Monday, August 26, 2013


No one has taught me more about how to praise the Lord than Frederick Buechner.  Certainly the Psalms provide me language and expressions of praise, but I want to offer some praise on my own.  That’s where Buechner helped me a lot.  He reminded me that praise is not so much paying compliments as it is paying attention.  Since God is so very thick in our everyday lives, Buechner suggests a little exercise of putting a frame around a moment in time, finding God in it, and turning that into praise.  It’s a rewarding and soul-deepening exercise in which I learn to delight in and enjoy God so very much. 

This has been my practice off and on across the last fifteen years or so.  Sometimes I practice it more rigorously than others.  And when I do, God does not disappoint.  He provides the ingredients I need to mix up a batch of praise all along the way.  You can do this too, you know.  It takes no special gift to do it.  All it requires is learning to stop, look, and listen—to pay attention to moments in our lives that are thick with God if we’ll just notice.

As grist for the mill of your very own praise, I offer these praise reflections from my month of leave this summer:

Praise is taking a trip with my son and his son to take in some baseball games, grateful that they share my love of baseball—which will someday pass away—but more grateful yet that they share my love of God and God’s things which will never pass away.

Praise is sitting in a busy airport, watching all kinds of people, wondering who they are, where they're heading, what's their story, and marveling that God knows each and every one. 

Praise is visiting with an old Missouri friend who is so enjoying the Virginia church he pastors, and thankful that God in His wisdom knows how to put the right pastor in the right spot so Christ’s church might be blessed and God might be glorified.

Praise is enjoying the sight, sounds, and monuments of our nation’s capital, keenly aware of the power that resides there, but rejoicing all the more that God is on His throne and has way more power still.

Praise is a botanical garden filled with a thousand different plants in a rainbow of color.  Praise is a dead tree in a tidal basin reaching up its arms to God, still praising Him in its deadness.

Praise is chatting with a Pakistani taxi driver about Isa—Jesus—and remembering that God loves the world and gave His only Son that those who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Praise is watching the Orioles beat the Yankees.  But even more, praise is sitting in a full stadium, listening to people cheer on their team, and remembering that we believers are surrounded by a great cloud of unseen witnesses who cheer us on as we seek to live our faith in this world.

Praise is seeing a Bible in an airport bookstore, humbly taking its out of the way spot in the marketplace of ideas, and knowing that of the millions of words in the books in that store, only these Bible words will endure forever.

Praise is worshiping in small Baptist church with only a handful of people in which Dayna and I were among the youngest, a lady leading slow, old hymns from the piano, and a young pastor who preached his heart out, believing God still has a hope and a future for that church.  And God does.

Praise is attending one funeral and assisting in another, saddened at the death of friends, but grateful knowing that they have heard on the other side of the grave the restful benediction of Revelation: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…."

Praise is having one little girl jump in your arms and another grab your leg and shout, “Papa!”

Praise is sitting on my daughter’s porch at a Christian camp listening to the morning symphony: the gentle breeze plays percussion in a grove of trees; a bird squawks in her perch; a goat b-a-a-as from behind the house, a sprinkler plays marimba.  Add to that the muffled chatter of campers waking and stirring about, the sound of doors opening and closing, and the creaky swing on which I’m rocking which keeps rhythm with it all on a morning in which God’s mercies are fresh yet again in Jesus Christ.  Mozart couldn’t do it better.

Praise is watching two young men who grew up in this church have a Christ-impact on the lives of teenagers.

Praise is a piece of coconut cream pie from the Blue Bonnet Café in Marble Falls, Texas.

Praise is getting some alone time with my daughter and having a rare, rich conversation, just her and me, as we made our way to town and back.  When did this little girl become such a remarkable, godly young woman?  How I praise you, God.

Praise is sitting in a recently planted church filled with mostly teenagers and young adults, the band plays and the congregation rocks out to songs I’ve never heard at a volume level that’s out of my comfort zone, and yet grateful that God receives this praise as gladly as He receives an established church singing Amazing Grace or To God Be the Glory.  What a large and mighty God He is!  What a lover of diversity and variety!  How gracious God is to meet us where we are!

Praise is listening to a preacher tell again the story of Jonah and the relentless love of God in Jesus Christ that pursues runaways, tracks them down, gets their attention, forgives their sins, and restores them to blessing and usefulness again.

Praise is sitting in a ballpark in Kansas City with my father-in-law and his brother to watch the Orioles and the Royals, checking Facebook during batting practice, and seeing a post from a Kansas City friend who, knowing I’m an Oriole fan, wrote, “I wish John McCallum could be here.”  Was he ever surprised when I immediately responded, “Your wish is granted.  I’m in section 217.”  To which he responded, “Stand up and look behind you at the glass windows.”  I did and he and another old KC friend were waving to me there.  We ended up getting to chat for a while.  Praise is that serendipitous blessing that God just gives to His children now and then because He loves us and because it delights Him to do it.

And at the end of a little time away, praise is turning into a driveway, grateful to have a place called home.

Don’t you see?  The ingredients needed to mix up a batch of praise are all around us.  You don’t have to go to some store to get them; they’re right before your eyes.  We just need to pay attention.  Praise begins by paying attention, by putting a frame around moments in time, by opening our eyes and ears, taking in the glory of the moment, and turning it to God in prayer.

You can do this.  And both life and your walk with God will be richer when you do.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I Will Not Go Quietly Into the Night

Last year it was my turn.  Yesterday it was Dayna’s turn.  I’m talking about one of those things we have to do as we get older.  I’m talking about the kind of medical test where the doctor shows you post-procedure pictures and uses phrases like “normal signs of age” and “when we get older” a lot.  I’m talking about the good old colonoscopy.  After all, “folks our age” are more susceptible to colon cancer, and the best preventative is the colonoscopy.

But it’s all a little awkward, you know.  The procedure is no big deal really, but the prep is a nightmare.  And when people know it’s happening, nobody’s quite sure just what to say to you. Those who have had one just kind of offer a sheepish grin and a knowing nod.  Others kind of groan a little.  And the younger set sometimes say, “Well, I guess I’m getting close to the age when I’m going to have to do that myself.”  Then there are those who just have to tease you a little about the whole thing.  If it’s prep day someone may say, “Enjoy your day at the pool” or “So Mr. President, you’ll be spending all day in the oval office, I see.”  Har-dee-har-har!

It’s awkward.  And just what do you say to your doctor?  I read a list of comments doctors reported that their patients said about the procedure.  My favorite is this one: “Could you please write a note for my wife saying that my head is not up there?”  Yeah, it’s a little awkward—way more than “Please open your mouth and say, ‘Ahhhhh,’” about the same as “Turn your head and cough,” but not quite as awkward as when the doctor snaps on a glove, lubricates the finger, and says, “Okay, now bend over and relax.”  (No doubt women have different things to compare it too on the awkward meter.)  None of it is pleasant for either doctor or patient, I suspect, but it’s what we do to try to take care of our bodies and maintain our health—especially for “folks our age.”

And it’s worth it.  The Bible describes the Christian’s body as “God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit lives in you” (1 Cor. 3:16).  It’s wise, important, and even spiritual to take care of the body that houses God’s Spirit.  Personally I find the image of the body being a temple of the Holy Spirit far more appealing that the view espoused by TV chef Anthony Bourdain who recently advised his audience, "Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride."  Playing off that quote, The Week magazine held a contest of its readers asking them what would be a good name for a theme park ride based on the typical American's body?  Here are some of the best answers:

  • Sedentary Mountain
  • Cholester-Roll
  • Plumper Cars
  • Tunnel of Love Handles
  • The Tragic Kingdom
  • The Expanding Universe
  • SORRY—ride closed due to poor maintenance

How true is that!  Many of us, and that includes many Christians, just don’t treat our bodies very well.  We eat poorly.  We exercise little.  We don’t get enough sleep.  We gain too much weight.  We avoid the doctor.  And consequently we find ourselves—especially “folks our age”—tired, overweight, lethargic, and full of aches and pains.

Some of you may say, “Well, it’s too late for me to do anything about it.”  Wrong!  No matter how old you are, you can adopt habits that will make quick improvements to your health now and reap long term benefits for the future.  How much better if we adopt these good health habits when we’re young, but we can adopt them at any age.  

There are plenty of excuses.  Anyone can find reasons why they can’t do one thing or another.  But all of us can do something.  All of us can eat better.  All of us can exercise in some fashion.  All of us can get age-appropriate medical attention (and especially with the advent of the new health care legislation).  Why would you not?

I’m almost 57 years old.  I can physically do things now I couldn’t do in my 20s and 30s.  And the best news about that is not that I can do a bunch of pushups or pull-ups or crazy cardio things.  The best news about that is that I am strong enough to serve the Lord with energy and vitality and focus.  See, it’s more than a matter of looking good and feeling good; it’s a matter of Christian stewardship.

A lot of people have illnesses that won’t allow them to do the things they once could do.  That’s just one of life’s sad realities.  But if you are reasonably healthy, you have no excuse but to take better care of your body.  Paul wrote, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).  Sure, godliness is better.  And yes, as some wag once pointed out, “The only real value in exercise is that you die healthier.”  But there is “some value” in physical training, and it has a godly dimension too.  Embrace that value.

I have.  You can too.  One of these days, my body will get sick or break down in dramatic ways I can’t control that may limit what I can do physically.  I can accept that.  But I also can say this: even when that day comes, I won’t go quietly into the night.  

I hope you won’t either.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

What It Means to Be a McCallum: A Birthday Gift for Noah

My oldest grandson, Noah, turns 12 today.  I couldn’t be prouder of him.  He’s growing up so fast.  And just to show off my math skills, he will turn 13 next year.  So he enters his last year before he becomes a teenager.  But he’s old enough for the message I want to give him today.  And this is not just for him.  It’s for the rest of my grandkids too, when they get old enough to appreciate it and understand it.

Noah, you are a McCallum.  I know that you are not 100% McCallum.  Nobody is 100% from one family.  If they are, well, they have other issues to be concerned with, and that’s just a little weird.  You are also an Evans.  But you bear the McCallum name.  And you will carry that name with you forever.  So Noah, I want to tell you what it means to be a McCallum

We McCallums hail from Kenteyre, Argyllshire, Scotland.  Though most of our records trace back only to 1690, it’s likely, though not definitive, that some of our ancestors fought alongside William Wallace for Scottish independence at the turn of the 14th century.  We certainly have some warrior in our blood.  We came to the United States in 1770.  We came through North Carolina.  Not many McCallums fought officially in the Revolutionary War because in securing permission to leave Scotland for America, we had to take an oath not to fight against the English crown.  Still, records show that some McCallums got into the action when they believed that British cruelty in the war broke the King’s side of the oath.  In fact, we have some kind of distant kinship to Francis Marion, also known as the Swamp Fox from South Carolina who wrecked havoc with the British during the latter part of the war.  (Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot is loosely based upon Marion’s work in the war.)  I don’t know the exact relation, but your great-great aunts (my dad’s sisters) were all part of the organization called Daughters of the American Revolution because of this connection.

Our clan moved from North Carolina across through Tennessee.  Our particular branch of the family tree put down roots in Union Church, Mississippi.  Because of our deep connections to the South, we also had family involved in the Civil War.  Later, in the 20th century, your great-grandfather (my dad) and his two brothers all served in World War II.  Your great-grandfather was a Navy Seabee in the South Pacific.  And your great-great uncles served in the Army Air Corps—Uncle John (for whom I’m named) served in Europe, and Uncle Robert served in the South Pacific.  Later my brother Bill served in the Marines and then in the Army and helped America win the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  You’ve got some warrior blood running through your veins.  That’s part of what it means to be a McCallum.

You also have the blood of success.  By success I don’t mean multi-millionaires.  I mean you have a heritage of family who grew up left home and made a way for themselves in a variety of occupations.  You’ve got farmers and businessmen and engineers and a city sheriff (my grandfather who was killed in the line of duty in 1928), and yes, even pastors, in your family history.  One of them, your 4x great-grandfather, Angus McCallum, was a missionary to the Choctaw Indians as well as starting at least two Presbyterian churches in Mississippi.  We buried my father in the cemetery outside one of those churches in Union Church, Mississippi.  Noah, you come from a family of hard working people.  McCallums are not and never have been lazy or expected others to take care of us.  Under the mercies and providence of God, we McCallums work to make our own way, 

Which brings me to the most important thing it means to be a McCallum: it means loving and serving God as a follower of Jesus.  Our family Coat-of-Arms has three words beneath the drawing: Deus refugium nostrum.  That’s Latin for “God is our refuge.”  Here’s a note about our coat-of-arms from a book about our family:

Thus, the family of McCallum is distinguished, according to the ancient science of heraldry, for the honesty and generosity of its individual members, who furthermore, have been conspicuous for their devotion to the Christian religion.

Honest, generous, Christian, hard-working, willing to fight for what we believe—this kind of blood runs through your veins.  You should be both thankful and proud of that.

We are no perfect family.  Like any family we’ve had our scoundrels, I suspect.  But by and large, McCallum is a good family and a good name.  And since you carry that in your flesh and blood and on your birth certificate just like the rest of us on this side of your family, I wanted you to know something of what it means to be a McCallum.

Oh, and one more thing: I was reading through the Proverbs the other day when I came across this verse: “A good name is to be more desired than great riches” (22:1).  Noah, that is so very, very true.  And it reminded me of something I found when I was going through some stuff I got from my father’s apartment after his death.  I came across a little brass plaque he kept in a drawer.  At the top it reads “McCallum.”  Beneath it is this poem:

You got it from your father, it was all he had to give.
So it’s yours to use and cherish, for as long as you may live.
If you lose the watch he gave you, it can always be replaced.
But a black mark on your name, son, can never be erased.
It was clean the day you took it, and a worthy name to bear.
When he got it from his father, there was no dishonor there.
So make sure you guard it wisely, after all is said and done.
You’ll be glad the name is spotless, when you give it to your son.

God has trusted you with the McCallum name, Noah.  And on your birthday I want you to know that I’m so very glad He did.  You carry it well, boy.  And I have no doubt you will carry it well when you’re all grown up.  I love you.  I’m proud of you.  You are a blessing to our family.  Happy Birthday, Noah.  Enjoy!