Wednesday, June 14, 2017

She's a Grand Old Flag

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress of the United States adopted the stars and stripes as our national flag.  That why we call June 14 Flag Day.  I usually let this day pass without much thought of our flag.  Sometimes I don’t even realize it’s Flag Day till the day is past.  Not this year.  I decided to pause for a few minutes in a busy and reflect on my memories of the United States flag.

Standing in my first grade class room, facing the flag in the corner, hand over my heart, saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” with my class.

The flag at Meadowcliff Elementary School flying at half-mast in the days after President Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963.  That’s the first time I saw a flag at half-mast—but sadly, not the last.

Images of the flag-raisers on Iwo Jima after our brave Marines wrestled Mt. Suribachi away from the Japanese at the cost of much blood and death.

Taking my turn in fifth or sixth grade raising and lowering the flag at Branson Elementary School and learning how to fold it properly.

Watching fuzzy black-and-white images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin staking our flag on the moon in 1969.  I understand it’s still there today.

Watching the USA Hockey Team in the 1980 Olympics waving our flag after their improbably gold medal.  “Do you believe in miracles?” Al Michaels uttered after we beat the Soviets in the semifinals.

The Lee’s Summit, Missouri, High School Band belting out “Stars and Stripes Forever” at their annual spring concert.  It always brought everyone to their feet.

The uncountable numbers of little flags attached to trucks and cars in the days after September 11, 2001.

A display in the Smithsonian of the tattered flag that flew over Fort McKinley—the very flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem during the War of 1812.

Numerous flag draped caskets at the graveside services of veterans—including the flag that draped my father’s casket, now folded into a crisp triangle that we keep in our home.

The presentation of the colors at numerous ballgames and thousands of voices singing The Star Spangled Banner.

Those are some of my memories. Not everything done under our flag has been good and right.  But on balance, our flag has represented some of the noblest, highest ideals in human history.  We are blessed to live in the good old U.S.A.  Our freedom has been bought with the price of other’s blood.  I encourage you on this Flag Day 2017 to take a moment, remember, and give thanks.




Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I'm Finally Above-Average at Something

Hooray!  I learned this week that I am finally above average at something.  For a guy who’s spent his life hovering around average this is really encouraging news!  I’m average size.  I’ve always been an average athlete.  I’m an average husband, an average father, grandfather, golfer, and singer.  My birth certificate says my middle name is Scott.  I’m surprised my middle name is not Average.  It could have been.  Hi, I’m John Average McCallum II.  I guess that means I’m average twice-over.  Average.  That’s not so bad.  Most everybody is average or they wouldn’t be considered … average.

Ok, I’ll confess that I do have some bright spots.  I have always been a slightly above-average student.  And while I’m not trying to be prideful, I’ve always thought I’m a slightly above-average pastor.  Now I know I am.  In fact, it’s been scientifically confirmed.  According to a March 1, 2017, report on Barna.com the average age of American pastors is 54.  Hey, I’m 60!  Boom goes the dynamite—I’m six points higher than average.  (I wonder if I should ask for a raise.)

What’s good news for me may not be such good news for the church.  On the one hand it could mean that America’s churches are being led mostly by seasoned, experienced veterans who bring a lifetime’s wisdom to bear on the work.  But on the other hand, it could mean that America’s churches are being led mostly by a bunch of crotchety old fogies.  Each church with an above-average pastor will have to figure that out for itself.

The sad thing about this report is that while the median age of pastors in 1992 was 44, only one in seven pastors today is under 40.  Yikes!  We need some younger pastors.  Pray, please, that God will call more young people into pastoral ministry.

But in the meantime, I’ll try not to gloat about being an above-average pastor.  Gloating is not in order anyway unless my gloating is in Christ.  I may be a C+ person and a B- pastor, but Jesus is an A+ Savior who can take even below average people and do extraordinary things through their lives.  And that doesn't just go for pastors, that goes for us all.     

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Single-Minded Focus

Please take a look at the picture.  The first time I saw it, I was sure it was photo-shopped.  But no. According to the Washington Post, this is a picture in real time. Theunis Wessels of Three Hills, Alberta, Canada was caught in the act by his wife Cecilia who snapped the picture this past Friday.  "I was keeping an eye on it," he said.

Twitter blew up over the picture with some great responses:

- No worries.  The fence will keep it out.

- In "mower" danger than he thought.

- The house may be gone but the lawn is immaculate.

- At least he won't have to worry about sweeping up the grass clippings.

- "Well, I don't see anyone else offering to mow the lawn."

- Metaphor for the Trump administration.

- When the wife asks you to do your chore or else, there's he*# to pay, a lot worse than that tornado.

- You think you're awesome but you're not mow your lawn in a tornado awesome.

You know what I see?  Single-minded focus.  Dude probably knew if he didn't get it done that day, he'd have to wait another week.  In the words of Larry the Cable Guy, "Git 'er done."  Theunis may be a bit nuts, but he got to check "Mow the lawn" off his Friday to-do list while his neighbors were cowering in their basements.

In his little epistle at the back of the New Testament, James writes that "a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (Js. 1:8).  There was nothing double-minded about Theunis.  The man was focused on the task at hand.  For a person like me who's a little ADD and too easily distracted, I tip my hat to Theunis.  He inspires me to single-minded focus as I go about my faith in Jesus and carry out my ministry.

Roger Miller, kind of big deal in the '60s liked to sing humorous songs.  He sang one that had this lyric:

You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd …
You can't take a shower in a parakeet cage …
You can't go a-swimming in a baseball pool …
You can't change film with a kid on your back …

But apparently you can mow your lawn with a twister at your back …
if you have single-minded focus.

I think I'll leave the lawn mower in the yard and take cover if I can see a tornado, but there are other things in my life I could do much better if I would approach them with the single-minded focus of Theunis Wessels. 








Thursday, June 1, 2017

I Treasure the Church

Rarely a week goes by when I don’t read some article bemoaning the decline of the church.  Some are growing.  Many are declining.  And even in growing churches members attend with less and less frequency, choosing sports or sleeping in or going to the lake over being in the church house to worship God. 

And can I just go on record by saying that I treasure the church—the church in general and the church I serve in particular.  The church has always been part of my life.  My earliest memories include stopping by the church library on my way from Sunday School to the sanctuary to pick up a book that would get me through the worship at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Little Rock.  I still the remember the smell of Dottie Hilton’s stale perfume on those Wednesdays after school when she led our little children’s choir at First Presbyterian Church in Branson.  I remember so many things: Bible School, pot-luck suppers, Young Life, college group, camps and retreats.  As a kid I didn’t always find church interesting and I haven’t always loved every minute I’ve been involved, but I always knew I was loved, I knew I belonged there among that particular group of people at that particular time.  It was … family.

I treasure the church.  It was the church that introduced me to the exploits of these larger than life characters named Abraham and Sarah and Moses and Samson and David and Elijah and Peter, Paul, and Mary (not the singing group but the Bible folks).  They told me that they were in my family tree.  It was the church that taught me that I was part of something larger than myself and my town and my country; I was a citizen in the kingdom of God that stretches around the whole wide world and from here to eternity.

I treasure the church.  That’s where I first saw a cross and learned about a Savior who loved me and died for me and rose from the dead for me too.  That’s the one place I could be assured that even if I hadn’t given God much thought on Monday through Saturday, my attention would be brought back to Him on Sunday with words as simple as “Let’s pray … open your Bible … hear the Word of the Lord.”

I treasure the church.  It was the church that gave me my song and taught me to sing it:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound /
that saved a wretch like me.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty /
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

A mighty fortress is our God /
a bulwark never failing.

Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature /
Son of God and Son of Man.

All the way my Savior leads me /
What have I to ask beside? /
Can I doubt His tender mercy /
Who through life has been my guide?

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord /
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light.

Up from the grave He arose! /
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.

When we all get to heaven /
what a day of rejoicing that will be.

How many times have the songs I learned from the church given voice to my praise, words to my sorrow, hope to my fear, faith to my doubts, and carried me when I was weak!  And now the church is teaching me new songs that only add to the repertoire. 

I treasure the church.  The church has helped me see the world—not with the eyes of a tourist but with the eyes of God: eyes of compassion and love, eyes of concern for the lost and the poor and the people at the margins.  And the church has helped me do my part in reaching out to all nations.

I treasure the church.  When I was a child and my family fell apart, the church was there.  When I went off to college, the church was there.  When my kids were born, the church was there.  When there’s been sickness or surgery, the church was there.  When we had a crisis with our son, the church was there.  When my parents died, the church was there.  In good times and bad, in times of rejoicing and times of grief, the church has been there for me.  Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything and a season for everything under the sun, and the church has been there for me in every time and every season.

I treasure the church.  That’s not to say that the church hasn’t broken my heart along the way, that the church has never let me down, or that the church has always lived up to my expectations.  But that’s okay: I don’t love a perfect church and never have.  I don’t love the church as I wish her to be; I love the church as she is—with her warts and her wrinkles, with her saints and her sinners, with her allies and her critics.  I love the church when she’s gone down swinging and when she’s knocked it out of the park, when she’s soared like an eagle and when she’s limped like a three-legged dog.  Someone once likened the church to Noah’s ark: if it weren’t for the storm without, you could never stand the smell within.  But in spite of the fact that the church stinks it up from time to time, I treasure the church.

I treasure the church because the church has always loved me and because Christ has loved me through His church.  Christ has always loved me enough to challenge me and forgive me and encourage me and stick with me no matter what.  And Christ does just that through His church.  I treasure the church, and I value this treasure.

When I was a kid I collected baseball cards—from the early 60s to the early 70s I collected a lot of cards.  I wish I had known they would become valuable.  Then, maybe I wouldn’t have clothes-pinned Carl Yaztremski to the back tire on my bike so Carl could slap my spokes and make me sound like a motorcycle.  Maybe I wouldn’t have been so free to trade some extra Brooks Robinsons or Mickey Mantles or Bob Gibsons or Ernie Banks or Hank Aarons or Willie Mayses or Sandy Koufaxes for some guy I didn’t know but didn’t have his card.  Maybe I would have held on to rookie cards of people like Johnny Bench and Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt.  At one point, somebody gave my brothers and I a bunch of baseball cards from the 40s and 50s—cards of people like Stan Musial and Yogi Berra and Bob Feller and Ted Williams and Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson.  They weren’t in mint condition, some carried a bit of a mildew smell, but they were loaded with some great players.  When we went off to college, my mom started cleaning out closets.  She told us she gave all our cards to a young cousin of ours.  Didn’t think much of it at the time—just a little sting of nostalgia.

But when the mid-80s rolled around and people started opening up shops to sell classic baseball cards to serious collectors—my little brother and I often shook our heads and said, “We could have been rich.”  Here was this treasure in our laps.  We didn’t realize it.  And we certainly didn’t value it.

Christ’s church is a treasure.  Don’t trade it.  Don’t lose it.  Don’t give it away.  Value it.  It shows us Christ.  It shapes our lives.  It provides opportunities to impact eternity.  It stirs us to love and good works.  It encourages us when we need it most.  It gets us ready for heaven.  It makes us rich in ways that money can’t buy, in ways that last forever.  And guess what: you get to be part of it.