Thursday, March 27, 2008

Jena 6 - "The Rest Of The Story"

Late last year, one would have to have been living in a cave somewhere to not have heard of the racial unrest in the town of Jena, Louisiana. Basically here is what dominated the news reports of September, 2007 (as reported by “Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia” ).

“The Jena Six are a group of six black teenagers who were charged with the beating of Justin Barker, a white teenager at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana, United States, on December 4, 2006. The beating followed a number of incidents in the town; the earliest reported was that of three white students hanging painted nooses from a tree at Jena High School in August, after a black student asked permission from a school administrator to sit under it. The Jena Six case sparked protests by those viewing the arrests and subsequent charges as excessive and racially discriminatory. The protesters believed that white Jena youths involved in other incidents were treated leniently. On September 20, 2007, between 10,000 and 20,000 protesters marched on Jena in what was described as the "largest civil rights demonstration in years." Related protests were held in other U.S. cities on the same day.

Mychal Bell, the only member of the Jena Six who was tried, initially had his convictions set aside. Bell was originally charged with attempted murder, but the charges were subsequently reduced and he was convicted of
aggravated battery and conspiracy. Both convictions were overturned on the grounds that the defendant should have been tried as a juvenile, not as an adult, on the reduced charges. On December 3, 2007, Bell pled guilty in juvenile court to charges of second degree battery, and agreed to testify against the others should their cases go to trial. He was sentenced to 18 months, with credit for time served. Charges against four defendants who are adults under Louisiana law remain pending. The status of charges against the sixth defendant, who was a juvenile at the time.”

This is the story everyone remembers. But did you know that something very different has been going on in Jena for the past 6 weeks? God has poured out REVIVAL on that Racially torn town in LaSalle Parish. As Paul Harvey says, “here is the rest of the story”. People are being saved and racial reconciliation is taking place in a near miraculous way. Here is a story by John Yeats taken from Baptist Press. Rather than just put a link to it, I felt it beneficial to just print the whole thing for you to read. It’s rather lengthy, but it is a wonderful story about the power of God to change things.

Jena revival to enter 7th week
Posted on Mar 27, 2008 by John L. Yeats
JENA, La. (BP)--The revival that began Feb. 17 in Jena, La., is moving into the heart of the black community as it enters its seventh week March 31."In the Bible, seven is the number of completeness," L&A Baptist Church pastor Jimmy Young said. "God is doing a complete restoration and unification work here in Jena, so it is only fitting that the seventh week finds us at the same location where thousands gathered on Sept. 20 of last year."Some 20,000 people descended on Jena for the "Jena Six" rally led by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.Now, at the same location -- the Ward 10 Recreation Complex just south of Jena -- a large tent capable of seating 1,000 people will be erected for services that will begin at 6:30 each night, Monday through Friday, March 31-April 4.On behalf of the black community, Young and Trout Creek Baptist Church pastor Roger Green are coordinating the seventh week of services in conjunction with the primary worship leaders for the previous six weeks of revival, Bill Robertson, interim pastor at Midway Baptist Church and director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's pastoral leadership team, and Craig Franklin, associate editor of The Jena Times."We'll keep the same format that we've been using throughout the past six weeks," Young said. "Craig Franklin and his family will lead the music and right now, Bill Robertson is the scheduled preacher."Both Young and Green have preached at services during the past six weeks, along with several other preachers including Robertson, Franklin, John Hebert, Jimmy Keene and evangelist Harold Danley of Elaine, Ark. -– the only person asked to come in from outside the area."This is not about one man or even two men," Robertson said. "Many have preached and led music and many have testified during these services. Everyone is clear that this is from God and He has used many different people to accomplish His purpose during this protracted meeting."The Jena leaders from the African American and Anglo communities have repeatedly expressed their passion for God to be glorified in Jena. They are convinced the healing and the life transformations that have transpired are demonstrations of the spirit of God working among the churches of Jena and LaSalle Parish. The host black pastors are praying that the Anglo community will continue to come when the meeting is moved to the Ward 10 complex, while at the same time their prayer is that many more from the black community will attend as well."We wanted to host a week of the services but we have no church building large enough to hold the crowds attending," Young said. "So, we have acquired a 1,000-seat tent that will be utilized at the Ward 10 complex. We pray that everyone will come and join us." The tent belongs to the central Louisiana Baptist associations. The cost of securing the tent for the Ward 10 complex has been underwritten by Midway Baptist Church, with volunteers from various churches to assist in erecting it on the grounds.The extended revival meeting started at Midway Baptist Church on Feb. 17 and continued there for two weeks. For the third week, the services moved to East Jena Baptist Church where John Hebert, regional strategist for the Louisiana convention, is the interim pastor. The crowds had increased so much that the only building large enough in Jena to accommodate the number of people attending was the Jena High School gymnasium where racial tensions erupted last year putting Jena in the national spotlight. For the revival's fifth week, services moved to Temple Baptist Church, and week six, at First Baptist Church in Olla.During the past six weeks, more than 100 people have come to know Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. The majority of those decisions have been by adults. At least three have surrendered to a call to the ministry, while hundreds of other decisions have included fresh surrender to the lordship of Christ and reconciliations both relational and racial.The meetings are marked with extended invitations of confession of sin and repentance and requests for personal forgiveness. Many have testified during the services and asked for forgiveness for their personal role in damaging the community.In addition to these services, many other revivals have taken place in the LaSalle Parish area, all reporting an outpouring of God's Spirit, including Oak Grove Baptist Church and the United Baptist Church. Other denominational groups also are experiencing the fresh wind of God at work. Maranatha Assembly of God, Whitehall Pentecostal Church and the Sanctuary Family Worship Center, for example, have hosted revival meeting during the past month and, because of the stirring of God's people, have been extended past the scheduled time frame."I think what we're seeing is a movement of God among God's people," Robertson said. "This area has witnessed tremendous turmoil over the past two years and God has heard the prayers of His people and now we're seeing the result."A retired missionary called me the other day from Oklahoma to pray for the revival in Jena," Robertson said. "This godly man called out to God asking for the revival to sweep across our land one more time. Before he was finished praying, I was on the floor ... humbled that God would do such a work and start it here in Jena."Basically, what we've seen is God's people getting right with Him and each other," Robertson continued. "God has brought about this revival and as a result, people are being saved, lives are being changed forever and a true peace has come about, bringing unity to this area like we've never seen."

(I apologize for the spacing of the above article. I have tried several times with paragraphs separated, etc, but when I publish the post, it keeps coming out this way and difficult to read).
We’re not hearing any of this in the news media, are we? I think it’s important that people see what God is able to do in what would seem to be an impossible situation. He can heal wounds that run deep. His mercy is great and His love reaches to the deepest pit. As they often say in these parts, “Ain’t God Good?” Perhaps you might like to share this good news with someone else.

"Building Bridges" Conference Coming Soon!

Just a note of reminder that our "Building Bridges" Conference is less than one week away. This conference is designed to "build bridges" of fellowship and cooperative ministry between local churches and the three Southern Baptist Associations in the Tri - State Area of Kentucky-Ohio-West Virginia.

I want to invite all of my friends and my colleagues in ministry (especially my many friends in the Greenup Association of Kentucky) to take part in this "baby step" to build closer ties among our people for the cause of Christ, and the evangelization of our region.

The conference will be held on Wednesday and Thursday evenings - April 2md and 3rd. The Wednesday evening service is designed to bring all of the Churches from the Greater Huntington Baptist Association to move their Wednesday evening services to a central location for a joint worship service. (of course visitors would be welcome, too!). The Thursday evening service is focused on bringing our Brothers and Sisters from Ohio and Kentucky together with we West Virginians for a time of blessing, fellowship, and challenge.

The evening services begin at 6:30 PM with "pre service" special music starting at 6:15 PM. The services will feature a combined Greater Huntington Baptist Association Choir (directed by Matt McKenzie) and spirited congregational singing led by Randy Spurgeon. Our guest speaker each evening will be Dr. Charles "Chuck" Kelley, President of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We are expecting these to be two wonderful meetings, and EVERYONE is invited!

The Wednesday evening service will be held at Highlawn Baptist Church -on Collis Avenue in East Huntington, one block from St. Mary's Medical Center. It has the highest steeple in East Huntington. You can't miss it!

The Thursday evening service will be at First Baptist Church of Ceredo. First Ceredo is located on Main Street, two blocks south of US 60 in Ceredo, WV. Turn at the corner
with Giovanni's Pizza and Tudor's Buscuit World (two of my favorite places!) The church is next door to Ceredo Elementary School.

There is plenty of room and parking will not be a problem. We invite you to come, and bring family and friends.

Attention All Ministers! Don't forget the special Pastor's Lunch on Thursday, April 3rd at 11:30 AM in the Multi Purpose Building at Westmoreland Baptist Church in Huntington. A great meal is planned and we look forward to a time of good fellowship and some special time with our speaker, Dr. Kelley. Please contact me at the church (304) 429-1348 or on my cellphone at (606) 465-6160 or via email at so we can get a "head count" for the lunch. We would need to hear from you by Monday, March 31.

If you can attend any or all of the sessions - please do. If you are unable to attend, please join us in praying for the success of this effort. We believe that an outgrowth might be an informal fellowship of Tri State Southern Baptists, and a future area wide evangelistic crusade, or even a "Crossover Tri-State" type of effort.

Hope to see you next week!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My Roots In Logan County

Pictured on this page are several old photos of places that mean a lot to me. They are frozen memories of some places that I remember well from my childhood days in Logan County, West Virginia - where I was born, and where my grandparents lived until 1969. Pictured at right is Holden Hospital, where I "discovered America" on October 20, 1950. The old building had sat empty for several years when it finally was ravaged by fire and razed sometime back in the mid to late 80's. Although I don't remember being born there, I do have many memories of sitting in the lobby while my dad, a minister, visited a number of friends and family members there over the years. Pictures below also include a shot of downtown Logan in the late 40's or early 50's and a photo of the old Logan County Courthouse, which was replaced by a new one sometime in the late 60's.

For those who are not familiar with Logan County, it is located in the south western part of West Virginia, 69 crooked miles down State Route 10, south of Huntington. It is rugged, mountainous territory, covering 456 square miles, traversed by the Guyandotte River which runs northward to it's confluence with the Ohio in the Guyandotte section of Huntington. I don't know whether the river derives its name from the town or vice versa, but Guyandotte is an American Indian name which is very appropriate for Logan County. The county, and it's county seat derive their name from Chief Logan, a native American chieftain of the Mingo Tribe that was indigenous to the area before the first white settlers came. The Chief, who lived from 1725 - 1780 is best known for leading a party of 13 Shawnee and Mingo warriors on a raid in revenge for the brutal killing of his family members by American frontiersmen. This raid helped spark the 1774 conflict known as "Lord Dunmore's War" which folks around Point Pleasant, WV call the first battle of the American Revolution. Chief Logan and his daughter, Aracoma, are immortalized in "The Aracoma Story" which is depicted each summer at Chief Logan State Park in Logan County.

So much for the history lesson. My maternal grandparents, Mary and Jerry Stidham, were long time residents of the Holden area in Logan County. Papaw Stidham first worked in the Island Creek Number One Mine at Holden, and later became an official with the United Mine Workers of America labor union. He serve three terms in the West Virginia House of Delegates in the late 40's and early 50's and was a fellow legislator with future West Virginia Governors, Wally Barron and Arch Moore as well as future U.S. Senator Robert Byrd.

Island Creek Coal company had huge land holdings in Logan County, and had at least 22 coal mines operating at one time, and each mine was identified by it's number. The Number One mine was located at what the locals called "Main Holden". Holden was a model community as coal camps go. It included a large "Company Store" (pictured at left), the aforementioned hospital, a theater, barber shop, a Community Church, a post office, and several other enterprises, all owned by (or housed in buildings owned by) the company. Most of the miners and their families lived in small neat, well maintained houses, which they rented from the company. The mine superintendent lived in a large stately home on the hill just across the narrow valley from the hill where the hospital was located.

As each mine was opened, smaller coal camps sprung up around the mines, populated by the families of the men who worked in the pits. Many of the camps had a branch location of the company store and some had clubhouses or community centers. One even had a nice public swimming pool owned and operated by the coal company. Most of the homes were small, two bedroom cottages but there were some camps where the houses were duplex models. The company employed carpenters who built and maintained the company houses. The individual coal camps were identified by the mines which they supported. The camp where my grandparents lived grew up around the two mines in the area known as Number 5 and Number 6. Thus, they lived at "5&6 Holden". It sounds a little strange now, but when I was growing up it was a commonly understood what was meant when someone said that an individual lived at "Number 7", or at "21."

Although not Italian, my grandparents lived on Kimball Street which was known as "Little Italy" in the 5&6 community. One side of Kimball Street was made up completely of Italian Americans and many of the homes on the other side also housed "Tally's" (an ethnic term, like "Hunky" for European immigrants, which - believe me - was NOT used in a derogatory manner in Logan County). The coal camps were full of Italian, Scotch, Irish, Hungarian, Serbian, and African Americans who had come for the income and perceived job security offered by the booming coal mines in the 40's and 50's.

I remember well, the Brazila and Caruso families who were neighbors of my grandparents. They were large families who had a couple of generations occupying several of the company houses. Old Mr. Caruso (who lived with his coal miner son, Sam) was an Italian immigrant and a cobbler by trade. But you didn't call him a cobbler. "I am a shoemaker!" he would say firmly. In fact, since there were several Caruso households there at 5&6, he was referred to by the neighbors as "Mr. Shoemake" and his wife was (of course) "Mrs. Shoemake". The Carusos and Brazilas both had stone ovens in their back yards. The smell of fresh bread baking was aways prevalent on Kimball Street. I can almost smell it now!

Another favorite memory is that of two produce vendors who worked the coal camps hawking their goods from the backs of old bread trucks. John Garrido and Dominic (I never knew his last name) had quite a competition going. Mamaw just referred to them as "Dominic and John". Their routes brought them to Kimball Street a couple of times per week. As they drove slowly down the street, they would ring their bells loudly, bringing many of the housewives out to peruse their fruits and veggies. Mamaw would allow me to buy an apple or peach from the produce vendors, but the big treat was to listen to Mrs. Brazila or one of the other Italian ladies haggling over prices and the quality of the goods in their native language. Boy, were those conversations animated! I can't help but feel that those who missed living in the coal camps in the early 50's really missed out on something special in American life.

Most of the black families at 5&6 lived in a part of the camp known as "Price's Bottom", across the creek from Kimball Street. In those days of racial segregation there were separate schools for the whites and blacks, and they went to separate churches. Even though there was much inequality in the treatment of blacks in those days, there was a genuine mutual respect that seemed to exist among the races in the coal camps. My grandfather was "Mr. Stidham" to his neighbors (white and black) and they were "Mr. Brazila" or "Mr. Wynn" to him. Sure there were prejudices and stereotypes, but these people all had something in common. They worked together in a dangerous occupation in the underground coal mines - and as Tennessee Ernie Ford sang in "16 Tons" they all "owed their souls to the company store!"

That's all for now on Logan County.
Perhaps I'll write more about it later.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Easter Caroling"

Today we will celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in churches all around the world. It is the greatest day on the Christian calendar. Victory Day! The Resurrection of Christ is of utmost importance to our Christian faith (see 1 Corinthians 15). Jesus said (as recorded in John 14, "Because I live, you shall live also." That is good news indeed. There have been Holy Week services in communities all over the country this past week. Good Friday (the day Christ was crucified) was observed with reverence, and Sunrise Services will be held today. But something happened yesterday in Westmoreland, Ceredo, and South Point (OH) that I think has never happened here before.
Saturday marked what I believe to be the first "Easter Caroling" ever done in Huntington, WV. Everyone knows what Christmas Caroling is, but Easter Caroling? Who ever heard of that? Two years ago, I had casually mentioned in a sermon at Christmas time that we should also consider going house to house at Easter time to sing the wonderful news of the completion of God's plan of salvation. That was it. Just a blurb in a sermon. But apparently it struck a cord in someone's heart.
A few weeks ago, Becky Moses, one of our more creative church members, came to me with a proposal that we go "Easter Caroling" on the Saturday of Holy Week. We got the word out and invited everyone to come and help between 1:00 - 3:00 PM on Saturday. Well, several folks showed up in weather that was reminiscent of many Christmas Caroling outings we had done in the past. The only difference this time was that nobody invited us in for Cocoa! Becky worked with our church "Homebound Ministry Coordinator", Rachel Lackey, and put together an itinerary that took us from the church neighborhood, through Westmoreland, to Ceredo, WV, and finishing up at Rick Rakes' house in South Point, OH. The time went so quickly that we didn't have time to get to every home on the list, but to those we did carol, it was time well spent.
Our "Carolers" consisted of Becky Moses and her husband, Bob; Rachel Lackey; Debi Dean; Randy and Debbie Spurgeon; Darrell Clark; and myself. At South Point we were joined by Ronnie Mills, who had come to feed the fish at his vacationing son's house (next door to Rick's). We started by walking up the street to Frank and Delores Rutherford's home. Delores is bed ridden, but Frank braved the cold weather to come out on the porch and hear our repertoire. Then we loaded up the van and headed for Ceredo Manor (a highrise building for elderly residents) in Ceredo. Agnes Davenport came down to let us in and we serenaded her to the delight of Agnes and the small crowd who gathered in the lobby when they heard singing. From there we traveled a few blocks to the home of Bob and Garnet Bryant to sing to Garnet's sister Nada McKenzie. Nada was on oxygen and in a very weak condition, but she obviously enjoyed the songs and even mouthed some of the words herself. She thanked us for coming.
From Ceredo, it was back to Westmoreland where we stopped at the homes of Robert and Evelyn Bentle, Janet and Emory Thacker, and Fred and Ramah Harmon. Janet and her sister, Ruth (and Ruth's daughter) were quilting - and cooking a big ham for Easter Sunday. (It smelled pretty good in that house!). Well, the three ladies joined us as we sang to Emory, who sat in his recliner with one of the biggest smiles I have seen in a long time. In fact, Emory began to sing with us with perfect harmony. His tenor voice added a lot of quality to our efforts...
From there it was across the river to Rick Rakes' home. Rick is suffering from cancer and is having a pretty rough time right now. He sat in the doorway, and seemed to be delighted with our musical offerings. His wife, Meredith, had just left to take care of her elderly parents in East Huntington, so Rick called her on his cellphone and she listened too. (He said she gave us an "8").
The quality of our musical offerings was enhanced by Randy, Debbie, and Darrell. The rest of us just made a "joyful noise", but we all had a great time. More importantly than that, it seemed to bring joy to all of those whom we serenaded.
Now it comes to confession time. All this week, I have been stressed out. I've been incredibly busy, pressed for time, running up on important deadlines for several projects, and "less than pleasant" to be around. Honestly, I wondered if I could spare the two hours to go Easter Caroling. Well, I can tell you now, it was the best spent two hours of a very busy week. I am so thankful for Becky putting this thing together, and for Rachel and her ongoing work to bless so many people who are sick and homebound. I thank God for the folks who took a couple of hours out of their busy activities to bring a few minutes of joy to a number of folks who really needed it.
Furthermore, I am reminded about how just a random act of kindness can be a tremendous blessing to others.
We'll do this again!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Great Evening Of Celebration

Monday evening, March 17th was a very special night for the Westmoreland Baptist Church and many of our friends. The event was the first annual Awards Celebration for the Upward Basketball and Cheerleading league that was new at Westmoreland this year. The ceremony concluded 8 weeks of games and 100 days of prayer to support this new ministry. It was a great night of fun and recognition for our Upward basketball players, cheerleaders, coaches, referees, and other league volunteers. 208 people made reservations to attend the activities and no one went away disappointed!

Each player and cheerleader received an award to commemorate their participation in the league. Players received a blue and gold Upward Basketball, and each cheerleader was presented a beautiful Upward Cheerleader Picture Frame. The children were introduced separately with the spotlight on them, and the loud "game time" music playing as their names were called and they ran into the sanctuary to the applause of the crowd.
Our special guests for the evening included John Sutherland and Keith Metheney. Coach Sutherland is an assistant coach for the Marshall University Women's Basketball team and the newly appointed director of the Big Green Scholarship Program at Marshall. Mr. Metheney is a Christian comedian, ventriloquist, and magician. Coach Sutherland encouraged the kids to "always do the right thing" and not to fall into the trap of peer pressure. He also reminded the adults of the great responsibility given to us to raise these children with love, respect, and in the nurture of the Lord. Keith amazed everyone (young and old) with his sleight of hand and illusions. He and his "dummy" also shared the gospel with the kids through the Biblical story of David and Goliath (like it has never been told before!)
Immediately following the Award Ceremony, everyone moved across the alley to our multi purpose building for Pizza, chips, and soft drinks. There was plenty of food and great fun and fellowship. I want to thank Seeburn and Janet Watts (owners of Giovanni's of Westmoreland) for the 40 Pizzas they provided for us at their cost! We can't say thanks enough to them and to the wonderful members of WBC who served, and pumped up the basketballs for each of the players.
Our first Upward season is now history. Kids have had fun and learned a lot about basketball, teamwork, sportsmanship, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Long time church member, Butch Cotton, was quoted as saying, "I've been a member here for a long time, and this is the best ministry I have seen yet." That sentiment was echoed by a number of folks. I am so thankful that we were able to do Upward Basketball and Cheerleading this winter.
Registration is now open for our Spring Upward Soccer League.
May God bless it and use it for His glory!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Barack Obama's Pastor

For several weeks one only heard about him on the conservative talk radio programs. Yesterday, finally, some of the mainstream news media began to delve into some of the "teachings" of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. People across America were shocked to hear a number of telling sound bytes of the hate filled, vulgar, and race baiting messages of this so called "Man of God".

Wright is the retiring after 36 years as pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama has been a member for twenty years. Trinity has over 8,000 members and has often been attended by Oprah Winfrey. In a March 7th article, "The New York Times" calls it a "mainstream church... but more Afrocentric and politically active than the standard black congregation." Trinity's website is you can judge for yourself.

In his only interview on network television (Hannity and Colmes over a year ago),2933,256078,00.html Wright constantly refers to blacks, as "Africans", eschewing the more commonly used politically correct term of "African Americans". He says he is a proponent of "Liberation Theology" and "Black Liberation Theology". This teaching, which emphasises liberation of oppressed peoples, originated in the Catholic Church, but parts of it's dogma have been rejected by the Vatican in recent years. Judging by the excerpts shown on the news programs, and from the archived messages found on Trinity's website, the type of "Liberation Theology" Rev. Wright espouses, doesn't have much to do with the Gospel of Grace that I find in my Bible.

Apologists for Wright claim that critics just don't understand "the Black Church" and their type of preaching. Well, I have attended several predominantly black churches in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia over the years. I have had black pastors and evangelists fill my pulpits, and I have been blessed to preach in one black church, myself. I am personally acquainted with several black ministers and consider them to be close friends. While the worship styles may be different from some of our "stiff necked white churches", I have always enjoyed attending their services. The black Christians I know, really know how to "do church"! The singing is joyful and exuberant, the preaching is powerful and passionate, and nobody looks at the clock and worries about what time the service will be over. In all my experiences with black churches and their pastors, I have never heard the type of vulgar and hateful comments that spew from the lips of Rev. Wright.

Every pastor, like every other church member, is entitled to their own political views. I certainly have mine. However, the pulpit in the House of God is NOT the place for those views to be expressed. I have pledged to NEVER endorse partisan political candidates from the pulpit. As Tony Evans says, "Almighty God does not ride on the back of Donkey's or Elephants!" The church is the place where the Bible is to be preached, the Gospel is to be proclaimed, Grace is to be the theme. Pastor Wright's public endorsement of one political candidate over another is not only unseemly in the House of God, but has also brought on an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service that could result in Trinity Church losing their tax exempt status. I wonder if that might have anything to do with the timing of Rev. Wright's retirement?

Wright's sermons reek of socialism and are absolutely racist and anti-american in tone - constantly blasting "white America". One hears hardly a mention of Salvation, but continual messages about rising up against "rich, white America". Not only are his remarks racially offensive, but often down right vulgar. One of the more obnoxious clips that I saw played back early on (but not so much in the past day or so) involved Wright's criticism of Bill Clinton's Presidency. He told his congregation that while Clinton pretended to be a friend of blacks "He was riding you like he was riding Monica Lewinsky" (complete with pelvic thrusts for visual effect). "Money talks" he continued, "but B.S. walks!" This pronouncement brought a standing ovation from the crowd and slaps on the pastor's back from people in the choir and the "amen corner".

His disdain for this country is evident. Among his more far fetched pronouncements, Wright claims that the U.S. Government developed the HIV virus to "commit genocide on blacks". He claims that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were God's retribution on America because we "bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuking thousands of people, and never batted an eye". Even the liberal news media has caught on to Wright's virulent Anti American teachings. ABC's Brian Ross reports in the "ABC News Blotter Website" that Wright "repeated denunciations of the U.S. based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans." In addition to providing his comments after 9/11 that had been previously publicized, the site also quoted Wright as saying "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people".

While this is all shocking stuff, keep in mind that Rev. Wright has no corner on the market regarding hate and bigotry. I call to your attention the Rev. Fred Phelps of the so called "Westboro Baptist Church" in Kansas. This church (which basically consists of Phelps' family) has made national headlines by carrying their signs saying "God Hates Fags" and picketing the funerals of U.S. Servicemen and women who have been killed in action. Phelps claims that the death of these heroes is payback from God for the rampant homosexuality in America. We have all known of racism in some white churches as well. Ignorance and hate know no racial or cultural boundaries.

All of the recent attention to Wright from the national news media, would be no news at all, but not for his relationship with Presidential Candidate Barack Obama. Senator Obama has been a member of Wright's congregation for 20 years. He claims that Wright led him to Christ. Obama and his wife, Michelle, were married by Wright and the pastor also baptized the Obama children. Obama has called Wright his mentor and spiritual advisor and even took the theme and title of his book, "The Audacity of Hope" from one of Wright's sermons. The Senator hit all of the major news networks last night with a statement that he "rejected the particular teachings in the clips that have been played on the news".

In two interviews I saw last night, Obama told Anderson Cooper of CNN and Major Garrett of Fox News, that Wright "Was like an uncle at family reunions. You love him and he is family, but you have no control over some of the things he says." Cooper, somewhat surprisingly, told Obama that this situation was a little different than the uncle analogy. "We can't control who our family members are, but we can control who we voluntarily associate with."

Well said, Anderson.

Senator Obama, and other apologists for Wright were busy last night putting a spin on the whole situation. Besides the "you don't understand the black church" mantra, they are now saying that the whole situation is moot because Wright "has retired and has preached his last sermon at the church." While that may be true, does that fact undo all of his teachings of the past three decades? Instead of admitting the facts, Wright's supporters typically want to muddy the water by turning the focus on a controversial minister that has endorsed Republican candidate John McCain during the recent Texas primary. San Antonio's Cornerstone Church's Pastor John Hagee, has often been a critic of the Catholic Church. Hagee has stated his belief that the Catholic Church is the "Great Whore" of the prophecy in the biblical Book of Revelation. While this remark is certainly offensive to Catholics, the correlation between Hagee's endorsement of McCain and Wright's relationship with Obama, is like comparing apples to oranges. Hagee's endorsement of McCain was a purely political thing. McCain may or may not appreciate Hagee's endorsement, but the fact is that McCain barely knows Hagee and is certainly not a member of his church. On the other hand Obama and Wright's mentor/protegee relationship goes back for two decades.

Obama's claims that these quotes by Wright came to him as a surprise seem disingenuous to this writer. Especially since Jodi Kantor's March 6, 2007 article in "The New York Times" reports that Obama recinded an earlier invitation to Wright to offer the invocation at Obama's Presidential Candidacy announcement last year. The reason? According to the pastor, Mr. Obama then told him, “You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we’ve decided is that it’s best for you not to be out there in public.”

I wouldn't call Obama a racist, and I don't really believe he is "unamerican", but his association with Wright is a concern. Now he can go to church wherever he wants. That's certainly his privilige. However, if Obama has been a member of Wright's church for 20 years and claims he wasn't aware of the hate, vulgarity, racism, and anti-americanism in Wright's messages, then one of two things is true. Obama is either a liar, or he is too stupid to be President of the United States of America.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A Busy Night For My Little Brother

My youngest brother, Carl, is probably a pretty busy guy tonight. Carl is the Executive Director of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, which this week is the site of the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament. The Dome hosts the SEC each year, and we Kentuckians have come to refer to that great Georgia city as "Cat-Lanta" due to the Wildcats very successful record in that building over the past several years. When the SEC Tourney or the Final Four, or the Super Bowl, or other big events are at the Dome, Carl usually takes a room downtown due to the extreme time he has to spend at the events and the long commute he has to his home at Roswell in Cobb County. Carl would have been busy anyway, with the big tournament, without the extra excitement of a probable tornado that hit downtown Atlanta during overtime of the Alabama - Mississippi State game.

I had just returned from taking two of the grandsons to see Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears A Who", when the phone rang. It was Dad asking if I had been watching the game. "No", I replied, but I explained that I did plan on watching the Kentucky - Georgia game. "You'd better turn it on now", he said, "They've had tornado damage to the roof!" I'm sure many of you have seen news footage of the scary event. The roof on the Georgia Dome is similar to that of Indianapolis' RCA Dome, but very different to that of the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. The Georgia Dome has a "fabric" roof over a steel skeletal structure. The live television coverage showed the fabric rippling like a big curtain, scaffolding and catwalks swinging wildly from side to side, and debris falling on the court and in the stands. Fans were scurrying for the exits while the roar of the wind filled the building. Scary stuff.

Naturally play was stopped with just over two minutes to play in Overtime. The break lasted for an hour and three minutes before play resumed. You have to feel for the players who had played a torrid 42 minutes of basketball and then had to cool their heels for 63 minutes. The Bulldogs of Mississippi State won the game by two points as a Crimson Tide three pointer rattled the iron and came out as time expired. It certainly was one of the more unusual basketball games in the history of the sport, but that was not of the greatest import. The damage done in Downtown Atlanta and the resulting personal injuries are the big story.

CNN reported that there was severe damage done to the adjacent Georgia World Congress Center, the Omni Hotel, and the CNN Center. Broken glass was strewn in the food court of the CNN Center and in the sidewalks and streets, and debris was everywhere. The World Congress Center is flooded with a broken water main. It isn't often that a tornado hits a major city's downtown area. One hit downtown Nashville a few years ago and did a tremendous amount of damage to the LifeWay building (the publishing entity of the Southern Baptist Convention).

It's 11:30 now, and SEC officials have announced that the Kentucky - Georgia game will be postponed. No announcement as to when the game will be played tomorrow, and how the schedule will work out in time to crown a conference champion in time for the NCAA tournament selection on Sunday evening - but that's actually a minor point considering the property damage and the potential for loss of life. I'm sure the 30,000 + fans are disappointed that the Cats and Dogs will have to wait till tomorrow for their "fight" but they should certainly be thanking God that the storm cell just grazed the stadium as it blew down International Boulevard.

I'd like to give Carl a call, just to get his first hand take on the events of the evening - but I'd say he and his operations people will be a little busy the rest of the night!

Monday, March 10, 2008

"You Can't Do Wrong And Get By"

When I was in the seventh grade I did something very stupid. Actually I did a lot of stupid things in the seventh grade, but this was incredibly foolish. Now I will spare you the details (and myself the embarrassment) but suffice it to say that I pulled a stunt that got me in big trouble at Beverly Hills Junior High School, and in turn, I had major problems at home. Looking back at the episode I can't help but ask myself, "Man what were you thinking?"

I thought I had fooled my parents, and I was foolish enough to think that what I did would go unnoticed at school. What was I thinking? I was caught in my misdeed almost immediately. The irony of the whole situation is that my punishment at school paled in comparison to the discipline I faced at the hands of my father. Looking back, it was possibly the last time I was ever spanked by my Dad - but it was certainly one of the most memorable. In those days the most severe cases of discipline warranted the use of Dad's size 42 belt. He didn't "beat" us, or apply corporal punishment in anger. But when the belt came off, we knew we were in trouble - plenty.

My memory fails me as to how many "licks' I received that evening, but I do remember this. Between each one, Dad said "Son, you can't do wrong and get by!" Whack! "You can't do wrong and get by!" Whack! "You can't do wrong and get by!" Get the message? I certainly did. I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject of physiology, but there seems to be some correlation between audio learning by hearing repeated phrases, punctuated by stinging pain to the backside. Dad's method was effective enough to have registered that message in my mind for the next 44 years or so. Now, that's not to say that's the last time I ever did anything wrong, but every time I did, I remembered, "You can't do wrong and get by".

The lesson I learned from my father is that our actions have consequences. Furthermore, nothing will remain hidden forever. Eventually it will come out. When it does, it often affects more than the foolish malefactor himself.

People do incredibly stupid things. Even people in high public office. Even people in positions of responsibility. Even people who often set themselves up to be viewed as champions of morality. When they do wrong - and get caught - it always brings up the question, "What were they thinking?" The latest example is that of New York's Governor, Elliot Spitzer (shown above). Today, in a hastily called news conference, Spitzer apologized to his family and the people of New York for his actions that came to light as a result of a federal investigation of an internet prostitution ring. This father of three daughters and husband of over 20 years admitted to paying $4,300 to a (obviously) high priced call girl while in Washington, DC on the night before Valentine's Day. He was caught through a conversation picked up in a wire tap used to investigate the illegal interstate activity of the "Emperor's Club", an online prostitution network.

What is amazing in this whole thing is not that a man had a moral failure. It's a sad fact, but that in itself is not what is shocking. What is unbelievable is that this well known, high profile Governor of the great state of New York thought he could do such a thing and not get caught! In fact, before being elected Governor, Spitzer had made his mark as a Federal Prosecutor, busting organized crime, racketeers, and even a couple of prostitution rings. He was elected Governor in 2006, touting himself as the champion of decency and morality. What could he possibly have been thinking back in February?

But, unfortunately, Spitzer is not alone in such stupid behavior and poor judgment. Consider the recent shenanigans of Idaho's Senator Larry Craig in an airport men's room, and Louisiana's Senator David Vitter's extramarital dalliances. Then there is also the sterling example of one William Jefferson Clinton who's shameful actions in the Oval Office of the White House with a young intern, were only eclipsed by his deceit of lying to the American people and under oath in a sworn deposition. The 60's gave us Teddy Kennedy and his ill fated drive with Mary Jo Kopechne. Back in the 70's there was powerful Congressman Wilbur Mills cavorting with a stripper named Fanne Fox, (who was billed as the "Argentine Bombshell"); President Richard Nixon and company with their illegal Watergate activities; and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, dying in the Manhattan apartment of his mistress. The 80's brought us presidential candidate Gary Hart caught in photos with a woman other than his wife on a yacht appropriately named "Monkey business". Recent former Governors of Kentucky and West Virginia also were exposed in their extramarital affairs while in office. What on earth were these guys thinking?

Politicians don't have a corner on that market. Far from it. The newspapers and tabloids are full of stories of prominent business people, entertainment figures, and yes, even ministers who have been caught in various deeds of misconduct -done in secret, but eventually coming to light. Anybody remember televangelists Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart , and Colorado megachurch pastor and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggerty?

These are all public figures - high profile individuals who should know that any kind of criminal, unethical, or immoral activities are going to come out. It's bound to happen sooner or later. One has to feel sorry - not for the culprits - but for their family members who are hurt by their selfish and stupid actions. Just seeing the face of Mrs. Spitzer during that short news conference was enough to cause almost anyone to feel her pain and embarrassment.

The list goes on and on. But it is important to remember that we don't have to be famous public officials to do stupid things. Furthermore, while our actions might not be revealed here and splashed across the headlines or the evening news, one day, they will come out. God has a record. We should all take note and remember that one day all of the things done in secret will be made known.

How did Dad say it?

"You can't do wrong and get by!"

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Don't Let The Stink Stop You!

There are two guys by the name of Lazarus whom we read about in the New Testament. Both seemed to be hard luck characters. The one mentioned in Luke's Gospel was a poor, wretched, sore infested beggar who existed on eating from the dumpster of one of the richest guys in town. The other, who is prominently mentioned in the Gospel of John was apparently better off financially than the other Lazarus, but he had his problems too. This Lazarus lived with his sisters, Mary and Martha, in the town of Bethany, just a few miles outside of Jerusalem. They were personal friends of Jesus, and apparently enjoyed hosting the Master when he was in the area. While this Lazarus was not a poor beggar like the guy with the same name, he did have a major problem. He died!

No where is it mentioned how old Lazarus was, but one might guess, from his personal friendship with Jesus, that he and his sisters were young to middle aged adults. It was his sister, Mary, who anointed Jesus' feet with costly ointment and wiped them with her hair. Any way, John's narrative tells us that Lazarus fell sick to some unnamed disease. While we don't know the particular malady that Lazarus suffered from, we know it must have been serious. His sisters had sent messengers to Jesus asking him to come quickly saying "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick." John 11:3 (NKJV)

Well, you know the story. After Jesus received the message, he stayed two full days in the place where He was ministering. His disciples seemed somewhat confused by Jesus' reaction to the news. Was Jesus indifferent to the situation? Did He underestimate the seriousness of Lazarus' illness? Of course not. He knew the situation. In fact, He already knew the outcome. He held the power of life and death, so there was no rush on His part. When He finally announced that they would go to Bethany, Thomas (one of the twelve) advised against going back so close to Jerusalem where the religious leaders might stone Jesus to death. When Thomas saw that Jesus was intent on going, he whined, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." John 11:16 (NKJV) That Thomas was just the eternal optimist, huh?

By the time Jesus and his traveling companions did reach Bethany, the scene was pretty sad. Mourners filled the house. Lazarus was already dead, and he had been in the grave for four days. Martha makes a couple of interesting observations. "Lord if you had been here my brother would still be alive." What a sad picture of what might have been. Yet in the next breath she adds, "But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." John 11:22 (NKJV). What a profession of faith! Yet when Jesus tells her that Lazarus will live again, she slips back into the "paralysis of analysis" by saying, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus responded with with one of the most powerful statements He ever made, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this? " John 11:25-26 (NKJV) She needed to be reminded by Jesus that HE is the life giver! So do we.

What happens next is big. Jesus asks to be taken to the burial site. As He stood before the tomb Jesus wept. Those who stood nearby mistook His weeping as mourning the loss of His friend. That's certainly not the case - He knew what He was about to do. Perhaps Jesus wept over the result of sin which brought death upon the human race. Perhaps He wept over the sorrow shown by the mourning friends and neighbors. Maybe it was over the general unbelief of the people - even after seeing Him and hearing His teachings for the past three years. At any rate, Jesus asked for the tomb to be opened.

This request brought great consternation from those who were assembled there. Martha tried to reason with Him, "Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days." John 11:39 (KJV) To which Jesus replied, "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" John 11:40 (NKJV) Jesus intended to do something very special - and He did. We see one of the great miracles of the Bible when Jesus calls the dead guy to come out of the grave - and he did!

Jesus did not let the stink stop Him!

Neither should we.

Look at the result of the miracle. "Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him." John 11:45 (NKJV) Had Jesus let the stink stop Him, this great miracle would not have taken place, and many of those who believed would not have been saved. Jesus is still in the miracle working business. He still is in the business of doing great things and amazingly He uses people like you and I to accomplish much of His work. We MUST NOT let the "stink" stop us from doing what we know we must do for Him - yet sometimes we do just that.

God has placed each of us in positions of varying responsibility. All of us are expected to "bloom where we are planted", accomplishing His purpose for our lives. The enemy will bring out his heavy artillery to create some kind of "stink" designed to derail the work of the Lord. If he can convince us that our work is unimportant, or that it's not worth "stirring up a stink" he wins, and the miracle working power of Christ is thwarted.

Sometimes it is the stink of simple unbelief on our part. We trust Christ with our souls, but often we fall under the "paralysis of analysis" by allowing temporary circumstances to cripple our faith. Remember what He said in verse 40? "Did not I say to you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?" Don't let the stink of unbelief stop you! Nothing is impossible with God.

Sometimes it is the stink of what it might cost us. To be obedient to the Holy Spirit will cost us the sacrifice of self. It will cost us some of our time, some of our talent, and some of our treasure. Remember the four guys who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus? When they couldn't get into the house for the crowd, they didn't give up. They invested the effort of getting this guy up to the roof, when others might say, "It's not worth the trouble. Maybe you can catch Him some other day." When they did get him to the roof, they tore a hole in it, to lower the crippled man to Jesus. Somebody had to pay for the damages to the roof, but that didn't stop these fellows from doing what it took to get their friend to Jesus. Don't let the stink of fear of the cost stop you! It's worth it.

Sometimes it is the stink of pride that hinders our success for the Lord. We often fear the reproach that comes from being a follower of Christ. Self often gets between us and obedience and the cause of Christ suffers. Remember that Jesus said, "If anyone will come after me, let him DENY HIMSELF (emphasis mine) take up his cross daily and follow Me." Do you fear what others may think about you? Will they think you are a religious fanatic or some kind of "Bible thumper"? Are you willing to take the risk of the world thinking less of you for your devotion to the one who gave His life for you? Don't let the stink of pride stop you! He humbled Himself and was obedient to the will of the Father. We must do the same.

Sometimes it is the stink of fear that stops us. There is the fear of failure, as well as the fear of persecution. First of all remember that if you are obedient in the service of the Lord, you CANNOT fail. We do our part by doing what we are assigned, He does the rest. No pressure. What about the fear of persecution? Well that is a very real possiblity. Jesus reminded His disciples that the prophets were persecuted for their faith. He was despised and rejected by men so could they expect to be persecuted also. Paul the Apostle wrote to his protege' Timothy, "Yes, all who would live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." Now that's not exactly something you would put on the recruiting poster, but a truth none the less. Yet His promise to us is that He will never forsake us or leave us alone. He'll take you through the fire. He'll shut the mouths of the lions. He's done it before. He'll do it again. Don't let the stink of fear stop you! Over 70 times in the Bible we are reminded to "Fear not".

There may be other "stinks" not mentioned here, that threaten to stop you from doing what God has assigned to you. Just remember that He is with you, and He never changes. Jesus didn't let the potential of the stink stop Him from bringing Lazarus out of the grave.

Don't let the stink stop you.