Monday, December 31, 2007

A Farm, An Ox, and A Henpecked Husband

Dad tells the story about the pastor who visited a church member who had been missing from church services on a frequent basis. The pastor was concerned, and asked the lady if anything was wrong.
"Well preacher, I'm out of Peanut Butter", was her answer.
"Out of Peanut Butter?" the preacher said incredulously. "What does that have to do with not coming to church?"
"Actually nothing." she replied. "But I've always heard that one excuse is as good as another!"
Don't you hate excuses? Every pastor has heard plenty of them - and God hears even more of them than we do!
Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "A man who makes excuses is seldom good at making anything else."
Some folks are awfully good at making excuses. I've heard so many over the past 3 1/2 decades of ministry that I have wondered where they all come from. How many excuses can there be? Well, I have found a website that lists over 900 excuses. It's called "The Mother of All Excuses Place" ( ) Absolutely amazing. People always seem to come up with new ones, but making excuses to God is actually an age old practice.
The decision to follow Christ is not one for the fickle or faint hearted. God offers us a personal relationship with Him. Salvation begins and ends with God. His gift is free, but we must make the commitment to accept. With the acceptance of the gift comes a willingness and a desire to follow Him. In Luke chapter 14, Jesus gives us some insight as to how God feels about our excuses. In this passage, some guy at the dinner table casually mentions "eating bread in the Kingdom of God", and Jesus makes it plain who will be at that "meal".

"Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" Then He said to him, "A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, "and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, ‘Come, for all things are now ready.’ "But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused.’ "And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused.’ "Still another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ "So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ "And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ "Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. ‘For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’ " (vs. 15-24)
The parable tells of a great event that takes place. A feast - given by a "great man". Invitations were issued, and the inviteed guests all, with one consent, began to make excuse. Consider for a moment how silly these excuses are.
The first excuse is, "I have bought a piece of ground and I must go see it. I ask you to have me excused"
How lame is that? This man is either a liar or a fool. Who buys property without first seeing it? Granted, there are some folks out there who have been conned into buying cheap ocean front property in Arizona, but those folks are certainly in the minority. Prudent people want to see the property (sometimes on several occasions) before signing on the dotted line. One would be foolish to do otherwise. This excuse didn't hold water.
The second excuse is even more far fetched. "I have bought five yoke of oxen and I must test them. I ask that you have me excused." Now think for a moment in modern terms. Would you buy a car without test driving it first? Of course not! You're going to kick the tires, look under the hood, listen to the motor, maybe even take it to a mechanic or go to to check this thing out. Above all you're going to get behind the wheel to see what it will do. You'd never consider laying out your hard earned money for a vehicle without testing it first. Now consider the excuse itself. The purchase of an ox would have been an important one. Any farmer in Jesus' day would count the cost - haggle for the best price possible - but NEVER put down the cash until he had tested the animal. It's just good business and common sense. Now look what this guy says. "I have bought five yoke of oxen..." He claims he has already paid for TEN oxen and now he's going to see if they can plow...
There is an ancient Hebrew expression for that. "Hogwash!"
The third excuse is, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." This is the most outlandish of all the excuses in this narrative. Just look at the picture here. The richest man in town is throwing a big dinner party. It's by invitation only, and you got one! It's the social event of the season and everybody who is somebody will be there. Somebody else is doing the cooking and serving (and the cleaning up afterward). It's an opportunity to dress in your finest (or buy a new outfit), and walk down the red carpet. You'll see old friends and make new ones.
What wife wouldn't want to be there?
And yet this clown uses his wife as an excuse for his lack of interest in the invitation.
Jesus makes the point that those who refuse His gracious invitation are without excuse. Following Christ requires commitment. It's not for the fickle or faint hearted. Consider what the Master says in the following verses...

"And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— "lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, "saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ "Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? "Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." (vs. 27-33)
Jesus' call is simple. "Follow me". If you will follow Jesus, you must count the cost - take up your cross - deny yourself - be willing to forsake all to be a disciplined student and follower of Him. The above passage, and others (including Romans 12: 1-2) indicate the necessity of being willing to give it all up for Jesus - who gave it all up for us. Consider what Jesus says to three half hearted potential followers in Luke 9: 57-62...
"Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." And another also said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house." But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
I didn't say that. Jesus did and it is a powerful, sobering truth!
Some people seem to use Jesus for a crutch. Some for a "spiritual 911" emergency service. Some think of Him as a "good buddy" when everything is going well. Others seem to view Him as a "fire insurance" policy - good to have if needed. Friends, in your life, if He is not Lord OF all, He is not Lord AT all.
As this new year rolls around, I hope you'll take inventory regarding your relationship with Jesus. Don't think you can just be a casual follower of Christ. There is no such thing.
No excuses.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Be It Resolved...

2008 is just around the corner. The last three New Year holidays have been times of uncertainty for our family. There were many questions. What would the new year hold for us? Would the cancer return? More surgery? More of the nasty chemo? And on and on...

The truth of the matter is that NONE of us know what the future holds. We have no assurance of being around to see the ball drop in Time Square tomorrow night - much less the next 366 days. (2008 is a leap year) Knowing this, we still plan for the future. My calendar is quickly filling up for the new year. Several of those appointments will be at the Ashland-Bellefonte Cancer Center.

Every three months my oncologist orders a CT scan of my abdomen. Twice per year he requires a full body PET scan. Every month I have blood work done and the chemotherapy nurses flush my Medi-Port to keep it operative in the event I will need to take a third course of chemo. All of these are precautions that Dr. Jain feels are necessary since "the cancer is in remission now, but could appear anywhere at any time." While I know that this is possible, and according to conventional wisdom, very likely, I have a peace about the whole situation.

The major reason there is no fear is that I have turned it over to God. He is in control. Not Dr. Jain. Not my family. Certainly not me! It's all in the hands of my Sovereign Heavenly Father.
Seeing that none of us know what tomorrow holds for us, isn't it comforting to know who holds tomorrow? God has a plan for each of our lives (see the scripture verse located at the top of the left hand column of this blog page). I rest secure in knowing that He knows the plans He has for me. Therefore, I will not fear the unknown. None of us who are Christ followers should ever fear the unknown. Why? Because the unknown to us is certainly known to Him.

Are you making any New Year's resolutions for 2008? Normally I don't, but this year I am. I am resolved that unless future tests show the malignancy to be active, I don't intend to mention this illness in this blog again.

One dear elderly lady asked me some time ago if I am "claiming my healing". Well, I claimed my ULTIMATE healing on March 15, 1969. That's the night I asked Jesus to come into my heart and trusted His sacrifice on Calvary to pay the debt for my sin. Therefore I am claiming Him as "The Great Physician". That should be sufficient for my "healing".

So, basically that's it. I won't be writing about this illness any more unless God allows it to come back into my life. That doesn't mean I will not continue to testify of God's wonderful work in my life. In fact, I shared that testimony yesterday with an old friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. He needed to hear it. Others will too. I appreciate the prayers of all of my dear friends, and I do hope you will continue to pray for us. I'm just resolving not to dwell on these past three years any longer. There is far to much more to be done. To quote our dear sister in Christ, Veda Young, "I am not going to spend the rest of my life dying."

There is no time for that if we are to be busy about the work that the Lord has given us to do.

So, for the year 2008 (or however long God gives me) I'm taking the view of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3: 13-14: "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (NKJV)

Have an Abundant new year in Christ!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Wife, Mommy, and Grandmother

Linda spent most of Christmas day at Charlotte - Douglass International Airport trying, in vain, to get to New Orleans. Frustrated, tired, and disappointed she ended up flying back home on the last flight back to Huntington that night. I had a plan that would allow her to spend Christmas Eve with "half of her sons and grandsons" here in Ashland, and part of Christmas day with the "other half" in The Big Easy. The flight from Charlotte to New Orleans was cancelled and she was left with scores of others to try to find a way to complete the trip. After enduring long lines and perusing schedules she was rerouted through Atlanta. Unfortunately, the only hopes of making it to the Crescent City by late Christmas night were dashed when the flight to Atlanta was delayed to the point that she would miss the connecting flight. Having only a couple of days to make the trip, and not interested in wasting one of the nights sleeping in the Charlotte or Atlanta airports, she opted to come on back home and try to go back to New Orleans when time would permit a longer visit.

I was especially sad for Linda. Opportunities to see Jay and Michelle, and especially those two little boys, are few and far between. She was so disappointed when they could not make the trip home for Thanksgiving, that I felt it would be a great Christmas present for her to go see them. Things don't always work out the way we plan.

If you asked Linda for her occupation, she would tell you that she works in Admissions at Ashland Community and Technical College. However, if the truth were known, her true vocation should be listed as "Wife, Mommy, and Grandmother". She enjoys what she does at the college. The extra money helps pay the bills, and the state employees medical insurance has been an absolute godsend to us for these past three years, but this is just a career path that she has taken later in life. It's something she needed to do for economic reasons. "Wife, Mommy, and Grandmother" is her calling. It is her passion. Furthermore, she's good at it!

She has been a wonderful wife and partner to me for 36 1/2 years. A song from back in the late 60's pretty well sums up what the first seven years of our marriage must have been like for her:

"You followed me to Texas, you followed me to Utah.
We didn't find it there so we moved on.
You followed me to Alabam, things were good in Birmingham.
We didn't find it there so we moved on.
I know you're tired of following
My elusive dreams and schemes.
Now they're only fleeting things -
My elusive dreams."
("My Elusive Dreams", Curly Putnam/Billy Sherill)

In those early years, my military obligation and other career opportunities took us from Huntington, WV to Willow Wood, OH; to Marquette, MI; to Biloxi, MS; to Baton Rouge, LA; and Ashland, KY. It wasn't easy for her. She wrapped her life around mine and proved to be the most unselfish person I have ever known. Often my long work hours and travel requirements left her to take care of two little boys on her own, in places far from "home and family". Add to that all that comes with 35 years of being a Pastor's wife! It couldn't have been easy for her, but she never complained. Not once! The housework, laundry, cooking, changing diapers, late night doctoring, shopping, and refereeing fights would have driven me to the edge. Not her.

She was a wife and mommy. That's what she did. That's what she loved.

She gloried in taking care of Jay and Benji. They were her life. I have never known a better mother. She did all the things that mommies do for and with their kids. She kept them clean and safe and cared for them when they were sick. She watched them like a hawk and nursed their skinned knees and broken hearts. She did the home room mother thing. She sat through countless ball games and band concerts.

Trauma struck in 1996. That's the year both boys married and our nest was totally empty within six months. It was a tough transition for both of us, but I think it was especially hard for Linda. The boys had been the center of her life. She loved her new daughters in law (Michelle and Leigh Anne) like they were the daughters she never had. She loved the girls who loved her boys. She offered advice and counsel when asked (and maybe sometimes when not asked) but if she did, it was always out of love.

The grandchildren began to come along in 2000 and life got all the more special. The grandmother instinct kicked in for Linda immediately. Quint, Will, Canon, and Asher have, in turn, become the lights of her life. The only person who could possibly love those little boys more than I do is Linda. We are blessed to have the local ones spend the night with us nearly every Friday, but it also makes us miss the ones who are so far away. That's why it's so tough on her - especially at holiday time - when she can't be with all of the ones she loves so dearly.

In the past few years, Linda has taken on some added (and unsought) responsibilities. After her mother passed away four years ago she has cared for her aging father. These past three years she has stood by me through the terrible diagnosis and resulting surgeries, hospitalizations and chemotherapy treatments. All of her adult life has been spent looking out for the needs of others. A few years ago, she decided to pick up where she left off about 38 years ago, and began taking classes to pursue her degree. It was a frightening thing for her after all those years away from the classroom, but in typical fashion she has carried the load and boasts a 4.0 GPA.

Linda has been my wife, lover, friend, and rock since 1973. She's the best. She came straight from the mold of the model wife and mother whom Solomon lauds in Proverbs 31. And while not on the inspired level of the Book of Proverbs, there is a more modern verse that sums up my feelings for the woman who God brought into my life in October, 1969. It goes like this:

"Every day the sun comes up around her.
She can make the birds sing harmony.
Every drop of rain is glad it found her.
Heaven must have made her just for me.
When she smiles so warm and tender,
A sight for sore eyes to see...
Ain't no woman like the one I've got.
(Oh, no, they don't come better)
To make her happy doesn't take a lot.
(She don't ask for things, no diamond rings)
So together, like a hand in glove
(Like the pages of a letter)
Ain't no woman like the one I love!
She can fill me up when it's down I'm goin',
Put a little music in my day.
Wouldn't be surprised if my love keeps growin'
Bigger every minute she's away.
I would kiss the ground she walks on
'Cause it's my word, my word she'll obey.
Ain't no woman like the one I've got.
(Well I kiss the ground she walks on.)
To make her happy doesn't take a lot.
(She's a real good friend right to the end.)
So together like a hand in glove,
(A lonely man when she's gone)
There ain't no woman like the one I've got!"
("Ain't No Woman Like The One I Got", by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter)

Yep. That pretty well sums it up. Ain't no woman like the one I got!

Three years ago it looked as though our time together might be coming to a close, but God has blessed us with some "extra" time. Every day is a bonus. Every day is precious.

Friday, December 28, 2007

2008 Philippine Mission Trips and Crusade

Only four more days until we depart Tri State Airport for the first installment of our two mission trips to the Philippines, planned for January and May, 2008.

On this January trip, I will be joined by Darrell Clark (pastor of our Mission Church at Wayne), Thamer Calhoun (a deacon at Westmoreland Baptist) and Randall Robertson (pastor of Locust Grove Baptist Church in Huntington). Each of these men have been part of our team in past mission endeavors there, and all are excited about going back in January. As in the past, we will be working with Filipino Pastors and Church Planters Doming Valdez and Joseph Zerna on Negros Island.

Pastor Valdez has sent us our planned itinerary for January 4-14 and it is an ambitious one! We will be celebrating with the New Life Church on it's 8th Anniversary Service and also preaching in the Mayaposi Baptist Church in the remote mountains of Mabinay. Our base of operations will be from the Bethel Guest House in Dumaguete City. As well as the regular church activities and work in Dumaguete, they have plans for us to visit several towns and villages where we have never had opportunity to go before. Planned activities include house to house evangelism, outdoor evangelistic meetings in the evenings, Distribution of 400 Cebuano dialect Bibles, and hundreds of Gospel Tracts and other Christian literature. Other scheduled activities include ministry in the Oriental Negros Provincial Jail, and opportunities to share the Gospel and distribute Bibles at the Asian College of Science and Technology and the Philippine National Police station in Dumaguete City.

Our May trip will have a different flavor than any we have done up to this time. We should have a team of more than 10 people going on that one. Six of us have already purchased our plane tickets for the May trip. Joining me on that trip are my son Jay, and several members of his church in New Orleans, LA, which include Robby Pearson, Bobby Wood, Janna Johnston, and Billy Cox. Several others from New Orleans and Huntington are also hoping to go on that trip, and are attempting to raise the necessary funds to go. While having one group working with the usual activities, another part of the team will be engaged in a free "Pastor and Church Leader Seminar" in Dumaguete during the day. (each of the instructors for the Seminar are graduates and/or Doctoral candidates of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) Both teams will come together for a large area wide Evangelistic Crusade in the evenings.

Many of you have helped us financially to make these trips possible. Some have given sacrificially, and you know who you are - and most importantly, God knows - and I believe He will bless you abundantly for helping in this work. More than two thousand souls have come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through these efforts over the past 8 years. It could not happen without the help of those who have partnered with us financially. The May trip is planned and the basics are covered, but there are still some resources we would like to offer the Seminar attendees. Anyone who would like to have more information may contact me via email at . If you wish to help with any of the May mission activities, your tax deductible gifts may still be sent to:

Beacon Ministries, Inc.
317 - 49th Street
Ashland, KY 41101

A receipt for your tax deductible gift will be supplied to you, and you will receive written updates with photos upon our return.

We ask everyone to pray for us ,and our Filipino partners, as we prepare to leave on January 2nd. We will arrive in Dumaguete on the afternoon of January 4th. As I hope to have opportunity to have Internet capabilities during the trip, I will attempt to update our friends by means of this blog site. Please check in regularly to "For What It's Worth" between the 4th and 14th of January for our updates.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

The big day has finally rolled around. I know you agree with me that it comes quicker each year, doesn't it? All of the preparations are made, and Christians all around the world are settling in to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Every family has their own traditions. Some will open packages on Christmas Eve, some will wait until morning. When I was a child our family always exchanged our gifts on Christmas Eve and waited eagerly to see what Santa might have brought by morning. Many families gather at one place on Christmas Eve and another on Christmas Day, to cover all the bases. We will all probably eat too much.

Circumstances have changed over the years, and many of our loved ones are now gone. Some of our family live far away and we rarely get to see them at Christmas time. So the traditions have evolved and sometimes still change from year to year. Knowing that often times circumstances can be beyond our control, and learning over these past three years that life is short and precious has taught me a few lessons.

First, be patient. My family can testify to the fact that patience was a quality that was sadly lacking in my life over the years. I let pressure build up. Schedules ruled, and when things didn't go according to schedule, I often erupted with frustration. Having an "incurable" disease has changed much of that. Now, I'm not "there" yet when it comes to perfect patience, but I have learned two things in this category.
1. Don't sweat the small stuff
2. It's mostly ALL small stuff!

The lessons on patience bring you to a place of willingness to adapt. If it were written in Latin, the term would probably be, "Semper Gumby" or "always flexible". We're learning this the hard way. Just a few years back, in my mind our family HAD to celebrate Christmas with a certain traditional routine. Deaths and marriages and geographical distances between us have caused us to adapt in a number of ways.

This year, only part of our family will be together here. Jay and his tribe will be celebrating in New Orleans. They have not been able to be home for Christmas since 2003 (when Linda's mother passed away). Little Canon has never had a Christmas back here with us. We miss them very much, but are comforted in knowing that Jay's ministry has called him to the place where God wants him to serve, and it is hard for a pastor to get away for very long at all.

Benji's high school basketball team had and early practice this morning, and he and Leigh Anne and their boys will spend most of the middle part of the day as Leigh Anne's mother's side of the family (the Craces) get together for an annual celebration. They will come from there to join us here at the house tonight as our local family gets together to exchange presents. Tomorrow they will celebrate with her folks as the Clanton family comes together at Lance and Linda's house.

Westmoreland Baptist will have it's annual Candlelight Communion Service tonight at 6:00 PM. Mom and Dad will come to our house for dinner just before the evening service. After the brief church service, we will come back to our house where we will be met by Benji and family. Linda's dad and his friend, Mary Ann will also join us as we celebrate Christmas together tonight.

Years ago, Dad started a tradition that we still follow before we exchange and open our gifts. Each year someone reads the Christmas story from Luke 2 to remind us of what Christmas is, and how God has given us the wonderful gift of our Savior, Jesus. The privilege of reading the text goes to a different family member each year. This year, our second grandson, Will, will do the honors. His seventh birthday is coming up in only eight days, and I wasn't sure if he could read well enough yet to get through it, but Linda listened to him read it from the Holman Christian Standard Translation a few days ago, and he did a great job! So tonight, he'll get his first opportunity to carry on the tradition.

We're starting something new this year, as well. Linda has baked a big birthday cake to celebrate Jesus' birth. Before we read the scripture and then open gifts, we are all going to sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, and enjoy the cake that has been prepared to remind us of the importance of His birth! The little boys need to be reminded of this, as do the rest of us. I hope this will be an ongoing tradition for the future.

Late tomorrow morning, Christmas day, I will take Linda to the airport for her flight to New Orleans. Her flight leaves at 1:00 PM. She'll be able to spend the evening of Christmas and the next couple of days with Jay, Michelle, and the Louisiana grandsons - an opportunity she is really looking forward to. I'll probably stop by my brother, Bruce's house and have Christmas dinner with He and Sandi and mom and dad, and Sandi's family. Then most likely I'll spend the next couple of days working at the church, cleaning up around the house, and probably going to a couple of Russell High School basketball games at the Ashland Invitational Tournament, while getting things together to pack for my upcoming mission trip to the Philippines in about nine days.

Life is good!

I am thankful that God has spared my life for a Christmas that I wasn't supposed to have seen. He has blessed us all so much. This Christmas, I am looking forward to celebrating the birth of our Savior, like never before.

Jesus told us that He came "that we might have life and have it more abundantly". With that in mind, Linda and I would like to wish all of our family and friends a very Merry Christmas, and an ABUNDANT New Year.

God Bless...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Remembering Mamaw Bowling At Christmas

Christmas was forever changed for our family four years ago.

It was about 3:00 on the morning of Christmas Eve when the phone call jarred us from our sleep. Linda's mother had fallen to the floor of their bedroom at their Greenup County, KY home along the banks of the Little Sandy River. Apparently the victim of a stroke, Mamaw had hit her head in the fall and was not communicating well with Papaw or the neighbors he had called for assistance. An ambulance had been called and we were to meet them at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Russell.

Thousands of thoughts run through your mind at a time like that. It's hard to clear your head when wakened from your deepest sleep. Phone calls at 3:00 AM are NEVER routine, so you know it's not going to be good news that yanks you to consciousness. We didn't talk much as we rushed through washing our faces, trying to comb the "bed head" out of our hair, jumping into clothes and scraping the windshield as the car warmed up. Conversation was sparse on the way to the hospital. Linda was very close to her mother (of course) and was obviously concerned for her well being, and that of her dad as well. Although together, both of us were alone in our thoughts.

Orpha Smith Bowling was a wonderful lady who understood and practiced the simple, nearly lost art, of friendship. She always practiced "The Golden Rule" and was a genuine blessing to those who knew her. She was the finest mother in law a guy could ever have. Although her eyesight was dim, she had a sharp wit and a ready smile. The sound of laughter was always heard when she was in the house. Her life had not been an easy one, but she loved life and she dearly loved her children, their spouses, her twelve grandchildren, and all of the great grandchildren. For my 32 years as her son in law, she treated me with the love and kindness that made me feel more like a blood relative than one by marriage.

In recent years her health had begun to fail. Several laser surgeries on her eyes only temporarily postponed her eventual slippage into legal blindness. She had surgery several years before to try to correct a crippling problem in her feet, and she walked with a cane until the morning in October, 2002 when she fell in McDonalds parking lot and broke her hip. From that point on she was either confined to a wheel chair or ambulated with a walker. The problems she was having were not unusual for an octogenarian, but we were hardly prepared for what happened that Christmas Eve.

Linda had become somewhat of a caregiver for her mother during those last couple of years. Burgess and Orpha lived alone and were fairly independent, but the loss of her eyesight and her broken hip created the need for someone to help them with their business, doctors appointments, etc. I often joked that while Burgess had worked hard and provided well for his family, he had never had to worry about any of the details, because Mamaw took care of them all. During those last few years, they enjoyed his retirement, and even though much time was spent in doctor's offices, they also spent a lot of time visiting friends, taking drives, going to flea markets, and stopping by our house several times a week. Unable to read the paper and the television listings, Mamaw would call Linda every evening to find out "what good movies" were going to be on TV that night. She especially loved Christmas movies and had just watched (or basically listened to) a couple of good ones on her last night.

When we arrived at the Bellefonte ER, Linda's older sister, Violet, and her husband, Gene, were already there with Papaw. The girls took turns back in the ER with their mother while the rest of us sat in the private waiting room. We were told early that the prognosis did not look good. Mamaw was no longer communicative and eventually the test results revealed that there was basically no brain activity. The news hit us all like a shot to the gut. We called our kids and they began to arrive at the hospital by daybreak.

Since there was really nothing else that could be done for her, and since Mamaw's living will stated her wishes that no extraordinary means be taken to prolong life, she was not placed on life support. Instead, she was admitted to a room where the family she loved could gather round her for her last hours on earth. I am thankful that Jay and Michelle had come home for Christmas and that they and Benji and Leigh Anne could be there with us to tell her they loved her as she slipped into the presence of Jesus.

Strange how everything can change in just moments.

Most of the preparations for Christmas had been wrapped up except for those last few Christmas Eve odds and ends and last minute details. Each of our homes were adorned with beautiful decorations, and scores of brightly wrapped packages were under the trees. A number of those gifts had Mamaw's name on them. Our various family units had their own plans for Christmas Eve "get togethers", but we had all planned to be at Mamaw and Papaw Bowling's house in about 32 hours for the annual Christmas dinner. There would be more than 30 happy laughing family members there. Suddenly everything had changed.

Instead of the usual celebration, Linda and Violet had to make funeral arrangements. Certainly not the way we had all planned to spend Christmas! The loss of a loved one is always traumatic. When that loss comes at Christmas it is even more difficult to deal with. I felt as deep of a sense of personal loss as I have ever experienced, but I can not begin to comprehend what Linda and Violet must have felt on that Christmas.

The next few days were a blur of activity. There were visitations on two consecutive evenings in two funeral homes, one hundred miles apart. One in Flatwoods, so all of their Greenup County friends and neighbors (along with friends of our families) could attend. The second was in Belfry, KY so all of the old Pike County friends and family could pay their respects. Mamaw's funeral was one of four that I officiated in the last two weeks of December that year. My scripture reading and message came from Proverbs 31 "A Portrait of a Godly Woman". I could think of no scripture that could have been more appropriate. Mamaw was laid to rest in a private family cemetery in a hollow between the beautiful mountains she loved so much.

Time moves on. Christmas rolls around each year and we all feel a little older. Linda still does lots of decorating and we enjoy looking at all the lights. But it's not quite the same since one of our most precious lights went out four years ago. It is, however, comforting to know she's spending her fourth Christmas with Jesus.

We'll see you soon, Mamaw.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Good Grief!

I'm really not even going to make any comments on this.
Here is a campaign ad from Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, wishing voters a Merry Christmas.
(click on the link below to see the 30 second spot)

This morning, Huckabee appeared on the Today Show where he was interviewed by co host Meredith Vieira . Listen to her comments about the ad. This shows the extreme silliness of the network news media.
The video speaks for itself.
(click on the link below)

What do you think?
Love to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Media Manipulation

Question: Does the news media report the news - or MAKE the news.

Answer: I believe, that in the present Presidential race, the answer is the latter.

First of all the 2008 race for the Presidential nominations of both parties began way too early - even for a "political news junkie" like myself. It seems to have begun the day after the 2004 election results were known. Now that in itself is not unusual, with an incumbent President who is in his final term. Especially one whose Vice President is not interested in seeking the higher office. Furthermore, the Presidential wannabes of the Democratic party began jockeying for position as soon as their standard bearer conceded the race to his opponent. Interest was obviously heightened as their party took over the Congress in the 2006 elections.

However, it seems that the news media (print and especially the electronic outlets) has begun churning this story at the earliest point ever in the history of the Presidential political cycle. As a result, much of the general public has developed "campaign fatigue" long before the first caucuses and primaries are held. This, I think, is largely due to the 24 hour cable news networks that are constantly covering the daily activities of anyone who has ever even been rumored to be interested in our nation's highest office.

That being said, we now are actually finally arriving at the beginnings of the actual seven month long process, beginning with the Iowa caucuses in about two weeks, that will eventually present us with our two major parties candidates for President of the United States. Is there a clear "front runner" in either party? Apparently not. And that makes for an interesting race (rather than a coronation) during the early days of the primary season. It also helps sell magazines, newspapers, and draws viewers and listeners in to electronic media outlets in droves. Hence the "media manipulation" that we have been seeing since last summer.

A few months back we were led to believe that the 2008 election would come down to a battle between two New Yorkers, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guiliani. Both political heavy weights, whom, we were told, were leading all other candidates in national polls. In fact, that potential race would give us what we missed out upon in 2000, when the two of them were apparently going head to head for the Senate seat from New York. I'm sure you remember at that time, Guiliani withdrew from contention at the last minute, due to a battle with prostate cancer. This left the Republican nomination open to a congressional light weight named Rick Lazio, to whom Hillary administered an old fashioned butt kicking at the polls. This has left Hillary to hob nob with the good old boys in the world's most exclusive club for the past seven years. In the mean time, Guiliani was thrust into the role of "America's Mayor", distinguishing himself as a genuine leader in the aftermath of 9/11 - and basically living off that fame for the next six years.

So there they were as front runners of their respective parties. Two nationally known names amid those other "lesser candidates" who began to throw their hats into the proverbial ring - various senators, congressmen, governors, etc. Pretty routine stuff - right? Kind of a snoozer. Well, that kind of stuff doesn't sell newspapers and magazines, or boost viewer ratings. What we needed were some "upsets" even months before the caucuses and primaries began.

The news media began the churning machine. We've seen a whole cast of characters come out of nowhere and eventually fall from grace - one after another.

Most every observer assumed that John Edwards would run. He, the former Governor and Senator from the Tar Heel State, and John Kerry's Vice Presidential running mate seemed like a natural candidate. Played up in the media to be almost Kennedy-like with his good looks and populist style, Edwards worked that for all he was worth - even to the point of going out on the Kennedy trail - literally retracing Bobby Kennedy's steps and campaign stops he had made during his aborted run for the office in 1968. However, according to the media polls, his "two Americas" speech was wearing thin on the stump. The best thing Edwards seemed to have going for him was his wife, who is courageously battling cancer.

Then enter Barak Obama. A charismatic first term U.S. Senator from Illinois. The media polls seemed to indicate that here was the guy who could knock the crown from Hillary's head and become the first President of African descent. He had the "right" anti war stance from the beginning of the Iraq conflict which made him an automatic media darling. He threw his hat in the ring at a huge event at the old state house in Springfield, IL, where Lincoln and Douglas once debated. Somewhere along the line, he began to lose his luster as the media darling, and Hillary was still declared by news outlets everywhere to be the Democratic front runner.

On the Republican side, the media frenzy was stirring itself over the possible entry of former Tennessee Senator, and "Law and Order" TV star, Fred Thompson. The folksy Thompson allowed suspense to build for a month or so, making speeches and hitting the talk show circuit. He was portrayed by the media as being the darling of the conservatives and the likely successor to the Reagan mantle. That is, until he actually announced his candidacy, at which point the news media immediately began to portray him as boring and seemingly disinterested in the whole thing.

Arizona Senator, John McCain was just hanging out there. Little media interest in him. After all, he stuck by the President and agreed with the troop surge in Iraq. Not popular in media circles. Once the media darling for his "maverick" politics, McCain just seemed to be almost invisible - for the time being.

Enter Mitt Romney - former Republican Governor of the heavily Democratic state of Massachusetts. The news media splashed his face EVERYWHERE. This guy "looks Presidential" we were told. He was the savior of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics a few years ago - rescuing it from scandal and financial ruin. He's a world class business man - and a tea totalling Mormon. Romney has spent a Gazillion dollars in Iowa alone, and the news media has told us for a long time that he, along with Hillary on the Democratic side, had the Hawkeye state in the bag.

That is, until they began to tell us about Mike Huckabee - the former Baptist Pastor and Governor of Arkansas. "Where did this guy come from?" the media asked us. Their polls began to show that Huckabee was gaining on Romney. They fed us this story for weeks. Gaining slowly, the tortoise and the hare all over again. Time and Newsweek began to give us cover stories on the "other" Presidential candidate from Hope, Arkansas. In no time, it seems, Huckabee had overtaken Romney. He became the media story du jour. Mike Huckabee is now the front runner in Iowa, we were told. Romney starts playing hardball and catch up. Now, enjoying the front runner status, Huckabee suddenly becomes the target of the media for slurs on things that he said and did as Governor of Arkansas. "Can we afford to have a man like this be President?" we are asked...

Meanwhile on the Democratic side - suddenly the media polls seem to indicate that Obama (and Edwards) are gaining on the former First Lady in Iowa and New Hampshire. Opra Winfrey comes out for Obama and he brings her out on the campaign trail. It is an absolute media event all weekend. Amazingly Obama rises dramatically in the polls and now it is a statistical dead heat between Hillary and Barak in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But wait! Newsweek's cover story this week is John Edwards! "The Sleeper" reads the cover headline. Could he be coming from behind to knock off both Hillary and Obama? Stay tuned...

Hold on! Big news from the Republican side. Suddenly new life is breathed into the heretofore dormant campaign of John McCain. The major newspapers of Iowa and New Hampshire have endorsed McCain! After all, could a Baptist or Mormon really be expected to win this nomination under this year's conditions? McCain is a U.S. Senator. A former POW. On Monday morning EVERY network news organization had former Democratic VP nominee and now Independent Senator Joe Lieberman on to publicize his endorsement of McCain for President. Perhaps McCain is the answer...

And the beat goes on.


Are these news agencies reporting the stories or CREATING the stories? I believe the latter. Stop the polling. Stop the presses. Let these people campaign in the primary states and report on the RESULTS, not on the latest polling data. The only poll that counts is the one where the voters cast their VOTE.

The news media should report on the results - not try to manipulate the results, just to sell more papers and draw higher ratings.

No wonder most folks can't stand politics.

I'm getting a little sick of it myself.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Good Year At Westmoreland Baptist Church

Businesses usually take inventory at this time of year. It is wise for us as a church to do the same thing. Where are we as a congregation, and where are we headed? What have we done for our Lord and to advance His Kingdom in the past year? Some who are uninvolved may think we haven’t done much. Well, let’s take a look at where we are at the close of 2007. We at Westmoreland Baptist are seeking to do three things:
Ø Magnify God
Ø Minister To People
Ø Make Disciples

We are seeking to Magnify God through quality worship experience which has included varied music offerings, drama, multi media, and exposition and application of God’s Word. We are blessed to have Randy Spurgeon as our Minister of Music. Randy usually puts together our order of worship, and he puts a lot of prayer and preparation into each service. From instrumental to children’s, youth and adult choirs, to “special” groups and solos, we seek to Magnify the Father.

Wednesday evenings we come together for prayer and Bible Study, and in our Sunday Evening services adults explore God’s Word, while youth and AWANA children’s ministries are meeting at the same time. And on Sunday mornings at 9:30 there are small Bible Study groups and classes for all ages. Our morning worship services are taped and the message is played on our weekly radio program, "Raising the Standard", heard on 97.1 FM at 10:30 AM every Sunday.

Our various Ministries to People include a library and media center open to everyone. Mother's Day Out and Pre School weekday ministries provide Christian Education opportunities and outreach to young families. We have an active senior group, the “B.A.L.L. Team” who meet for lunch each month and take part in various trips and other activities. A new Women’s Bible Study was begun this year, with great participation, and a new Men’s Outdoor Ministry has also drawn a number of people into fellowship. This past year, certain leaders in our Youth Ministry have also provided after school tutoring for young people in our community. There is also a craft group and shut in ministry that seeks to minister to those who are unable to attend services.

Our church has long been a supporter of Missions. Several of our Sunday School Classes have financially supported the Huntington City Mission for years, and it is included in our church budget. We also have a faithful group who volunteer at the Mission each month. This past year we have also had some of our young people volunteering at the Mission with improvement work and Back Yard Bible Clubs for the kids there. The youth group has done several community service projects as well. This Christmas season, our students have also “adopted” some children at the mission for the purchase of Christmas gifts.

We have continued to sponsor a mission church in Wayne, WV and have taken a large role in “World Changers” mission work in Huntington, hosting and feeding the visiting teams that do the rehab work on rundown houses in our community, while sharing the Gospel with their owners. Our youth group has gone on short term mission trips each of the past four summers, and we have sent several short term mission teams to the Philippines. Free will offerings from our Sunday School classes have helped us financially support two native Filipino pastors and church planters year round, and we regularly support Southern Baptist Missions at home and around the world through our Cooperative Program giving. G.R.O.W. teams meet each week for outreach to our community.

Our newest Sunday School class has been busy doing ministry in our community by offering a free Clothing giveaway to folks in our community. Upward Basketball, Cheerleading, and Soccer kicks off this year and offers our church the opportunity to tell the story of Jesus to children and their families through a sports ministry setting. We have begun a new method of planning and implementing our church fellowship dinners which has involved more of our members than ever before. In times of grief, a faithful group of ladies are always there to provide meals for bereaved families at the time of the death of a member.

A new Church Directory is being prepared to help us all get to know one another better. Fellowship in general, and close relationships are being built in a number of Sunday morning small groups. There have been evangelistic Block Parties, and Ice Cream Socials, special movie events, and even a "Pound the Pavement" concert. There’s more, and the list goes on and on.

The purpose of all of these activities is to seek to Make Disciples and advance the Gospel of Christ at home and around the world – winning people to Christ, and equipping them to serve Him effectively. The last few months have seen us adding new members to our fellowship on a regular basis, and we are on target for more annual baptisms than we have had here in the past several years. I am proud of the members of Westmoreland Baptist Church for what they have done in the past year, and I pray that we will be able to make an even greater impact for Christ in 2008. It’s not important that we have been busy. What matters is that we are lifting up Christ in our world and hopefully impacting the culture for Him.

As this new year begins, let’s not lose sight that “The main thing is to keep the main thing – the Main Thing!”

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Tragedy Remembered

It happened 40 years ago on December 15, 1967. It was just after the "Summer of Love" and half way through my senior year at Huntington East High School. Mom and Dad were at the supermarket for the weekly grocery run, and I was home looking after my seven year old brother. The news bulletin broke into the regular television program, advising that the Silver Bridge had collapsed into the Ohio River, sending dozens of automobiles and trucks and twisted steel wreckage into the frigid waters.

There are some events that are emblazoned in your memory to the point that you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news. I can well remember being in 8th grade U.S. History class at Beverly Hills Junior High School when the news of President Kennedy's assassination came down. On September 11, 2001 I sat at my desk in my insurance office when my daughter in law, Leigh Anne, called to tell me a plane had flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. While we talked, she suddenly blurted out, "Oh my gosh! Another plane just hit the other tower."

The Silver Bridge disaster had that same kind of effect in this part of the country. I can still recall the shock I felt when the local news anchor, Boz Johnson, began giving the first sketchy reports that indicated a major tragedy had happened just 30 miles up the river from Huntington. The Silver Bridge was a suspension type bridge which connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia with Kanagua, Ohio. The collapse came at rush hour in the late afternoon while traffic was heavy in both directions. When the final results came in 46 people had lost their lives in the cold waters of the Ohio River.

One of our family friends was a TV repairman for Sears who had been in Gallipolis, OH doing service work on a customer's television. (Can you remember when they did that?) He had just crossed the bridge from Ohio and his van was sitting on the West Virginia approach ramp waiting for the light at the foot of the bridge to change to green. He told us that he felt strong vibrations, heard rumbling and cracking sounds, and watched through his rear view mirrors as the superstructure and roadway behind him collapsed into the river. What a frightening experience that must have been! He had escaped death by just a few yards, and had been a reluctant witness to the death of nearly four dozen others who were on the bridge he had just crossed. He carried those memories (and a touch of survivors guilt) with him for the rest of his life.

Dad had held several revival meetings over the years up in Gallia and Meigs Counties in Ohio. Many times our family had crossed the old Silver Bridge. It was different from most of the bridges in our area. It was a suspension bridge, and identical to bridges down river at Portsmouth, Ohio and at Maysville, Kentucky. I remember thinking how many times we had crossed that bridge, oblivious to the structural deficiencies in the cables. The thought sent shudders up my spine and for the first time in my life, made me uneasy about the thought of crossing a bridge. Strange how we take our safety for granted.

In a sense, some good did come from the tragedy. Suddenly there was a heightened awareness of the deteriorating bridges in our area. Within a few months, every bridge in West Virginia had been inspected and a number of them were found to be seriously defective. The old bridges up and down the Ohio River began to get regular inspections, and many underwent various needed maintenance procedures. Weight limits were installed on most, and over the years many of the old bridges have been replaced.

Time passes quickly and we seem to mark it by certain events - many of which are tragic. I will have to admit that I hadn't thought much about the Silver Bridge in recent years. Then, just a couple of months ago, an Interstate Highway bridge in Minneapolis, MN collapsed, and the news reports brought the old memories vividly back to life. The newscasts and papers this weekend reminded me that forty years had passed since Boz Johnson told us the news that evening.

It all serves as a reminder that life is uncertain. Many of those folks in Point Pleasant forty years ago were on their way home from work. Some had been Christmas shopping. All had plans for that Friday evening, but those plans were changed. People go about their daily business, rarely thinking about their mortality. It wouldn't be healthy to think about that all the time, of course, but it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that we are mortal creatures. We won't be here forever.

Make the most of today.

I have learned to appreciate each day of life, and live it as though it will be my last.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Foul Ball!

Part of me feels like the newspaper boy in Chicago who encountered "Shoeless Joe" Jackson on the street, just after the news of the Black Sox scandal broke after the 1919 World Series. Jackson was one of the White Sox players who had been accused of consorting with professional gamblers, and had taken money to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

"Say it ain't so, Joe!" the news boy begged.

Of course it was so, and Jackson (who otherwise would probably be in the baseball Hall of Fame today) and the others were banned from the game for life by Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis.

I grew up loving baseball. It's different from the other sports. Baseball is played in a pastoral setting. There is no time clock to add pressure to the sport. It is the only sport in which the defense has possession of the ball! It's a throwback to another age and by in large the game hasn't changed a lot since George and Harry Wright started the first professional team in 1869 - The Cincinnati Red Stockings. Football has arguably taken over baseball's former title as the "Great American Pastime", but it is still the sport of my youth - the one I loved and consumed as a boy.

George Carlin had a great comedy routine contrasting football and baseball.

"Football is played on a GRIDIRON.
Baseball is played in a PARK...
Football has the blitz; the bomb; the crack back block; the monster man defense.
Baseball has the bunt and the squeeze play...
In Football you score by driving down the field into enemy territory, gaining yardage, and eventually penetrating the opponents end zone.
In baseball, you just 'Go home!'"...

Critics claim that the game is too long and boring, but anyone who has loved and played the game can testify that there is nothing like the crack of the bat, the smell of the leather gloves and the fresh smell of a new baseball. One doesn't have to be 7 feet tall to be a great player, nor does one have to weigh 300 lbs to crack the lineup. It's a game of skill and beauty. Watching a perfectly turned 6-4-3 double play is almost like going to the ballet. The skill, quickness and hand/eye coordination required to hit a sphere (thrown at speeds up to 100 mph) with a cylindrical bat is unparalleled in any sport. Especially since the hitting coach admonishes you to "hit is squarely"! The dunk and the three point shot in basketball are impressive... breaking the kickoff return for a touch down or a long bomb for six in football will bring the crowd to their feet... but nothing in sports compares with the home run. There is just something majestic and awe inspiring to seeing the ball soar out of the park.

As you can probably tell, I have a romantic infatuation with the game. I love it. I tried to pass that love down to my boys, and I want their boys to love it too.

A couple of years ago, Major League Baseball commissioned former Senator George Mitchell to head up an investigation of the use of anabolic steriods and Human Growth Hormones (HGH) among major league ballplayers. Yesterday's report of the findings by Senator Mitchell felt like a blow to gut to those of us who love the game. The "boy" in me wants to say, "Say it ain't so, George!" but the 57 year old man that I am knows that it is true. And it is so sad to see the list of nearly 80 players who have been implicated in the scandal.

All of us knew about Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti, Rafael Palmerio, and Jason Giambi from books and magazine expose' stories that revealed their useage of the outlawed substances. But to see the names of MVP's and Cy Young Award winners was just heartbreaking to someone who loves the game. "All American" boys like David Justice and Andy Pettitte (who teaches Sunday School in a Houston Baptist Church) shouldn't be on such a list. But alas, they are.

I'm not naive. I was born at night but not last night. I know that many of our boyhood heroes have lived a tarnished life. Babe Ruth was a womanizer who often showed up at the ballpark hung over. Ty Cobb was such a jerk, none of his colleagues would even attend his funeral. Pete Rose gambled on the sport and was banned for life. Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford were alcoholics whose antics off the field would never be written up in "Boy's Life Magazine". Alvin Dark slammed bus windows on the hands of kids who were trying to get his autograph. Darryl Strawberry and Steve Howe's off field drug usage was like a never ending soap opera.

Former major league pitcher Jim Brosnan in his published diary, "The Long Season" chronicles the less than admirable actions of a number of big leaguers, and Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" blew the lid off the use of "greenies" in big leage club houses, told us of the "Baseball Annie" groupies in each major league city, and knocked the halo off many of our presumed heroes of the game. Bouton became public enemy number one among his colleagues, and former Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said the book had "given baseball a black eye." Poking fun at Kuhn, Bouton's equally explosive sequel, "I'm Glad You Didn't Take It Personally" sported a large baseball with a black eye on it's cover!

The inside look at baseball wasn't pretty. Neither was the 400+ page report released by Senator Mitchell yesterday.

Major League Baseball has lagged far behind the other big league sports in dealing with the issue of steroids. Part of the reason is the strong players union. However, the time has come (no the time has passed) that baseball needs to clean up it's act. It's time for all the righteous indignation of the Commissioner's office (formerly only directed at gambling in the game) to come down hard on these cheaters.

Former NBA star Charles Barkley drew a lot of criticism a few years ago when he said, "I am not a role model." He probably meant "he shouldn't be considered a role model" yet he and other highly paid professional athletes ARE thrown up to our kids as role models - and they shouldn't be. The greed and avarice that professional sports has become is an abomination that has infiltrated all aspects of the game and it is sickening.

Kids need role models. Good role models. Marion Jones, Steve Howe, Barry Bonds, Randy Moss, Pete Rose, and Latrell Sprewell are NOT the role models our kids need today. Neither is Sean Penn and that Hollywood crowd (but that's another subject for another time). Perhaps kids should look to some lesser paid, less glamorous folks, such as good teachers, dedicated coaches, band directors, Sunday School teachers, pastors and others who will teach them the right values, and realistic lessons about life. Role models like this will help mold them into the men and women who will be able to properly mentor the next generation.

I still love the game, but I am saddened at what it has become on the professional level. Perhaps Commissioner Bud Selig and Players Union representative Donald Fehr will get together on this and be a catalyst to clean up the greatest sport of all. It's too great a sport to be tarnished by the actions of some so called heroes.

As that great poet and philosopher, Paul Simon, once wrote, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns it's lonely eyes to you..."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Special Times Of Fellowship

Families should spend more time together. Our fast paced world has many of our families pulled in different directions as our various activities keep us going at a break neck speed. Sometimes we just need to slow down - come together as a family - break bread together - visit - talk - and laugh! We need that time to share our concerns, encourage one another, catch up on what's new in our loved ones lives, and just tighten the bond that is family. Families need that special time together. The same thing goes for the church family.

The Westmoreland Baptist Church family had one of those special times this past Sunday afternoon.

Four times a year there falls a month with five Sundays. For some time we have used those fifth Sundays as a time when our church would come together for a Fellowship Dinner. There are other times during the year when we gather together for special meals - sponsored by our youth group, or fellowship times having coffee and desserts after some special event, or to mark a holiday or other special occasion. This year December has five Sundays so it is time for our regular church wide fellowship. Rather than having it on the fifth Sunday this month (between Christmas and New Years) we opted to move it up till December 8th for a special Church Christmas Fellowship. To say that it was a success would be an understatement.

For several years, the Fifth Sunday Dinners were hosted by our "Hostess Committee". This is a dedicated group of ladies who carried the load of planning, serving and cleanup for every dinner. They did a great job, but the truth of the matter is that they (and a couple of their husbands) carried the full load by themselves. It also fell to this group of ladies to prepare "bereavement meals" for families who had lost a loved one and gathered in after the funeral for a special time together. Obviously you can't schedule that kind of event. On one particular month this year, they cooked and served meals for SIX different families! It was obvious that they were over worked. Furthermore, they were rarely able to enjoy the Fifth Sunday Fellowships due to the fact that they worked all of them. They were willing, and faithful, but it just didn't seem fair - so we came up with a different concept for our Fifth Sunday Dinners and so far it is working very well!

We didn't abolish the "Hostess Committee" but changed their name and duties to that of a "Bereavement Team" who would continue to coordinate the family meals after funerals. That in itself can be a big job, and we never know when they will need to spring into action. But to give them a bit of a break, and to give others an opportunity to serve, we changed the way we do the Fifth Sunday Fellowship Dinners.

We chose Bob and Becky Moses to a newly created position of "Fellowship Coordinators". Their responsibility would be to plan and coordinate the regular Fifth Sunday Dinners (and other special fellowship events throughout the year), and to recruit Sunday School Classes and other groups to host the dinners. These volunteer groups would take on the responsibility of set up, decorations, coordination, serving, and cleaning up after the meals. All of the meals are of the "pot luck" variety, so the host group doesn't have to do all of the cooking - they just have to put the event together and pull it off.

We have had two Fifth Sunday Fellowships under the new system and the results have been terrific. The first of the two was hosted by Al Dienes' "Kings Children" Sunday School class and they did a wonderful job, setting the bar high for those who would follow. That dinner was held just after the Morning Worship Service. Attendance was good. The King's Children's Class had decorated the gym and the tables in a fall mode and the setting was really welcoming. Most of our congregation pitched in, bringing a covered dish or two and many brought delicious desserts. Those who had been a little apprehensive about the new system seemed to be relieved that it worked very well.

The next scheduled event was this past Sunday. Terry Perdue's "Seekers Class" volunteered to host this event and what a wonderful job they did! They set the meal time for 5:00 PM (different than the usual noon time meal) to lead in to our Rainbow Kids Children's Choir's Christmas Program at 7:00. Some folks feared that the later time might not be as well attended as the usual after church, noon time event. Those concerns were soon proven needless. The gym was full. Every table was utilized and the crowd was enthusiastic - even though the night was cool and rainfall was heavy. Food was in abundance, and the fellowship was really special. A number of our newer members were in attendance, and it was a great way for folks to get acquainted. The Seeker's Class decorated the place beautifully, and had even planned a brief interactive after dinner program hosted by Mel Hicks. A little "living room" area was set up at one end of the gym, complete with Christmas Tree, fireplace and decorations. All the children were called up to hear Tom Wood read the Christmas Story from Luke chapter 2. Carla Bell led the group in singing some Christmas Carols, and at the close of the event, everyone in attendance was invited to come by and help themselves to one of the ornaments from the tree.

A lot of work went into both of these events, but it was well worth it. The new system is proving to be successful in that, the church family is enjoying a great time together; more of our members are being involved in planning and serving; Sunday School classes are working as a team; and that one group of hard working ladies doesn't have to shoulder the whole load. Now they can enjoy the meals like all the rest of us. It may seem like a small thing to some - but I believe it is a real boon to our church, by involving more of our folks in ministry and fellowship.

The next fifth Sunday is in March. The "Thirty Something" and "Pairs and Spares" classes have volunteered to host that dinner. Knowing the folks in those classes, I have no doubt it will be a great success as well.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Here's Your Sign

Here in the Tri-State area where Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia all come together we have many folks who reside in one state and work in another. Sometimes a couple may live in one state, but work in both of the others. I am a native of West Virginia and grew up in "Almost Heaven", but I have been a resident and homeowner of Kentucky since April 1980. Linda and I lived in Willow Wood, Ohio, back in 1973 when our first son was born - at a hospital in Huntington, WV. For the last five years, I have ministered at a church in West Virginia while living in Kentucky. I sleep in Ashland, yet spend most of my waking hours in West Virginia. Like folks who live in many border areas, we do have a bit of an identity crisis. The Tri-State area is not well known for many things, but we do seem to be able to lay claim to some of the world's dumbest criminals.

For the past few months I have felt that Ashland, Kentucky might be the home of the country's stupidest criminal. Folks all around the world were treated by CNN, Fox News, and other national media outlets, to the story of the rally weird antics of a guy dubbed "the Duct Tape Bandit". This character wrapped his head completely in the wonderfully versatile silver tape that has 1,000 (actually now 1,001) uses. He walked into a local liquor store, head wrapped mummy style in duct tape, and demanded all of the money in the cash drawer. The clerk handed it over (less than $200) and the bandit promptly exited the store. An employee, who was hosing down the lot, saw the strange character leaving the store in a rush and heard the clerk yell for help. He tackled the "Duct Tape Bandit", basically beat the living daylights out of him, and held him until the Police arrived on the scene.

The bandit was arrested, photographed, (head still fully wrapped in the duct tape) and the photo was flashed around the world on the 24 hour news networks. It was totally strange in the weirdness of it all! What was more unbelievable was that the guy (now unwrapped) and residing in the Boyd County Detention Center, willingly submitted to a television interview by a local TV station in which he denied the whole thing. Feel free to check out the interview at: What a dope!

Well, just a couple of weeks ago, another mental midget made the local news. Same city, at Ashland's Mid Town Shopping Center, just a few blocks from where the Duct Tape Bandit earned his spot in local stupid criminal lore. This guy walked into an ice cream shop brandishing a STAPLE GUN! (the kind you use to tack up ceiling tiles). He demanded all of the money in the cash register and left on foot with a hand full of dollars. Witnesses saw him cross the shopping center parking lot and enter the rear of a house located on an adjacent street. Ashland Police department had little trouble taking the Staple Gun robber into custody and transporting him to the local detention center.

I thought these guys were dumb, but this past week, a knucklehead in Huntington, WV took the honors for the Stupidest Criminal award. The local news reported that a fellow walked into the Budget Discount Pharmacy in my Mom and Dad's neighborhood and demanded that the cashier give him all the money in the cash drawer. He told the clerk that if she complied, "they won't have any problem." The man had a strolled out of the store and got into the unwitting get away car - a Taxi Cab which had dropped him off at the store, with orders to await his return! The cab took him to a house on St. Louis Avenue about three blocks from the pharmacy, where he was arrested in just a few minutes while lighting up a crack pipe.

With the wise cashier getting the Taxi's ID number, and after a quick call to the company dispatcher, it wasn't hard for the police to track the cab to the place the bandit had been delivered. Our friend, Karen Hale, was working behind the prescription counter in the pharmacy that day. Karen says that the cash drawer had been emptied about 30 minutes earlier and had gone in with the day's bank deposit. When the Taxi Bandit got the contents of the drawer it amounted to $70.00. Police confirmed that the bandit had owed the taxi driver $31.00 and paid the fare with the money he had taken from the Pharmacy.

Think of it. This guy pulls off one of the dumbest, most ill planned crimes one can imagine, showing the world what an absolute idiot he is. Move over "Duct Tape Bandit", this guy may have you beat. Now, he is lodged in the Western Regional Jail, held under $100,000 bond for an armed robbery that netted him the staggering sum of $39.00.

Who says, "Crime doesn't pay"?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My 100th Post

This is post number 100 since I made my "brave incursion" into the blogosphere back in the summer. This is somewhat of a milestone for me. I had intended to write something every day, but with State Convention activities, meetings, study time, sermon preparation, hospital visitation, church administration, funerals, Upward Basketball start up, and making final preparations for the January mission trip, I quickly learned how difficult that is to do. So, I am posting as often as possible. I would like to say "Thank you" to those who read regularly (or even intermittently). Your published and unpublished comments and constructive criticisms have been helpful.

The purpose of this blog is simply to share my opinions, viewpoints, and observations, "For What It's Worth". I don't seek to be controversial, but I'm sure that sometimes my opinions might not be in agreement with those of every reader. You're entitled to your own opinions, and invited to leave (civil) comments here on the blog. If you really don't like something you read here, that's OK with me. In fact, you may want to start your own blog. If you do, please share the URL with me and I'll try to read it as often as possible.

Yesterday, I got an email from a good friend who asked the following:

"CJ – Are you thinking about writing about the presidential
candidates in your blog? I keep reading about Huckabee (former governor from Arkansas) and it seems he is the best candidate in my opinion. I’d like to read what you think……………if you have time."

Well, here's my opinion, "For What It's Worth"...

I make it a rule NEVER to get into partisan politics in the pulpit. It's simply not the place for politics. Almighty God does not belong to either political party, and no political organization has right to claim Him. That said, I will never shy away from moral or Biblical issues that sometimes come up in political debate. That's altogether different. While I will never endorse partisan candidates from the pulpit, I do challenge our members not to leave their faith outside the voting booth. As US citizens, (but more importantly as Kingdom people) I believe we should vote, not based on what our bosses, or union leaders advise. We should not cast our votes based only on the economy or job market. We should not blindly vote only for OUR party members. I believe the Christian should be the kind of citizen who bases his or her voting preferences on their Biblical world view.

While I will eventually cast my ballot in the best way I feel to be consistent with my Christian faith, I am constantly reminding myself that we are electing a President, and not a "Theologian in Chief". In my humble opinion, the 2008 Presidential election presents some interesting and difficult choices and challenges.

The top three Democratic candidates leave me cold as ice, and it has noting to do with the race or gender of the candidates. Senators Obama, Clinton, and former Senator Edwards have each distanced themselves far from where I stand on most fiscal and social issues. Now, I'm not a "one issue" voter, but I do believe that the FIRST basic right we have is the right to life. Unless a candidate respects that one basic right, I have trouble supporting them, no matter how they come down on other issues. Now matter how they phrase the issue ("choice, reproductive rights, etc") the fact remains that EVERY abortion stops a beating heart.

The old "Roe v. Wade is settled law" mantra is hogwash. History students will remember that the Dred Scott decision was also "settled law" which legalized slavery. It was legal, but that didn't make it right. I thank God the Supreme Court eventually overturned that outrageous decision and outlawed that abominable practice on our shores. I can only pray that eventually the Roberts Court will have enough votes to do the same to end the infanticide that has proliferated in America since the Roe decision in 1973.

On many of the other issues, the Democratic front runners seem to be jockeying for position to see who can be farthest out of the mainstream with their views on redefining marriage, tax increases, redistribution of wealth, national security, and health insurance proposals that border on socialism. Dodd, Richardson, and Biden don't offer much of an alternative, and Kuccinich and Gravel border on nut jobs. I find them down right scary.

Even though most of them are pro life, I'm not terribly excited with most of the Republican candidates either.

Some appear to be flip floppers - slick and a little phony. At least one has some obvious moral issues regarding marital fidelity. Some are weak on illegal immigration and a couple of them seem to see conspiracies around every corner. One acts as though he really doesn't have his heart in it, several appear to be pandering to the evangelicals for important endorsements, and others are trying to come across as latter day Boston Red Sox fans. Good Grief!

I personally like what I have seen of former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, but it's eerie that he comes from Hope, Arkansas (haven't we already been down that road with another former Arkansas Governor?) Some folks might assume that I would automatically support him since he is a former Southern Baptist Pastor and past President of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. Well, not necessarily. (I haven't been too impressed with our last two Southern Baptist Presidents at all). Some pundits have mentioned that he was known as "Tax Hike Mike" during his years in the state house in Little Rock. I'd like to know more about that! Huckabee is right, in my opinion, on social issues, and he is unassuming and seems to have a great sense of humor. He also advocates the abolition of the Internal Revenue Service. I like that! My biggest concern for him, or ANYONE, who may be elected President, is what type of advisers will he surround himself with?

Here is the candidate I would like to see, and the one I would be happy to vote for. Someone with the moral values and personality of Mike Huckabee - the crisis experience and tough leadership of Rudy Guiliani - the porous border and illegal immigration solutions of Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo. One who is a war hero like John McCain - has the business acumen of Mitt Romney - the down home style and legal and political experience of Fred Thompson - and the libertarian turn of Ron Paul.

Somebody PLEASE let me know when THIS GUY shows up!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Merry Christmas From Our Staff

On behalf of our church secretary, Sonia Jones, Associate Pastor Randy Spurgeon and myself we want to wish you a very Merry Christmas. As you can see, from clicking on the attached link, we are in holiday mode here!

This was sent to me by one of our Deacons, Randy Short. You can see how much he thinks of us.
Sure hope this works...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

See The Tree, How Big It's Grown..."

There are probably hundreds of "Forest Lawn" Cemeteries across the United States. It's a nice name for a cemetery. I have heard of a large Forest Lawn in the Los Angeles area. I have buried a number of folks at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Huntington, WV over the years, and today I visited Forest Lawn at Peck's Mill, West Virginia in the mountains of Logan County. That one is a very familiar spot to our family as both sets of my grandparents are buried there.

The occasion today was for the interment of my mother's only brother, Jerry Stidham (see my post of Saturday, December 1st). Uncle Bob, as we called him, was buried there in a beautiful spot in the shadow a huge pine tree, just behind the lots where my paternal grandparents are buried. Family and friends gathered around the grave site on a cold, windy but bright and sunny day, each one with their own memories and thoughts.

My memories came flooding back in waves that caused my eyes to well up with tears. The first time I visited Forest Lawn was in 1955 when my Mamaw Adkins was buried there. The tree that now towers over that part of the cemetery was just a sapling then. The cemetery was smaller then - much smaller and I was reminded today of how many times we had come to that place over the past 52 years.

The first time at Forest Lawn was to bury Dad's mom. She had died unexpectedly from a blood clot that had developed after a successful gall bladder surgery. I remember the long car ride in the funeral procession from Huntington. Even though I was only five years old I remember vividly seeing my Dad's brothers and sister so grief stricken. I remember the oldest brother, my Uncle Buck", crying out, "Oh mommy! Oh mommy!" Dad was more under control, but it is the first and maybe only time I ever saw him cry.

Then four years later it was time to make the long trip to bury Papaw beside her. He had been gassed in France during World War I. No one knew for sure, but most of the adults considered that was why he had contracted lung cancer. After a number of radiation treatments he finally passed away in the VA Hospital in Huntington. The family knew what was coming because he had been dying by degree for two years. The finality of it all still came as somewhat of a shock.

The pine tree had grown enough by 1959 to serve as an identifiable marker sufficient for a nine year old boy to easily find the Adkins tombstone in a growing cemetery.

We visited Forest Lawn a number of times over the next nine years - not every time we were in Logan County- but on a fairly regular basis. We always came on Memorial Day to decorate the graves. Forest Lawn was a well manicured "perpetual care" cemetery, much different from the remote, hilltop "family grave yards" where my great grandparents were buried. Those always required a lot of weed whacking and brush clearing each year when we spent the holiday clearing and decorating old grave sites.

Then came 1968 when Papaw Stidham died at the age of 59 with a sudden massive heart attack. He too was buried at Forest Lawn. By that time the cemetery had grown far around the hillside. He had purchased lots there several years earlier in the extension area of the cemetery. The Stidham tombstone was beautiful marble, kind of a pinkish color and different from most of the other gray markers. It marked the far boundary of the cemetery. As one looked down the steep hill there was a pond where ducks swam peacefully. Looking directly across the pond it was easy to identify the spot where Mamaw and Papaw Adkins had been laid to rest years before. The big pine tree marked the place well.

Mom and Dad continued to make the periodic visits to Forest Lawn in following years. I got married and began raising a family. Linda and I didn't get down to Logan as often as I felt we should. In fact, my visits there dropped off to one every two or three years, maybe. The kids grew up, work and ministry responsibilities mounted, and one day at a time - time rushed by. Then in 1996 Mamaw Stidham passed away. We laid her to rest beside Papaw on a sunny day in April, and marvelled at how the cemetery had grown half way up the hill overlooking the grave site. Their lots, which had once been on the outer edge of the cemetery were now surrounded by hundreds of other tombstones.

Over the years we buried my mother's Aunt Marge and Dad's younger brother Sammy up there. On each visit we marvelled at the sheer size of the growing cemetery and remarked about how much the pine tree had grown over the years.

Today, as Uncle Bob was laid to rest, all of the memories broke over me. Precious memories. Memories of loved ones who have been gone for as long as a half century. The tears that rolled down my cheeks - bittersweet - thinking of all my blessings, missing those who had meant so much to all of us, and wondering how that pine tree got so big.

Sure didn't seem like 52 years...

"For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it is past,
And like a watch in the night.
You carry them away like a flood;
They are like a sleep.
In the morning they are like grass which grows up:
In the morning it flourishes and grows up;
In the evening it is cut down and withers...

For all our days have passed away in Your wrath;
We finish our years like a sigh.
The days of our lives are seventy years;
And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,
Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;
For it is soon cut off, and we fly away...

So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord!
How long?
And have compassion on Your servants.
Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy,
That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!..."
(selected verses from Psalm 90 NKJV)

Monday, December 3, 2007

With Apologies To My Friends Who Are WVU Fans

My favorite college football team is Marshall University. My second favorite team is whoever happens to be playing West Virginia University.

Why is it you just don't like some teams?

On occasion your distaste for certain players or coaches might taint your opinion of their ball club. Off field and off court antics by some guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Latrell Sprewell, Barry Bonds (and others) can often turn you against the teams they represent. Some teams become detested because of heated rivalries with your favorite team, or because of years of being unbeatable. Sometimes coaches rub you the wrong way (Bobby Knight and Gale Catlett for example), and you just enjoy seeing them lose. Other times and for other reasons that you can't quite identify, you just don't like certain teams. The Mountaineers of West Virginia University fit that category for me.

Let me first say that I do not personally know a single person associated with West Virginia University's football program. In fact, I kind of like head coach Rich Rodriquez (even though he formerly played for WVU!). West Virginia is the state of my birth. I spent the first 19 years of my life there. My parents still reside in Huntington and the church I serve as pastor is there as well. I should be rooting for the Mountaineers, but I just cant. Some of my dearest friends bleed blue and gold. I love them, but for the life of me I don't understand their love for the Mountaineers.

Maybe it has something to do with the Mountaineers' long and storied history. They are the winningest team in college football that has never won a national championship. It may have something to do with the University being known as the top "Party School" in the nation. Maybe it's the obnoxious fans in Morgantown and the ritual couch burnings all over the campus and surrounding areas when the Mounties win a big game. Perhaps it is the preferential treatment by former state officials toward the university, and the "step child" attitude toward Marshall. Any fan of the Louisville Cardinals, Michigan State Spartans, or NC State Wolfpack should be familiar with what I am talking about - with their school always playing second fiddle to the state darlings.

WVU's administration refused for years to allow their teams to play Marshall University in football or basketball. In all fairness, I know that Marshall hasn't played on the same level of competition as has WVU. Generally Marshall would not have been competitive for most of those years. However WVU/Marshall IS a great in state rivalry. Back in the 80's they renewed the basketball rivalry. WVU dominated for several years - that was expected - but the atmosphere was electric! Finally, Governor Joe Manchin applied pressure which brought the football teams together (at least for a few seasons) in the "Friends of Coal Bowl". One had to only be present at Joan C. Edwards Stadium to see the impact of the two teams meeting each other on the gridiron. Marshall led at half time, but lost the game. No real surprise - WVU was ranked 3rd in the nation at the time.

I have to congratulate them on a great season. WVU has a great team. They are a genuine national powerhouse, with a number of potential All Americans and a couple of Heisman Trophy candidates. They're going to a BCS Bowl and Marshall is going no where. They deserve a number of "attaboys" for their great successes this year. And yet every WVU fan is wallowing in the mullygrubs after the final regular season game.

After a loss earlier in the season, the Mountaineers had clawed their way back into the second spot in the BCS rankings. All that stood between them and the national championship game in New Orleans on January 7 was one final regular season win. The opponent was Pitt in the annual "Back Yard Brawl". That's 4-7 Pitt. No problem, right? Make your hotel reservations in the Big Easy. Right?


WVU players, coaches, and fans were seeing national championship visions. Pitt had something else in mind. They came to play and apparently nobody told them this was supposed to be an automatic win for West Virginia. The final result was the biggest upset in the storied history of WVU football. I thought about dragging my couch out on the street and setting it afire - but that would have shown a lack of class - right?

That Mountaineer loss, along with an amazing upset of #1 Missouri by Oklahoma, means that Ohio State and LSU will meet in the national championship game in the Crescent City come January 7. I don't personally know anyone associated with the Buckeyes or the Bayou Bengals organizations, but both of them are teams that I like.


I really don't know. I just have always been kindly disposed toward both of those programs.

Why is it you like some teams and you just can't stand some others? The whole thing defies logic, but it's just part of sports.

Watching Mountaineers Coach Rich Rodriquez in his post game press conference was tough. He seems like a really great guy and you could just feel the disappointment that he felt. After such a great season, his players had just choked on the one game that stood between them and the "big show". In fact, for just a moment there I almost felt sorry for WVU.