Monday, November 5, 2018

Give Thanks

1 Chronicles 16:34   Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

1 Thessalonians 5:18   give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

These are just two of scores of verses in God’s word that remind us to offer up thanks to Him. Not just in the month of November, but every day and in all circumstances.  We all know that it is easy to offer thanks to God when all is going well, but there is so much to be thankful for – even when we feel that the “bottom has fallen out” in our lives.

This is Thanksgiving season – and I am thankful that we have such a national holiday. Abraham Lincoln declared a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, and it has been observed every succeeding year. His proclamation was that we set aside the last Thursday in November to be a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficient Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”.

Today, as I write to the faith family of Westmoreland Baptist Church (and others who will read this) I just want to take the liberty to publicly give thanks for His blessings on me.

First and foremost, I thank Him for the gracious gift of His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  I am thankful for His plan of Salvation that starts and ends with Him. My role in receiving Eternal Life was simply to “repent and receive”.  Everything else about it comes from God.  He chose me. Christ died for me – taking my sins and their penalty upon Himself.  He gave me new life in Christ – abundant in the here and now and eternal in it’s very nature!  He brought me into relationship with Him and there was nothing good I could bring into the transaction. Saved, according to His Word alone, by His Grace Alone, by Faith Alone, in Christ Alone, and all for the Glory of God Alone.  Thank you, Lord!

I am thankful for my family. A wife who I do not deserve, two godly and loving sons and their beautiful and Christian wives. Five grandsons who literally light up my life in these last years of it. I’m thankful for a home. It’s not a palace and not much in the eyes of this culture, but it has been a safe place to live for the last 38 years and a sanctuary in which to raise my family.  I am so blessed. Thank you, Lord!

I thank God for His calling me into ministry.  I thank Him for the six churches in West Virginia and Kentucky that He has blessed me to serve, for the many people I have met and loved, and the many lessons I have learned in this 47 year process. I am so blessed.  Thank you, Lord!

I am particularly thankful for the past 16 years that He has allowed me to serve here at Westmoreland Baptist Church. They have been some of the sweetest and most fulfilling years of my ministry. I have had the blessing of knowing and ministering to numerous saints that have gone on to Heaven. We have seen a time of transition in our ministries here in the church and in the community.

 I have watched children grow into adults and hopefully have helped (along with other teachers and workers) pour into their lives the message of the Gospel and a passion for it. I am thankful for the various staff members with whom I have been blessed to labor. I thank God for Randy Spurgeon, Cathy Bailey, Chery Bledsoe, Rick Weber, Bub Amis, Matt Maynard, Buck Buchanan, Sonia Jones, Denise Kraning, Linda Leibee, Carla Bell, Josh Spurgeon, Ted Keown, Jim Fugate, David Curnutte, Charley Dygert, Billy Lemaster , Jim Bailey, Pat Gunnell, Seth Howerton, and Jenny McClave.  Each of them have been a blessing to me in numerous ways.  Thank you, Lord!

Finally I want to thank God for His working in my life through two different types of Cancer and other physical maladies that have come my way.  Like Paul of old, I recognize that they are simply a messenger of Satan, sent to buffet me, and that God’s Grace has been and will continue to be sufficient for me.  His strength is made perfect in my weakness.  I have learned to appreciate and to claim the truth the Psalmist revealed in Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”  I have truly been blessed. Thank you, Lord!

Let us give thanks to Him in every circumstance. “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

I Finally Have Some Answers

   I promise that I will not use this forum just to air out information regarding my illness, but for the sake of my friends, literally half way around the world, allow me to share this update. 

     It was just over a month ago that routine tests on my kidneys revealed something "suspicious" in images of my liver. "Multiple lesions" appeared and more extensive scans were ordered. CT Scans verified the lesions and the fear was that my metastatic colon cancer of 14 years ago had returned to my liver.

     Coming off surgery and 30 radiation treatments earlier this year for Merkel Cell Carcinoma on my head and neck, this new revelation regarding lesions in my liver was most disconcerting. Having been free of the earlier cancer that had ravaged my liver 12 years ago, naturally I dreaded the thought of it's return and the possibilities of more grueling chemotherapy.

      This past month has been tough, waiting as they say, for the other shoe to drop. Although at peace in knowing that God is in control, the waiting for tests and diagnosis is arguably the toughest part of disease. The not knowing is difficult.

     Well, yesterday the mysteries were solved as I met with my Oncologist, Dr. Kirti Jain, for results of the recent PET scan and liver biopsy.  The results were a mixed bag.  Good news and bad news.

     The good news is that the metastatic colon cancer had NOT returned. After all those years in remission - the healing still holds!  As a result of the no colon cancer diagnosis I will not be subjected to chemotherapy. And for that I can say "Thank you Lord". 

     The bad news, however, is that the biopsy on the lesions in my liver showed it to be the Merkel Cell Carcinoma which has metastasized from the original tumor removed from my forehead in February. So, even though extensive plastic surgery was done to my forehead, and 30 radiation treatments to my head and neck were done - the cancer has popped up again, this time in my liver.

     Merkel Cell Carcinoma is a small cell skin cancer (similar to melanoma in that it can be deadly and can metastasize to other areas of the body).  It is a very rare malignancy but extremely aggressive.  You can read more about it here.  Furthermore, the chemotherapy that exists for Merkel Cell is highly ineffective. It seems to work early on, but then shows no effect at all.  More hopeful treatments for Merkel Cell involve immunotherapy.

     I will be undergoing an infusion twice per month designed to strengthen my body's immune system which in turn will (hopefully) impact the MCC and stifle its growth in my body.  Further good news is that the immunotherapy does not have the severe side effects of chemo.  There is no cure for MCC but hopefully my immune system will respond in a positive way.  Either way, God is in control and his Grace is sufficient for this - and any other circumstances I may face.

     Many of you have been lifting up prayer in my behalf. (some have promised me "positive vibes" but I really don't know what that is!)  I want to thank you for your prayers and hope you will continue to make intercession for me whenever I may come to your mind.  I am resigned to whatever God has in store for me, whether it be complete miraculous healing, or taking these immunotherapy infusions for the rest of my life. I am thankful I will not have to undergo the debilitating regimen of chemo as I did twice before!

     So, my plan is to continue on with my ministry and daily activities, thanking God for His blessings and doing all I can in the days and years I may have remaining.  When it all comes down to the final analysis - that should always be our desire.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Tale Of Two Funerals

This week was one of those weeks that every pastor dreads. I was called to lead three funeral services in a period of six days.  The first two were for "members" of our church (more about that later) and the third was for a young man who I had known since he was a high school classmate of my oldest son.  This fellow (age 45) had suffered a debilitating stroke five years ago and had been the resident of a nursing facility ever since.  My heart goes out to his sister, who is now the last remaining member of her family.  He had lived in Cincinnati for many years and his sister is in Bethlehem, PA. so obviously, they were not members of our church, but good personal friends, nonetheless.

The two funerals I want to focus on for the purposes of this post were for the two whose published obituaries listed the deceased as members of Westmoreland Baptist Church.  I define a church member as a born again, scripturally baptized, individual who embraces the local church through regular worship attendance, fellowship with other believers, involvement in discipleship ministry, regular proportionate giving to the ministry and mission of the church, and taking part in at least one ministry of the church.

The first of the two individuals I am speaking of, along with his spouse were long time, active members of Westmoreland Baptist Church. He had been saved and baptized as an adult in the 1970's. Those who knew and worked with him witnessed the powerful change Christ brought about in the life of this man. Over the years he had served the church in various capacities including the office of Deacon. His wife has taught in our former PreSchool ministry and has taught 1-3 grade Sunday School for longer than I have been at this church.  They almost never missed a Sunday Morning worship service, and I smile when I remember him always smiling and waving at me from his perch on the front row center section of the balcony!  Although my practice is never to see the personal giving records of anyone in our church, I am advised that this couple gave regularly and generously to the work of the church.  Their love and personal encouragement for this pastor goes beyond what I can express.

The other "member" is someone who also joined this church in the 1970's.  Church records indicated that this individual went on "Inactive Membership" status (a misnomer I will address later in this post) in 1993.  That is 9 years before I came to serve this church in 2002.  I can probably count on both hands (with fingers left over) the number of times this individual attended worship services in my 16 years as pastor.  Our financial secretary, upon my request, told me she had no record of giving for this "member". No participation in any ministry of our church and not present or involved in any discipleship growth efforts. Even though this person was on inactive status since 1993, there were numerous times that I was requested to come visit at their home and on occasion in the hospital. There were also intermittent requests for various types of assistance, including home repairs - which we tried to help with, and sometimes referred to agencies who could assist better than we could.  The attitude expressed in return was something akin to "What have you done for me lately?"

I had been told by this person on several occasions that "This church doesn't care about me" even though we had attempted to minister to this person numerous times - even though they had chosen to have little, or nothing to do with our fellowship.  Even with assistance we did provide from time to time,  they often spoke badly of our church in the community.  On the last occasion one of our church members encountered this person, this other  "member" said angrily, "I'll never step foot in that church again!"  Yet, when news came of that individual's death, the person was listed in the newspaper obituary as a member of our church. The family carried out the written instructions of the deceased to have the memorial service in our sanctuary, and that I would do the funeral.  They had even left scripture reference for me to read.    

Naturally, I attempted to minister to this family in their time of loss, and shared the gospel at the funeral service, to those who were in attendance - many of whom I did not know.

The purpose of this comparison is not to praise someone and disparage another.  Each of these people were created in the image of God and are entitled to the dignity that goes with that.  However, there is a vast difference between these two, who were both listed as "members" of Westmoreland Baptist Church.

Our church has a Membership Committee which faithfully updates our membership list into several categories. There is an "Active" membership list; a "Homebound" list, an "Inactive" list, and a "Non Resident" list.  The Non Resident list had been created with a good purpose. It would include military personnel stationed in another area, students away in college, folks who were temporarily deployed to other areas by their employers and even missionaries on foreign fields.  These would be people who were otherwise "active" members of the church, who were temporarily distanced from us due to circumstances beyond their control.  However, over the years it has also morphed into folks who have permanently moved away, but never complied with the agreement in our church covenant that they would promptly "seek to unite with a similar church" in their new location.  This is a problem that needs to be fixed, but my larger problem lies with the "Inactive" membership list.

I'm sure our fore bearers included this category, with the idea that erring and missing church members could be ministered to, and hopefully restored to fellowship.  This is a noble goal, consistent with scriptural teaching, and something that every church should do when these unfortunate situations occur.  My problem with this category is the entire concept of an "Inactive Member".

It is an oxymoron!

One who is not connected to the body and not involved in it's functions is NOT a "Member" of the church. If there is one more thing I would like to see accomplished  before my time of service here is done is to do SOMETHING about this category.  When our clerk reads the membership status in our quarterly business meetings there are as many "inactive members" listed, as there are "active members". 

What is wrong with this picture?

My proposal is two fold.
1). Find some new nomenclature for that category, ie. "Out of Fellowship"  "Missing in Action" etc. 
2). Go back to what I am sure was the original intent - to seek to minister to and restore to the fellowship.  However there needs to be an actual effort to do just that, and a time limit (perhaps six months to no longer than one year) to either accomplish restoration, or to remove those names from our fellowship. Our Lord cannot be pleased with a long list of names of people who desire to "keep their names on the book" yet are missing from the body,  it's work, and it's fellowship.

Obviously, these things are an internal matter that the "active" members of WBC need to deal with.  My purpose today is not to air our laundry to the public, but for the purpose of this post is just to remind readers that, if you identify yourself as a member of a local church - then be a "member" indeed!                       

Saturday, August 25, 2018

First Time For Everything

Today, after expenses were covered, we raised over $580.00 for a mission project in the Philippines with a 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament at the Westmoreland Baptist Church gymnasium.

None of us who were involved had ever hosted a 3 on 3 Tourney before - and it probably showed. Even so, it was a blessing to see our first (feeble) efforts come to fruition. Thanks to the cherished sponsors (shown here), and the ten teams participating, and our dedicated volunteers, we will be able to bless Pastor Nico Folio and his little church in Manjuoyd, Negros Oriental with a special, one time gift for their most pressing needs.

This project was a "learn by doing" experience, and we thank everyone involved for their patience and cooperation. It's hard to list all of our volunteers for fear of forgetting someone, but I believe they do need to be mentioned. 

Unfortunately we just discovered that one of our sponsors was accidentally left off the shirt due to the printer's error. Dr. Stephen E. Howerton, General Dentistry is a major sponsor of our Sports Ministry, and is a faithful member of our church. We regret this inadvertent error and extend our apology and thanks to Dr. Howerton.  We will do whatever it takes to make it right.

Darrell Clark served as tournament director - assisting in enlisting sponsors and being a registration contact. Darrell set the tournament brackets and helped referee the games. My son, Benji Adkins (a former middle school and high school basketball coach also served as an official for all but the very first game.  Ryan Smith and Mike Cummings were also helpful as referees.

Youth Pastor, Buck Buchanan, took care of online reservations, picked up 70 shirts from the printer, and helped enlist teams. Buck helped with the clock and scoreboard during much of today's action. His wife, Kellie, and Travis Dunkum  also helped with clock operation and scoreboard. As always, Michael Cline was there to do whatever was needed.

Ralph Scarberry planned our one day concession stand menu, and Misty Anderson, Jamie Smith, Alanna Cline, and Jenny McClave helped keep everyone in snacks and hydration.

Angie Morris assisted with check in of teams, collecting entry fees and making sure every participant received a T- Shirt.  Rusty Dillon had designed our publicity poster, and local morning radio show host Tom Roten, allowed Darrell and I to come on his program publicize the event, and he had sons who played on three of the teams entered.

Vinson Middle School Basketball Coach and former Marshall player, Josh Perkey, brought a team and promised to get heavily involved in assisting us next year.  We also thank Bulldog Graphix for their assistance in what is probably their busiest week of the entire year!  A number of our church folks fielded their own teams and therefore did double duty!

Most of all, I thank the players who took part of their Saturday, and paid participation fees to help us in this mission project. We had teams in three divisions going from Middle Schoolers through adults.  I couldn't be more proud of my church for the support and participation of so many of our members - for the sake of the Gospel and assisting others in a distant land.

So, prayerfully there will be a "Second Annual Hoops for Missions" 3 on 3 tournament next year.  We hope to take what we have learned the hard way, to make it bigger and better in 2019.  We will begin planning much earlier, and try to schedule the tourney on a more optimal date.  So, if the Lord allows, we hope to see many more involved in this worthy project next year.

To our sponsors and volunteers - THANK YOU!  You are a blessing!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Another Bump In The Road

It's the thought in the back of every cancer survivor's mind.

What if it comes back?

None of us who have come through life threatening battles with cancer want to even think about going down that road again, but sometimes it happens.  It appears it has happened to me - again.

As most of my friends know, I was diagnosed in December 2004 with Stage 4, "Incurable but hopefully manageable" Colon Cancer. After having surgery to remove 3 1/2 feet of my intestines, I went on a 6 month course of Chemotherapy to kill the tumors that were throughout my liver. A Radio Frequency Ablation burned out the last three and I had the joy of going into remission.

Five months later a routine followup CT scan revealed the cancer had returned in the liver and it was another 6 months of chemo for me. Since the end of that regimen I have remained in remission for nearly 12 years - having periodic scans along the way to keep an eye out for possible recurrence.

I have enjoyed relative good health until the last 8 months or so, when I experienced a 1-2-3-4 punch beginning just before last Christmas. Acute renal failure landed me in the hospital for treatment of that ailment in late December.  While there, I tested positive for the Flu (even though I had taken my yearly Flu shot).  On the heels of recovery from the Flu, I was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive skin cancer known as Merkle Cell Carcinoma on my forehead.  Surgery at the James Cancer Center at the Ohio State University removed the tumor but tests revealed it had metastasized to one of the lymph nodes in my neck. So - 30 radiation treatments were prescribed, and I finished up on those in July.  In the midst of all of that, I was found to have a partial tear in the retina of my right eye! 

Needless to say, it's been a tough few months.  Nothing terrible, but just bumps in the road that we encounter if we hang around this planet long enough. 

Beginning to bounce back from the complications caused by the radiation treatments, I have been looking forward to ramping up my ministry activities.  Plans were in the works for a short term mission trip back to the Philippines and Linda and I have been looking forward to doing some things on our bucket lists. Then, Tuesday, after some routine tests at the local VA Medical Center showed some possible abnormality in my liver, a new CT scan was ordered.

The results indicated "multiple lesions throughout the liver, with characteristics consistent with metastatic Colon Cancer".

So, to use the technical theological term, "Here we go again!" 

Through the Veterans Choice Program, I am being referred back to the Ashland Bellefonte Cancer Center - the place that brought me through this disease twice before.  I'm sure there will be more tests before any course of treatment will be discussed.  So, we have taken a deep breath, shared the information with my church family, and face the future with total dependence on our Heavenly Father.

I write this today, not seeking attention or to ask for pity. This is one of those things that happens to us in this broken world.  I do ask, however, for your prayers.  I am blessed to have a multitude of Christian friends in the U.S. and Canada, and many more who are spread around the world in Europe, Asia and Africa. These are people who know how to get in touch with God.  We often make intercession for one another, and this is one of those times.

Healing is not what I am seeking, as much as I am asking for the measure of Grace that only God can provide, to get us through these "bumps in the road" of life that we are bound to encounter. I ask you to pray for Linda, also as we walk down this road together again.  Healing is naturally what I desire, but I know that my ultimate healing will take place when I one day enter the presence of the Lord.  I don't know what the immediate future holds for me, but I know the One who holds the future, and I'm sure He is going to use this new adventure for my good and for His Glory.

Friday, August 17, 2018

I'm Out of Blogger Purgatory!

I have been languishing in "Blogger Pergatory for the past 21 months. Today, I got sprung!

Those who know me well know that I am nearly functionally illiterate when it comes to technology and all things cyber.  Something happened in late October 2016 that kept me from signing in to this very blog - the one I had used since 2007.  Being unable to sign in, I tried to change my password. That was my first big mistake. The email address that Blogger had on record had been changed twice, but I had never notified them or changed it on my account.  I didn't know how. So now, with a mish-mush of trying to change passwords, correct email addresses, and verifying cell phone numbers , I somehow created two or three new Google accounts. Things went downhill quickly and I ended up hopelessly  lost.  Eventually, after days of trying to dig myself out - and only getting deeper,  I gave up all hope on trying to get back on this blog site. 

So, I attempted to create a new blogger account - but the various Google accounts I had created, the outdated email addresses, and who knows what else I had done, kept me from starting a new account on this platform.

Failing the ability to get into the familiar blogging vehicle, I thought I would try to start a new blog with another provider. Big mistake, and I will spare you the circus that surrounded those attempts.

Finally, today, in my office, with the tireless effort of my Student Ministry Pastor, Buck Buchanan, I am free!  Buck is a normal whizzbang when it comes to all things involving social media and computers in general.  But this one stretched him to unusual limits of frustration.  It took him a good while to untangle it all today, but untangle it, eventually he did!  I am back on "For What It's Worth" and for that, I am happier than a pig in mud.

Just thinking of all I have missed out on in my little corner of the blogosphere over this nearly two year absence is mind numbing to me!  Two SBC annual meetings, local and national politics, sporting events and related stories, ministry experiences, two Christmas seasons, theological issues, a battle with a rare and aggressive skin cancer and other health issues, and most importantly, all of the bragging opportunities on my five phenomenal grandsons - I have had no outlet!

But I am out of "blogger purgatory" now - and with an oiled up keyboard and an itch to express myself (in more than 140 characters) I'm an excited old Pastor - to say the least.

I'm Baaaacccck and I hope you will follow along.

Just help me pray that I don't accidentally misplace my password, inadvertently create any new Google accounts, or change my email address! 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Great Omission

I remember hearing a preacher in a church service say, “Aren’t you thankful that we have this sanctuary, that we can come in from the world – gathered together safe and sound,  and able to put the cares of this life outside these walls.”

Sound familiar?

Maybe we’ve even said it ourselves at one time or another.

How wrong we are!

Now don’t get me wrong.  It is great to have a place that we can come, gather together for worship, prayer, teaching, and exhortation. The Bible tells us to do that, and to do it with even more frequency as we see the end times approaching. 

120 of Jesus’ followers had done that at Pentecost when the Holy Sprit fell upon them accompanied by audible and visible signs and the church was born!   When Peter and John were released after being threatened by the Sanhedrin they came to the place where other believers were gathered together – they recounted the persecution and the threats, and the entire group prayed, and when they prayed, the place where they were was shaken.

When Herod had slain James with the sword, he had  Peter arrested and he was scheduled for execution as well.  When God sent an angel to deliver Peter in the most remarkable jailbreak ever, he immediately headed for John Mark’s mother’s home, where he knew the believers were assembled in an attitude of prayer for his safety.

However, we need to awaken to the fact that “the meetin’ house” is not what it is ALL about.  It is not a place for the “holy huddle” to remain.  It is not “the church”, we are!  It is simply a place for preparation for the work that Jesus has given us to do.
Our focus must be outside the walls.

We are located in cities, towns, rural areas, and in countries all around the globe – and that is where Christ has placed us, and that’s exactly where he sends us.

Consider His words in Matthew 9: 35-38  “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Notice Jesus went…  He never traveled more than a few day’s foot journey from where He was born or grew up.  He calls us to go outside the walls of the church. He calls us to go intentionally, but He also calls us to make disciples “as we are going” about our daily lives as well.  He calls us to labor. His plan is for us to “reach, baptize, and teach”.  Jesus saw the crowds like helpless sheep. Harassed by Satan. Beaten down by him and unable to help themselves.  He compassionately told His disciples, and us, that laborers are needed!

Oh! That we would see others the way Jesus sees them!  Oswald Chambers has said: “We talk about the second coming of Christ, but half the world has never heard of His first coming!”  Millions walk in darkness around the world, but also around the corner from us. May God burden our hearts to accomplish His Great Commission.

The Master Plan of Evangelism has two aspects.  There is the geographic plan as shown in Acts 1:8 (starting in our home town first and reaching around the globe).  The other aspect is the mathematical component. 2 Timothy 2:2, making disciples and creating “faithful” individuals who will be able to replicate themselves, and on and on, multiplying the number of believers as we go.

In the coming year we are going to be exploring how we ALL can be more involved in disciple making. Yes, we will encourage and support international missions.  Yes we will financially support North American mission work and church planting activities. We will take part in Disaster Relief, and some will make mission trips in North America and to Asia.  But we will also focus on How we may reverse the “Great Omission” of forgetting the many lost people in our own area.  We’ll explore various methods, using situations every one of us are already prepared for with our own unique gifts and talents.

I’m praying the Lord of the Harvest that He will send laborers.  Right here among us.  The harvest is great. The laborers are few. The time is short. Judgment is final and eternity is forever!