Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Change In Plans


Well we made it safely to New Orleans about 1:00 CST on Monday. Pictured at left is our home away from home, the new Henry Hall at Providence Guest House on the beautiful campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We had a safe trip overnight and the weather was, and is perfect here. Linda and I had a great afternoon and evening with Jay, Michelle, Quint and Canon and a good night's rest. However, we were saddened to hear the news of the passing of our friend, Rick Rakes.


Rick and I graduated together from Huntington East High School in 1968, but only became close friends over the past 6 1/2 years. Rick was chairman of the pastor search committee that recommended me to the congregation of Westmoreland Baptist Church. He served as a Deacon, Sunday School Teacher, and Church Treasurer during his years at Westmoreland. We have grown close as brothers over these past six years. Although I am saddened at Rick's home going, I am rejoicing that he is no longer suffering, and that for the first time in over 20 years the four Rakes siblings are together with no sickness. What a glad reunion that must have been at 10:02 last night when Rick joined Darrell, Connie, and Trudy in the presence of the Lord!


It will be my honor to officiate at his funeral service this week end.


Linda and I will be leaving for home on Wednesday (a couple of days earlier than planned). We are thankful for the time we have had to spend with our young'uns here in the Big Easy. The kids are a joy to be around.


The visits are too few and too far between.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Don't Let Christmas Die


We bought an artificial tree several years ago. It's a good one - very realistic looking. Every year, just after Thanksgiving I pack it up out of the basement, help set it up, and then turn over the decorating to the "Vice President in Charge of All Things Decorative at Christmas" (VPICATDC). She is much better at it than I and she is even the one who has the extra duty at work of doing the Christmas decorations at Ashland Community and Technical College. She even does the major Christmas decorations at the home of the college President! My job is to do the menial labor and to enjoy the beauty of the tree during the Christmas season. The youngest grandson looks at the tree in marvel and the kids are fascinated with the beautifully wrapped gifts under it's artificial boughs. Then, usually on New Year's Day, we undecorate the masterpiece (I am allowed to help). The tree is disassembled into three large sections, folded up and goes back in it's huge box. I drag that box and the several related plastic tubs back to their place of exile in the back room of the basement, across from the furnace.


It was not that way when I was growing up on Gallaher Street, in the Walnut Hills section of the east end of Huntington, WV. Hardly anyone had an artificial tree. In the early 60's my grandfather had one of those weird aluminum trees. It came with a spotlight and revolving colored lenses that cast red, blue, green, and yellow hues upon it's metallic branches. Most of our neighbors, however, had the real thing in their homes. We would go down to "Gallaherville", and peruse the trees which filled the lot of the Dairy Cheer which would be closed for the winter. Trees of various heights and different varieties stood, nailed to wooden crosses as their bases. My favorites were the Scotch Pines or the Blue Spruces. Dad would thoroughly examine each tree, turning it so Mom could see it from every angle, and point out any holes or unsymmetrical characteristics. Having found the perfect tree, Dad would then haggle over the prices with the owner of the lot, much like Ralphie's Dad in the classic movie, "A Christmas Story". When negotiations would come to a standstill, Dad would threaten to go down to the big lot on 20th Street, and eventually the owner would capitulate to his threat and lower his price. We then would tie the tree to the top of the car and drive back up Gallaher Street for the major project that involved putting up the tree.


That ritual was multiplied in households up and down our street and all over our town. The trees stood proudly in our homes, decorated with lights, bulbs, ornaments of all types, icicles and a glowing star on top. There was nothing more beautiful to me than the Christmas tree in all of it's glowing and glittering grandeur. That all changed sometime on Christmas afternoon or evening. With the gifts all gone from under it's boughs, the tree seemed somehow empty. The tinsel did not seem to glitter as much, and even the lights did not appear as bright. After a day or so, we began to remove the decorations and pack them away in their boxes for next year. The tree had aged while in our living room. Now the branches were brittle. Even though we had dutifully kept fresh water in the stand, the needles began to fall from the tree and it was time to go. Once most of the decorations were removed, Dad would unceremoniously drag the dried out tree to the curb for the city to pick up.


As one drove through the streets of the city, dead used up Christmas trees lined the way. Many of them still held residue of the holiday. A little tinsel or a strand of ribbon could be seen here or there, but they all lay in silent testimony to the fact that Christmas was over!


Aren't we often like those discarded trees? Especially those of us who identify ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ?


At Christmas time we take up arms in the culture war. We righteously proclaim the "true meaning of Christmas". We coin familiar slogans such as "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" and "Wise Men Still Seek Him" as our mantras. We buy gifts for those we love. We begin to think of others who are less fortunate. Often we give of our financial resources to all types of charitable causes. We remember our military personnel and their families. We may even volunteer to work in a mission house, cooking meals, or even ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. We send greeting cards and messages of love to family and friends. Some visit hospitals and bring presents to sick children. We find ourselves being kind to strangers, opening doors for folks, and helping someone pick up their dropped packages in the mall. Some of us even become much more confident at this season to witness to others about our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Church buildings are packed with happy worshippers, and we often light candles in emotional services signifying the light of salvation that came into a sin darkened world 20 centuries ago.


Christmas is indeed a special time, but sadly, for many people, Christmas is over at midnight on December 25th. So many of the acts of kindness cease. The goodwill comes to a screeching halt. The Gospel message is packed away for another year. Many forget about the "reason for the season" and go back to the culture of self, and to the focus on getting ahead, or just getting by. Attendance at worship services go back to the "faithful few". Witnessing becomes a chore, and our Christian testimonies resemble so many discarded Christmas trees, with only a hint of the glow of the Christian life to be found in the dry, broken branches.


Let us resolve not to let Christmas die when we go to bed on December 25th. Our world needs the light of the "Good Tidings of Great Joy" - today, more than ever.
Have a Merry Christmas, tomorrow, and for the next 365 days as well!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Just for Fun!


Long ago (maybe 28 years or so) I decided to purchase a set of World Book Encyclopedias for my young family. When the books arrived they were promptly unpacked and prominently displayed in the big bookshelf in our living room. Linda and I were both pleased to see Jay, who was about seven years old at the time, regularly leafing through the pages of the various volumes.


On one particular occasion, Jay came to the bathroom door and threw it open - encyclopedia volume open in his hands. I was (how can I say this?) otherwise occupied at the time, and asked him what was so important that I should be disturbed in this "quiet time".

Peering into the open book, Jay asked me, "Dad, what is M-Y-T-H-I-C-A-L?"


Now, I was proud that the boy was broadening his horizons by reading the encyclopedia, and I told him so.

"That's mythical. When something is mythical that means it's a myth - kind of like a legend", I said with all my fatherly wisdom.

"Then that means it's not true - right?", he queried.

"That's right", I said proudly. "It's just sort of a tale."

"Aha!", He yelled so loudly and unexpectedly, that I nearly jumped off the porcelain convenience. "Listen to this!" he cried out - reading from the encyclopedia - "Santa Claus, a mythical character who..."

He had me. The jig was up. He now had the truth about Santa. The innocence was gone and there was nothing I could do to get the toothpaste back into the tube. I reached over to where the boy stood and grabbed him, drawing him right to my face. "Listen to me!" I whispered hoarsely. "If you spoil this for your little brother - I'll pinch your head off!" Not wishing to be decapitated in such a way, he quickly promised to make no such revelation to little Benji, and immediately exited the room.

I have always been a big fan of Santa. Now before anyone gets offended and wants to lecture me about the true meaning of Christmas, just give me a break here. I love Santa stories - always have. I guess I got that from my Dad who is also a big fan of the fat man in the red suit. In fact, years ago he even owned a Santa suit which he wore on special occasions at Christmas time to bring delight to many little ones. I just love to see little children's eyes light up in the presence of the Jolly Old Elf! In our family, the kids learned from day one what Christmas is really all about, but when they were small, I treasured their love for the old "mythical character".

So in the spirit of all that, let me share with you an email sent to me last week from Felina Wells. I have no idea who may have written this article, but they sure did a lot of research. Having traveled halfway around the earth myself, nearly 10 times, this little article gives me an even greater respect for the monumental task Old Santa faces every December 24th. Consider the following article:


1. Santa's Workload There are two billion children in the world, but since Santa doesn't appear to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist children, that reduces his workload to 15% of the total, or 300 million. At an average rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 85.7 million homes. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different times zones and the rotation of the Earth, assuming he travels East to West. This works out to 767.9 visits per second. So for each household with good children, Santa has about 1/1,000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the presents, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, into the sleigh and move on to the next house."


2. The Time/Distance Factor Assuming that these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the Earth, we're talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles.


3. Calculation of Estimated Speed This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, or 3,000 times the speed of sound.


4. Santa's Payload Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-size Lego set (about two pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as "heavy." On land, normal reindeer could pull no more than 300 pounds, and even granting that flying reindeer could pull 10 times the normal amount, Santa's going to need 214,200 reindeer to pull his sleigh. This increases the payload to 353,430 tons, or four times the weight of the "Queen Elizabeth."


Conclusion: A craft of 353,000 tons, traveling at 650 miles per second, creates enormous air resistance. This will heat up Mr. Claus and his sleigh like a spacecraft reentering Earth's atmosphere.


Translation: If there is a Santa, he's toast.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Big Thrill for Asher and Will


Pictured here are grandsons Will and Asher with Arizona Diamondbacks star pitcher Brandon Webb. Brandon is an Ashland native who still makes his off season home here in Ashland. He is two or three years younger than Benji but they played high school ball together on Ben's senior year and later that summer in French Harmon's Ashland Athletics. The A's went to the Connie Mack regional tournament that year in Memphis, TN representing the state of Kentucky.


Brandon played in our Ashland American Little League, and his first season (as an 8 year old) he played on my Adkins Insurance Agency team - coached by Rob Francis and David May and helped the team win the Minor League Championship in 1986. He was a member of the Ashland American State Little League Championship team as an 11 year old in 1988. He attended UK and played baseball there, and after he developed the most wicked sinker ball in the major leagues, his career took off. He won the Cy Young Award as the National League's best pitcher in 2006 and finished second for the same award in 2007 & 2008. This past season he led all National League pitchers in wins and he is always among the league leaders in strike outs.


Will and Asher were thrilled to meet Brandon in person. Will plays for the Diamondbacks in the Boyd County National Little League and wears Brandon's #17 on his uniform. Brandon is one of his sports heroes and he is a great Christian role model for kids who look up to him. I think Will was kind of proud that his dad knows Brandon. Benji said Asher was very excited about getting to meet Brandon, but when he got there he got a case of "lockjaw". Anybody who knows Asher, knows that he's a real talker. Apparently he got a little shy in the presence of the big league pitcher.


Everyone here in the Ashland community is proud of Brandon, both for his great success and for the fine role model he is to the kids.

Another Clean Report


This is Dr. Kirti Jain. I love this guy. The Lord has spared my life for four years after my being diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer, and He has chosen to use Dr. Jain in His plan.


Two weeks ago I had my periodic PET and CT scans at Dr. Jain's Ashland-Bellefonte Cancer Center. Friday, December 19th, was my followup appointment with the Doctor to get my test results. Upon hearing that I would have to wait two weeks to hear the results, several of my friends asked, "Doesn't it drive you crazy to have to wait that long to find out if any thing is wrong?" Well, four years ago it would have, but along this journey, God has certainly given me more patience than I have ever experienced before. He has given me a peace in understanding that everything is in His hands, and my responsibility is simply to strap in and take the ride.


It's been quite a ride at that!


Early on, many friends suggested that I consider pursuing treatment at the Mayo Clinic, The James Cancer Center in Columbus, or M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The Lord impressed upon my heart to ask for Dr. Jain. There are a number of excellent oncologists in the Tri State Area, but for some reason I felt drawn to Dr. Jain. Twenty years ago, I sat at the bedside of one of my church members as Dr. Jain broke the news to her and her family that the various treatments had failed to impact the malignancy. There was nothing else he could do. The compassion I sensed in this Indian physician made a tremendous impression on this pastor. I was impressed at the amount of time he spent with this patient and her family, and the empathy them.


Over the years of my ministry in Ashland, I had crossed paths with Dr. Jain a few times. Even though I didn't know him personally, I was impressed with his professionalism, and his medical credentials (he had been trained at New York's highly esteemed Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center). I was most impressed by his compassion for his patients. So, when they broke the news to me that the tumor in my colon had spread to my liver and numerous lymph nodes, I simply said, "Can I see Dr. Jain?"


Shortly after returning home from my colon surgery in December, 2004, a neighbor came by the house for a visit. The outlook was grim. "Stage four, incurable - hopefully manageable through treatments", I had been told. Chemotherapy treatments awaited, and the sobering odds for survival time held an average of 18-22 months. My neighbor (who was an unbeliever) was very upset.


"Why would God let this happen to you, when you spend your life working for Him?" he asked bitterly.


"Why not me?", I replied. "We're all terminal. None of us know the date, time, or circumstances, but our mortality is a fact. Since we don't know what tomorrow holds, it is comforting to know who holds tomorrow."


At that point, God gave me the words to say that set the tone for the future.


"I figure one of three outcomes is sure to happen", I told him. "Perhaps God will totally heal me of this disease. If he chooses to do so, I will give Him all the credit and praise." "If not", I continued, "He may chose to allow the doctors and health care professionals to use their skills to prolong my life for a while. In that case I will thank them for their help and give God the glory for the outcome. Failing that, God will take me home to be with Him, and I will be able to praise Him, face to face, for eternity, for He is certainly worthy!"
"I never thought of it that way" my neighbor said.


The news I received today was excellent. Blood work was good, and the scans were clear again. I am still in remission. Dr. Jain told me that only 30% of the patients in my circumstances survive for four years. He smiled and agreed with me when I verbally thanked God for His provision. I also firmly shook the doctor's hand and thanked him for the compassionate and professional way that he had treated me for the past four years.


God has used Dr. Jain and his staff at the Cancer Center to treat me wisely. Here is a photo of four of the nurses who were involved in my treatments and the two six month courses of chemotherapy. Crystal, Robyn, Christie, and Vada are the best! They became almost like family to me during that period of chemo treatments. Crystal has some health problems of her own and no longer works there regularly. Robyn has moved on to a large hospital in Atlanta, and Christie is the Supervising Oncology nurse at Bellefonte Hospital now. I still see Vada every month when I go in for my blood work and to have my medi-port flushed. I can never thank them enough for the kind professional way they went about doing what has to be a truly difficult job.


The whole staff at ABCC has been wonderful to me and Linda. I thank God that He has used them in His plan for my life. Of course, I have no way of knowing what the future holds, but I am glad I know the one who holds my future.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Three Important Things


Have you ever noticed that there are no player's names on the back of the football uniforms at Notre Dame? Ever wonder why? That is because when Lou Holtz arrived at South Bend, Indiana to coach the Fighting Irish, he perceived that the squad who had gone 5-6 the previous year was more of a collection of personalities than a team. Always a strict disciplinarian, Holtz ordered the names removed from the jerseys to enforce the team concept that he wanted to stress. The move was typical of Holtz' coaching style, and it must have been effective. His record during his years at Notre Dame was 100-30-2! To this day, with the exception of one game (the 1988 Cotton Bowl), players names have not appeared on the Notre Dame football jerseys since his arrival there.


Lou Holtz is quite a guy. My grandson simply knows him as "Dr. Lou" the college football analyst on ESPN, but folks from my generation know him as one of the great collegiate football coaches of all time. A native of Follansbee, WV, Holtz grew up in East Liverpool, OH where he played high school football. His college ball was played in the Mid American Conference at Kent State, where he graduated in 1959. Holtz was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame - not because of his prowess as a player - but due to his tremendous success as a coach.


Having served as head coach of six college teams (William and Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas, Minnesota, Notre Dame, and South Carolina) Coach Holtz' lifetime record stands at 249 wins, 132 losses, and 7 tie games. He holds the distinction of being the only NCAA coach who has taken six different programs to appearances in Bowl Games. He is also the only NCAA coach to lead four different programs to final Top 20 ratings. He owns several conference championship rings and one National Championship title, when his Fighting Irish defeated West Virginia's Mountianeers in the 1988 Cotton Bowl.


For all his success on the gridiron and as a game analyst, Lou Holtz stands out in my mind for a very different reason. Holtz is also a great motivational speaker. For 24 years I was an agent representing Nationwide Insurance Companies. The late Jim Ciccarrelli, was our Regional Sales Manager for several years in the early 80's. Jim was a football fan in general and a great admirer of Lou Holtz. He knew that a positive mental attitude was a necessary component in the lives of successful salespeople. There were several occasions in Regional Sales Meetings when Jim would show his sales force some type of motivational film. One such film was a speech given by Lou Holtz to some sort of sales convention. The name of the particular group to which he was speaking escapes me, but the message has been ingrained in my memory for over 25 years.


"Dr. Lou" said that no matter who you are, and what position you hold, there are three things that, if practiced regularly, will make you successful in your field of endeavor. Well naturally my ears perked up. Several thoughts raced through my mind. A simple formula? Only three things? What could these great truths be? It turns out that the three things were very simple truths. What were they?


1. Always do what's right.

2. Always do your best.

3. Always treat others the way you would like to be treated.


Wow! How simple - yet profound. Truths so valuable that I have attempted to teach my sons, and that I now hope to ingrain in my grandsons before I pass from the scene.


As a follower of Jesus Christ, I immediately realized that these three truths were consistent with the truth of His teachings. While each concept is found in the Word of God, they can only be fully put into practice through a personal relationship with Jesus.


No matter how hard one may try, in our flesh it is nearly impossible to always do what's right. Check out the Apostle Paul's frustration in Romans 7. "When I would do good, evil is always present" he cries. Yet in the next chapter He explains how victory over this sinful flesh is available through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Later, in his letter to the Philippian Christians, he victoriously states, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!"


The question arises today, "How do we know what's right?" There are choices to make every day. In our culture, the line of demarcation between right and wrong is often blurred. Pagan philosophies and situation ethics send out mixed messages. Yet a verse in the 119 division of the ancient Book of Psalms reminds us "How a young man can cleanse his ways... by taking heed to the Word of God". The Bible is the road map to right thinking and right living. It is, indeed, "a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path." Furthermore the passage tells us that if we "hide His Word in our hearts", we will not sin against God!


"Always do your best" is also a powerful command. Former President Jimmy Carter wrote in his autobiography of an encounter he had as a young Naval officer with Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. Carter had just graduated from the Naval Academy and was applying for duty as an officer in Zumwalt's Nuclear Submarine Command. During the interview process, Carter says he encountered all of the questions that he had anticipated, except for the final query. The old Admiral had gone over Carter's academic records and his service records and then he looked Carter in the eye and asked, "Have you always done your best?" Carter hesitated for a moment and then sheepishly replied, "No sir, I don't suppose I have ALWAYS done my best". Zumwalt's withering response was, "Why not?"


How do you answer a question like that? What will we, as Christians, say, when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, should the Master ask us a similar question? Doesn't His Word tell us , "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality." (Colossians 3: 23-25). For the Christ Follower, doing the right thing is not an option. We represent Him in this world. Our actions should always glorify God. Paul reminds us of the importance of our actions to our Christian testimony, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God". (1 Corinthians 10: 31)


Then, finally, think of the third imperative. "Always treat others the way you would like to be treated". Ever heard that one before? As a child, I remember Mom once asking me, "What does the Golden Rule say?" "Do unto others as they do unto you" was my errant reply. She corrected me immediately. Some folks today have that same erroneous philosophy I had exhibited. Others will tell you, "Do unto others BEFORE they do unto you". But here is what Jesus said, "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". That goes in any situation of life. In business, at play, in the family, on the highway, and in the church. Treat others with the respect you would like to be afforded in the same situation.


Coach Holtz' "Three Important Things" are truly helpful for success in life in general. For Christians, they are MANDATORY!

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Sixth Anniversary at Westmoreland Baptist Church

Last night the adult choir of Westmoreland Baptist Church performed the Christmas Cantata, "Comfort and Joy" in our evening service. It was the first major project taken on by our interim Music Director, Carla Bell, and our choir responded wonderfully. Carla stepped into a big empty spot this spring after the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists State Office hired our former Music Minister, Randy Spurgeon, as the Convention's Director of Music and Family Ministry. She has done a yeoman's (yeowoman's?) job of leading our music program while she holds down a full time position at Huntington Federal Savings and Loan. Her circumstances were made even more difficult by the long illness of her father and his passing in October. The service was not just some "dry cantata", but was actually a warm worship experience. It was a most pleasant end to an important day to me.

You see, Sunday, December 14th, marked my 6th anniversary as pastor of Westmoreland Baptist Church. To say it has been quite a ride would be an understatement. I want to thank God for His Providence in bringing me to this place of service and for the wonderful people I have had opportunity to serve with and to serve. I also thank Him for His Grace that has helped to make them six of the most precious years of my 38 years in ministry.

According to my records, in the past six years I have preached 708 messages; married 12 couples; baptized 70 people; taken part in 9 mission trips (six overseas trips and three in North America); made countless visits to hospitals and nursing homes; and conducted 64 funeral and memorial services. As pastor, I have visited in numerous homes; canvassed the neighborhood; organized two Upward Sports Ministry leagues; held three evangelistic block parties; sat in on dozens of committee meetings; attended numerous youth rallies and associational events, went to six Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meetings; served two years as state convention president; and began a five year term on the Board of Trustees of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Furthermore I have been blessed to shepherd a flock that is easy to love. Easy for me to love, because they are beloved of the Father.

During these six years, I have also managed to work in six surgical procedures (three on my feet and three related to my battle with cancer); two six month courses of chemotherapy and all of the CT Scans, PET Scans, blood work, and all the other medical stuff that goes along with the above. Perhaps now you see why I thank Him for His Grace!

Have there been some ministry challenges during the past six years? Of course! That goes with the territory. But God has been faithful to me and to His people in this congregation. Personally I would love to have seen more baptisms, but He has added souls into His Kingdom as He sees fit, and I am simply thankful to be where He has placed me at this time. We want to be busy in the work of the Father, but we do not want it to just be so much busy work and activity. We seek to magnify Him in worship, help build Christ Followers along the way, as we minister to people in Jesus' name.

Last night's service was a really special ending to a special day for me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Lesson Learned At Christmas


It was Christmas, 1959. Like every previous year, it seemed to this nine year old that the big day would never arrive. Nevertheless, the calendar finally said "December 24", and as soon as Dad arrived home from work, we were ready to head for my grandparents house for our family's regular Christmas rituals. The '55 Buick Special was fully loaded, so after a quick snack, our little family of four hit the road to traverse the 69 crooked miles of State Route 10 to Logan County, West Virginia and granny's house.


The little green two bedroom house on Kimball Street at 5&6 Holden was a warm, welcoming place. The Christmas tree held a place of prominence in the front window of the small living room. It was strung with several strands of red, green, blue, and white lights - the kind of lights where the whole strand would go dark when one of the bulbs burned out. When that happened, Papaw would dutifully retrieve a new bulb from the cabinet and, one by one, he'd check each bulb until he found the culprit, and the lights again began to glow. Christmas cards from Mamaw and Papaw's many friends were taped to all the door facings and covered the inside of the front door as well as the door to the front bedroom. The dining room was decorated for the holiday, and the best Nativity Scene I had ever seen graced the end table beside Papaw's easy chair.


As always, Granny had a full hot meal on the stove when we arrived. Soon Uncle Bob and Aunt Irene would arrive with our Stidham cousins and the family would begin the annual celebration of our favorite holiday. After the meal we would pack the small living room to talk about the reason for the season, and then to open the brightly covered packages piled under the tree.


Our family's tradition was to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, and then on Christmas morning (if we kids had been more nice than naughty) we would wake to find that special gift that Santa had left under the tree sometime during the night. Somehow, Santa always knew that we would not be at our home on Christmas Eve, and he apparently added us to his Logan County route - which Bruce and I deeply appreciated.


That was the year that I had wished for a model train set. I had never received a gift of that magnitude before, but I was sure that Santa would come through. After all, I had written him a letter requesting such. Furthermore, I had also personally told Santa of my wish when Dad had taken us to see him at the annual display in front of Mootz Sunbeam Bakery in Huntington. How could it miss? Santa had always come through before.


We snuggled into our bed that night with great anticipation. There were no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, but I did listen intently for the sound of reindeer hooves on Mamaw's roof, until finally, sleep came. First light came through the bedroom window and I bounded from the bed and ran full speed to the living room to find what Santa had left. To my great dismay there was no train! The stuff my little brother had requested was there, but in my spot there was a "detective set" consisting of a badge, handcuffs, shoulder holster and a snub nosed .38.


That was it. No train. Just the police gear. I couldn't believe it.


Mom and Dad must have heard us stirring so they came sleepily into the room. "What did you get?" Dad asked. My disappointment must have been obvious. "No train" I said sullenly. He explained that the police stuff was great, and I agreed, but I had asked Santa for a train. "Well, it looks as though Santa wanted you to have a detective set instead" he advised. "We don't always get what we ask for."


True, the police stuff was really great, but Santa knew how much I had wanted that train - how much I "needed" that train. Now we were not spoiled children. Christmas gifts in those days were meager compared to the gifts that kids receive today. But I had my heart set on that train, and now I was disappointed, to say the least. I made my way to the kitchen where Mamaw was putting the turkey into the oven. "I didn't get the train" I told her sadly. There were no tears, but I know she saw the disappointment on my face and heard it in my voice.


She sat me down in one of the chairs at the kitchen table and drew another chair up close and sat down. "Now listen to me" she said very seriously. "It's time for you to be a big boy and understand that we don't always get what we want, and when we want it. Didn't Santa bring you a nice gift?"


"Sure", I replied reluctantly.


"Then be thankful for what you have!" she said with that smile of hers. "Sometimes the bigger blessings come later on."


I was thankful for the police stuff. It really wasn't a bad gift at all. In fact I had a great time the rest of the day, arresting my brother and cousins, and feeling quite a bit like Elliott Ness and the Untouchables, with my shoulder holster and snub nosed .38. The day passed quickly. The family gathered together for a great meal and the enjoyment of all just being together. My Papaw was his happiest when the family was together. (Today I completely understand how he must have felt). The day finally drifted into late afternoon. It was time to head for home. After all, Dad had to be at work early the next morning and the trip in winter took nearly two hours.


Bruce and I played in the back seat of the car for a while, until the early morning wake up began to take it's toll and we drifted off to sleep. Soon Dad's voice cut through our sleep, "Wake up boys, we're back on Gallaher Street." We stirred and stretched and I knew I would have to help carry in some of the Christmas loot that filled the trunk of the car. As I climbed the front steps behind Dad, arms full, I had to wait as he unlocked the front door.


"What's this?" Dad asked.


Curiously, I walked into the living room behind him, muttering, "What's what?" Then I saw it. Under the tree, on a large oval track, was a genuine Lionel Electric Model Train with a C&O locomotive! I didn't know how he did it, but somehow Santa had come through after all. I did notice that Dad was smiling broadly and he seemed to be as just as happy as I - if not happier. Needless to say, there was lots of joy in that little house on that Christmas night. Over the months and years I spent hours playing with my favorite gift ever. In fact, as far as I know, that train set is still in Mom and Dad's attic, packed away in the big box marked, "Lionel".


I learned a lesson that Christmas. The lesson was not "you always get what you ask for". Nor was it that God is some kind of cosmic Santa Claus. But, what I remember (nearly 50 years after the fact) was my Mamaw telling me, "Be thankful for what you have. Sometimes the biggest blessings come later."


As I have grown older, I have learned some other lessons from that experience. You see, I now know that the whole episode had nothing to do with a fat man in a red suit and a long white beard. It was, however, about a father who loved me and sacrificed much to give me a special gift at Christmas. Hasn't God done the same for us on a more magnificent scale? He sacrificed His one and only son in giving us a gift that only He could give.


Furthermore, Dad knew all along what he had planned for me. He saw the big picture when I only saw the immediate situation. How sad he must have been at my selfishness and ingratitude for the "smaller gift" he had given. In a grander sense, our Heavenly Father knows what He has planned for us. How often do we take His gifts for granted? How often do we spiritually sulk and pout when we don't immediately see the "big" things for which we had hoped and even asked? How sad He must be at our selfishness and ingratitude, when "every good and perfect gift comes down" from Him.


Finally, I remember the happiness on Dad's face when he saw the joy in mine. We spent hours together in the living room floor, playing with that train. I didn't consciously think much about it then, but looking back now, I realize how special that "together time" was with my Dad. Our Heavenly Father desires such time with us. That's the beauty of Christianity. Do we have forgiveness and pardon? Yes! Do we have "peace that passes earthly understanding"? Sure do! Do we have "joy unspeakable and full of glory"? Absolutely! But the most important thing that Christianity brings to us is a relationship with the Father.


God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ is the ultimate gift. He has saved us from the Penalty of Sin (past tense). He is presently saving us from the Power of Sin through the gift of the Holy Spirit. One day He will save us from the very Presence of Sin, when He takes us home to be with Him.


As Mamaw said, "Sometimes the bigger blessings come later."


Monday, December 8, 2008

A Great Time Of Fellowship

On Sunday evening the congregation of Westmoreland Baptist Church enjoyed our annual Christmas Dinner. The weather was pretty rough here on Saturday and the fact that some of the side streets and suburban roadways were still a little icy probably kept sine folks from being able to attend. However, more than 175 of our folks made it out for this time of good food and fellowship.


The "Mixed Blessings" class, taught by Terry Perdue (pictured here) were the sponsors and hosts for this year's Christmas Dinner. And what a great job they did! The class members braved the snowy weather on Saturday morning to set up the gym and decorate for the dinner. Not only did they have the inclement weather to fight, there were also furnace issues which presented a challenge during the morning hours. This group was not going to let circumstances steal their joy, so they persevered, and the result was a beautifully decorated gym.




We are blessed with a number of wonderful Sunday morning Bible Study groups, with excellent teachers, and "Mixed Blessings" is only one of them. Terry's class is a great group of workers and a tightly knit spiritual family. I thank God that I see that same type of oneness in a number of the other adult classes. Al Dienes' "Kings Children" class members are always faithful, and they have many outings and projects that unite them in Christian service and in love. The "Pairs and Spares" class is a relatively new Sunday morning group, but they have already made a tremendous impact by initiating and administering the "Garments of Grace" clothing collection and distribution. The young adult members of that class are also found actively involved in other ministries of our church, including AWANA, Student Ministry, Children's Choir, and Upward Sports.

I jokingly call the "Thirty Something" class, just the "Something" class, since some of the members are no longer in their 30's. But this group is solid. It has long been a class with a close camaraderie and one which has produced many leaders for our church. Steve and Cathy Howerton and Scott Bell share teaching duties among the "Somethings".

The "Timothy Class" is made up of a group of Senior men who are and have been stalwarts in this church. They are faithful men who have served as a great example to our younger men in their serving and giving to the work of the Lord. One interesting fact about the "Timothy" class is that there is no particular teacher. The members of the class take turns in teaching the lessons on a rotating basis. Elsie Singleton teaches the "Friendship" class, another faithful group of ladies who can always be counted on. Rachel Lackey's "J.O.Y." class, while small in number, has a tight fellowship of ladies who are always in their spot, and involved in other ministries of the church. June Ashworth's combined "Dorcas/Naomi" class is a group of older ladies who faithfully gather for Bible study every Sunday morning. Leona Calhoun is senior among that group. Mrs. Calhoun will be 100 years old in 2009, yet is in Bible Study and morning worship nearly every Sunday!

I could go on and on about our youth classes, where Josh Spurgeon, Mindi Bell and Rick Dean lead those great young people in Bible Study and fellowship. And it would take another column to note and to thank our faithful Children's and pre-school teachers for the great job each of them do to lay a spiritual foundation in the lives of those children.

I thank God that He has called me to serve this wonderful congregation. Things are changing here at Westmoreland Baptist. One generation passes on and a new generation steps up to take it's place. Methods may change, but the never changing message endures. I am praying that as the new year quickly approaches, we will all be focused on keeping the main thing the main thing. Magnifying God, Making Disciples, and Ministering to People. That's what it's about.


Last night's Christmas Dinner was another special time when people from all of the church family can come together to enjoy the blessing of God, and the blessing of being part of The Body of Christ. The "Mixed Blessings" class did a lot of the hard work. Terry Perdue read a portion of the First Chapter of John's Gospel, reminding us that Matthew and Luke give the details of the birth of Christ, but John simply tells us of the reason for His coming! Carla Bell and members of the adult choir led us in singing several beautiful Christmas Carols, and the people of the church made the dinner possible by bringing the food. We had a great time together.
The members of Westmoreland Baptist join me in wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Jay and O.J.


Our son, Jay, who is Lead Pastor at the New Orleans area's First Baptist Church of Westwego, had a brief reunion last night with one of his former Middle School Bible students. Back in 2001, Jay was the bi-vocational mission pastor at Rose Hill Baptist Church's Fellowship Mission in South Shore, KY. He also served as Bible Teacher at Rose Hill Christian School in Ashland, KY during that period of time. That was the year the Rose Hill Royals were thrust into the national limelight, and in the middle of controversy in Kentucky - a state where basketball is king!


Rose Hill Christian School is a small K-12 school which is a ministry of Rose Hill Baptist Church. The Royals had fielded a varsity basketball team for several years, but had always been the whipping boy of the 64th district of Region 16 in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. Never competitive against regional powerhouses like Ashland, Boyd County, or Russell, Rose Hill's schedule was mostly made up of smaller public schools or other nearby private Christian schools. Things all began to change that year, and the impetus for that change was a 7th grader by the name of Ovintin J'Anthony Mayo - O.J. for short.


One of the school's parents had a son who was involved in AAU basketball, and the booster/parent, encouraged some of his son's teammates to consider attending school with his son at Rose Hill. The school had a good academic reputation, and the small class size and strict discipline policies, appealed to some of the AAU parents. The recent hiring of Jeff Hall as varsity basketball coach at Rose Hill, was like the icing on the cake. Hall had been a local legend in his years as a star at Fairview High School and had gained a National Championship ring, playing for Denny Crum's NCAA champion Louisville Cardinals. Hall had come back home to the Ashland area to revive the historic Ashland Tomcat basketball program that had fallen on hard times. And revive it he did - in just a couple of years - leading them to a Regional Championship and the semi finals of the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena. Hall left Ashland to coach in the Louisville area (where his wife was from) but after a couple of years of disillusionment there he had dropped out of coaching.


With the arrival of the transfer students from across the river, and the controversial hiring of Coach Hall - the scene was ripe for a storm - a perfect storm. One of the transfer students was O.J. Mayo. O.J. had played at Rose Hill's middle school team as a 6th grader, and people began to sit up and take notice. This kid could play! By his 7th grade year, he was starting for the Rose Hill High School varsity and the Royals were not only beating the small schools on the schedule, they were thumping the Regional powers! The School Administrator had asked Jay if he would serve as the basketball team's chaplain, and that is how he came to have a little deeper relationship with O.J. than just one of the teacher/student variety. Jay drove one of the vans to all the away games and he got to know the kids pretty well. After the games, he would deliver the players to their homes in Huntington, WV and (in O.J.'s case) Burlington, OH.


Rose Hill began to be noticed in the national news media. Suddenly they were scheduling and beating, some of the best teams in Kentucky. O.J. earned honorable mention on the KHSAA All State Basketball Team as a seventh grader! By his 8th grade year he was first team All State - a feat unheard of since he was still a student in Middle School. The Royals won the 16th Regional Tournament that next year, and O.J. led the team to the Sweet Sixteen in Rupp Arena.


Any basketball fan in America should remember what happened next. O.J. and his fellow future NBA draft pick, Billy Walker, withdrew from Rose Hill and enrolled in North College Hill High School in Cincinnati, OH. As soon as O.J. left, there were mass defections. Several of the players transferred back to Huntington High School (which was building a West Virginia powerhouse of its own), Jeff Hall left the head coaching position under questionable circumstances, and the Royals meteoric rise turned into a meltdown.


Mayo and Walker helped elevate North College Hill to not only the team to beat in Ohio, but also to a national ranking. Walker was eventually ruled ineligible for what would have been his senior season at NCHHS, and Mayo transferred back to Huntington High School for his senior year. He joined a team that had already won three state championships, and along with University of Kentucky recruit, Patrick Patterson, O.J. led the Highlanders to another state title. The crowds that sought to see him play caused several of Huntington High School's home games to be transferred to Marshall University's 10,000 seat Cam Henderson Center. It was pretty heady stuff for the kid from Burlington, OH, but he handled it all (from 7th grade to his senior year) with a coolness and maturity that surpassed his age.


O.J. signed with the University of Southern California and started every game for the Trojans during his one season in the PAC 10. He declared for the NBA draft and was chosen in the first round by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but traded later that same day to the Memphis Grizzlies. That's where last night's reunion of sorts began to take shape. When Jay saw the New Orleans Hornets 2008-2009 schedule he noted that the Grizzlies were coming to the Big Easy on December 6th. He made a couple of inquires at the Hornets front office, and was invited to give the invocation at the Hornets - Grizzlies game last night. There, on the court before the game, and then for a few minutes after the contest (where O.J. scored 18 points) Jay got to have a brief visit with his former student - now an NBA millionaire.


I vividly remember Jay telling me way back then, that there was a 7th grader from Rose Hill who would play in the NBA one day. At first I had my doubts, but after serving as the radio play by play announcer during O.J.'s 7th grade varsity season, I quickly became a believer, myself. No crystal ball was needed to make that prediction. He was just that good.


O.J. is on track to become the most prolific rookie scorer in his first 20 professional games. He just passed Larry Bird and if he scores in double figures on his next game, he'll pass Magic Johnson as the only rookie to accomplish that feat. Not bad! Jay was happy to get in that brief reunion last night in New Orleans.


Mayo's professional basketball future is bright, but Jay will be quick to tell you that the most important thing O.J. will have ever done was when he prayed to accept Jesus as his personal Savior in Jay's office, back there in the 7th grade at Rose Hill.


Now that is success!

Friday, December 5, 2008

One of My Great Joys


I picked up a good piece of advice at a Pastor's Seminar in Dayton, OH back in 1975. Actually I picked up a lot of good advice, but one piece in particular that has had a practical influence on my personal life and even my ministry. The speaker, whose name I don't even recall, hit an important note in my heart. He warned all of us who are in ministry about the importance of spending time with our children. "Sometimes", he said, "The most important spiritual thing you can do is just go fishing with your son."


Wow! More spiritual than preaching to hundreds? More spiritual than hospital visitation? More spiritual than sermon preparation? More spiritual than discipleship training or premarital counseling?

Yep. Sometimes.

Those of us in pastoral ministry have tremendous demands on our time. Now I know many of you think we only work three hours per week, but ask one of our wives. We are on call 24/7 for all manner of congregational needs - some mundane - some urgent - some tragic. In the midst of it all, the pastor has responsibility to his family (second only to his responsibility to his God). He also needs time away. That is why, in 1975, I determined to spend time with my children and to be involved in the things with which they were interested.


Even though I'm not a fisherman or a hunter, I tried to do just what that seminar speaker had suggested. Spend time with the boys. Encourage them, support them, and gain the joy that comes with that quality time. Through roughly thirty years of bi-vocational ministry I desperately tried to budget my time to be part of their lives. I'm sure that it had an impact on Jay and Ben, but the greatest benefit may have been my own. Time was always at a premium, but the hours I managed to spend involved in their activities were special. Coaching their little league teams, carrying band equipment, announcing baseball, football and basketball games, and involvement as a band parent, and athletic booster were some of the things we did. Linda did the team mother thing when they were young, band parent activities for Jay, and Momcat projects for Benji and his teammates. One of the bonuses from being with the boys was also getting to know their friends. We gained an even larger extended family.


As we all know, time flies. I'm a grandfather now, and while I am not as likely to serve the grandsons as a coach, (that's my son's job now, and he is doing it well) I do enjoy the quality time one on one, and I hope I can help make a difference in their lives. Grandfathers have a special bond with their grandchildren. I have the joy of sharing their lives and teaching them spiritual truths in quality time. However, I do gain great joy from every opportunity to be in the bleachers, cheering for the grandsons. Benji's older son, Will, is naturally athletic, and has been playing in organized sports since he was five years old. It's basketball season now and he is playing in two leagues. He plays Upward Basketball at First Baptist Church of Ashland, KY (one game a week) and more competitively in Mark Cisco's Key Player League in Kenova, WV. It is a great joy just to be there and watch him play.


Will's 3 1/2 year old brother, Asher, desperately wants to play too. He has spent hours restlessly pacing the sidelines, coveting the idea of being part of the action on the court or field of play. Well, come January his long wait is over. He'll be playing on one of the preschool teams in our Upward League at Westmoreland Baptist Church. He can't wait to get that uniform and hit the court. No matter that he will be the youngest player in the league - just "give him the rock"!


I thank God for so many blessings. One of the greatest joys I have is to simply watch the boys play. I am so thankful God has spared my life long enough to be the grandpa in the bleachers.

Life is good!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"Churchianity"

I grew up in what might best be called the "Church Culture" of southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southeastern Ohio. Dad was a fiery Free Will Baptist evangelist as well as a pastor of several smaller churches over the years. I have been attending church since conception! My formative years were spent dangling my feet off the front seats of a variety of evangelical churches - including several Heinz 57 variety types of Baptist congregations, as well as Nazarene, Evangelical United Brethren, Community Churches, Independent congregations, and even some old fashioned Methodist Churches. Most of these congregations, both country and city churches were made up of some of the finest folks you would ever meet anywhere.



My brothers and I sometimes joke that we had a "drug problem" while we were growing up. That is that Mom and Dad "drug us" to church all the time. The only time I ever saw the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights is if I happened to be sick. Not "feeling bad" mind you, but gut wrenching, high fevered, compound fracture, can's stop the bleeding kind of sick. That was the only excuse to miss church. As a teenager, I didn't think I was ever going to see the Beatles perform live on TV, because Ed Sullivan's time slot on CBS was in direct conflict with Sunday Evening Worship Service. Heck, Bonanza was already half over by the time we usually got home on Sunday nights.




Many of the kids we went to school with also attended church on Sunday mornings. That was the common thing to do in the 50's and early 60's. In fact, there wasn't much else to do anyway on Sunday's back then, as our town's "Blue Laws" kept most businesses closed on The Lord's Day. While many of my schoolmates were church goers on Sunday, and some even attended Wednesday night services, most of them couldn't grasp why I was in church most nights of the week as well. Dad led in anywhere from 12 to 20 revival services per year, while working his day job at International Nickel Company in Huntington. Generally speaking, when he was in revival - so was the rest of the family. That is just how it was.




There is a lot to learn from attending more than 300 church services a year! A lot of it is good, some of what we learned was not so good. First and foremost, we learned the Bible. From Sunday School to Young People's League, to preaching services, I was exposed to the Word of God. That is good. Nothing can be better for a young person (or an older one for that matter). I learned a lot about human nature - both good and bad. I have seen professed believers in Christ at their best - and I have seen some at their worst! As an older child and a teenager, I naturally scoped out the young ladies in my home church and the various churches we visited. In some areas the church was the dating and social center of the community.




At the age of 10 I first felt the convicting power of the Holy Spirit in my life. I knew I was "lost" and that I needed to give my heart to the Lord. A year later, I (and several other "junior boys") responded to an invitation at the commencement of a summer Vacation Bible School. We went forward and knelt at the altar and were set upon by a number of Godly saints who wanted to help us learn how to "pray through". The dear old sister kneeling to my left whispered in my ear telling me to "hang on to God". Meanwhile the deacon to my right clenched my arm and firmly told me "Just let go, son. Let go of everything." Somebody behind me kept slapping me on the back, pleading with Jesus to save my poor soul. I was frightened and confused, and I cried like a baby, but no one simply shared the plan of salvation with me. I guess they figured I was a preacher's kid so I surely had a handle on this salvation thing.




The pastor knelt across the altar from me and asked if I felt better. "Yes", I sniffled - and I did feel better. (You always feel better after a good cry!) We got up and everyone in the building filed by, shaking our hands, patting us on our crew cut heads, and hugging us with great emotion. Unfortunately I had not really accepted Christ. I had just responded to an invitation - made a "decision", and no one knew the difference. I was baptized on Fathers Day, 1961 in the Ohio River, by my Dad and my maternal Grandfather (also a Free Will Baptist preacher), and was accepted as a member of the Thomas Memorial Church. I had mistaken "conviction" for "conversion" and, as a result, lived a life of pretense for the next 7 years.




I was called upon to lead in prayer from time to time. As a teenager I took my turn at leading prayer meeting, and at the age of 17, even agreed to teach a 3 and 4 year old boy's Sunday School class. The whole time, I was lost as a goose in a whirlwind. Fortunately in the spring of 1969, at the age of 18, the Holy Spirit again began to draw me to repentance, and I fully trusted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. I believed it in my heart. I confessed him with my mouth. I turned from my way to His way, and my life was changed for time and eternity.




In 1970 I began to feel the call of God in my life to surrender to the ministry. After yielding to that call, I enrolled in Bible College, and began a life long journey of study of God's Word, and attempting to preach and teach it to others. By the mid 80's my study had helped me better understand the doctrines of Grace and the security of the believer, and I moved my membership to a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. For the past 38 years, I have been preaching, teaching, and living the culture I knew from the time I was a child. I practiced the things I had learned from the older preachers. I tried to put into action the truths and practices I had picked up through college and seminary courses, and years of OJT. After growing up in the church, and thirty eight years of "doing church" as a pastor, the light bulb has begun to flicker on above my hard head.




Maybe I'm just a slow learner, or perhaps the Holy Spirit has just recently been able to crack my concrete cranium with the revelation that many of us relate more to "churchianity" than we do to "Christianity". The emphasis all around us seems to be more on "church growth" rather than the spiritual growth of our members. While focused on programs and plans to "build better members" many of our churches have lost sight of our mission to take the Gospel to lost people, bringing them to Jesus and helping create disciples. There is a world of difference between nominal "church members" and true born again "Christ Followers".




In recent years, there has been much talk in Southern Baptist circles about the problem of "unregenerate membership" in our churches. I have been asked if I thought that was a real problem, to which I have replied, "I sure do. I lived it for seven years!" Somewhere along the line we have become obsessed with the number of baptisms in our churches rather than the number of changed and changing lives as a result of our ministry. In many circles, "joining the church" is easier than joining a service club or fraternal organization. The idea of Holy Spirit conviction, and the new birth has seemed to take a back seat to marketing. In the rush to be "seeker sensitive" how far are we slipping from being "Savior sensitive"?




That is only one of the symptoms of our ecclesiastical illness. The changes are subtle, but very real. I am constantly hearing the mantra repeated about reaching the "unchurched". As a child growing up, I remember hearing Dad and other preachers trying to reach the "unsaved" not the "unchurched". Our convention leaders and evangelism directors are constantly telling us about how many unchurched are around us. The truth of the matter is that these multitudes don't need to be "churched", they need to be SAVED, by the Grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.




It's more than just a matter of semantics. It is a sickness that has nearly crippled us in carrying out the mission of the church. Reggie McNeal points out in his book, "The Present Future" that the church culture is quickly becoming irrelevant in the 21st century. He gives us a number of questions that should challenge us to re-examine what we are doing and how we are doing it. If we don't make a course correction soon, the gap will grow greater as each day passes.




Now there is nothing wrong with The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's His church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 90 percent of the references to the "church" in the New Testament refer to a local congregation of believers rather than the larger, "universal" Body of Christ. Jesus is not through with His Church, but we'd better understand quickly that He may be close to being finished with us for what we are making it! It's high time that we refocus on the mission rather than the methods. It is not nearly as important as how we "do church" as much as it is mandatory that we "be the church"!




We are casting the vision before our congregation at Westmoreland Baptist, that we focus on three simple tasks. To Magnify God... to Make Disciples... and to Minister to People. This slogan is not original with us. In fact, we have borrowed it from First Baptist Church of Westwego, LA. It's not so important who says it, but that we DO IT. This is our three fold mission. This is our vision. I pray our people will catch it, and practice it.


"Churchianity" will bring no one into right relationship with God.


Following Jesus will!


May it be resolved that we "be the church" - filled with the power of the Holy Spirit - taking the Gospel to the culture around us.




Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It’s For A Good Cause

As you probably already know, the material found in this blog is somewhat varied and often personal. Here is an email I received from Dr. Strat, himself.  In this particular case I don't think the good doctor would mind be blowing his cover. His secret identity is that of my youngest brother, Carl Adkins.  Stadium Manager by day and guitar man by night, Carl has "had the music in him" since he was a little child.  As you will see, he is donating the proceeds of the sale of his original music compositions from his eight albums to a good cause, The Guitar Center Music Foundation http://www.guitarcentermusicfoundation.org/  .

I have already passed this along to folks on my daily email list, but in hopes of reaching a larger potential audience, I'm also publishing it here. Perhaps you can help with this worthy charitable cause.  Of course, I'm going to do so.  Read on for all the details, and follow the links at the bottom to Dr. Strat's website and Facebook page. Here is the text of Dr. Strat's email:


 

Friends, Family and Associates,

Is there anyone you know who doesn't LOVE music?  Whatever the genre, there is just something incredible about the vibrations created by the sound of music as it travels from your ear through your mind and body to eventually touch your heart and soul.  Think for just a moment about your favorite song(s) and what it does to your spirit - how it makes you feel. 

Sadly, I'm sure you're aware of how music classes and programs have been in a steady decline from school curriculums and other organized programs in recent years.  For many kids, these programs truly hold the key to their future.  After all, not everyone is cut out to be a Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant or Senior Vice President of Marketing.  The fewer kids that find their calling in music, the fewer the compositions, the standards and masterpieces that will be written in the future.  Not exactly what any of us would hope for. 

Like many, I've struggled with how to be part of the solution. Excuses like "I don't know how I can help" or "I don't know where to start" or "I don't have the time or money to donate" are common ones. Guess what?  We can make a difference!  It's easy…Here's the value proposition:  For as little as .89, you get a unique, all original Dr. Strat composition for your i-pod or computer with all of the artist proceeds going towards funding music programs or putting instruments in the hands of eager kids.  How, you ask?  Simple.  It's as easy as 1-2-3

1.  Click on any link below or, go to i-tunes store and enter Dr. Strat in the search box

2.  Buy AT LEAST one song (feel free to buy more!) for only .89 or .99 cents

3.     3.  Forward this message to EVERYONE in your address book and ask that they do the same (as a courtesy to others, please use the Bcc field when sending)

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001FAIEQ6/ref=dm_sp_alb?ie=UTF8&qid=1227821369&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/It-Is-What/dp/B001GU8LTA/ref=dm_ap_alb2?ie=UTF8&qid=1227821369&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Out-On-the-Fringe/dp/B001I4D04U/ref=dm_ap_alb1?ie=UTF8&qid=1227821369&sr=8-1

That's right – for every Dr. Strat song you buy, the proceeds will go to http://www.guitarcentermusicfoundation.org/  helping someone in the U.S. to have the chance to discover and embrace the power and magic of music.  When I originally wrote and recorded these songs, it was a simply a creative outlet that made me feel good and allowed me to express whatever I was feeling at that time.  Now it's my hope that the fun I had from the creative process will benefit others by giving them the chance to be exposed to music by your generous purchase of some fine Dr. Strat tunes.

Thank You in advance for using the power of viral marketing to help keep the music alive for the future with your purchase and by sending this to EVERYONE in your address book and encouraging them to do the same.   Oh yeah…one other thing…I hope you enjoy the music!  

Dr. Strat

For more on Dr. Strat's music, please visit my website at http://web.me.com/drstrat  or my Facebook Page at  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-Strat/31401608414

Friday, November 28, 2008

Canon's Birthday


This is Canon Josiah Adkins. He is our third grandson and he lives in the New Orleans area with his Mom, Dad, and older brother Quint. Canon will be four years old tomorrow. He was born on the Monday following Thanksgiving, 2004. Both of his grandmothers from Kentucky were present for his birth at Oshner Medical Center in New Orleans. He was a really big baby and everyone was impressed with his size and good looks. Birthdays are always wonderful occasions, but there will always be something special to me about Canon's birthday. Besides being a reminder of how happy we were to welcome his birth, it is a yearly reminder of how good God has been to me.


The day after Canon's birth, while Linda was still in New Orleans, I was unexpectedly admitted to Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Ashland, KY for tests to determine why I was losing blood at a fast rate. Most of you know the results of those tests. A large mass was found in my colon. Surgery was scheduled, and our worst fears were realized. Cancer. It's a chilling word in itself, but the adjectives that my doctor employed to describe the malignancy were even more paralyzing. "Stage Four", and "Incurable". Fully involved in a number of lymph nodes, the cancer had spread throughout my liver like grass seed. Several large tumors were there and numerous smaller ones existed as well. A transplant was not an option. The prognosis was dismal. Average survival time for people in my situation was 18-22 months.


I suddenly came face to face with the reality of my mortality.


Thousands of thoughts raced through my mind during the next 10 days. I was not afraid to die, but I dreaded what my family might have to endure during the process. I feared leaving Linda to face the future alone, along with overwhelming medical bills as well as our other financial obligations. I wept when I thought of leaving my church to search again for a pastor after only two years of having called me. My heart ached at the thought that I would not be able to see my grandsons, (ages four, three, and two weeks) grow much older. They would probably not even remember me!


On my first Sunday back at church after my colectomy, I did what the Bible says in James 5:14-15. "Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." (HCSB) It was a moving experience as the ordained men of our church gathered around and laid hands on me with the entire congregation standing with them in prayer. I had decided to let the doctors do whatever they could to try to treat me but, knowing that the situation was beyond human control, we gave it to God.


The next two years were tough. There were two separate 6 month courses of Chemotherapy. Some other surgical procedures. Monthly blood work and lots of other medicines, tests, and scans. Prayers were going up on my behalf from believers from Florida to Chicago - from Virginia Beach, to the west coast, to Dumaguete City, Philippines. Although I didn't know how long I had to live, my heart was challenged by what I had heard Veda Young say. No matter how long I had to live, I was "not going to spend the rest of my life dying". And so, knowing it was all in the hands of Him who always does what He chooses, we took one day at a time.


I have learned many things over the past four years. I have learned that Peace is available in the times of greatest turmoil. I have learned that there are things I cannot change, and I must fully depend on God. I have learned that life in Christ is truly abundant! Like Paul of old, I have learned that no matter what state I may be in, I can be content. I have been reminded of how precious each day is, and I have sought to never waste the time God has given me. I have been reminded of what a God given gift I have in Linda who has loved me for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health for more than 37 years. I have learned that not only can I minister to my church, but that they could also minister to me.


I have seen my little grandsons grow and I have loved every moment I have with them. I've watched Quint at Karate practice. I've witnessed Will playing soccer, baseball, football and basketball. Six months into my treatments I welcomed a fourth grandson (Asher) and have enjoyed playing with him every Friday night when he and his brother come over to our house for a sleepover. And I have seen Canon's fourth birthday! Every time I look at this little guy I offer my God a prayer of thanksgiving for His wonderful mercy to me.


Above all else, I have learned that God is in control. More than ever, I have come to understand and appreciate what he says in Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." (NASB)


Happy Birthday Canon. I'm sorry we couldn't be together on your birthday, but I wish you many more. (And I hope I am around so we can celebrate together). It all depends on God's plan. Whatever it is - it will be for the best!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thoughts Early on Thanksgiving Morning


Today is Thanksgiving Day in America. All across this great nation the Thanksgiving traditions will unfold. Many Moms and Grandmothers are already up preparing to put the turkey in the oven. In millions of homes, families will gather together and feast on such traditional goodies as the aforementioned turkey, with stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, hot rolls, and pumpkin pie. Even in missions and homeless shelters, thankful people will sit down to what may be their best meal of the year.




There are many other traditions that will be honored today. Families will gather. Some making long drives or flights to come home for the special day. NBC will televise the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade live from Manhattan. There will also be football - the NFL on TV, and the annual "Commode Bowl" game between the River Rats and the Highlanders in Nitro, West Virginia. (Ever heard of THAT one?) There will be mountains of dishes to be washed, coupons to be clipped, and strategy to be planned, as Mom prepares to hit the malls and shopping centers on "Black Friday" looking for those great deals on their Christmas shopping.


Sometime throughout the day, most folks will take time to reflect on their blessings and to be thankful. All will be thankful for the feast. Some will be thankful for home, family, jobs - for living in the land of the free, for our churches, and all our material blessings. Although Thanksgiving has become more of a secular holiday, many will still bow their heads and give thanks to their maker for all He has provided. While it is altogether appropriate and right that we thank Him for His material blessings to us, In the Bible, Psalm 100 (A Psalm of Thanksgiving) gives us other reasons to give thanks. There are two basic commands in the 100th Psalm, along with the reasons to be thankful.


The first set of imperative is found in verses 1 & 2 " Shout triumphantly to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs." Verse three tells us why we should make that "joyful noise" (HCSB). Why we should serve the LORD with gladness and come before Him with joyful songs:


1. Because "the LORD is God". When you see "LORD" (all capital letters) in your English Bible, know that that reference is referring to the personal name of God. This is the name He revealed to Moses in the 3rd Chapter of Exodus. When Moses asked His name, He answered, "I Am That I Am". He is the pre-existent one. He is the self existent one. "From everlasting to everlasting, He is God". (Psalm 90) He is not just a god, He is the true and living God. There is a tendency today for people to talk about "God" in a generic way. The idea is as long as a religion is monotheistic, that we all worship the same god. This is hogwash! More and more, when I refer to God, I find it necessary to call Him, "The God of the Bible". He has often revealed Himself as "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob". He is not to be confused with other so called "gods". He is majestic, powerful, and HOLY, and worthy of all praise. (see Isaiah 6). We can be thankful that in a world of uncertainty, He is God!


2. We also sing and serve Him because "He has made us". Take a moment to read the 139th Psalm and see how we are "fearfully and wonderfully made". You are not an accident. You are here for a reason. God has a plan for your life. Your days were known to Him before you were conceived. We learn from the Bible that we were made in His image. Man is the capstone of God's creative work and He seeks glory, praise and honor that are due Him from His creation. We can be thankful that it is He who has made us and not we, ourselves.


3. The psalmist further tells us that "We are His people". Those who have a personal relationship with Almighty God belong to Him. We only come to a relationship with God through the way He has made. That avenue is Jesus Christ (John 14:6) The New Testament reminds us that we are not our own, but we have been purchased with a price. Not with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus. We can be thankful that we are His people.


4. We are also told we are "The Sheep of His Pasture". David understood the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep. The great King was, himself, a shepherd in his younger days. In the 23rd Psalm, David shows our relationship with the Great Shepherd. It shows us His provision, guidance, protection, and blessing for us, His sheep. This truth becomes more evident in the New Testament when Jesus tells us that He is "...the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for His sheep". He also tells us in John 10 that "He knows His sheep, they hear His voice, and they follow Him". We can be thankful that we have a loving and caring shepherd.


Verse four gives us the second set of imperatives. "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name". We often think of thanksgiving and praise as the same thing. While linked, they are two very different concepts. Thanksgiving is thanking God for what He has done for us. Thanking Him for His many blessings. Praise, on the other hand, is acknowledging that He IS God. Whether we feel "blessed" or not, we praise Him because of who He is! The fifth verse of Psalm 100 tells us why we give God thanks and praise:


1. "The LORD is Good"! This may be the greatest understatement in the Bible. God is Good - all the time. All the time - God is good! Furthermore He is Sovereign. "God is in His Heaven, and He does what He pleases." Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God knows the plans He has for us. Plans for our benefit and not for calamity. Plans to give us a future and a hope. All that God does is good and right. This is not always obvious to us during a time of trouble or testing, but it is true, nonetheless. Have you ever known anyone who does needlework? It is an interesting craft. The material is stretched over a hoop and the artisan painstakingly uses a needle and various colored threads to create an image of some sort. When you look at needlework from the bottom, it is a unintelligible mess of colors and threads. There seems to be no form or design to any of it. Yet when you view the work from above, you see the beautiful finished product. That's how it is in our lives. Romans 8: 28 tells us that God is working all things together for good to those who love Him, those who are called according to His purpose. We can be thankful that God is Good.


2. We also thank and praise Him because "His love is eternal". Some translations say "His mercy is everlasting". God's love is manifest in two obvious qualities - His Grace and His Mercy.

What's the difference? I like to explain it like this. Grace, is God giving us what we DO NOT deserve. Mercy is God NOT giving us what we DO deserve! The beauty of this, is that His Mercy and Love are eternal. We are recipients of God's mercy now, and shall be through eternity. In the 23rd Psalm, David made reference to it in this way, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever". We can be thankful for God's mercy.


3. The Psalm of Thanksgiving closes by reminding us that "His faitfulness endures through all generations". When Moses died and Joshua was charged with the responsibility of leading nearly two million refugees into a land of promise, God told him, "As I was with Moses, so I shall be with you". What a comfort that must have been to Joshua! What a blessing this truth is to us today! If you are like me, you may not have always been as faithful to God as you should have been. But God has ALWAYS been faithful to you! He promises His children that He will never forsake them of leave them alone. I often find myself concerned about the type of world my precious grandchildren will grow up in. Two of them are already Christ followers, and I pray that the younger two will accept Jesus when he begins to deal with their hearts. What will they face as Christians deep in the 21st Century? Perhaps great persecution will face them as they live out their faith. When I find myself worrying about that, I am reminded that God is faithful and His faithfulness endures through all generations. We can be thankful for His faithfulness.


When I thank God today for all His blessings, I will thank Him for what matters most. I will remember the words of a song we learned as children in Sunday School. "Thank you Lord, for saving my soul. Thank you Lord for making me whole. Thank you Lord, for giving to me. Thy great salvation so rich and free."

Linda joins me in wishing you all a wonderfully blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Death of Journalism



Journalism died in 2008 after an extended illness. The grand old profession had it's roots in the messengers, couriers, and town criers of old. The object was to report the news. Advancing technology over the years, from print, to wire services, radio, television, and the internet allowed journalism to grow and thrive. Sadly, it had shown signs of failing health since the mid seventies and died an ugly death this political season.


By definition, Journalism is the profession of the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media. The word was included in Webster's dictionary in 1829 describing "writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine
writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation." When most of us think of journalism, we think of a "reporter", one who uncovers the facts and reports them to the public through his or her particular media.


Editorially, the management of various media enterprises can also present their points of view on current issues and report on the actions of the government, public officials, corporate executives, interest groups, media houses, and those who hold social power or authority. Journalism is described as "The'Fourth Estate.


In 1841,Thomas Carlyle wrote in On Heroes and Hero Worship these words:


". . . The affairs of the nation were there deliberated and decided; what we were to do as a nation. But does not, though the name Parliament subsists, the parliamentary debate go on now, everywhere and at all times, in a far more comprehensive way, out of Parliament altogether? Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,--very momentous to us in these times. Literature is our Parliament too. Printing, which comes necessarily out of Writing, I say often, is equivalent to Democracy: invent Writing, Democracy is inevitable. Writing brings Printing; brings universal everyday extempore Printing, as we see at present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures. The requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite. The nation is governed by all that has tongue in the nation: Democracy is virtually there. Add only, that whatsoever power exists will have itself, by and by, organized; working secretly under bandages, obscurations, obstructions, it will never rest till it get to work free, unencumbered, visible to all. Democracy virtually
extant will insist on becoming palpably extant. . . ."


Generally, journalists are expected to be responsible and objective in their analysis, and are supposed to refrain from personal biases or prejudices. However, many today feel that objectivity is a myth. Grade the News, an American website, identified seven yardsticks on the basis of which it judges the standards of some local media houses' news quality. These yardsticks are :




  • newsworthiness


  • context


  • explanation


  • local relevance


  • civic contribution


  • enterprise


  • fairness

You can draw your own conclusions how the various broadcast and print media today are measuring up to these yardsticks. I have already stated my opinion, for what it's worth.


"Investigative Journalism" seems to have been spawned during the Watergate era. It somehow evolved to the point that the "reporters became the story". Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post became celebrities and the subject of a popular movie. As a result, men and women who had previously simply been "reporters" of the news seemed to begin to seek the spotlight for themselves.


Speaking at a national news correspondents convention in 1974, President Nixon allowed for a Q. & A. session. He called upon CBS' Dan Rather for a question. As the White House Correspondent for CBS, Rather had been doggedly pursuing the Watergate story. When Rather's name was spoken, the audience erupted into applause.


"Are you running for something, Mr. Rather?" Nixon quipped with a smile.


With a look of distain on his face, Rather countered, "No, Mr. President. Are you?"


That type of insolence has spread like an epidemic in recent years throughout the modern news media.


The most alarming thing to me about the demise of journalism is how the line between reporting and opinion has become almost unintelligible. Instead of reporting the news, some of our major broadcast media have crossed the line of objectivity. NBC is a case in point. Somewhere in the top floors of the General Electric Building on Rockefeller Plaza, upper management made the decision to not only report on the Presidential Election, but to influence the outcome of said election, by their unabashed support of the Democratic Candidate, Senator Obama. The news organization that gave us professional reporters like Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and John Chancellor, now brings us clowns like Keith Olbermann, disguised as news reporters – openly cheering for a particular candidate. Olbermann and Chris Matthews are pundits – commentators – opinion givers. That's fine, but when the network advanced them to be reporters at the conventions, debates, and during election returns, one should be able to expect some semblance of impartiality. Not so. They might as well have been on the DNC's payroll.


Fox News is just as bad on the other side of the ledger. Roger Ailes and his staff are most certainly sympathetic to the Republican cause. And why not? The only thing "fair and balanced" that Fox offers, is a more conservative alternative to the left leaning reporting of NBC, CBS, and ABC. Same stuff – different flavor.


Do you ever long for the days when John Cameron Swazye simply reported the news? Are you as tired of the network propaganda as I? Why can't they give us the news, and delineate clearly on what is reported news and what is opinion? What would you give for a modern day Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, or Huntley-Brinkley report, to bring you a clear and concise view of what is happening in the nation and the world?


Alas, I am afraid that type of journalism has gone the way of S&H Green Stamps.


Goodbye old friend. Rest in Peace.