Updated: Jun 11
His white hair stood out as he walked, head and shoulders above the crowd. His back was straight, despite his age, and he carried dignity that I've rarely seen. He was a Christian author, theologian, college professor, and family man named J. Ellsworth Kalas. I had the great privilege of working with him for a short time.
He wrote a study that the company I worked for published. It was for new or young believers to teach the language of our faith. In it, ancient Christian documents were studied along with Scripture, helping participants understand the rich history of the church and why we say certain things. Like a sports fan learns the language of the sport so that he or she can better understand it, Christians should understand the language of our faith. It's a beautiful study called "Christian Believer: Knowing God with Heart and Mind," published by Abingdon Press.
I was very young and my job was to plan and host training sessions led by Dr. Kalas. He'd explain to a group of Christian leaders and pastors the purpose of the study, leading them through several example sessions with their table groups. Participants were able to ask questions, and at the end of one long day of training, a woman toward the back of the room stood up to ask a question.
Dr. Kalas was very purposeful in the way he did the training, speaking to the participants on a level most could easily understand. Since the purpose of the study was to introduce young or new believers to the history of the church, difficult words and concepts were broken down into easier to understand descriptions. The woman who stood up to ask the question did so with a challenge in her voice that got my attention. Using very big and lofty words, she challenged one of the concepts the study taught. My eyebrows shot up because even if I couldn't understand her question, her attitude and pompous manner were clear. She had misunderstood Dr. Kalas' ability to help anyone understand as weakness.
Dr. Kalas, always with the kindest eyes and a smile, rose to her level. He answered her bewildering question with all the big words that she wanted to hear. It would be several more years before I went to seminary myself and learned what those words meant, so I doubt I understood his answer that night. But I did understand what he was doing. She needed to know that he was educated and equipped to discuss important matters of theology, and he was able to reassure her. After he finished his answer, she quietly thanked him and sat down.
I learned an important lesson that day. Dr. Kalas carried with him tremendous stores of knowledge and wisdom, but he had no need to intimidate or impress those around him with it. He was more interested in making everyone he met feel welcomed and loved. Jesus shone out of his eyes, moved in his mannerisms, and gave him a sense of confidence that I've rarely seen in anyone else. He didn't have anything to prove.
As I move in this world of writing and speaking for Jesus, I find myself struggling with self-doubt, concerned with what this person or that thinks about what I say, worried about how I look, and wondering how I can take on more while making my family my first priority. Is my message too simple? Is it too deep? Who's even reading this anyway? (Writing can be a very lonely and isolating thing.)
It's too much. I have to keep my eyes on Jesus - totally focused on my audience of One. I can't write to keep everyone happy. It isn't possible. And I'm certain that Satan uses our American standard of beauty as a tool to silence many of us. We're too concerned with the way we look to ever consider standing on a stage or putting our photos up on social media. He also lies to us and says that if we do, we're trying to draw attention to ourselves and away from God.
Jesus spoke in parables, often talking about situations that appeared to have nothing to do with the message He wanted to root down deep into the hearts of His listeners. He didn't get into the theology of reconciliation - He told a story about the young man who finally came home and the papa who looked for him every day. Jesus also didn't mince words when correction was needed. He called hypocritical leaders exactly what they were - a brood of vipers. He was gentle whenever possible and fierce when that was what He needed to be.
J. Ellsworth Kalas looked at me with kind and fierce eyes. He was there to do his job and do it well, but he had time to talk to the 24-year-old young lady who was trying to figure out her life. I was in charge of those events, and he reminded me to walk in my authority, not apologizing for what I needed to do.
I've never forgotten him, although he passed from us several years ago. It's time to stand in the authority we've been given as daughters and sons of the King. We don't have to use big words or elevate ourselves. It's time to rise to the occasion, to answer the challengers - not with any need to prove ourselves, but with the authority of those who have the Holy Spirit burning in our hearts. The light of Jesus can shine through us, showering all who we meet with warmth and love, and we can call others to a higher standard. It's time.
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