Posted tagged ‘grace’

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.

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HE MAKES ALL THINGS NEW

March 31, 2016

Dr. Steven J. Callis

Irving Berlin’s old “Easter Parade” reveled, “In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade.”  Two facts that stand out about Easter Sunday are that more people attend church that day than on any other Sunday of the year, and many people don their new and brightly colored clothes for the church service.

I do not remember much about my parents taking me shopping for Easter clothes, but I do have vivid memories of assisting my wife with that task for our own children.  It actually was enjoyable for the most part, especially when our kids were in their early years.  Knowing that nearly every shopper in the store is there for the same purpose tends to make it seem like we all are shopping together, hoping that every one finds that perfect Easter suit or dress.

Then there is the hunting of Easter Eggs.  Unlike deer and such, Easter Egg season is only open a few days, usually not more than a week.  I suppose that is the reason my kids would not be satisfied with less than four hunts on Easter Sunday afternoon in our back yard.

I have a cartoon of a little boy talking to his friend.  They are in the kitchen, and on the table is the boy’s Easter basket with a bunny sitting on it.  The caption reads, “It’s been a week, and still no eggs!”

Easter is about rebirth, resurrection, and new beginnings; it is “the” time to begin anew, and rests at the very core of Christian belief. Even though many of our American Easter traditions are not tied to the Christian theology of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I have no problem with things like Easter bonnets, Easter eggs, or Easter bunnies (especially the marshmallow ones!), so long as we understand and emphasize the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday, and recognize the symbolism of newness in the clothes and eggs and bunnies.

The New Living Translation of Second Corinthians 5:17 reads like this: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”  In His grace He makes all things new.  And the amazing thing about grace is that it is free; unearned, unmerited love from God to man.  And all He asks is that we believe on Him; yes, ‘on’ Him.

It is not enough to believe “in” Him.  It is more than an intellectual assent to His existence.  The true believer whose life is transformed entrusts everything to the sovereignty of Christ:  careers, relationships, finances – – the apostle Peter calls us to cast ALL our cares on Christ because He cares for us and about us.

Let Him make all things new for you this Easter season.  Then find a local church where you can walk the journey with others who also have found their newness in Him.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: a change of heart

June 30, 2015

By Dr. Steven J. Callis

On Father’s Day last week my wife and I attended a church service in South Carolina.  It was a well-orchestrated time of praise and worship that included a celebration of fatherhood and manhood, yet without demeaning the significance of the “fairer” gender.

Uniquely, the service began with a video of a man playing an acoustic guitar, singing from what appeared to be a living room or office.  The song was unfamiliar to me, and I realized the reason as the lyrics unfolded.  They were freshly written to honor the victims of the tragic Bible study shooting in Charleston earlier in the week, and to encourage the families and friends of those who died, as well as all who walk in the faith.  The theme that spoke to my heart was that evil will not triumph where God’s love abounds.

The pastor stood at the conclusion of the song and explained that churches all across South Carolina were ringing their church bells that morning with nine chimes to represent those who were killed in the Bible study shooting.  He called the congregation to prayer and amid the silence clanged the bell nine times in slow, deliberate fashion, and then led us in a prayer for everyone whose lives are impacted by this event.

One would not expect such a somber beginning to fit with the traditional Father’s Day elements of a church service, but I was impressed at the way it all seemed to flow so smoothly and naturally, obviously anointed by divine intention.

Later in the day I saw news coverage of churches in Charleston ringing their bells and gathering for worship.  I appreciated the sentiment, but confess that seeing news reports could not begin to express the spirit of those moments.  In that atmosphere, in those moments, the tragedy became more personal to me than it had earlier in the week.  With each chime echoing across the sanctuary, and reverberating in my heart and mind, I was deeply moved with a mixture of sorrow and celebration; acknowledging the sadness and loss, yet knowing that God would use the crisis for His glory and for the strengthening of the faith community.

The example of wisdom and grace with which the church and its community responded to this act of evil in their midst is a model for our nation, from individual communities and people groups to the high-ranking government officials and group leaders who saw this as another opportunity to win political points rather than offer support for healing.  We witnessed members of various faiths, races, people groups, and political parties come together in Charleston for mutual edification and comfort.  They genuinely cared about each other, and they came with only one agenda: harmoniously seeking God.

If our god is politics, or personal rights, or economic gain – if our god is anything or anyone other than the one true God of Abraham, the One who was and who is and who is to come, The Almighty, then such unity and harmony will never come about.  The writing of new laws or the taking away of freedoms and rights will not cure racism or any other such ills of our culture.  It must come from the heart, not from legislation.

What we witnessed in Charleston is the re-enactment of the love of God through His only Son, portrayed by individuals who have personally experienced the measure of God’s grace and mercy, and who, therefore, cannot help but reciprocate that grace to others.  From the highest official to the common citizen, we each must make this a matter of the heart, for evil will not triumph where the love of God abounds.

Who am I?

July 8, 2014

Who am I?  I am not a country song.  I am not a member of the Walton’s cast.  I am not a character from Frozen, and I like my hairstyle just the way it is.  I am not a drink or a Pixar car.  I am not a Golden Girl, a Disney character, an exotic animal, or a member of the Star Trek gang.  I am not a position on the football field, or a flower, or a U.S. City.  I have never appeared with the cast of Friends, I am not a U.S. President, a superhero, or a vegetable.  I don’t need to take a quiz to find out how southern I am, where I should live, or how awesome my wife is.

I am, however, a creation of God’s design, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139).  I was created to praise my Maker (Psalm 148:5), and molded with purpose under His ordaining hand (Isaiah 64:8).  I am a child of God (John 1:12).  I am born again (John 3:3), sanctified wholly (1 Thessalonians 5:23), and blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).  I am justified (Romans 5:1), redeemed (Galatians 3:13), and Spirit-filled (1 Corinthians 3:16).  I am strong (Philippians 4:11), satisfied (Philippians 4:19), and content (Philippians 4:10).

That barely scratches the surface of who I am in Jesus Christ.  The apostle, Paul, summarized it well in His letter to the Corinthians:  But by the grace of God I am what I am (1 Corinthians 15:10).

 

Kicking the Kicker

December 3, 2013
Just Thinking: Many football fans tuned in to watch the Alabama-Auburn “iron bowl” last Saturday.  This annual barn burner was a highly anticipated match up this year as #1 ranked Alabama faced #4 Auburn.  It was a good game, with an unexpected and exciting finish, as the Auburn player ran the ball 100+ yards on the last play of the game to win by 6 points.

I will skip all the details of what made the game so exciting; you can find the highlights at ESPN or on youtube.  I will also omit some of the accompanying news and fallouts of the results of the game, which include an Alabama fan poisoning two prestigious trees on the Auburn campus, and a female Bama fan killing another Bama fan for not being upset enough about their defeat.

But there was much focus on the Alabama kicker who missed 2 field goals and had the third attempt blocked.  Though he had made 12 of 13 tries over the course of the season, it was of no consequence as “twitters” severely bashed him with their freedom of speech technology.  He also received several death threats because of his poor performance.  I read a few of the tweets, and it is disgusting what some people will write .

I have no stake in Bama football, but I felt so bad for him when he missed his 2nd attempt, and then to have one blocked.  And I know he felt absolutely horrible.  So I was glad to see his teammates come to his aide and support in the face of these unruly, unsympathetic fans.

The NT makes it quite clear that in the church we are not about kicking someone when they are down.  The command is to gently restore those who have sinned.  We are not judges, we are advocates.  The Body of Christ is a place for healing and growing, not for sentencing. 

But even better news is that God Himself is for us, and not against us.

“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed are those whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”  Romans 4:7-8

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”   2 Corinthians 5:18-19

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.”  Hebrews 4:15