Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Some Thoughts About Inflation (And Salvation)

The cost of (nearly) everything seems to be on the rise - and how! Gasoline prices hover around $3.00 per gallon here in my area. The cost of gas affects transportation costs, therefore the price on food, toys, clothing, and other merchandise goes up as well. Last week I saw a written notice posted at my favorite pizza place that the higher cost of cheese has forced an increase in the price of the lunch buffet. Now this is a crisis I can identify with!

This morning I got a shocking revelation of how serious the inflation problem really is. A report in my morning newspaper revealed the true gravity of the situation. I'm sure all of you are familiar with the old song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas". My Mamaw Adkins use to quote it (not sing it) to me when I was just a little guy. It is one of my earliest memories - and rare memories of her. She died when I was five years old. I didn't really know much about why someone would be giving someone else partridges in a pear tree, leaping lords, or milking maids. Furthermore, I never gave the first thought to the cost of such items. However, the news report from PNC Bank that I read this morning indicated how inflation has affected the cost of the gift items mentioned in the song. According to the report, the cost of the items has gone up 8% in the past year alone! Here is a rundown of the present costs:

A Partridge - $15 (I assume one has to supply their own Pear Tree)
2 Turtle Doves - $40
3 French Hens - $45
4 Calling Birds - $599.96
5 Gold Rings - $395
6 Geese a-laying - $360
7 Swans a-swimming - $4,200
8 Maids a-milking - $46.80
9 Ladies dancing - $4,759
10 Lords a-leaping $4,285.06
11 Pipers piping - $2,213.40
12 Drummers drumming - $2,397.85

You can get more information on this (if you are so inclined and have nothing better to do) at http://pncchristmaspriceindex.com.%20the/The point is, that everything seems to be going up in price, and our dollar is losing it's value on international markets. We'll see the effects of this on our mission trip to the Philippines in about a month. Three years ago the exchange rate was 55 Philippine Pesos to one American dollar. Now the rate is 44/1. This makes a difference in how much we can help them financially, and in the purchasing power we have to meet certain needs of those churches.

Consumer prices are on the rise and folks are being adversely impacted by the pinch. This past summer, my associate pastor, Randy Spurgeon, purchased a motorcycle. Randy lives about 25 miles from the church and he claimed that he could save a lot of money on gas by riding a motorcycle instead of his pickup truck. That's probably true, but the purchase may have been at least partially motivated by other factors (Randy turned 50 this year). Midlife crises notwithstanding, inflation is a serious problem for all of us. Especially those on fixed incomes.

In spite of all that, isn't it wonderful that the cost of the most important need that everyone shares has not gone up in the past 2,000 years? Salvation is FREE. Those of us who have trusted Jesus Christ as our personal Savior have the benefits of:
  • Forgiven sin
  • A personal relationship with God
  • A new inward power
  • Peace that goes beyond human understanding
  • Joy that cannot be described in words
  • Family relationship with other believers
  • Eternal life
  • An ultimate home in Heaven.

The cost to us? Zero, nada, bupkus, zilch!

Think of it. All of these benefits (and more) cost us nothing! All that is required of us to receive these blessings is our willingness to put our trust in Christ. Acknowledging that we are sinful by our very nature, believing that He died to pay the penalty for our sins, and confessing Him as our Savior and Lord.

Some might say, "That sounds too good to be true." Others, "There is no such thing as a free ride." or "Nothing that good could be free. There must be some strings attached."

Well, those of us who are Christ followers know that while this great gift comes to us from our Creator free of charge - it is far from cheap. It came at a great cost to God. It cost Him his one and only son. The Apostle Peter sums it up this way in 1 Peter 1: 18-19:

"Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, [as] silver and gold, from your vain conversation [received] by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ without blemish and without spot."

As prices on everything else keep escalating, may we be quick to tell others of the great value of free Grace, while never forgetting the great price paid by Christ.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Afternoon Musings

It's Sunday afternoon and I am "multi-tasking". Time to update the blog, but so much other stuff to do as well! The television is showing "The Seige" (an anti terrorist flick starring Denzel Washington, Annette Benning, and Bruce Willis). Real interesting - very realistic - and frightening. Redskins and Packers are on Fox and CBS Sports has a halftime show on right now too. The radio is tuned in to the Marshall University Thundering Herd, hosting the Terriers of Boston University. Herd's up 18-13 early in the game.

This is that special time of the year when there is more college football and basketball and NFL football than I can personally keep up with. NBA is in full swing too, but I'm just not much of a fan of pro basketball. My favorite high school teams are winding down their football seasons deep into the playoffs, and my son Benji, is ready to begin his high school basketball coaching career as an assistant coach of the Russell (KY) High School Red Devils.

Ben is our younger son. He is in his third year as a teacher at Russell Middle School. I'm not sure of his exact schedule this year, but he has been teaching a mixture of Social Studies, English, and Arts and Drama these past three years. I was very thankful that he found a full time teaching job his first year after graduation from Morehead State University, but it was strange to see him at Russell. The Red Devils were great rivals to the Ashland Tomcats, for whom Benji played high school football and baseball several years ago.

Ben enrolled in Marshall University directly out of Ashland's Paul G. Blazer High School. We are a "Marshall family" but Ben primarily went to Marshall to take advantage of their H.E.L.P. program for students with learning disabilities. He made excellent grades in high school but mysteriously had difficulty in reading. It wasn't until his junior year in high school that a special battery of testing identified a "visual perceptive disorder" similar to dyslexia as the root of his reading problems. H.E.L.P. gave him the opportunity to get his feet on the ground in college by allowing him to take tests orally, get special counselling, toutoring, and generally build his confidence in making the academic jump from high school to college work. After two years in college, he enlisted in the Marine Corps for four years which took him to Kosovo, during the hostilities there. Returning from the USMC just after the birth of his first son, Ben continued pursuing his teaching degree, first at Morehead State, then Ohio University Southern Campus, then finally back to MSU.

He was an above average athlete in high school. He gave up basketball after his last year of middle school to focus on baseball and football. Coach Vic Marsh expected all of his football players to be in the weight room year round, and baseball (which was Benji's love) began in February and continued on through the summer, so there just wasn't much time for roundball. He was a solid football player who began as a running back in middle school. As his height increased they moved him to wide receiver on the freshman football team, and then to tight end. Eventually, as he filled out and bulked up in the weight room, he was moved to tackle for his junior and senior years. He finished up as an honorable mention selection on the all area team his senior year.

He had been playing baseball since he was an 8 year old, and he played right on through high school and summer ball. Not blessed with great speed, but quick as a cat, Ben played all over the field. Shortstop was probably the only position he didn't play. He had great hands and quick reflexes and was good hitter with a great eye for the strike zone. Those qualities along with his ability to hit the long ball, landed him at first base on all star teams at every level of play. He was also a spot starter and relief pitcher in high school with a wicked side arm delivery that often had right handed hitters bailing out of the box. I guess his most memorable moments in high school baseball came during the district tournament in the spring of his junior year. He had two great games against Lawrence County and the hated Boyd County Lions, batting in the winning run in both games including a grand slam home run against Boyd County, and defensively finishing off a double play that killed a Boyd County rally. He was named to the all tournament team and received the big trophy as the Disrict Tournament Most Valuable Player.

I guess that is why I always assumed that if he had opportunity to coach, baseball would be his sport. He was a good player who understood the game. In his first year at Russell he got the chance to do so. The high school baseball coach at Russell was Mike Martino, who had coached Benji at Ashland and in summer ball for three years. Mike offered Benji the opportunity to assist with the Red Devils and to be the coach of the junior varsity baseball team. He did a good job with the kids, and they enjoyed a trip to Florida, but the magic just wasn't there for Benji.

Now, when Ben had gone to work at Russell Middle School, the principal told him she needed a sixth grade basketball coach and offered him the job. He hadn't played high school basketball and had never coached it on any level, but the idea was appealing to him. They got off to a rough start with a loss coming at the buzzer of his first game. However, he ended up that first season with a record of 21-4 and won three of the four tournaments the "little" Devils played in. The next year his new group of sixth graders also had a good year, going 19-6. I saw several of the games both seasons and was impressed at how he coached and taught the kids. I was most impressed with how he quickly learned to manage the clock, change defenses, and run players in and out.

When he told Coach Martino that he was going to pass on baseball his second year, I was shocked. Benji explained to me that his heart just wasn't in coaching baseball, but he loved working with the kids in basketball. He liked the strategy and the fast pace of the game. He liked having his hand in the action.

When an opening came up this year for an assistant on the high school basketball team, Ben applied for the job and Coach Steve Dodd hired him. So now a new journey begins. My family doctor (who is the team physician for Russell) jokingly told me, "I see your son has lost his mind!" Maybe so, but I do know that he loves what he is doing. He also has a great teacher in Coach Dodd, who has coached at both the high school and college level. I wish them much success this season.

After being a Tomcat Booster for all those years, and serving on the Ashland Board of Education, it's going to seem strange rooting for the Russell Red Devils, but we've got to support our son. Right? And besides all that, grandson #2, who goes to school at Russell Primary, is getting a lot of time in as a "gym rat" the past three years. Who knows, we may be rooting for the Red Devils for a long time to come!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Be An Encourager

My father has spent nearly 60 years in the ministry. He has served as Pastor of a number of churches in West Virginia and Ohio and preached as an evangelist from Ohio to Florida. His work for the Lord kept him busy and on the road a lot. Even though we travelled with him a lot, he understood the need for our family to have a "home church" and a Pastor. You may have never thought much about it, but even Pastors need a Pastor!

From 1952, when we moved to Huntington from Logan County, WV, until the time of his death about two years ago, Carl Vallance was our Pastor. I could write a lot about Brother Vallance. In fact, there is a chapter devoted to him in the book I am working on. He was a colorful character who made a tremendous impact on my life and my ministry.

One of the things I appreciated so deeply about Brother Vallance, was the confidence he showed in me during my formative years in the ministry. I was one of several young men, who were called into the ministry under the tuteledge of Carl Vallance. Once I had announced my calling into the ministry, Brother Vallance did everything he could to encourage and equip me for service. He allowed me opportunity to preach. You may not realize how important that is to a young preacher. Brother Vallance did know, and he allowed me to take the pulpit on a number of occasions. He offered encouragement, constructive criticism, and advice. He encouraged me to attend Bible College and further my education.

Along with my Pastor, I will never forget some of the other precious members there at Thomas Memorial Church, who were encouragers to the young preacher. I know the messages were often pretty weak and certainly not homeletically sound. I was long on enthusiasm and short on experience. Looking back on those early attempts, I almost cringe. However, folks like Grant and Dorothy Chaffin, Jack Day, Blanche Booth, and Ray Wilcox gave me a gift I could never repay. They offered me encouragement.

Encouragement is an important ministry that is often overlooked and is certainly in short supply. Barnabus is a great example in the Book of Acts. In fact, Barnabus wasn't even his given name. It was a nickname - "Son of Consolation" (KJV) or literally, "Mr. Encouragement". What a help he was to the new Apostle by the name of Paul! What a great example for us today. We need more Barnabuses in the church today.

I pray that God will raise up young men and women in our church to be called into full time Christian service. When He does, may we be a group of encouragers to them. it's something we can do that may have eternal impact.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Last year we had opportunity for our whole family to be together for Thanksgiving. It was a brief time together as the part of the family from New Orleans was only here for a couple of days, but it was a wonderful time for Linda and I. Linda prepared her trademark big Thanksgiving Dinner on Wednesday (rather than Thursday) to accommodate the schedules of both of our sons and their families. Jay, Michelle, Quint and Canon had Thanksgiving Dinner at the Slater home and then headed back for the Big Easy that afternoon. Benji, Leigh Anne, Will and Asher had to be in Louisville on Thursday as the Clanton family gathered last year at the home of Leigh Anne's sister, Mandy. Linda and I spent Thanksgiving Day, resting quietly at the house, eating turkey leftovers, and basking in the wonderful memory of having all of us together one more time. Here is a photo that we all had made early that Wednesday. It marked the first time the whole family had been photographed together since the summer of 2001 when Will was just a baby. Canon and Asher weren't here yet, and Linda's mom was still with us. This one year old photo also represents the last time we were all together as a family.
Next to my personal relationship with God, family is the one thing in my life for which I am most thankful.
The concept goes back as far as I can remember. Visits to our grandparent's homes were always special, but holidays were the most special time of all. Some of the memories are faded, as dad's parents both passed away in the 50's when I was pretty young. But the memories are there, nonetheless. More vivid memories remain of the holidays spent at the home of my mother's parents - first in Logan County, WV - then for a couple of years in Marmet, WV (near Charleston) - then "back home" in Logan. Granny prepared the "Turkey Bird" as she called it, with all the trimmings. It was a great feast, but to me, the most important part of the holiday was the time we spent with Mamaw and Papaw Stidham, Mom and Dad, my brothers, uncles and aunts, and all the cousins!
Bob and Irene and their three kids lived nearby to the grandparents and they were always there for every gathering. It wasn't quite as easy for us. Dad, being a bi-vocational pastor and evangelist, ran on a rather tight schedule. He worked 40 hours a week at International Nickel Co. in Huntington, pastored various churches over the years, and held as many as 17-19 revival meetings per year. Busy as he was, Thanksgiving and Christmas were times when everything else took second place so the family could be together. Only now do I realize how difficult that must have been for him.
It was even tougher for Dori and Vern, who lived in Houston, TX, and their kids. Due to the long distance (and travel was much more difficult in the days before interstate highways!) and Vern's career - first as a teacher - later as an insurance agent - they were not able to make the trip for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, you could bet your life they would make every effort to be there for one of the holidays. On the rare occasions when they couldn't make the trip home for holidays, they would always do a two week vacation home in the summer and the whole family always had that special time together. It was just that important to all of us. No big deal - it's just what we did - be together as a family on those special days.
The tradition continued with us after Linda and I were married. Thanksgiving Day was spent with Linda's Mom and Dad at their home in Pike County, KY for many years, and then later in Greenup, KY when they moved there after Burgess' retirement. Linda's sister and all of her brothers and their families would fill up that old house in Pike Co. The food was great. The fellowship was wonderful. And all of the little cousins had a wonderful time together. We ate Thanksgiving Dinner at the Bowling's house on Thursday and then again with my Mom and Dad at their house on Sunday.
When Christmas rolled around, a month later, it was the same thing. Christmas Eve at Mom and Dad's and then up early on Christmas Day for the two hour drive to the Bowling's home. Often times, due to work schedules and ministry obligations it was back home the same day, but we "did Christmas" with the family as often as possible.
Family is important. It always has been in my life, and the older I get the more important it grows! That is why I treasure the photo on this page. Who knows when we will all be together again? Who knows who may be gone before we can get the next family portrait made?
In this season of Thanksgiving, Linda and I are most thankful for the folks you see in the photo above (and our brothers, sister, and their families who are not pictured here). All are a special blessing from God and we cherish them as such.
We wish you and your family (however large or small it may be) a very Happy Thanksgiving. May we be truly thankful for all that God has blessed us with - especially family!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Old Lefthander

The news came in early Thursday morning. Joe Nuxhall died in Fairfield, Ohio at the age of 79.

For many of us in this area it was as though we had lost a close friend. I first became aware of Joe Nuxhall in 1962 when he came back to pitch at Crosley Field for my heroes the Cincinnati Reds. Back in those days, Red's play by play announcer, Waite Hoyt, often referred to Nuxhall as "Hamilton Joe". This was because Nuxhall was born in nearby Hamilton and spent most of his life there in Fairfield just on the outskirts of Cincinnati.

Nuxhall was never a "great" pitcher but he was an absolute favorite for Reds fans. His lifetime won lost record was 135-117 and he had an earned run average of 3.90 with 1372 strike outs. He played for the Reds in 1944, 1952-1960, and 1962-1966. He retired in 1966 after spending 15 of his 16 big league seasons throwing for the Redlegs. (the other year was spent toiling for the Kansas City Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels who traded him back to the Reds). Ironically Joe missed the Reds' pennant winning season of 1961 while he pitched for Bill Veeck in KC.

While not the greatest lefthander ever, Nuxhall firmly entrenched himself in the record books when on June 10, 1944, he became the youngest player ever to pitch in the major leagues. At the age of 15 years and 10 months, Nuxhall faced the great Stan Musial and the St. Louis Cardinals in a rather dubious first outing. What was a 15 year old boy doing pitching in the National League? Well, it was during World War II and many of the major (and minor) league players were doing their military duty. Team rosters were mighty thin and that was what brought the big strong high school student to the mound at Crosley Field.

Even though Joe was a fan favorite as a player, he became even more of a favorite when in 1967 he joined Claude Sullivan and Jim McIntyre as one of the radio voices of the oldest team in professional baseball. That was the beginning of a 28 year career that saw Joe at home with Jim McIntyre, Al Michaels, and Marty Brenamann in the home broadcast booth at Crosley Field, Riverfront Stadium (later called Cynergy Field), and Great American Ballpark.

He is a member of the Reds Hall of Fame and a bronze statue of Joe Nuxhall stands outside the entrance of Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. But more than all that - Joe is the voice that an entire generation associates with the Cincinnati Reds. We've listened as he called routine games, many playoff contests, and even World Series games in 1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, and 1990. He brought the Big Red Machine into our homes, automobiles and workplaces. He spanned generations with great stories of players he had known from the 1940's into the 21st century.

He retired from the broadcast booth a couple of years ago, and it just isn't the same. The voice that has been silenced was that of a friend. It is hard not to shed a tear when you think of his trademark sign off, "This is the Old Lefthander, rounding third and heading for home. Goodnight everyone!"

I guess you've finally made it home. Good night Joe - and thanks for the memories.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Another Perspective on Mowing

I received a great email from my good friend Rob Francis last night.

Linda and I have known Rob and Cheryl since the early 80's when their son, Robbie and our younger son, Benji, played little league baseball together. In fact, they continued on as teammates through Babe Ruth League (where Rob helped me coach the Eagles), and for the Ashland Tomcats of Paul Blazer High School, and on a summer traveling team, the Ashland Athletics. Our older son, Jay later served as Bible teacher at Rose Hill Christian School, where Rob and Cheryl's beautiful daughters, Lisa and Bethany, attended school. Rob and Cheryl attend the Church of the Nazarene and Linda and I are Baptists (some differences, but we are one in Christ) so we are more than just friends - we're family.

Rob's email was in response to my November 9th post "The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year" and it gives another perspective on that job that some of us hate to do. I don't believe Rob would mind me sharing it since it really emphasises a wonderful truth. Here it is:

I hope everything is going well. You're still in my prayers. I do enjoy the daily devotional and also your blog. I read the one for cutting grass in amusement. It's funny how people can look at things from a different perspective. You are glad there won't be any grass to cut for a while, and when I finally have to put my lawnmower up after the last cutting which usually for me is between Christmas and New Years I will feel quite the opposite of you.
Cutting grass(I usually cut three times a week during the summer and believe me it needs it. Of course I feed mine and manicure it a lot) is a stress reliever for me. After being cooped up in an office 10-12 hours a day, answering phone calls, going to meetings, answering emails, dealing with accounting and personnel problems, etc. I enjoy being outside enjoying God's creation. In fact with the lawnmower blaring and ear plugs in my ear is when I have some of my best alone time with the Lord. There are no distractions, just me and HIM with the lawnmower running the interference for US. In fact during many of those prayer times the Lord has brought you to my mind, and I've prayed for you. So if your in my neighborhood and you see me smiling or maybe a tear running down my cheek (I'm really not crazy like some may think) while I'm cutting grass you'll know it's just me and the Lord having a good time. So what some look at as a drudgery I look forward to because it's just me, the lawnmower, and most importantly God! Anyway there's my take on grass cutting from a different perspective. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Your brother in Christ,

The old saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." I'll coin a new one. "One man's drudgery is another man's pleasure." On first thought, my mind would recall the words of those "great philosophers" Sly and the Family Stone - "Different Strokes for Different Folks". Others might say "Whatever floats your boat." (Please feel free to choose your own cliche') People have different tastes - likes and dislikes. (That's why they make chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry!) But this goes beyond simple differences in preference. Rob has found a way to make what some of us would think of as a chore, into a time of blessing and communion with his Heavenly Father. I spend my most productive quiet time with God early in the mornings and during travel time in the car. Mowing is therapeutic for Rob - providing a break from the rigors of his job - but he also uses the time (and the earplugs) to have some extra "quiet time" with God.

What a great lesson for all of us!

The Apostle Paul instructs us to "Pray without ceasing". This is a reminder that we should always be in a state of communication with our Father in Heaven. I can't think of a better use of that mowing time then to just get alone with HIM as Rob does.

Good word, Brother!

I am also thankful that Rob uses some of that prayer time to pray for me! I firmly believe that one of the reasons that I am still on this earth has a lot to do with the prayers on my behalf, from friends like Rob - from here to literally half way around the world.

Now, with that "serious stuff" said, let me offer a couple of other thoughts:

  • I have a "yard". Rob has a "lawn"!
  • I cut and hack. Rob feeds, manicures, and mows.
  • Rob has great patience. I am still growing in that grace.
  • Rob ENJOYS mowing grass. I like it a little better than getting a root canal.

Several years ago, when Linda and I were making decisions about "end of life" things, we decided to purchase mausoleum crypts at Golden Oaks Memorial Gardens rather than two cemetery (in ground) lots. Our sons were incredulous. No one in our immediate family had ever been buried anywhere but "6 feet under". Jay said, "I can't believe you're going to be buried in a FILE CABINET!" Benji simply asked, "Why a mausoleum?"

Half in jest, I explained to them that I was rather sure I would not be able to "rest in peace" if I knew that someone had to MOW GRASS over me to keep the grave site looking good! Do you get the idea? I don't like mowing grass...but we have already established that, haven't we?

One point where Rob and I both agree is the statement he made in the email, "I enjoy being outside enjoying God's creation."

Me too, brother!

Rob enjoys God's creation as he mows the lawn. I enjoy it on the rare occasions when I can get out on the golf course - where SOMEBODY ELSE mows the grass!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Darrell's Officially On The Team

It's official. Darrell Clark bought his ticket last week. He's on the team.

Some months ago, Thamer Calhoun and I purchased plane tickets to the Philippines for our January 2-15 Mission Trip there. We didn't know if anyone else would be going for sure, but we felt that God was leading us to go back to help Pastors Doming Valdez and Joseph Zerna with the work they are doing in Oriental Negros. For a while it looked as though we might just be a two man team. Rick Gunnell was unable to plan for the 2008 trip, due to some personal and family needs that require his presence here. Furthermore Joey Spurgeon and Darrell were not having much success in coming up with the funds needed for the $1700 + plane fare.

In September, Pastor Randall Robertson from Locust Grove Baptist Church signed on to go back for his third trip to Negros Island. He bought his ticket, bringing our roster to three.

Darrell had "hit the wall" in his efforts to raise the money to go on the mission trip. Frankly, three weeks ago, I had pretty much accepted the fact that he would not be making his fourth trip as he hoped to do. Then came his "magical week" when several generous individuals came through with enough contributions in just six days to allow him to purchase his ticket. The Lord must have been in it. I say that for two reasons.

First, the amount of money he still needed was great and the time was ticking down quickly. The other concern was that the website for Cathay Pacific Airlines (which is our carrier) showed our trans Pacific flights (both directions) to be full. Even if he were to raise the needed funds to purchase tickets, he would have to travel on different days than the rest of the team, which would cause a little trouble in scheduling, group insurance, etc.

Once he had the monies in hand, Darrell contacted Kimberly Blatt. Kim is a member of Westmoreland Baptist Church and is station manager for US Airways at Tri State Airport. Although Kim has never made a mission trip with us, we consider her a key member of our team as she has been so helpful in the past in getting us reservations and overcoming a number of logistical problems. He was hoping she could work her magic one more time. Kim called Darrell back with "good news and not so good news".

The good news was that she was able to find him seats on our overseas flights. That was a major accomplishment. The quoted plane fare was over $100 more than what we had paid for our tickets, but considering the fact that he had seats with the rest of the team, that was not a terrible thing. The problem was that she could not confirm his US Airways flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles. It wouldn't do much good for Darrell to have tickets from LA to Dumaguete, if we couldn't get him to LA Kim informed Darrell that they would know for sure within 24 hours.
Well, when she called him back the next day, all flights were confirmed, and the price ended up to only be about $5.00 more that we had paid months before! This was hard to believe due to the scarcity of tickets and the skyrocketing cost of fuel.

Those of you who know me well, know that I give Darrell a hard time. We grew up in the same part of town and knew a lot of the same people. We attended the same high school (although Darrell is a mere child - five years younger than I) - he graduated from Huntington East with my younger brother, Bruce. I razz him pretty hard. He is an easy target and I can hardly resist. He gets a shot in on me every now and then, but generally speaking, he takes the "hits" with grace and he knows that I love him like a brother (even when I tell him "only ONE song!)

He still needs to raise the money for room and food, but he believes that is do able since God used a number of our people to help him overcome the large hurdle of buying the plane tickets. The last year and a half has been rough for Darrell and his family when he was caught in a "RIF" from his 24 year job with BFI. He has worked hard under difficult circumstances and is certainly overqualified (and under paid) for the job he is presently doing. There may still be someone out there who would like to help him with additional costs for the mission trip.

Darrell has been a helpful member of our team in the past. His music has been a blessing to us and to the Filipino people to whom we minister. Pastor Doming (a master of understatement) says, "Darrell is a good singer". He is that. A couple of years ago Darrell felt the call of God into a preaching ministry while on a mission trip in the Philippines. So this mission work has a special personal meaning for him. Seeing the work of those Filipino church planters first hand, should be a great example to Darrell in his efforts to grow a new church in Wayne, WV where he serves as mission pastor.

So, now it is official. Darrell is on the team and the challenges are now before us. Somebody gets to share a room (and bathroom) with Darrell. Been there - done that. Since Thamer and I already have our room reserved, looks like Randall Robertson will be the lucky guy. That's tough, but as team leader, I get the toughest task. I not only have to try to keep him under control on how many songs he sings - now he'll want to do all the preaching too! :-)

Welcome aboard brother.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Today is the day I traditionally look forward to each year...

It's not Christmas, or my birthday, or even my wedding anniversary. It is not a religious holiday and it does not involve my vacation. It has nothing to do with a major sporting event and it's not about my grandchildren. But it is the day I look forward to from the time I see the first crocus in the spring.

Today should be the last day of 2007 that I'll be mowing the grass!

Although I don't celebrate the day with the same pizazz that I use to, it still is a very special day to me. I guess now "bittersweet" is the emotion I have on this special day. Even though I am thankful that the task will not have to be repeated again until late March or early April, there is still a sense of sadness that another summer has come and gone, and I am another year farther down my journey of life. That's kind of sad, but then again I think of the joy of not having to deal with the grass and I begin to count my blessings.

For many years, mowing the yard was one of the most detestable tasks I had to do - but one that had to be done. I didn't always feel that way. As a kid I WANTED to mow grass. Why is it that little kids always want to "help" mow the grass, but by the time they're teenagers you can't pay 'em to do it? But I digress.

We had one of those old "push" mowers back in those days. Those of you old timers know what I am talking about. For those who don't, the mower was made up of two wheels, a long handle with handle bars, and a cutting mechanism in a cylindrical shape made up of curved blades. As the mower was pushed, the curved blades would rotate and cut the grass into the prettiest clippings you had ever seen. There was no motor involved and it was powered by elbow grease. Since we all had sense enough to keep our hands and feet away from the blades, the most dangerous thing about those old push mowers was when you were really pushing it hard and happened to run over a good sized stick (or some such object) it would jam the blade movement and the mower would come to an an abrupt stop - causing the operator to smash hard into the handlebars. Rough on the chest or chin, depending on how tall you were!

As progress marched on, we soon had a power mower. Dad had finally "retired" from putting out a large vegetable garden and that area was eventually levelled, sown in grass and became a large edition to the back yard. Apparently there was still some debris here and there from the old fence that formerly surrounded the garden. Dad pulled the power mower over a piece of rusty barbed wire approximately three inches long, and it was thrown at high velocity into his ankle sinking nearly all the way through, stopping only by the bent end of the barb. That required a trip to Cabell Huntington Hospital's emergency room where it was unceremoniously pulled out with a pair of pliers. The wound was cleaned, stitched up and Dad was sent home on crutches.

A couple of years later, our neighbor, Mr. Smock, pulled his mower back over one of his feet and mangling his shoe, and losing several toes in the process. The memory of Dad's severe puncture wound and Mr. Smock limping at a full run toward the house yelling, "Eloise, get me to the hospital!" was enough to give me a healthy respect for the power mower. Cutting the grass was much easier, but the neighborhood casualty list was growing at an alarming rate.

As I got older, not only was I expected to mow the yard at the house, but grass cutting for some of the neighbors began to be a source of income and extra spending money. Not bad. But something happened between those days and when I returned from college and got married. When we rented our first house, I suddenly became aware that mowing the grass was something that HAD to be done. There were no brothers to help share the work and my new bride wasn't about to get involved in that job. I guess that's when I began to dislike the task.

Time marched on. Work and ministry tasks took up much of my waking hours. Kids came along and there was always more to do than I had time for. Yet the grass continued to grow and I had to find time to mow it. When we only had the small postage stamp sized yard it was really only a minor inconvenience. But as we purchased more property on either side of my house, and the vacant lot behind us needed care, it became about a 1 1/2 hour job. In the spring and early summer months it grew like gangbusters and often needed mowing twice a week.

The task was complicated by the steep banks that lined two sides of my property. So steep in fact, that mintaining balance and firm footing was almost impossible without some type of cleats. Added to that was the (how shall I say this?) poor physical condition I was in and the deplorable condition of my feet. Poor fitting shoes and lack of good foot care created lots of blisters and callouses that made each step feel like stepping on nails. Mowing grass came to be a dreaded ordeal that I just hated.

Things have changed over the years. I finally purchased a riding mower which made the job much easier. Good care from my podiatrist and proper diabetic shoes helped a lot, as did the wise decision to hire "professionals" to take care of the toughest part of the yard. They have the equipment to do it properly and without falling. I almost hate to say it, but grass mowing in the past three years has actually become something that I do not dread. In fact, this spring and summer I have actually enjoyed the exercise and being outdoors. (Just don't tell my wife about it!)

So, now the last mowing has been done for the season. The mowers are stowed safely in the shed and all is well with the world - for at least four months or so.

Life is good!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Great Convention Annual Meeting

Randy Spurgeon and I returned Saturday evening from the State Convention meeting in Martinsburg, WV - physically spent but spiritually revived. If you take out the business sessions, the 37th Annual Meeting of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists was like being in a revival meeting. There was great fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ from around the state, excellent preaching and anointed singing and congregational worship. There was, or course, the necessary business sessions that also went nicely. All around, it was a great convention.

Pastor Johnny Kelly and the people of the Westview Baptist Church were wonderful hosts. They were hospitable and helpful in every way. The total number of messengers this year was under two hundred. I think there are probably two reasons for this. The first is possibly because Martinsburg's location is in the farthest corner of West Virginia's eastern panhandle (about an hour's drive from Washington, DC). For those of us in the Western part of the state and those down in the Beckley, Bluefield, and Princeton area it was a long drive (six hours for us). But turnabout is fair play for the good folks there in the Tri County Association that have to drive so far to come to the meetings in other parts of the state. The second reason could have something to do with the "Broken Before the Throne" Prayer Conference that began there at Westview on Saturday evening and will run for eight days. Some folks who couldn't plan on staying in Martinsburg for 10 days probably opted for coming later to the Prayer Conference.

It was good to see and have lunch with Dan Jividen. Dan is pastor of the great and growing Immanuel Baptist Church in Princeton and a product of Westmoreland Baptist Church. Danny's mom and dad, Herman and Louise, are still faithful members at WBC. The brother who was there to represent the North American Mission Board also had ties to WBC. He married a Wellman girl there at our church back when Gary Jordan was Pastor.

Will Hall, who is a native of Mingo County, was also there again this year representing the SBC Executive Committee and Baptist Press. He is a great guy and always happy to come "back home". Even though the Greater Huntington Association is at "the other end of the world" from Martinsburg, we were well represented at the convention. The following folks were there as messengers from churches in the Greater Huntington Association:
  • Association Missionary Doug Virgin and wife, Judy
  • Eddie and Mary Henson, representing Highlawn Baptist Church
  • Cledith Campbell, pastor of Altizer Baptist Church
  • Rodney Hale, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ceredo
  • Randall Robertson, pastor of Locust Grove Baptist Church in Huntington
  • Calvary Baptist Church pastor John Freeman and Pam from Chapmanville
  • Darrell Clark, church planter in Wayne
  • Randy Spurgeon and I represented Westmoreland Baptist.

The Pastor's Conference which preceded the convention on Thursday was excellent. Speakers included Seth Polk (Pastor of Cross Lanes Baptist Church), Steven Rummage (Preaching Pastor at Hickory Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC and a former professor at Southeastern Seminary), Kenneth Stidham (Pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist in Teays Valley), and Dan Biser (who pastors two churches in the Allegheny Association and the organizer of the "Broken Before The Throne" prayer conference).

Speakers at the convention itself were State Executive Director Terry Harper, myself, author and teacher T.W. Hunt, Dan Howard (Pastor of Oldfields Baptist Church), and Frank Page (President of the Southern Baptist Convention). Each message was straight from the Word of God and well received by those in attendance. It was almost like being in a Revival service.

The music was outstanding. Westview's instrumentalists played beautifully and their Music Minister Albert Epps led in congregational worship. Marvin Matthews provided anointed special music. Albert and Marvin are both African Americans, and it was probably the first time in our convention history that two black men led the music sessions. Let me tell you - those guys could sing. As Chuck Kelley would say, "To coin an ancient Hebrew expression - WOW!")

There were also several special seasons of prayer interspersed througought the Pastor's Conference and the convention proper. In short, it was an unusually spiritual convention meeting!

Officers elected for the coming year are as follows:

  • President Tim Kearney (a layman from Good Shepherd church)
  • 1st Vice President Seth Polk
  • 2nd Vice President Todd Hill of Parkersburg
  • Recording Secretary - Helen Mellquist (who replaced long time secretary Fred Morgan)

As usual, there were a number of interesting exhibits, and the LifeWay Christian Bookstore was there with great materials available at discounted prices.

One of the other special moments of the convention came at the close of the Friday evening session. We honored retiring State Music and Family Minister Director, Tom Young, with a plaque, monetary gift, and a reception in his honor. Tom will be retiring January 1 after 28 1/2 years of faithful service to our state convention. Tom will be devoting full time to caring for his wife, Veda, who is coming to the end of a courageous five year battle with cancer. Veda couldn't be at the convention, but we sent her a large bouquet of pink carnations (her favorite flower) to honor her for her faithful service along with Tom in ministering to the churches of West Virginia for nearly three decades.

It was a great convention and I thank God I had opportunity to attend. It was nice, also, to welcome someone else into the President's position. In talking with former state convention President, Johnny Kelly, I found myself in full agreement with what he had to say about his two year term. "I wouldn't trade a minute of it", he said with a smile. "But I sure wouldn't want to do it again!"

Amen, brother/ Well said...