Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Blessings

The gifts have all been opened.

Our big family dinner was held on Christmas Eve.

Cleanup is progressing nicely.

The grandsons have created some new "Christmas memories" for us to treasure.

The church was full for Christmas Eve Candle light Communion Service, and it was a wonderful time of Worship.

It's now very early Christmas morning. Linda is still sleeping soundly. She deserves it. This is our 40th Christmas together, and the lion's share of all the shopping, decorating, gift wrapping, cooking, and spreading of Christmas cheer in this family can be traced to her. Mine is simply a supporting role to the one who has "made" this season of the year so special to our widespread family.

Jay, Michelle, Quint and Canon are celebrating in their home in New Orleans. We plan to have a "late" Christmas celebration with them next week. Benji, Leigh Anne, Will and Asher (having been with us yesterday) will spend Christmas day with the Clantons and Craces today. Mom and Dad will have Christmas dinner today with Bruce and Sandi and their families. Carl, Sarah, Kate and Alex are in Atlanta. Linda's Dad, Burgess, missed our family dinner yesterday, suffering from some type of virus. Hopefully we will see him today. The rest of her family is spread from Ashland to Lexington, to Pike Co. Kentucky and from Hampton, VA to Florida and northern Ohio.

So, today, Christmas Day, Linda and I will spend quietly together.

No sadness. No Holiday Depression. Just the two of us, celebrating our 40th Yuletide together.

It will be a day to reflect on all of God's blessings to us. Our home. Our family. Our innumerable friends. And how God has spared our lives to enjoy it all.

It will be a day to reflect on His greatest gift to us.

A Savior.

A Savior who was born so very long ago in an obscure place on another continent. He came to show us the Father (His Father) in Heaven. He became Immanuel, God with us! His life magified the Father. His death purchased our pardon and redeemed us from the slave market of sin. His resurrection grants eternal life to all who receive Him.

Above all, He brings us into a loving relationship with the Father, who loves us more than any imaginable type of earthly, human love. He brings peace, joy, love, hope, contentment, and meaning to life - and it is only found in Him.

This is the Christmas Story. This is the Good News that everyone needs to hear.

So, when the lights are all unplugged, the decorations come down, trees and garland discarded, we hope to keep the "Christmas Spirit" alive throughout the coming year.

Christmas is Jesus. Our Savior. Our Lord. Our dearest friend.

Join with us, and let's make every day "Christmas".

Thursday, December 17, 2009

We'll Miss Her Around Here!

The panic is beginning to set in.

Well , maybe not real panic, but the unpleasant knowledge that I will be losing my "right arm" on January 1st. That is when our Church Secretary, Sonia Jones, begins her new employment with a local law firm. Sonia has accepted an offer that she couldn't refuse. It involves full time employment, higher wages, and retirement benefits. I certainly don't begrudge her taking advantage of this offer and I certainly wish her the best, but things just won't be the same around here without her.

Sonia is the pleasant first voice one hears when calling Westmoreland Baptist Church. She came to the church just over seven years ago, after a number of years working for another large law firm in Huntington. In fact, she began her duties at WBC just a few months before I was called to be Pastor here. I continue to marvel at how deftly she handles her duties and how she manages to get everything done between 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM, Monday through Friday. But she does it well, and her duties are much more than just answering the phone.

Sonia serves as both the Administrative Secretary and Financial Secretary at Westmoreland. While keeping up with the innumerable tasks I give her to do everyday, she still finds time to run the office; paying bills; doing payroll for the church and Mother's Day Out; keeping all of the church's financial records and bank accounts current, updating membership lists; typing up the weekly bulletin and the monthly newsletter; processing numerous requests for help from needy families; taking care of all outgoing and incoming correspondence; ordering office supplies; computer troubleshooting; handling incoming phone calls; keeping the church calendar updated; answering questions and helping church members with various needs; etc, etc, etc.
Get the idea?

Her office can seem like Grand Central Station at times. It can get crowded and noisy. It can be confusing. Yet her efficiency in getting the job done - often under great stress and looming deadlines is second to none. Very seldom does she make a mistake. Once a task makes it's way to her "To Do" list, you can count on it being accomplished. I never have to ask twice. She manages to take care of all her church obligations while at the same time being a wife and mother, and helping her husband, Philip, manage the numerous rental properties that they own. She is a busy girl...

She has also come to be considered a friend to many members of our church family. I am sure they will all join me in wishing Sonia the very best on her new job, and also in feeling the loss here at Westmoreland Baptist Church. Obviously, I am not looking forward to the transition, and she will leave some big shoes to fill, but I know that God has the right person out there for us. We'll make it through of course, but we'll miss her.
So, Sonia, we wish the very best to you, and Philip, and Nathan in the future. Thank you for a job well done.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Something to Consider This Christmas

This post is not original with me, but I certainly like what it says. I received it from Cathy Howerton, who received it from Daina Reger Hamlin. I appreciate it being sent along to me. With all our "well meaning attempts to do the right thing" it would probably benefit all of us (and bring more glory to God) if we would simply practice the truth of the message of this imaginary letter. Think about it…

Letter from Jesus about Christmas --

It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season. Maybe you've forgotten that I wasn't actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival. Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime.

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Now, having said that let Me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing the President complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, life, death, and resurrection, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5 Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping thereon Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the City Mission, Salvation Army, CAReS, River Cities Harvest, The Dressing Room (Federated Charities), Community Kitchen or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember:


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Perhaps You Can Help

I want to use the blog today in the unusual way. I want to share a great need with you, and I am asking each reader to pray about how they might be able to help in some way to meet this need.

I just returned from a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and have a strong leading to share with you the most pressing need that this great seminary has today.

NOBTS has experienced an amazing recovery since Hurricane Katrina flooded the campus in 2005. The campus is beautiful again, operations have fully recovered, and quality young men and women are flocking to the campus to follow God's calling on their lives. However, since the storm, the critical shortage of housing has hampered the seminary's ability to offer housing to all the students who come to New Orleans to study theology and prepare for ministry, missions, and other Christian vocations.

Ninety Two apartments were destroyed by Katrina. As a result of the lost two bedroom units, the seminary routinely places 20-30 student families on a waiting list for on campus housing at the start of each semester. Seminary President, Dr. Chuck Kelley has routinely said that replacing the 92 apartments is the most pressing need we face today.

To further the problem, since Katrina, the city of New Orleans has a much lower amount of housing available, and rents in the area are tremendously high. This is very difficult for Christian families, many of whom have left comfortable conditions at home, to follow God's will for their lives.

Our Board of Trustees approved construction of two new student apartment buildings at our Fall Meeting this past October 14,2009. The cost of the construction is $2.7 million, and ground was broken later that month on the project.

This intuitive will result in a total of 16 new two bedroom apartments (eight two bedroom units in each of the two new buildings). Financing has already been approved for these buildings, construction is underway, and these units should be available to those who come to New Orleans for the 2010 Fall Semester.

While Dr. Kelley was thankful for the opportunity to realize the 16 new apartments, he stated that another eight units are urgently needed, just to meet the immediate student housing demand.

The Trustees approved a motion concerning a third, eight apartment building. The full board authorized the trustee officers to approve the construction of a third building, but only if funds can be raised withing the next year. One of our new trustees, challenged us in October for each trustee to seek to privately raise funds to meet the urgent need for these housing units. Our trustee fundraising goal is $800,000. After two months, we have actually received $18,300 which represents 2% of our goal.

That is why I am writing you today in this edition of "For What It's Worth".

After our tithes to our local church, Linda and I have made it a practice to financially support NOBTS each month. We realize that we are living in economically depressed times. The giving has not been easy, but we have been blessed for it.

I believe there are a number of readers of this blog, who could help in some way. Some are financially blessed and could give a very healthy sum to this urgent need. Some may only be able to spare "the widow's mite". No gift would be too small (or too large)! Anything given to this need can be multiplied in the hands of a God who fed more than 5,000 people from a little boy's lunch bag. One could give monthly, or a one time gift. Some might consider including NOBTS in their will. Whatever is given will go directly to the serious housing need.

Our son is working on his Doctorate at NOBTS, but he and his family are blessed to be living in a parsonage supplied by the church he pastors. Many other students are not as fortunate. In fact, it is likely that our church will have two newly married couples on the NOBTS campus next fall. Your gift to this initiative could very well help them to find affordable housing on campus.

Will you pray about what God might have you to do?

For more information, you may contact me via email or by phone at (304) 412-0352. I'll be happy to share an informational packet with you. Checks should be made out to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (marked "Trustee Housing Project" in the memo section). May God lay it on the hearts of many to do what they can to give a gift that will go on giving for the furtherance of the Gospel, well beyond our own lifetimes!

Monday, December 7, 2009

When the Saints Go Marching In

I'm sitting at gate B13 at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, awaiting departure on US Airways flight 1613 to New Orleans. Purpose of the trip is related to my duties as a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Trustee, but I get to combine business with pleasure and spend a couple of nights with my son, Jay, and his family while in the Big Easy.

It appears that the flight is full. Seating in the gate area is severely inadequate and some of us are sitting in the row of seats marked, "Special Assistance Passenger". (In my case that may be appropriated). There seems to be an awful large number of New Orleans Saints fans awaiting boarding, and with good reason. The Saints are 12-0 for the season, one of only two teams that are undefeated in the NFL this year. In fact it is the first time in NFL history that two teams are undefeated after the twelfth week of play. The Saints almost blew it Sunday as it took an overtime field goal to secure the win against the Washington Redskins in DC.

There are a lot of Saints fans out there across the fruited plain today. Moreso than ever before. The last couple of seasons have been good for the Saints. In fact, Hurricane Katrina seemed to be a turning point for the team formerly known as the "Ain'ts" (as in "ain't going to the playoffs") The 12-0 darlings of New Orleans have picked up thousands of new fans since their convincing beat down of the powerful New England Patriots at the Louisiana Superdome a week ago, seen nationally on Monday Night Football. My friend, Greg Hamby, a pastor in the Boston area, (and a long time Patriots fan) has decried the sudden number of "bandwagon fans" tha the Saints seem to have picked up. But isn't that usually the case?

When things are going well, everyone loves a winner. And the Saints are just that this season. Big time winners.

That seems to be the way it is in life in general. There are always folks who jump on the bandwagon when someone is winning, and winning big. We want to identify with winners.

It all reminds me of the huge number of people you can find (my age and older) who are Cincinnati Reds fans (or I should say WERE Cincinnati Reds fans). They all remember those great teams we called the "Big Red Machine" back in the 70's. You remember. The guys who beat the powerful Boston Red Sox in seven games during what many have called the greatest World Series ever. The same bunch, led by Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, George Foster, et al, came back the next year and swept the Bronx Bombers in four games, for back to back titles.

Where are all the "Big Red Machine Fans" now? In fact, where were they before, back in the days before Sparky Anderson and Don Gullett? Where were they when Gordy Coleman, Joe Nuxhall and Leo Cardenas were just an average run of the mill bunch of Redlegs?

It's the bandwagon phenomenon and it is not just related to sports. You'll find the same situation with politicians, and celebrities of many stripes. When they are winning and popular, everybody wants a piece of the action. When things go south, the bandwagon empties quickly.

It was the same way in Jesus' time. Huge multitudes were following Him for His controversial teaching, his miracle working actions and for the sheer curiosity aspect of it all. His popularity was tremendous. In John chapter six, Jesus began to declare who He truly was and for what reason He came. The bandwagon began to empty quickly. When many "turned away and walked with Him no more", He asked His disciples, "Will you also go away?"

Simon Peter spoke up (as he often did) and said "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!"

Those are not the words of a bandwagon fan. Those are not the words of a fair weather friend. Those are the words of an individual who recognized Jesus as the Way the Truth and the Life, and realized that apart from Him, there is no hope of forgiven sin, eternal life, and a relationship with God. Peter had found that in Jesus. Millions of others have, too.

Do you have such a relationship?

I'm convinced that most of the Saint's fans here at gate B13 are true fans, not the bandwagon variety. Many of them are talking about the long years of losing, and the wonderful fulfillment that the team brings today.

I hope that they, and you, have your full trust and faith in the one who has already won the greatest victory of time and eternity.

Will YOU be in that number... "When the Saints Go Marching In"?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Most Uncomfortable Position

Straddling the fence is a most uncomfortable position!

Several months ago General Stanley McChrystal, the commanding officer of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said that he needed another 40,000 troops to accomplish the mission in that ongoing war. McChrystal had made that request to the President public, and it immediately became fodder for every television news cast, talk radio program, and cable news show's talking head. The debate has raged for months now. Should the President give the General the number of boots on the ground that he felt he needed? Or should we just clear out of that God forsaken place, having already lost more American lives than we should have in a war that seems to have no end in sight?

The President said he would not make any quick decisions on such a weighty matter - and he didn't!

Finally, after several meetings with his "war council", the President revealed his decision in a nationally televised speech. Speaking to the country from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he announced that he would be sending 30,000 fighting men to Afghanistan. He further said that he had set the date of July 2011, as the target for beginning the pull out of our troops.

Fire erupted on the President from both the left and the right.

The anti war liberals (his political base) raged that not one more soldier should be sent to Afghanistan. They would accept nothing less that a plan for an immediate withdrawal. On the other hand, the hawkish right applauded his committing more troops, but were incredulous that he announced a pull out date at the same time.

Our President, like many other politicians, was trying to have it both ways. Appearing to try to please everyone, he pleased virtually no one. He appeared to be straddling the fence, and as anyone who has ever literally done so knows, that is a most uncomfortable position!

Warfare planning is a polarizing thing. When waging war, there are basically two acceptable choices. Either totally commit the personnel, strategy, and resources required to win the conflict - or get out! It's really pretty simple. Any other choice is unacceptable and disastrous (anybody remember Viet Nam?).

Straddling the fence is terribly uncomfortable - and generally speaking - unacceptable.

The same concept is true in our spiritual lives.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator of the province of Judea, found himself in a political no win situation. Faced with a howling mob, demanding him to take action against a prisoner in whom he could find no fault, Pilate asked the question, "What shall I do with this man, Jesus?" It's the same question that thoughtful people have been asking themselves for twenty centuries.

Jesus is the most polarizing figure in human history. He presents Himself to us as the ONLY way to Heaven, and to a right relationship with God.

In our current culture, a common philosophy is that there are surely several paths to God. Jesus is only one of many. Jesus, however, said that there are only two spiritual roads that a human may take. One is broad, with easy access, and heavily travelled. The other is narrow and somewhat difficult. It has only one on ramp, and many folks miss it. Jesus said that the first way leads to destruction but the second road leads to life everlasting. (Matthew 7:13)

Two choices.

Jesus said He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him! (John 14:6) Accept Him and His sacrifice for our sin, or reject Him and futilely try to make it on your own.

Two choices.

In Matthew 12:30, Jesus said, ""He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad."

Two choices.

Like Pilate of old, each of us must face that question, "What shall I do with this man, Jesus?"
There are only two choices one may make.

Be careful to make the right one.

Fence straddling is not an option. It's not only uncomfortable, but in this case, it's eternally disasterous!