Stores gladly welcome children as a way to express appreciation for the community patronage and to provide for a safer evening of fun.

                How did we get here?  How did our society digress in only 50 years from unlocked doors, handshake agreements, and neighborly behavior to a fear of tainted candy, child abduction, and various forms of unprovoked meanness?  How did we breed that sense of entitlement that becomes motivation for disrespect and mistreatment of other human beings?

                Author Henry James, three-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.”  Apparently, that is something easier said than done, based on our news headlines and personal dealings with the general public.

                I still believe that the overwhelming majority of our population is represented by kind-hearted people, and acts of kindness are usually reciprocated.  Nevertheless, it is necessary today that we live our lives in precaution, not taking that kindness for granted.  More and more, it seems there are people seeking opportunity to take advantage of the kind and unguarded.

                So, I am thankful for my childhood memories of fun and almost fearless freedom to be a kid.  At the same time, I am glad to be part of a community that offers safer environments for our families on occasions such as the one that is immediately upon us.  It is encouraging to see so many people working together for the sake of our youth.  Happy treating!

That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

Posted September 27, 2016 by stevenjcallis
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Dr. Steven J. Callis

Their names many not be immediately recognized, but Jeffrey Petkovich and Peter Debernardi were the first to ever survive the Horshoe Falls, going over the 176-foot-high Niagara Falls in a barrel.  They came out of the feat with only minor injuries – and an arrest!  They were fined for breaking Niagara Park laws.  Following that incident, the fine for anyone attempting this particular stunt was increased to $10,000 and confiscation of the barrel. 

 

I assume they were sober when they attempted this feat, and even when they thought of the idea.  On the side of their barrel were the words, “DON’T PUT YOURSELF TO THE EDGE – DRUGS WILL KILL YOU.”  So, the question in the minds of us non-risk-taking people: “Why?” 

 

Most of us can remember being part of a group where someone came up with a somewhat off-the-wall idea and, before we knew it, we were engaged in a risky, or dangerous, or senseless shenanigan.  Success or failure did not matter nearly so much as the fact that “we did it.”

 

Well, I suppose we can only speculate about this two-man barrel riding team, but one hypothesis can be based on the words of one of the team members – – DeBernardi was quoted as saying that it was a small price (injuries and fines) to pay to be immortalized in the history books. 

 

It worked.  Others may claim to have accomplished the same feat, but only these two can claim to have accomplished it first.  That fact of history will not change.  Of course, their names are not readily known across the world, but one minute of internet browsing can lead a person to the names of the first persons to survive Niagara Falls. 

 

They did it for the fame.  On the positive side, we could say that they wanted to leave a mark in this world; a legacy.  On the other hand, I am still wondering how their contribution to our world made life better for people.

 

C.T. Studd wrote a beautiful lyric that centered on this thought: Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last. 

I am not opposed to having fun, nor do I insist that every single action we take should have serious meaning.  It is my conviction, however, that each of us should live life with purpose, and that the legacy we desire to leave with this world is one that positively and lastingly impacts the good of humankind.

When someone says of you, “Wow, that is going to leave a mark,” let it be a mark of goodness on our fellow man.

What are You Doing Next Sunday?

Posted August 24, 2016 by stevenjcallis
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by Dr. Steven J. Callis

NBC commentators have been under criticism for their frequent reference to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps as “old.”  A couple of times they even noted that the 31 year old was struggling to get out of the pool. In response, one vocal critic said she guessed that 31 is the new 80.  That is one more reference that reminds me of how people speak of the “new normal,” noting how things have changed and are not what they used to be.

Well, it seems to me, then, that Sunday is the new Saturday.  Too often people are doing things on Sunday that could have been done on Saturday, and their delay is interfering with church and other spiritual things.  Now I don’t want to debate what is and is not proper “Sabbath behavior.”  But I know for a fact that God did not create the weekend, nor did he create the 5-day work week.  Those are man’s ideas.  God created six days for normal activity and one day for what He called ‘rest.’
 
What I do know is that it is designed to be different from the other 6 days, and that it is to be used for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual restoration that fits us for our labors.  We are not told in Scripture how to spend the day, but we are commanded to keep it holy.  And in the flow of the Ten Commandments, the 4th commandment about the Sabbath follows three other commands about how we are to revere and honor God and His name.  All 4 commands seem to be connected.
 
I encourage you to plan ahead.  Reconsider your priorities.  Take God seriously. This command must be quite important to the Lord, or else it would not have made the top 10!  We must give God His proper place in all we do.

How to Keep the Proverbial Fat lady Offstage

Posted August 4, 2016 by stevenjcallis
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by Dr. Steven J. Callis

 

            You have heard it, and likely have said it yourself:  it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.  The original use of the phrase has been attributed to sports journalist Ralph Carpenter in 1976, referring to a surprising comeback by the Texas Tech men’s basketball team to tie the game.  Someone said to Carpenter that it appeared the game was going to be close after all, to which he replied, “Right.  The opera isn’t over until the fat lady sings.”

            The reference, of course, is to the stereotypical image of an overweight opera soprano singing the finale, and is actually traced back to a specific opera and its soprano soloist, Amalie Materna.  The colloquial phrase is not meant to offensively profile such singers, rather it has come to mean that one cannot necessarily know the outcome of a given circumstance until is actually happens.  Until that moment, there is still hope that a bad situation can turn itself around.

            My eldest brother is 68 years of age.  Over recent years he has experienced several difficult health issues, including hip replacement and neck surgery.  However, this retired psychologist and university professor is not quite ready to surrender to the physical and emotional challenges that tend to accompany aging.  Last week on a trip to Florida he completed his training and is now a certified scuba diver; not too shabby for a mid-America resident where scuba diving is not a typical sport for that geographical area.

            We are a family that likes to laugh and joke.  I told him I did not even know he could swim!  One of his sons commented that this was no mid-life moment, but an end-life moment.  My brother remarked of himself that if the saying is true that “you’re only as old as you feel,” he must have reached triple figures.

            Whether referring to age of life, the score in a game, a pending medical test result, or any other difficult place in your life, refuse to lose hope and, instead, cling to your faith.  Do not allow the proverbial fat lady to come out on stage for the finale until it really is her turn to sing; or if you prefer Yogi Berra’s similar proverb, remember that “It ain’t over till it’s over.” 

            The ability to cling to that hope, by the way, is ultimately linked to your belief system, which is the true source of your hope.  Dr. David Busic recently wrote, “Christian hope is not the power of positive thinking.  It is not based on circumstances, good or bad.  It is not new and better ideas, utopian philosophies, or reformed politics.  Christian hope is objectively focused on the person of Jesus Christ who has been revealed to us as the ‘grace of God,’ ‘the salvation of all people,’ and our ‘blessed hope.’  Hope in anything else will not give us what we are looking for…”

            Nearly two centuries ago Edward Mote put it this way: “On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”  May you find your hope to be sufficient today.