Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Another Anniversary

Two years ago yesterday, my son called me from his cellphone on his way out of New Orleans just ahead of Hurricane Katrina. Jay is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Westwego, LA - just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. He had intended to ride out the storm and offer ministry help to those in need. His wife and kids had already evacuated to The Acadia Baptist Conference Center and Camp in Eunice, LA and Jay had agreed to join them if the coming storm reached Category 5 strength. It did, and he and his youth minister, Brian Scholl headed out early that morning. He was crossing the Huey P. Long Bridge on his way to I-10 when he called. I'll never forget what he said. "Dad the view of the city is breath taking this morning. I've never seen it more beautiful. It's hard to believe that a storm is coming."

But come it did - bringing in it's aftermath the worst natural disaster in the history of our nation. Two things happened that kept The Crescent City from an even worse fate than it received. First, the intensity of the storm was downgraded, and secondly the city was spared more damage because the eye of the storm veered to the east, making landfall at Slidell and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Big Easy was spared a direct hit, but sank into disaster when three of the vitally important levees were breached by the storm surge, and the huge pumping system was hopelessly overpowered. The bowl which is New Orleans began to fill with a "toxic soup" of brackish water, oil, chemicals, sewerage, and who knows what else. Massive live oaks were downed by the hurricane force winds, taking out utility poles and plunging the entire city into darkness. Flood waters rose quickly, stranding many folks in their attics and on rooftops.

All of us remember the live reports showing the massive damage to the roof of the Louisiana Superdome, where thousands had taken refuge as a "shelter of last resort". We saw the smoke billowing from burning homes and businesses where no firefighters could respond. We viewed with horror the dead bodies floating in the water or lying covered on city streets and around shelters, and cheered as the Coast Guard and other military personnel tirelessly rescued people and their pets from areas where they were stranded. The images of the widespread looting over the next few days are nearly impossible to get out of our minds. The tragic toll of human suffering was far worse than the millions of dollars worth of property damage that the news media showed us 24/7. A great historic American city was brought to it's knees.

The last two years have been a blurr of activity for Jay and his family. Although his family had to stay evacuated for about three weeks, Jay and Brian came back just a few days after the storm. His Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief training credentials allowed him access to his west bank community which was cordoned off like a war zone. He was able to contact the SBC North American Mission Board's emergency desk and was successful in getting a Georgia Baptist Convention Kitchen and feeding unit dispatched to Westwego. They opened operations at the Alario Center where an Army National Guard unit had set up operations Headquarters. The Georgia Baptists cooked thousands of meals which fed the troops and first responders and were transported by the Red Cross to hospitals, nursing homes, and other critical places of need. It and other SBC disaster relief kitchens provided nearly a half million meals to feed folks in the New Orleans area.

The overwhelming magnitude of the disaster just cannot be put into words. From New Orleans where homes were inundated with thick muck and mold, along the coast to Biloxi and Gulf Shores where homes and businesses were reduced to splinters - destruction ruled supreme. I was there five weeks after the storm and I was simply dumbstruck by the destruction. The few days of grueling work helping folks salvage what they could, hauling out rancid refrigerators, and chain sawing trees off houses barely amounted to a drop in the bucket. The whole city and region were simply ground zero for despair.

Two years have passed since that fateful storm changed the lives of thousands. I have made several trips to New Orleans since then. So much has been done in recovery efforts and yet so much remains to be done. The city is alive again, but portions of it still lie in waste. Unbelievably Mayor Nagin has been reelected. Government corruption is rampant. Some homes have been renovated and are occupied, while right next door you can't see the neighboring gutted home for the weeds that haven't been mowed in two years. 60 % of the population has returned, and the rate of murder and other violent crime is astronomical. Our family and their home was spared, but like everyone else there, their lives were forever changed.

Like the thousands of Southern Baptist Volunteers, disaster relief groups from numerous organizations all around the nation are still coming to the city to help. They are helping, but it will be years (maybe decades) before New Orleans is back to "normal". For now, its just the new normal - a struggle every day. Baby steps. Little victories one at a time. Plenty of suffering, slivers of hope.

What can we do to help the people of New Orleans? Joe McKeever, the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, sums it up like this - "Pray big for New Orleans".

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Biblical Preaching

If you took a poll among church members as to what is the greatest need in the church today, you would receive a number of answers. Many of the answers would revolve around facilities, equipment, programs and personalities. However, I believe that the greatest need in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ today is BIBLICAL PREACHING. I’m talking about Christ centered, Spirit empowered exegesis of the Holy Scriptures – Old and New Testament exhortation today of God’s Word as it is, to people as they are!

The day the church was born (as recorded in Acts 2) was characterized by Spirit anointed Biblical preaching. There were five notable characteristics about Peter’s sermon at Pentecost that should be found as results in Biblical preaching today.

The message at Pentecost was PERSONAL (Acts 2:22-23). It brought the truth down to the folks where they lived and applied it to their personal lives. So much of our preaching today is "general" by nature. Some preachers seem to have a "buffet" type mentality about the message. You know - put it all out there and let folks pick and choose whatever they like. Biblical preaching is personal by its very nature. The Holy Spirit pricks our hearts - personally - when the Word of God is expounded. It show's us the message of God, as He is, to us, as we are!

Not only was the message personal, but it was also POWERFUL. Verse 37a says “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart…” God’s Word has a powerful effect on the hearts of those who hear it (Hebrews 4: 12). Biblical preaching is not watered down or politically correct. It is delivered in the poser of the Holy Spirit and it powerfully effects the lives of the hearers. We see the effects of Biblical preaching in the following verses of Acts chapter 2.

There was CONVICTION! (vs 37) The hearers knew they were guilty before God. They were convicted of their sins. They realized there must be some reaction on their part and asked the question, “What shall we do?” The Word of God will expose sin! It will elicit a response to the message - positive or negative. Remaining neutral is not an option.

Biblical preaching brought CONVERSION (vs 41). Thy were told to repent and be baptized. The scripture account tells us that they gladly received the Word of God (they believed the Gospel) they were baptized in a public act of obedience to the Lord, and the results in a nutshell were that many were saved. The power of the Gospel is life changing! Christ followers have a new life

Finally we see that the Biblical preaching brought a CONTINUING. This personal, powerful message brought results in the hearts of the hearers on that day. It will do so today as a result of the Convicting power of the Holy Spirit and the Life Changing message of the Word. Verse 42 shows that the results are not a one time “blessed experience” but that the believers CONTINUED steadfastly in the Apostles Doctrine, in Fellowship, in observing the Lord’s Supper, and in Prayer.

Biblical preaching was powerful in the early days of the Church. It has stood the test of time, and it is sorely needed in our pulpits today!

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Cross of Christ

How important is the Cross to you?

In Galatians 6:14 we read these words, “ But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. “ The word “Glory” used here means to make a boast. There are many things that people “glory” in, such as their pedigree, education, talents, and abilities. Often we “glory” in church statistics (baptisms, decisions, etc) accomplishments, and even our own (relative) righteousness. Yet the Apostle writes to those early Christians that the ONLY thing in which he can boast is the Cross of Christ! It is the cross that enables us to see how much God loves us and how He makes us worthy to enter into His fellowship.

The cross, in and of itself, is not an object of worship for us. It is a reminder to us of the great price that was paid for our pardon, by the Lord, Jesus Christ. It speaks of the fact that upon that old rugged cross that God “… made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21) It is the cross that enables us to see how much God loves us and how He makes us worthy to enter into his fellowship.

The cross is more than a decoration or a piece of jewelry. I have known many men and women who wear the cross on a necklace. In fact, I have seen the reigning home run king of baseball with a cross dangling from his ear. It is commendable to wear the cross as a symbol of Christian faith, but I would remind us all that while it’s fine to WEAR the cross, the Bible tells us we are to BEAR the cross. The cross of Christ was not a pretty cross. The songwriter calls it “rugged” and mentions that it is the emblem of suffering and shame. The cross is a sign of reproach, and yet it is a symbol of victory - victory over the enemy and all his power.

The Cross of Christ is not a light cross. It is heavy with the weight of all our sin! The cross shows mankind at his worst, and yet the cross also shows us God at His best! Great things happened at the cross and great things happen still today when men and women and young people look with faith to the Cross of Christ.

Isaac Watts expressed it's importantce as well as any human writer might when he wrote the old hymn "At The Cross":

"Alas, and did my saviour bleed, and did my Sovreign die?
Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?
Was it for crimes that I had done, He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown, and Love beyond degree!
Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut his glories in,
When Christ the mighty maker died, for man, the creature’s, sin.
But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe;
Here Lord I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do.
At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away.
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!"

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6: 14.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Memories Of An Old Ballpark

It was in the summer of 1962 when Dad took Bruce and I to our first Cincinnati Reds game at Crosley Field, which in my opinion, was the focal point of the Queen City. The 1961 National League pennant flew below the American Flag on the tall pole just to the right of the huge scoreboard in center field. As a twelve year old baseball fan, I felt as though I was on hallowed ground. I can plainly remember the nervous energy welling up inside my body as we stood there at the ticket window, listening intently as Dad asked for "three box seats behind first base."

My heart raced as we passed through the turnstiles into what seemed like a cavernous area under the grandstands. It was a beehive of activity. Fans were pouring into the place. Workers were hawking score cards, yearbooks, and souvenirs of all types. Music was playing over the loud speakers and the cigar smoke was so thick you could cut it with a knife. The sights and sounds amounted to sensory overload but my eyes were immediately drawn to the partial view of the field. I couldn't wait to get to our seats, but that was going to take a few minutes.

First came the obligatory visit to the rest room. "You need to go before the game starts", he told us sternly. After that preliminary ritual Dad stopped to buy a scorecard (I think it cost a dime), and then a brief stop at the concession stand for hot dogs and cokes. Checking our tickets for the section number Dad led us toward the aisle that led to our seats. He handed the ticket to an older man who was nattily dressed in a red striped vest and old fashioned straw hat. The usher promptly led us down the steps to our seats, which he smartly dusted off with a towel. Dad gave him a tip and he headed back up the steps for the next group of fans to be seated.

We were twelve rows up from the field which spread out before us in all it's splendor. The grass was the most beautifully manicured turf I had ever seen. The skinned part of the infield appeared to be as smooth as silk and the chalk lines were bright white. A large "Longines" clock capped the huge scoreboard that loomed above the center field fence 387 feet from home plate. The "Sun Deck or Moon Deck" (depending upon if it was a day or night game) right field bleachers rose beyond the right field fence. Rather than a warning track all around the base of the outfield walls the ground rose at a 15 degree angle forming the infamous "Terrace" that opposing players loved to hate! The old ballpark at the corners of Western and Findlay, which had been built in 1912 had a seating capacity of about 29,000. The place was full of history, including the first night game in major league baseball, two all star games and four world series.

My eyes scanned the upper and lower decks and eventually found the WCKY radio booth, where ex-Yankee great Waite Hoyt broadcast the play by play. Hoyt had pitched for those great Yankee teams of the late 20's and had such great stories to tell of Ruth, Gehrig, and others during lulls in the game or rain delays. His voice was my companion on countless spring and summer evenings as I sat glued to my radio while listening to the Reds playing at home and in far away places.

Several Reds with bats in their hands were gathered around the batting cage, waiting their turns while Frank Robinson stroked pitch after pitch to all parts of the ball yard. Some rattled the left field fence and a number of them left the park altogether. Other players were scattered about the infield and outfield, scooping up grounders and shagging high fly balls. Starting pitcher Bob Purkey worked on his knuckle ball in the bullpen and the other pitchers ran sprints in the outfield between the foul poles. Man did they look sharp in their sleeveless home white pin striped uniforms and their white pin striped hats with the red bill. I knew I was in baseball heaven!

The opponent this particular night was the St. Louis Cardinals. There were no names on the uniforms then so I quickly checked the score card to identify the players. Dad pointed out the legendary Stan "The Man" Musial, who held the National League record for career base hits. Other Cardinal players whose names I knew from countless radio broadcasts and newspaper articles were Ken Boyer, Julian Javier, Curt Flood, Bill White, and Red Shoendienst.

The game began as the Reds' players were introduced individually as they trotted from the dugout to their respective positions. I knew the names - Eddie Kasko, Gordy Coleman, Leo Cardenas, Don Blasingame, Frank Robinson, and Vada Pinson - and they were managed by the great Fred Hutchinson. I knew these guys! I had their baseball cards in my room. Waite Hoyt told me all about them during the game broadcasts, and now I was seeing them in person! On this particular night, the fans went home happy on a game winning pinch hit home run by Jerry (Lynch in the Pinch) Lynch.

Now, 44 years later, I can't really tell you much more of what happened in that game. But the memory of the event itself lives on. I spent several great summer evenings in that old ball park and I was privileged to see some of the greats of the game play there - Pete Rose, Joe Nuxhall, Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Henry Aaron, Juan Marichal, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton, Lou Brock, Tony Perez, and young Johnny Bench to name a few. Crosley Field remained the home of the Reds until 1970 when they moved to the big round donut that seated 55,000 on the riverfront. It has since been replaced by Great American Ballpark which is kind of a retro type park with a lot of character itself.

I took my grandson, Will, to his first game there last night. I'm sure his memories will be quite different than my recollection of that summer evening in 1962, but I hope they will be just as special!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bring The Children To Jesus

In Mark's Gospel, chapter 10 verses 13-16 we read these interesting words about Jesus:

"Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them."(NKJV)

It seems as though throughout the gospels, some one is always questioning Jesus; some out of genuine curiosity; others, trying to discredit Him or entrap Him in some theological debate. In the previous verses, Jesus had been confronted by some critical Pharisees about an "adult" matter. He was questioned further by His disciples about that thorny issue, and He answered with authority, quoting Old Testament scripture to them. Have you ever noticed how we adults complicate things? We often quote scripture ourselves (like these Pharisees) to fit our own opinions or prejudices, or even to justify our own selfish and sinful attitudes and behavior.

In the midst of these "grown up goings on" in Mark 10, someone brought some little children to Jesus, "that He might touch them". Interestingly, His disciples sharply rebuked the folks who desired to bring the children to Jesus. Who knows what these disciples were thinking? Perhaps they thought Jesus was too busy to be "bothered" by these sweet little children. Perhaps they felt that the Master had "bigger fish to fry" and more important people to see. Maybe they wanted Jesus' full attention for themselves. Maybe they were trying to "protect" Jesus from folks who would waste His time. Most likely they simply felt as though children couldn't understand Jesus' teachings and that His thoughts were too far over their heads.

Whatever the disciples' motivation, they were terribly mistaken! Notice that Jesus was visibly displeased with His disciples and rebuked them for their actions. He had an important lesson to teach His followers and he took the little children in His arms and blessed them. I think we can draw several conclusions from this incident.

Jesus has time for EVERYONE - even little children. In fact, He uses the qualities that a child possesses to teach us an important lesson about saving faith. After all, who understands love more than a little child? Their hearts are tender and they know when they are loved. Little children have built up fewer defenses and have fewer preconceived notions about God. They recognize love when it is offered to them and they respond in kind. Furthermore, who practices faith and trust more than a little child? They understand their limitations and must depend on someone else to lift them, provide for them, and protect them. They haven't yet acquired the false notion we adults often have - the idea that we can handle anything that comes along. Well, I learned some time ago that there are some things I can never control, and therefore I need the help of someone greater than I. I have found that Jesus is sufficient for those (and all my other needs). Childlike faith in Christ alone is what is required of us to become children of God.

Also note, that Jesus took those little children up into His arms and blessed them. We often read of Jesus touching and healing folks. We see crowds of people surrounding Him much of the time. However, isn't it interesting that the only time we read of Jesus taking people into His arms and blessing them - it's little children who are the object of His love.

Can you think of any group that we, as Christians, need to reach with the Gospel more that that demographic? Jesus loves children. He wants us to bring them to Him while their hearts are tender and their minds are open. I have read statistics that reveal that 80 percent of the people who have accepted Christ as Savior received Jesus before they were 18 years of age. Wow! Think of that. We should realize that once a person reaches adulthood, chances are greatly reduced that they will come to know Christ as their Savior. The thought is staggering.

This is why our churches must put a great emphasis on children's ministry and child evangelism. Granted, no one can come to Christ unless the Spirit draws them to Jesus. However, we sometimes discount the fact that the Spirit deals with children. More than a few times in my years of ministry I have seen children respond to the Gospel message, only to have their parents stifle their attempts to come to Jesus. Why? The answer is usually, "They're too young to understand these things". Well let me tell you something. There are many things that adults do not understand. In fact, there are many spiritual things that we will NEVER understand. That's where faith comes into play. God help any parent who would forbid their child to come to Jesus. Right off the top of my head I could name several instances where parents told me that their child was "too young to make that decision", but probably wish now that they had let the child follow through. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and don't forbid them..." . He never said anything that He didn't mean!

It is important that we teach our children about Jesus - at home. It is vital that we take them to church that the message they hear at home is reinforced in their hearts. That way, when the Holy Spirit begins to deal with their hearts, they are ready. Ready to accept the message of God's love, His forgivenss, and an eternal home with Him in Heaven. Responding to that message, the children are in a place where they can grow and mature under the teaching of God's Word. This is important stuff. Eternally important.

Tuesday evening, on my way home from a particular children's ministry planning meeting, I got a call on my cell phone. It was my 6 1/2 year old grandson, Will. "Guess what Papaw" he said excitedly. "I got saved!" My heart lept with joy. Benji and Leigh Anne have done what parents should do. First they have taught their children about Jesus in their home, and modeled lives of faith in Christ. Secondly, they have been faithful in keeping the children in church where they continue to hear the Gospel message. Will has been in Sunday School and Children's Church where he is regularly "brought to Jesus". In AWANA he is memorizing scripture - "hiding God's Word in his heart". He is playing "Upward" Soccer, where he hears a message about Jesus at each practice and game. No wonder the Holy Spirit has spoken to his heart!

I asked Will what it meant to be "saved" and he gave me a simple explanation of the Gospel message, and confessed that he had received Jesus as his Savior. His older cousin, Quint, down in Louisiana had made a similar profession of faith back in the spring. Jay and Michelle had laid the same spiritual foundation in their home and when the Spirit began to deal with Quint, he was ready. I was unable to be at Quint's baptism in New Orleans on Easter Sunday, but we do have the photos that Michelle sent to us. I do hope to see Will baptized by his pastor, Ronnie Mayes, at Rose Hill Baptist Church in a couple of weeks. Hopefully Quint and Will's little brothers will also respond to the Gospel when they get a little older and the Spirit of God begins to deal with their hearts.

Nearly three years ago, when I was diagnosed with 4th stage colon cancer and the prognosis was not good, many concerns rushed through my mind. I agonized about leaving Linda alone. I worried over the thought of my church having to go through another pastor search after only two years. I also sadly thought that I would not see my grandchildren grow up, and they might not really remember me. That hurt.

Now, thank God, I know that at least two of my grandsons will be with me in Heaven - forever.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Do You Mind If I Brag A Little?

You have probably seen the bumper sticker that says, "Let Me Tell You About My Grandchildren". Well, I use to see those things around and think, "Those people really needed to get a life". Of course that was before I ever had any grandchildren of my own. January 25, 2000 changed everything about my concept of grandchildren. That's when Linda and I met the first of our four grandsons. (In case you haven't figured it out, those are the little guys that are surrounding me in the photo on the top left side of this page.)

The first of the boys was Caudle Jerry Adkins V. He is Jay and Michelle's young 'un. Boy were we all proud of that big baby! Quint "discovered America" at Kings Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, KY. We called him "Quint" because he is the fifth "Caudle" in the Adkins family. He carries the name of his father, grandfather, great grandfather and two great grandfathers. (that's quite a bit of baggage for one little guy). Quint is 7 years old now and is a second grader at Believer's Life Academy (where his mother teaches 7th & 8th grade) in Gretna, Louisiana, just across the river from New Orleans. Quint is sharp as a tack and very creative. The questions he asks are well thought out, and probing. He already appreciates family and his heritage and seems to feel conected to me when we are able to be together two or three times a year. I am also happy to report that Quint accepted Jesus as his Savior this spring and was baptized by his father on Easter Sunday. Now he is my grandson AND my "little brother" in the Lord.

Almost a year after Quint was born, grandson number two came along. William Benjamin Adkins was born in the Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in Jacksonville, North Carolina. His father, Benji, was just finishing a four year tour of duty with the Marines when "Will the Thrill" made his arrival on January 3rd of 2001. Leigh Anne had just graduated in December from UNC Wilmington with a Bachelors Degree in Studio Art. She went into labor early on New Year's Day 2001 and left for the base hospital. Linda and I immediately headed for North Carolina to be there along with the Clantons (Leigh Anne's folks) for the birth of the new baby. About the time we made it to Beckley, WV we got the cell phone call that the military doctors said she was not in labor and were sending her home. We continued on the trip and were there when he finally made his arrival two days later. I always have wished that he had been born on the first day they went to the hospital. If he had, his birthday would have been 01/01/01. Due to his living within a close proximity and his place in the birth order, I have been able to spend more time with Will than any of the other grandsons. He has a sweet spirit, but he plays flag football and "Upward" Soccer with a competitive intensity that you don't often see in a 6 year old. Will is athletically gifted and is an excellent student in the first grade at Russell, KY Primary School - right across the street from Russell Middle School where his Dad teaches and coaches Basketball.

Next, came Canon Josiah Adkins, born November 29, 2004 at Oschner Medical Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. Linda had flown down to New Orleans for Thanksgiving to be with Jay, Michelle, and Quint; and to help out around the house for the first few days after the birth of the baby. Canon weighed in at over 11 pounds! Unfortunately Linda didn't get to stay there very long. I had been sick for a few weeks, and the day after Canon was born I was hospitalized back here for blood transfusions and tests to determine the cause of the blood loss. She rushed back here, and within a week of his birth, we learned that I had Colon Cancer - stage four and incurable. How did Dickens say it? "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Canon has proven to be a live wire and such a "spittin' image" of his dad that he could be called "Chip" - as in chip off the old block. He was only nine months old when the family had to evacuate New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina. Pretty memorable first year! Canon has been a blessing to us in more ways than one. Every time I see the little guy, I am reminded that he represents how long I have survived my malignancy. It's good to see him growing so big and strong. God has been so good to us. Obviously I hope that I see many more birthdays for that little guy!

Grandson number four, Matthew Asher Adkins, was born May 12, 2005 at Kings Daughters Medical Center in Ashland. I was in the middle of the second six month course of my chemotherapy treatments when Asher arrived. In fact I was scheduled for a treatment on that day and was able to be there at the hospital for his birth, but had to leave shortly thereafter for the Cancer Center. Sure had some great news to share with the chemo nurses and my fellow patients that day! Asher is a great kid. The Hebrew name "Asher" means "happy" and he lives up to the name. He has a little gap between his two front teeth that he shows regularly with that big smile. Like most Adkins babies, he didn't have any hair for a long time. Once it came in , however, it was strawberry blond and has curls that lay in little ringlets all over his head. I jokingly say he looks like a little boy out of the 50's. He's a dead ringer for his mom when she was his age (that's a good thing) but his hair isn't as red as hers was. He and his big brother usually come over on Friday evenings and spend the night with us. It gives their mom and dad a date night, and allows me and Mamaw to spend a little extra time with the boys. We only wish Quint and Canon were close enough to stay with us as well.

So, there it is. Pardon me for bragging, but I'm pretty proud of those four grandsons. I've got a special title for each of them. Quint is my "sidekick", Will is my "little buddy", Canon is my "pardner" and Asher is my "pal". I love them all tremendously and each one is special to me.

Maybe I need to "get a life", but could anybody tell me where I could get one of those bumper stickers?

While typing this post, Jay called. He and Canon were on the way home from Children's Hospital in New Orleans where Canon had been x-rayed and treated for a fractured fibula down near the ankle. He had twisted his ankle and fallen a couple of days ago, but popped back up and went on about his activities. Today they called from his day care center and said he had fallen and seemed to have hurt his ankle. Jay took him to the hospital and learned of the fracture. More important than the fracture itself is what else the x-rays showed. The doctor pointed out two or three "lesions" in the bone which had apparently weakened it to the point that it was easy to break. They put a cast on the leg and said that they will be keeping a close check on the situation. There are a number of unanswered questions here. Please pray for Canon.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"Broken Before The Throne" Prayer Conference

This November 2nd and 3rd the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists will hold its annual meeting at Westview Baptist Church in Martinsburg, WV. It has been my privilege to serve as President of the WVCSB for the past two years and I have enjoyed working closer with wonderful Baptist people from all around the Mountain State. My term of office will end at this year's meeting. State office officials, the program committee, and the host church are all working to make this convention meeting a great one. We look forward to being in Martinsburg along with other messengers from all over the state, and we certainly appreciate Pastor Johnny Kelly and the folks at Westview for hosting us. There will be good fellowship, excellent music, anointed preaching, reports from various agencies, and the usual business sessions. However, the most important thing happening at Westview in early November will not be the State Convention meeting. I believe the most powerful thing that will happen there will begin the evening the convention closes. That's when the nine day, "Broken Before The Throne" Prayer Conference will begin at the same church.

I had first heard about this prayer conference last August at our state's "Shepherding the Shepherd" conference in Canaan Valley. God had put the vision for this conference in the heart of one of our West Virginia pastors, Dan Biser. Dan serves two churches in our state; Zoar Baptist in Augusta and Fox's Hollow Baptist Church in Romney. Dan is one of the most powerful prayer warriors I have ever known and he has impressed and challenged me to be more deeply immersed in my own prayer life. The concept for the conference came to Dan in 2005 when he was blessed to have T.W. Hunt lead a prayer conference in his two congregations. The seed was planted, and Dan began to pray and work toward putting together a larger prayer conference that would include other churches. He enlisted some of the most powerful speakers and prayer advocates in the world, and God put it all together.

When you look at the line up of speakers that have been assembled, one can only surmise that it is a "God thing". Conference leaders for the various sessions include:
  • Henry and Richard Blackaby (of Blackaby Ministries)
  • T.W. Hunt (Ministry in Prayer)
  • Al Whittinghill (Ambassadors for Christ International)
  • Francois Carr (Revival for South Africa)
  • Sammy Tippit (Sammy Tippit Ministries)
  • Frank Page (President of the Southern Baptist Convention)
  • Greg Frizzell (Prayer and Spiritual Awakening Specialist, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma)
There will also be an added two day Women's Conference with special speakers Tex Tippit, Bobbye Rankin, and Elaine Helms.

Dan Biser came to our State Convention Office to share the burden with our entire state. Our Executive Committe voted to embrace the idea and the State Convention was on board. The word began to spread to neighboring states and eventually around the country. I last saw Dan at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in San Antonio, and he was telling everyone who would listen about the upcoming prayer conference in West Virginia's eastern panhandle. Baptist Press ran a story on August 2nd. SBC President Frank Page (pastor of FBC Taylors, South Carolina) told Baptist Press, "This prayer conference may well be one of the most important events of the year. Many people from across the nation are gathering to learn more about prayer as well as to spend serious time in prayer." Momentum is building and anticipation is growing. I believe that week in Martinsburg has the potential to be the beginning of another Great Awakening in our nation.

I invite you to visit the website and consider joining me for all or part of the "Broken Before The Throne" prayer conference November 3-11 at Westview Baptist Church in Martinsburg, WV.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Degree In Homemaking

One of the more interesting "controversies" that has recently come up in Southern Baptist Convention circles is the subject of three classes that were first offered in the fall semester of 2006 on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary . The classes are part of a Bachelor of Arts degree program in Humanities through the College at Southwestern (which is the undergraduate school on the SWBTC Fort Worth, Texas campus). What makes these courses controversial to some, is the fact that they involve "Christian Homemaking". For some reason, the concept seems to fly in the face of a number of media types, as well as some folks inside the SBC.

The Associated Press ran a story on the course offerings in homemaking on August 10th and the story appeared in media outlets all over the country. Just a couple of days ago, Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" morning program ran a short piece on it, with a 2 1/2 minute "debate" between SWBTS President, Dr. Paige Patterson and Robert Parham who is the executive director of the "Baptist Center for Ethics". The Baptist Center for Ethics is connected to The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship which broke away from the SBC over a dozen years ago. Parham has been critical of SWBTS and Patterson on thier BCE website for some time.

I first became aware of the "homemaking" courses late last winter or early spring as a few SBC related bloggers began to mock the new course offerings. Some of these bloggers are very vocal critics on a number of issues in the SBC and I although I don't always agree with their take on all issues, I find their viewpoints interesting reading. One of the most vocal critics of SWBTS in general, and Seminary President, Dr. Paige Patterson in particular, is Ben Cole. Until recently, Cole was pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, TX. Most recently he has left Parkview to serve on the staff of Immanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma where Wade Burleson is pastor. Bro. Burleson has also been critical of some of the goings on at The SBC International Mission Board (where he serves as a trustee) and at SWBTS, but usually in a much more civil manner than has Cole.

In my humble opinion, these guys are making much ado about nothing. The three classes in question are three credit hour courses each on "General Homemaking", "Biblical Model for the Home and Family", and "The Value of a Child". According to SWBTS, the program also requires seven credit hours in meal preparation and nutrition, and seven hours involving designing and sewing clothing. Lest anyone think this is a "pud" program that has no place in a Seminary's undergraduate program, read on. Terri Stovall, SWBTS's Dean of Women's Studies says that the students must also take twenty three hours in biblical studies, two years of Greek and Latin and do extensive research in philosophy.

Is this course for everybody? Of course not! But I think it is a wonderful offering for those who may be interested in getting a good biblical education while still preparing to be a Christian wife and mother. So much emphasis today is placed on women being on the career path to success, that we sometimes forget that many ladies choose to make a career of being a full time wife and mother. Women in the workplace is fine. Their gifts and skills are needed in every aspect of business life. Lord knows that most families also need the income of both spouses to stay financially afloat. However, career homemaking is also a wonderful option for those who make the sacrifice to pursue it. Stovall told Baptist Press that, "Because the homemaking concentration is part of an undergraduate degree, most of its enrollees will be 18-20 year old single women." These are skills that many girls have never learned at home. A number of these students will be married to pastors and other full time Christian workers. I say that if a young lady seeks to learn those "old fashioned" skills, may God bless her in her pursuit.

Now, the question arises, "Is that all Southern Baptist Seminaries offer women students?" The answer is a resounding "NO!" Three of our Seminaries offer women's ministry programs. It is my privilege to serve on the Board of Trustees of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and we, along with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, offer master of divinity and master of arts programs in women's ministry. Other SBC Seminaries, Golden Gate (in San Francisco), Mid American (in Kansas City, MO) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (in Louisville, KY) also offer certificate programs that are designed for minister's wives. Those courses include theology, practical minsitry, homemaking and parenting.

Dr. Patterson is certainly accustomed to controversy. He has been a lightning rod for a number of years. He was instrumental in leading the conservative resurence of the Southern Baptist Convention nearly 30 years ago. He is a great scholar and pulpiteer. He has served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention and has filled the office of President of two of our Baptist Seminaries (SWBTS and Southeastern). He has had his share of recent controversies at SWBTS, and I haven't personally agreed with every action he has taken or with every opinion he expresses, but I have nothing but admiration for his high view of scripture and the courage of his convictions.

He took opportunity to defend the course offerings during his SWBTS report at the SBC annual meeting in June. There were some folks wagging their heads and exchanging knowing grins and nods of mockery. One of the critical bloggers laughed that Patterson, "Whipped the 'Bubba Pastors' into a frenzy" with his report. I don't really consider myself a "Bubba Pastor" but I was impressed with Dr. Patterson's eloquent defense of the program. Furthermore, I applaud the Board of Trustees of SWBTS for having the courage to create the courses on homemaking, and the intestinal fortitude to take the criticism they have received for offering this valuable course of study.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Culture of Self

As a preacher's kid who has literally grown up in churches all over the tri-state area (WV, OH, KY), I have witnessed lots of events, and been exposed to many people. Each person brings with them their own talents, gifts, personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and peculiarities. My 37 years in ministry have also provided an opportunity to observe human behavior in all types of settings in church life. My experience has brought me to a sad conclusion. Sometimes, the work of the Lord is derailed, not by Satan's full frontal assault, but by the actions and attitudes of those who profess to be God's family. As the old comic strip character, Pogo, once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us!" Seems as though nothing can effectively douse the work of the Holy Spirit in God's Church, more than the culture of "SELF".

This malady is not exclusive to any age group, gender, race, or particular place of service. It is found in men, women, teenagers, and children. It has reared it's ugly head in pastors, evangelists, deacons, teachers, department heads, committee members, youth workers, trustees, and kitchen crews. Unchecked, the philosophy of SELF, will wreck ministries, ruin lives, and cripple the work of a local church. The philosophy of self often starts with the attitude of "Here's the way I see it" and leads to the ever popular, "My way or the highway" mentality. It IS human nature to focus on MY opinions, MY dreams, MY hurts, and MY plans, but it is not a scriptural attitude for the true child of God. What does the BIBLE say about our attitude toward self?

Philippians 2:2-8 says "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (NASB) This passage speaks of Jesus' attitudes of selflessness, humility, and obedience. Aren't you thankful that Jesus emptied himself for us?

Aren't you glad He didn't "demand His rights" and push His personal agenda? Don't you rejoice in the fact that he put our interests ahead of His own? Everything Jesus did pointed to His Father. Every fiber of His being was focused on doing the will of the Father. He prayed in the garden, "Not my will but thine be done", and he exhibited that attitude in all that He did. The scriptures remind us that as His disciples, we are to model the same attitude. That's a tall order - but it is possible. After all, Philippians 4:13 reminds us, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Well meaning people sometimes allow this attitude to slip away and become wrapped up in the culture of self. We all need to be reminded of this from time to time. May God bless us to remember this simple truth. It's not about you. It's not about me. It's all about Him!

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Cheap Easy Believe-ism"

Leroy Forlines was Dean of Men and a Theology Professor where I went to Bible College in the early 1970’s. Brother Forlines was as straight as an arrow. He was the epitome of a southern gentleman. Gallantry and integrity were two of his chief attributes. His grooming was perfect. His dress was immaculate. (he wore the blackest suits, the whitest shirts, and the shiniest shoes of anyone I had ever met!) His theology was right and his character was above reproach. He was a Godly man and he taught the importance of holiness.

Brother Forlines served on that Baptist denomination’s “Theological Liberalism Commission” and authored a number of booklets on troubling trends in the evangelical world and the dangers of post modern culture. His politics were conservative and so was his religion. The three or four regularly scheduled meetings that we male dorm residents had with him throughout the semester were irreverently referred to by us as “Boy Scout Meetings”. In fact, Brother Forlines took me on as a personal project shortly after I arrived at that Bible College. Looking back on it now, I can understand why – but that is another story for another time!

There are many things I remember about Leroy Forlines, but one particular phrase he regularly used has taken on a powerful meaning to me – even now, nearly four decades after the fact. He often spoke of “Cheap Easy Believe-ism”. Honestly, at the time the term really didn’t mean too much to me. It was often a punch line we students used when doing bad impressions of the professor, mimicking his somewhat squeaky voice. But I do get it now! Over 35 years of practical experience in ministry has brought the old professor’s words to life. “Cheap Easy Believe-ism” is, I believe, the scourge of the church today. How can we expect the members of our churches to fulfill the Great Commission, when some of them may not even have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?

In Acts, chapter 16 when the Philippian Jailer asked the two recently liberated preachers, Silas and the Apostle Paul, “Sir’s what must I do to be saved?” the answer was simple. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved...” The question would be then, what does it mean to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”? The type of belief that Paul spoke of was more than a cheap and easy choice with no ramifications for the individual believer. The kind of belief we’re talking about here involves a life changing relationship with Christ. It is the type of belief that puts self on the cross and Christ on the throne of our lives. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

Now let me make it plain that the Bible teaches that Salvation comes by Grace, through Faith, plus nothing. We come into right standing with God only through faith in Jesus Christ – his vicarious death and bodily resurrection. Doing “good works” cannot earn God’s favor. Keeping rules and going through the motions have no salvific value. We must accept Christ’s atoning work on Calvary as our only hope of Salvation. However, when we do accept Christ by faith there is a change that takes place in our lives. Consider this simple statement from Paul the Apostle:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ…” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-18a) A true relationship with Christ will manifest itself in every aspect of our lives!

I am afraid that in our well intentioned efforts to win others to Christ, we have inadvertently lowered the standards of “belief”. With the emphasis we place on “decisions” and number of baptisms reported, we may be missing the mark terribly. The focus seems to be mostly on the unbeliever making his or her "decision" to accept Christ, than emphasizing the necessity of the new birth and a relationship with Christ. Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. Many of our efforts have devolved into pushing for numbers and emphasizing how “easy” it is to become a Christian. The plan of salvation is indeed simple, but coming into a right relationship with God is a very serious step.

In our recent Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in San Antonio, a resolution was submitted to encourage our local churches to place a greater emphasis on “regenerate membership”. Do you mean to tell me that some of our churches might have people on our church rolls who aren’t even saved?

To coin an ancient Hebrew expression - “Duh!”

How else can one explain the phenomena of church members who are “missing in action”? There are many “members” of Baptist Churches that even the FBI couldn’t locate! It’s easier to uncover clients of the federal witness protection program than to find some “church members” anywhere about the business of our Lord. If someone truly has a relationship with Christ, why is it necessary to invite, cajole, beg, bribe, and even shame them to come to His house for worship? If they are truly members of the family of God, wouldn’t it seem likely that they would want to be at “family gatherings”? Wouldn’t they want to spend time with their brothers and sisters in Christ? Wouldn’t they be interested in serving the Lord in various ministries of His church? Wouldn’t there be a heart felt gratitude for God’s mercy toward them that would permeate every aspect of their lives? If they truly love Jesus with all their heart, wouldn’t they honor Him with at least a tenth of what’s in their wallet?

Seems logical to me.

It should go without saying that local church membership should be reserved for those who are truly born again, scripturally baptized believers; people who have a personal relationship with God, through His Son, Jesus. Unfortunately “Cheap Easy Believe-ism” has crept in to our churches to the point that one would have to wonder how many of our SBC’s 16.3 million reported “church members” truly belong to the family of God. Now, I can comprehend that some folks might come to a point where they no longer feel that they can worship in a particular church for one reason or another (legitimate or not). However, over the years I have talked to scores of “church members” who can’t seem to find ANYPLACE they can worship, fellowship, and serve. What’s wrong with this picture?

Brother Forlines hit the nail on the head nearly 40 years ago. Salvation is free, but it is not cheap! It came at the cost of the precious blood of Jesus Himself. Consider what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God, in Luke 14: 27-35 “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.
“Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? “It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Have you “counted the cost”? Have you considered the serious ramifications of your decision to answer Jesus’ call to “Follow me”? It is time for every one who calls themselves, “Christians” to take inventory of their lives. Do we really have a relationship with Christ? Does it show in our deeds and words? Is there fruit that testifies to us being in Him? Does the attitude of Jesus come through in all we say and do? Is the Spirit of Christ evident in us? Romans 8:9 gives a sobering take on that subject, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”

It may be that one of the greatest needs in our churches today is not that God’s people need to be "revived"; but rather that some who claim to be God’s people have never been “vived” in the first place!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

25 Signs That You Are Getting Old

I thought I share a funny with you before I leave town later this morning. This is a list I received from J. Alan White in one of his daily "Blesser" emails. It should be something that many of us on the "south side" of 50 can identify with. A number of these items are painfully familiar to me! Hope you get a chuckle out of it.

"25 Signs That You're Getting OLD"
1. You're asleep, but others worry that you're dead.
2. Your back goes out more than you do.
3. You quit trying to hold your stomach in, no matter who walks into the room.
4. You buy a compass for the dash of your car/truck.
5. You are proud of your lawn mower.
6. Your best friend is dating someone half their age, and isn't breaking any laws.
7. Your arms are almost too short to read the newspaper.
8. You sing along with the elevator music.
9. You would rather go to work than stay home sick.
10. You enjoy hearing about other people's operations.
11. You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge.
12. People call at 9:00 p.m. and ask, "Did I wake you?"
13. You answer a question with, "Because I said so."
14. You send money to PBS.
15. The end of your tie doesn't come anywhere near the top of your pants.
16. You take a metal detector to the beach.
17. You know what the word "equity" means.
18. You can't remember the last time you laid on the floor to watch television.
19. Your ears are hairier than your head.
20. You talk about "good grass" and you're referring to someone's lawn.
21. You get into a heated argument about pension plans.
22. You got cable for The Weather Channel.
23. You can go bowling without drinking.
24. You have a party and the neighbors don't even realize it.
25. People send you this list.

Remember that age is really just a state of mind. Go out and have a great day! (but don't wander too far away from "the home")

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Dehue Reunion

Tomorrow I will go with Mom and Dad on our annual trip to the Dehue reunion.

Dehue (pronounced DEE’- hue) no longer actually exists. At one time it was a bustling Coal Camp along the waters of Rum Creek in Logan County, WV; home to hundreds of families. Larger two story frame houses where many of the bosses lived lined both sides of the railroad track in “the bottom”. That’s where the baseball diamond and the larger buildings that housed the school, company store, barber shop, community church, clubhouse, etc stood. Smaller, identically designed company houses stretched for what seemed to be a couple of miles up the hollow on both sides of the narrow road. Looming over the main part of the community was the huge rusting coal tipple where the newly mined coal was processed, cleaned, and loaded into the hopper cars queued up along the C&O railroad tracks. Here is an iteresting website with some photos of Dehue and some of my family members.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company owned the Dehue mine back in the 1950’s where my father and his father were employed. I suppose that most of the “black gold” dug from the pits of Dehue was used in the steel mills of that northern Ohio city. As with other mining communities in the coal fields of southern West Virginia, the coal companies owned everything. Everything! They owned the company store, the theater, the barbershop, and all of the houses where the workers lived. The company employed the local doctor and housed his office. In fact, in those days the coal company even had their own “money”. The miners were paid in something called “scrip” which could be used for full face value at any of the company owned businesses in the community. If, however, the miner or his family wished to do business in the nearby towns of Logan or Man, they would have to cash in the scrip for real money. The catch was that if you cashed it in to use outside the company owned monopoly businesses, you didn’t get full value in dollars.

The coal company was the employer, health care provider, recreation program director and landlord. It’s no wonder the United Mine Workers Union fought so hard against the all powerful coal companies in those days. The coal camp of the ‘40s and ‘50s was actually a modern day feudal system, right here in the good old US of A. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s haunting baritone lyrics from the ballad “16 Tons” pretty much summed up the helpless feeling of some of the miners; “Saint Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store!”

The miners and their families came from various backgrounds to form a community. They were black and white, Serbs, Italians, German, Irish, and Greek. Folks from the rural mountains and hollows and immigrants from all over the world flocked to the coal camps during the booming mining days of the mid 20th century. Work was plentiful and the wages were decent. There were surnames like Cannellas, Caruso, Adkins, Gostivitch, Meko, Ruiz, Kitchen, and Curry. Some were newly arrived immigrants, some were first generation Americans. They were Catholics and Protestants. In their homes various languages were spoken but all shared one thing in common – they dug coal. It was a dirty and dangerous job. The men walked home from their shifts, bone tired and filthy. Their white teeth and eyes stood out in stark contrast against their coal blackened faces. The women folk kept house, raised kids, and cooked big meals to feed big families. They did laundry (often scrubbed on washboards by hand) and hung it out to dry on clothes lines in the back yards near the outdoor toilets. The kids played together and made friendships that lasted a lifetime.

Even before the coal boom slowed, many of the younger residents began to move away. My dad was among the young men who came to Huntington to try to make a better life for his young family. Jobs with the C&O railroad, steel mills, and other factories were plentiful, and the work was not nearly as dangerous as the underground work in the mines.

Eventually the Dehue mine worked out. The coal boom went bust and the company sold the land to a logging concern. Families started moving away and the Dehue community began to crumble. More and more of the houses stood vacant and took on a dilapidated condition. The beginning of the end finally came when the tipple was torn down and the remaining residents were forced to face the fact that their community was in its death throes. One by one the houses were demolished until only two or three of the larger houses in the bottom remained. My Dad’s Aunt Maude Kitchen was one of the last two Dehue residents to move away. Most of her 90 plus years were spent in that coal camp. It was home. It was the end of an era when “Aunt Maudie” moved to the nearby community of McConnell where she died within a year or so.

Dehue no longer exists. The mine portals are sealed. There are no longer any buildings or houses standing. In fact, nothing remains that would indicate that anyone ever lived in that hollow. Two of the previous generations who lived and worked and played there have already passed away. My Dad and his generation are now in their 80’s and they are slipping away one by one. Tomorrow a number of the remaining former Dehue residents will gather together in an old school building in a neighboring community. They will share old photos and memories. They will catch up on the happenings of one another’s lives. They will talk of their various ailments and infirmities, and realize that some of the folks who were there last year, won’t ever be there again. There will be laughter and tears. They will all bring covered dishes from old family recipes (and Aunt Lena’s huge pans of meatballs and baked ziti will empty quickly). Door prizes will be given away and a few "Dehue Cookbooks" and T-Shirts will be sold to help defray the cost of the building rental. They’ll have their photos made together one more time with camcorders and digital cameras in the hands of their aging children.

My generation will soon be the last link to what was once a bustling community. We are now in our 50’s and 60’s. We lived in Dehue as babies and toddlers and visited grandparents there as young children. I doubt that the Dehue reunion will continue into the next generation. Our children basically have no connection or memory of the coal camp, and our memories are fading quickly. It’s always a bittersweet time for me on the second Saturday of August. I love to see the sparkle in my Dad’s eyes for those few hours when he spends time with some of the “kids” he grew up with. It brings back so very many precious memories for me too. I expect I will enjoy the day at the Dehue reunion.

Who knows how many more of them there will be?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Are You Wired For 110 Or 220?

I heard someone say once that there are two types of people who work with electricity. One is an electrician and the other is a fool. Electricity is a subject of which I have very little understanding. Therefore, being neither an electrician, nor a fool, I generally try to steer clear of electricity. I don't know an "amp" from an "ohm". In fact, one could write a rather large book with what I DON’T know about electricity.

I do know there is a difference in the two types of wiring in my house and that differance has to do with voltage. Most of my house is wired for 110 volts, which handles all the receptacles, light switches, small appliances, etc. There are some larger appliances, however, like my range and clothes dryer that run on 220 volts. Now, while I do not know every detail about electricity, I do know that each appliance runs on one or the other, but not both. You can’t run what’s wired for 220 on 110 or vice versa. No need to try. It just won’t work, and you’ll have real trouble if you try.

Thinking of the numbers 110 and 220 reminds me of a couple of verses that Paul the Apostle included in his letter to the churches in Galatia. These verses are chapter 1 verse 10 and chapter 2 verse 20. (Galatians 1:10 and 2:20) When we read these verses, it should
challenge us to determine if we are personally “wired for 110 or 220.” Let’s consider that for just a moment.

Galatians 1:10 and Galatians 2: 20 show us there are only two ways we can go in our Christian lives. We can seek to please men, or we can seek to please God. Here are what those verses say.

Galatians 1: 10 "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ."

Galatians 2: 20 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

There is something about most of us that wants to please others. It's a pretty natural thing to do. However, there are situations in our lives that call upon us to make the decision as to whether we want to please others or please our God. Sometimes the question is are we going to please God or please ourselves. The answer to both questions should be a no brainer. If Jesus is Lord of our lives, we will naturally seek to please Him.

One of my heroes in ministry, the late Adrian Rogers, once said, "In each person's life there is a cross and a throne. If you are still on the throne of your life, Jesus is still on the cross. However, if you are on the cross (Galatians 2:20) Jesus is on the throne." Every thought and deed of our lives will be centered on pleasing Him.

How about you today?

Are you wired for 110 or 220?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Particular Place

Thirty nine years ago tomorrow, my maternal Grandfather, Jerry Stidham died. He was 59 years of age and although that's pretty young, my grandfather enjoyed a rich full life. He was born in the mountains of Breathitt County, KY but moved to his adopted state of West Virginia at an early age. His father was a blacksmith in the coal mines, and Papaw grew up in difficult circumstances. Although his formal education was limited to high school, he was a voracious reader and dedicated to lifelong learning.

From his early years he worked around the coal mines of Logan County. Eventually as an adult he continued to work in the mines and became involved in the organization of the United Mine Workers of America. Eventually my grandfather left his employment with Island Creek Coal Company to work full time for the UMWA. He was actively involved in community activities in the coal fields and belonged to several fraternal organizations. Eventually he was sent to the West Virginia House of Delegates to represent Logan County there for three terms.

For a number of years he ran the field office of the UMWA in Logan County, eventually leaving that office to work out of the District 17 office in Charleston as an International Representative. He was an active lobbyist for the mine workers until the time of his death in 1968, just two years short of his planned retirement. He and my Granny were totally devoted to each other and were married for 41 years. Most Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were times when the whole clan gathered together at their house. Two large pictures hung on the living room wall of their house at Holden, WV. One was Jesus praying alone in the garden. The other was the stern visage of UMWA President John L. Lewis!

Papaw Stidham accepted Christ as his Savior in 1961 and the last seven years of his life were spent with a new focus. Serving Jesus became the driving force of his life. After answering the call to the ministry, he preached in many churches in Logan County and hosted a live weekly radio broadcast, called "The Old Country Church Hour" each Sunday afternoon. He was a faithful member of the 20 Whitman Community Church, and after the death of the pastor, Dennie Roberts, Papaw was called to serve the church as it's pastor until the unexpected heart attack took him home to be with Jesus. His funeral was a major event in Logan County and there were 98 cars in the processional that wound it's way from the church to Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Jerry Stidham was the friend of everyone who knew him. Among his close friends he numbered U.S. Senators, Congressmen, several Governors of West Virginia, state legislators, county officials, and common coal miners. I have mentioned in previous posts that he was also a poet. In fact, Governor Hulett C. Smith, named my grandfather to the honorary position of West Virginia's Poet Laureate. He truly loved West Virginia and one of his many poems summed up his feelings about his adopted mountain state. In his honor and memory at this 39th anniversary of his death, I want to share that poem with you:

A Particular Place

When God made the earth, He looked out in space,
And graciously blessed a particular place.
Some mountains He moulded to begin His plan,
As He knew they would be cherished by mortal man.

The valleys He shaped so deep and so wide,
And the streams so swift, never to hide,
The sparkle or ripple from man's sharp eye,
So crystal and clear as if dropped from the sky.

The seasons He made our desire to delight:
With light of the day and darkness at night,
Overcast with stars and a silvery moon
The sun in the heavens every day at noon.

With seeds of summer's green grass to grow,
Sleeping under the beauty of a winter's snow.
The Gorgeous spring flowers for all to see,
And the abundant color of the autumn tree.

Game creatures for the bow and fish for the rod,
Rich fertile soil for the tiller of the sod.
Great beds of coal and timber galore,
Limestone and gas, very much in store.

So great, so fine, wonderful and rich,
A pleasant surprise in each corner and niche.
Nowhere you go will be the same,
For West Virginia is it's name.

- Jerry Stidham

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Another Ministry Opportunity

God has opened a door of opportunity for our church to take the Gospel to children and their families in a way we have never done before.

Upward Sports Ministry was begun at a local church in Spartanburg, SC over 20 years ago and by 2003 had spread to over 1,000 churches around the country. (see Upward offers Basketball, Cheerleading, Soccer and Flag Football for boys and girls from kindergarten to sixth grade. It is a Christ Centered ministry that stresses the value of each child. The children learn the rules of the game and the concepts of teamwork and sportsmanship. Emphasis is not on winning, but on equal participation and sharing the Gospel of Christ with young people and their parents.

Upward incorporates all of the good aspects of youth sports programs under a Christian framework. Each team will practice once per week. Game day is Saturday and each team will play one game per week. Unlike secular programs, practice and games NEVER conflict with church services. All coaches and officials are Christians. A Christlike attitude prevails in each practice and game. Poor behavior will not be tolerated on the part of anyone involved or any spectators.

There are no "try outs". Every child plays. Evaluations are held and a computer program evenly distributes the children to the various teams based on the talent and skill levels of the players. Children will share starting honors and every child will play in every game. Each game begins with prayer. The kids hear a Gospel presentation at every practice and on game day. Furthermore, all those in attendance will hear the testimony of the life changing power of Christ at half time of each game. The season lasts for 8 weeks and there is an awards celebration at the end of the regular season. Our plans at this point are to offer Upward Basketball, Cheerleading, and Soccer. Our initial basketball season will be done in conjunction with "Upward of Huntington", which is presently made up of four other churches in east Huntington.

How important is it to us to reach children? Jesus seemed to think it was very important. Consider Mark 10:13-16, "Some people brought their children to Jesus so that he could bless them by placing his hands on them. But his disciples told the people to stop bothering him. When Jesus saw this, he became angry and said, "Let the children come to me! Don’t try to stop them. People who are like these little children belong to the kingdom of God. I promise you that you cannot get into God’s kingdom, unless you accept it the way a child does." Then Jesus took the children in his arms and blessed them by placing his hands on them." (CEV)

We will be enlisting the help of nearly every church member for this ministry, and EVERY member can help. Some can help with coaching, officiating, concessions, logistics, devotions, publicity, evaluations, scholarships, etc. All of us can pray. We are seeking 100 willing members to form an intercessory prayer team. We have ten "prayer captains" on board and, after the first public appeal on Sunday night, over thirty of our members have volunteered to serve on the prayer team! Prayer is something even homebound members can do to support this important ministry.

Upward will bring us a new vehicle to impact our community for Christ. My prayer is that every member will catch the vision.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Semper Gumby

One of the more interesting aspects in the life of a pastor is the uncertainty.

I'm one of those guys who likes to make plans. Always have been. In the years when I earned my living in various sales positions I was taught to "Plan your work and work your plan". One sales manager was fond of saying, "If you fail to plan then you plan to fail". These are words of wisdom - generally speaking - but when one is in ministry things don't always turn out as planned. This weekend I had planned to attend an annual conference for pastors, but it didn't work out. One of our church members passed away and plans had to be changed.

True, we spend lots of time planning our ministry activities. Appointment calendars are always at the ready. Convention, Association, and Church functions are entered into those calendars months in advance. Counselling sessions are set up and weddings are scheduled. Looking forward to future evangelistic efforts, mission trips, and key events take up much of our attention as ministers. Planning our preaching is most important. There are special messages to be prepared for special occasions. Sermon preparation takes a lot of time each week, and I always try to look ahead to future subjects or books for particular sermon series projects.

Even with all the planning, one thing pastors learn pretty quickly is that none of it is written in bronze and signed in blood. Things can change, and change quickly. If preaching were all we did it would be pretty simple. But there is a lot more involved in ministry than the things we can plan. The pastor is the "under shepherd" of the flock. The flock has needs. Often those needs arise at inopportune times. My friend, Doug Virgin, often says, "Ministry always comes before meetings", and he's right. Many are the occasions when a pastor's plans have to be changed. Often this has an effect on the pastor's family as well.

Younger pastors are often taken by surprise when they realize that personal plans must take a back seat to the responsibility of ministering to their congregation. People have "unscheduled" accidents and sudden illnesses. Crises of all types can pop up at any time, and certainly death comes among the families of our congregation when we least expect it. Deacons and yokefellows can help the pastor share the load. Sunday School teachers and classmates can and should minister to their friends during time of need. But even with all that, there are times when people just need their pastor.

One of the practical lessons that seminaries must get across to the young preacher is the concept of "Semper Gumby" (translated - "always flexible"). Otherwise it is easy to burn out. I believe the surprises are harder on younger pastors and their families. We older guys and our wives have learned over the years that the call can come any time of the day or night. Regardless of dinner plans or ticketed sporting activities, you may be called away. From time to time, Mom has to pull "single parent duty" when Dad is ministering to a family who may have lost one of their own.

No pastor with a true pastor's heart begrudges those situations which cause plans to change. Sure, there may be some personal disappointment, but there is a peace that comes with knowing you are doing what God called you to do. It's an awesome responsibility. It also presents us with the challenge to effectively juggle home and family responsibilites which are also very important. That is partially why I'm writing this.

When you pray for your pastor (and I hope you often do) pray for his family. Pray for his kids that they will understand when Dad has to miss some activity to be with someone else's hurting family. Pray for his wife who sometimes has too many dinners and evenings alone. Pray that the pastor's time with his family will be quality time that is absolutely special for his wife and kids. Pray that he will stay strong physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Oh yeah. One other thing. Call your pastor when you truly need him - day or night. He'll gladly come. But pray that the members of the flock will also use good judgment when doing so. When they call him out of bed or away from his family, is should truly be for something that just can't wait till morning.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Old Friends

The past two weekends brought welcome visits with some old friends from out of town. The time we spent together was wonderful but far too short in duration. Unfortunately, both visits were the result of sad circumstances which brought each of our friends back to this area. Rick Hall and his mother, Lavinia "Beanie" Hall Smith live in Jackson, Tennessee. The incident that brought them back was the serious illness of another old friend, Tommy Hughes. Jim (Buzzy) Salyer returned from the Chicago area to meet his mother and sister for the burial of his grandmother. Linda and I are so thankful that they cared enough to come visit us, while in the area. Both visits were special.

It was 1955 when Rick and his family moved to the Huntington area from rural west Tennessee. Our families became acquainted through a mutual friend who had been an old Army buddy of Rick's dad, Walter. When he landed a job at Kerr Glass Company, Walter and his family settled into a little rented apartment in the west end of Huntington. At the invitation of my dad, the Hall family began to attend our church. Soon Walter and Beanie and my mother and father became close friends. Eventually the Hall family moved to the same street where we lived and we were close friends and neighbors until they moved back to Tennessee in 1968.

I was only five years old and Rick was seven at the time our families became acquainted. He was the closest thing to a big brother that I ever had. As we grew up together we shared in many "adventures" and did all the things brothers do. Some of my happiest memories surround times that I shared with Rick at church and school activities, and in the old neighborhood. He led, I followed and sometimes the path led to trouble (but I won't go into that here). I really looked up to him, and I guess I felt a little alone, when he and Kay Hampton married.

When Rick decided a few weeks ago to come visit Tommy Hughes, who is suffering from an inoperable brain tumor in Princeton, WV; he asked his mom to come with him. Beanie stayed Friday night with Mom and Dad while Rick went on to Princeton. When he returned on Saturday, we all got together at our house for a cookout. Rick and Beanie spent Saturday night with us before heading back to Jackson on Sunday morning. Beanie went to bed early but Rick and Linda and I sat up until 1:00 AM talking about old times. When he mentioned that his son, Scott was now 40 years old it really hit me hard. Where have all the years gone?

The next weekend we were blessed to see Buz Salyer. His visit was much more brief but just as special. Officially, he is James Nathan Salyer III, but he'll always be "Buzzy" to me. Buz grew up just up the hill from us on Midvale Drive, and was about a year younger than I. The tall skinny kid was a good friend of my "step cousin"' Charlie Watrous, who also lived in our neighborhood. Buz and I went through Gallaher Elementary, Beverly Hills Jr. High, and Huntington East High schools as casual acquaintances. His mother was my English teacher my senior year in High School. He eventually married Amy Richards, a pretty girl who also lived in our neighborhood. I lost touch of what had ever happened to them until our paths crossed again in 1978 at an Oldsmobile dealership in Ashland, Kentucky.

Buz appeared at Seenbergen Oldsmobile one day to interview for the Finance and Insurance Manager's position. I was a salesman there, and recognized him immediately. He had a little less hair than I had remembered, but he was unmistakably Buzzy. He was selected for the position and we immediately became close friends as well as co-workers. I can't begin to tell you of the fun we had working with that crew of characters at Steenbergen's. Our friendship was cemented for a lifetime.

We eventually took different career paths. I went into the insurance business. Buz moved on, initially as a loan officer with a local bank and then with other financial institutions that eventually led he and Amy to Chicagoland. Over the years we have seen each other on occasion and have stayed in touch via email. In recent years he and Amy have been wonderful partners with us in support of our church mission work in the Philippines. Amy has gone through some serious health issues in the past few years but has always maintained that cheerful spirit that is just - well - Amy. Their generous financial support has helped two Filipino pastors accomplish much that would not have been possible without their help.

Buz emailed me that he would be in Huntington on Saturday and leaving on Sunday and said he would like to come to hear me preach and have dinner after church. I was thrilled. It so happened that our church was having a fellowship dinner that Sunday, so we were able to do both right there in one place. It was great to see him again, to talk about old times and to catch up on each other's families. Our visit together was brief, but so special and another opportunity to cherish.

Friends are better than riches - and old friends are the best of all. I don't know when I will ever see Rick or Buz again, but I do know that this was not the last time. You see, both of them are old friends, but more importantly, they are my brothers in Christ. It may be a while before the reunion comes but, thanks to Jesus, we will have eternity to spend together.