Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne


Growing up in the last half of the 20th Century I can vividly remember many of the 60 New Years Eves I have celebrated. They have ranged from quiet family get togethers, to parties (some family friendly - some not so much!) We have set off firecrackers as kids back in the 50's, attended concerts, and some Watch Night Church Services, youth lock ins in several churches. We have celebrated alone and with others, sometimes in restaurants, sometimes in friends homes. Linda and I observed New Year's Eve 2009-2010 as we drove back home overnight from New Orleans to Ashland, KY. We have watched the ball drop on Time Square, and seen the ageless Dick Clark host numerous "New Year's Rockin' Eve" on television.


One of the memories I have from childhood was hearing Guy Lombardo and his orchestra playing a tune entitled "Auld Lang Syne" as the revelers rang out the old and rang in the new year. As I got older, I heard people actually singing the lyrics of the song, but I confess that it was one of those songs that "you know some of the words". It had a haunting tune, but alas, the words were basically a mystery. I recently decided that before I check out of this life, it would be nice to learn a little more about the song - where did it come from? What did it really mean?


I learned that a poem by that name was written by Scottish poet, Robert Burns in 1788. Burns set it to the music of a traditional Scot folk song. The words "Auld Lang Syne" have been loosely translated into English as "old long since", "days gone by", and most popularly, "for old time sake". The song has become a staple to be played or sung on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, and has also become popular at graduations, funerals, or as a farewell or ending of other notable occasions.


There is some doubt if the melody with which we are familiar is the original tune to the song, but the tune we recognize is the most popular in Scotland, and around the world.


At this writing, the arrival of the new year 2011 has already been celebrated in New Zealand, and its arrival is moving quickly across the globe. So, as the remaining hours of 2010 quickly pass away, most of us will be thinking of the events of the past 365 days. Each of us have our own memories - to rue or to cherish. We have said goodbye to loved ones, and realize the transitory nature of our own time here on earth.


So in honor of the passing of the old year, and the coming of the new, won't you join me in singing the old song, "For Old Time Sake"? You know the tune, here are the words. C'mon. Sing along -


Auld Lang Syne


Should old acquaintance be forgot,and never brought to mind ? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne ?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,for auld lang syne,we'll take a cup of kindness yet,for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup ! and surely I’ll buy mine ! And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine ; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine ; But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand my trusty friend ! And give us a hand o’ thine ! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Last Sunday of 2010

In the British Commonwealth, today is Boxing Day. It is a secular holiday that follows Christmas Day. No one seems to know the exact origin of the title (according to this article) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_day but it generally seems to serve as a day of goodwill and alms giving. Not a bad idea, but those virtues really should be practiced 365 days per year.

*******
The Christmas rush is over (except for the gift exchange forays to the mall).

Now it is the day after Christmas, and the beginning of the strangest week of the year. The week between Christmas and New Years Day always seems to be somewhat of a limbo week. It begins with the wind down from Christmas, and ends with the celebration of a new year on the calendar. In between are the days of Christmas break for the school kids, and for some of the adults who save that last week of the year to use up their remaining vacation time. Toward the end of the week Christmas decorations will begin to come down and be packed away again in basements and attics, waiting to come out again around Thanksgiving time of next year. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.

*******
It was a difficult one for one of the families of our church, as their husband and father collapsed and died suddenly and unexpectedly as he was preparing to have Christmas dinner at his son's house. I got the call from the Cabell Huntington Hospital Chaplain about 3:00 PM on Christmas day, and immediately headed up I64 to be with the grief stricken family.

The whole episode brought back a flood of memories from seven years ago, when my wife's dear mother suddenly passed away on Christmas eve. Christmas has never been the same for our family since then, and I know that will also be the case for the Thacker family, as well as others who unfortunately have found themselves in the same situation.

The staff of the ER at the hospital were wonderfully kind and thoughtful to the family to whom I ministered. I am thankful for the dedicated health care professionals who sacrificed their Christmas day to be there for others in their time of need, and to deliver the precious babies who make their appearance on major holidays.

*******
This is the last Sunday of 2010. Sorry for the cliche', but where has the time gone? It has been an eventful year at Westmoreland Baptist Church, with the September - December segment absolutely packed with activities. We have ratified a new constitution, which basically simplifies and redefines our Mission and our organizational structure. We have called a new youth pastor. We have lost several members due to death, and have gained several others - including a number of younger members, which is always encouraging.

*******
Our final morning worship service for the year will be held this morning. I will be continuing my series of messages from John 1:1-18 as we explore more deeply, just exactly WHO Jesus is. This morning we will be looking at verses 4&5, and will focus on Jesus as the Life Giver and the Light Bearer. Praying that God will be pleased with our worship of Him today.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Morning, 2010


Sure is quiet around the house here in Ashland this morning.

Linda is sound asleep (as she should be). As usual, she has made our Christmas holiday a beautiful thing, and she is getting some well deserved rest.

A new blanket of snow has fallen overnight - and more is on the way. I'm sure all of the children waking up in our area this morning will be delighted. It brings back memories to me of special White Christmases long ago.

The aroma of the turkey cooking in the oven fills the nearly empty house.

Yesterday was a flurry of activity, as the last minute details were completed for the family celebration. Four generations gathered here in our home for our Christmas get together. The Christmas Story was read from Luke chapter two. Gifts were exchanged, stories told, laughter shared, and much of it was recorded on video. Then it was off to church for our traditional Candlelight Communion Service. Upon arriving back home, there was trash to take out, gifts to put away, dishes to wash, and the general cleanup that follows a family gathering. Linda began preparing the turkey, and then, finally - sleep.

Then comes the quiet Christmas morning.

There is nothing like Christmas morning to remind us anew that our nest is empty - and has been for fourteen years!

The quiet Christmas morning has become the norm for more than a decade. Gone are the days when we were awakened by our little boys who arose before sunrise and rushed to the living room to see what Santa had left under the tree. In those days, Christmas Eve was spent at Mom and Dad's house with my brothers and their families. Then on Christmas morning - after finding the surprises under the tree - it was off on the two hour ride to Pike County, Kentucky to celebrate Christmas with Linda's parents, brothers, her sister and their spouses and children.

The day would always be filled with joy, great food, and the sound of laughter as all the grandchildren played with brand new toys and had to try on the new clothing found in the packages piled high under the tree.

The day always ended too quickly, as we all had to be back to work early the next morning. Hugs were exchanged, goodbyes said, and it was back in the car for the long dark journey home with the two boys who were usually sound asleep by the time we had crossed Hardy Mountain.

It was a special time. The ritual was the same each year, and in the midst of those years, the thought that it would ever change never crossed our minds.

But it has changed, which is simply inevitable.

Children grow up and move away. Grandparents and Great Grandparents who once oversaw the celebrations have now left us. The family dynamic has changed. Loved ones pass away. Alzheimer's steals the memories of some, and the aging process takes its toll upon us all.

Somewhere along the way, our little children grew up and now they are the parents. One son and his family are 1,000 miles away, and they celebrate Christmas on the Bayou. The other son and his family, who still live close by, are tasked with splitting the holiday with two different sets of parents, just as we use to do.

It's the circle of life.

It could be depressing. In fact, Christmas is the saddest time of the year to many. I, however, can only feel joy and appreciation for the gift of living to see another Christmas. It's my sixth Yule season since the diagnosis of incurable metastatic colon cancer. It's my fourth "bonus" Christmas since I should have been dead within two years of the diagnosis. It's one more God given, undeserved blessing that I have to be thankful for. And I am.

Two months ago, I began my 61st trip around the Sun. It's been a great ride so far. I don't know if I will be here to see Christmas 2011. In fact, none of us know what changes may befall us and our families over the next 365 days. Fact is, we have no promise of tomorrow.

What we do have is today.

Make the most of it.

Reflect on the birth of the Savior. Enjoy whatever the day brings you. Be with family if you can. Do a good deed or say a kind word to someone who needs it. Have a good meal. Watch some football, or a rerun of one of your favorite old Christmas movies. Reflect on your blessings, and celebrate the day.

After all, "It's A Wonderful Life".
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Letter to My Youngest Grandson


December 6, 2011

Dear Asher,

This past Sunday was one of the most special days of all my 60 years on the planet. It was my joy to have the privilege to baptize you, my youngest grandson.


Many people wonder if it is appropriate for a young boy like you to be baptized. After all, you are still very young. You don’t know all the doctrinal jargon that we Christians throw around so easily. You are clueless regarding church and denominational politics. You don’t know a Southern Baptist from an American Baptist, from a Free Will Baptist, from a United Methodist. You have no personal position on the Calvinist vs. Arminian debate.


You haven’t studied theology, but you have grasped the greatest theological truth that is possible to understand. That is that, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”


Jesus said “Suffer the little children and forbid them not to come unto me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”


I am thankful that you have come to Jesus at such a young age. You have come while your heart is tender and open to the love of Jesus. You don’t carry the baggage of the years of the effect of the human sin nature, which many folks have to forsake when they come to Christ. You may not be able to recite the definitions of such spiritual terms as redemption, adoption, grace, and faith, but you (and all other children) most certainly live each day under the basic concept of faith. After all, you know what it is to totally depend on someone else to provide you with food, clothing, shelter, and protection.


That’s the way it is with God. We must depend wholly upon Him for all our daily material and physical needs – and for the spiritual and eternal needs as well. You have wisely made the decision to come to Him. Are you old enough to understand the total impact of the magnanimity of your decision? I will let the theologians debate that point. But there are some things about your decision that I do know to be true.


I know that you were blessed to be born into a Christian home. Your mother and father both know Jesus as their Savior, and they have told you and your brother that story since you were born. They have also sought to live their faith as role models for both of you. They have made sure that you have been in church all your life. In that setting you have been exposed to the Gospel message thorough your home life as well as the church setting. You have had dedicated teachers and children’s ministers who have also taught you about Jesus, reinforcing what you have been taught at home.


All four of your grandparents, and all of your living great grandparents are also people of faith. Having a godly heritage does not translate into spiritual virtue for you, but it does give you a tremendous opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus, and to see Christian values modeled in the lives of the people you know and love. You have been taught the value of the Bible as God’s word to us, and you have learned many Bible verses by memory from Sunday School, Upward Basketball and Soccer, and AWANA. Since “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”, I was not terribly surprised when you responded to the invitation to come to Jesus when it was given at the crusade back in October.


Your parents were not there that evening. Your brother did not try to influence you, neither did your Mamaw or me. (you were not even sitting with us at the time) I have to believe that the Holy Spirit moved you to respond, and I am so glad you did!


In the past few weeks, your parents, your Sunday School teacher, and your children’s minister have talked to you and questioned you about it. All are satisfied that you have the basic understanding of the Gospel message necessary to accept Christ as your Savior.
So, since baptism is the first step of obedience to Christ, and it is the true public profession of faith in Jesus, your baptism was scheduled.


What a wonderful night it was! All four grandparents were there to see you publicly follow Jesus in baptism. Your brother, Will, was there too. Mom and Dad were there with their cameras to record the moment. Your whole church family was there and all the AWANA kids came into the sanctuary to see you be baptized.


In my 40 years in the ministry I have experienced the joy of baptizing several hundred new believers in Christ. Being able to baptize my youngest grandson was one of the most special times at all.


So now you are a follower of Jesus. You are the third of our four grandsons who have made that step of faith. Each of you are now being taught what it means to follow Jesus.
Listen closely to your parents, your teachers, and your pastor as they share the word of God with you. Always be faithful to study your Bible and pray, and gather into God’s house for fellowship with other believers, and to learn the principles of discipleship.


You will probably make some mistakes along the way. But you have made the right start. Just know that Jesus is all you need. He has saved you from the penalty of sin, his is presently saving you from the power of sin in your life, and one day He will save you from the very presence of sin. Listen to what He says to you through His word, and follow where he leads you through His Holy Spirit. When you do that, you will not go wrong!


I very proud of you, and I am thankful that one day we will be together in heaven – forever.


Love always,Papaw

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Silly Season Has Arrived


The calendar says December 1st. Thanksgiving is a week old memory, and the first snow has fallen here in the Tri-State area. We are now fully immersed in the annual Christmas rush, and the accompanying "Silly Season" is in high gear.


Never mind the overnight lines at the shopping malls preparing for pre dawn Black Friday hand to hand combat. Forget the frustration of endlessly circling the lanes of the various parking lots, knowing that in the unlikely event that a parking place might open up, one of the half dozen vehicles in front of you will most certainly take the spot.


Learn to deal with the fact that an unending stream of television commercials will admonish you to purchase your "holiday gifts" from the sponsoring businesses. Holiday Gifts? What holiday? President's Day? Memorial Day? Ground Hog Day? Perhaps Christmas! Who knows? Nobody ever really specifies which holiday is being touted.


Know that office Christmas parties will produce the usual cheese balls, finger foods, mistletoe sprigs, women with Snowman and Santa Claus sweaters and ornamental earrings, and boorish behavior from some guy who has obviously sampled way too much of the spiked Egg Nog!


Traffic on the city streets will become more intolerable as the calendar moves ever closer to the 25th. Staid, otherwise dignified neighborhoods will become luminescent battlegrounds for would be Clark W. Griswolds to outdo one another with garish light displays, rivaling the candlepower of the lights at a night game at Great American Ball Park.


Expect nerves to be frayed, the item you are specifically looking for to be sold out, endless lines at cash registers. Sales clerks will be harried, and your fellow humans (who for the previous 11 months have just been regular folks) to become mindless imbeciles, capable of doing just about anything.


Case in point.


Our church secretary just returned from making our church's "Mothers Day Out" ministries' deposit at the local branch of United Bank. (I thought seriously about not mentioning the actual name of the bank, but realizing the ridiculous behavior of the employee - the thought passed).


As Sonia sat in line at the drive through window, simply wishing to drop off the deposit and get on to the post office and then pick up a bite of lunch, she began to wonder why the customer in front of her was taking so long at the window. The business transaction seemed to have been completed, yet the car remained immobile, and an animated conversation continued between the driver of the vehicle and the teller behind the bullet proof glass.


Eventually the teller shoved the little drawer out - you know- the one you put your deposit in (no loose change, etc) - and the driver was trying to cram something into the drawer.


As she looked closer, Sonia identified the nature of the object that the driver was trying to send in to the teller.


In her own words, it was "A little wiener dog wearing a sweater".


Friend, feel free to draw your own conclusion as to why an individual - any sane individual - would try to send a Dachshund into a bank through the drive in window. I am coming up empty on that one...


Anyhow, as 'Sonia relates the story, either the dog was too large to fit, or put up enough of a struggle, that the teller was unable to retract the drawer after several tries. But as we all know, there is more than one way to skin a cat (or a wiener dog for that matter).


The teller disappeared from the window, but the car stayed parked in its place. Soon, the little side door of the bank building opened, and the teller emerged, propped the self locking door open, and came to the driver's window to spend a few minutes petting Fido.


Soon, the teller returned to her post, and eventually the brain dead motorist pulled away from the window and entered traffic. Hopefully the driver made his or her way safely to their destination.


Thankfully, no would be Bonnies or Clydes took the opportunity to bolt into the bank through the propped open door, robbing the place, or taking hostages.


No harm done. A few minutes of time wasted. A traumatized wiener dog. And some frustrated bank customers who probably wished they had just parked and gone inside to transact their business. Just another event verifying "The Adkins Adage" variation to "Murphy's Law" - "Anything stupid that can happen at Christmas time - will!"


Silly season is here. Be prepared for more strangeness.


'Tis the season...


Monday, November 29, 2010

Another Special Birthday


Today is my grandson, Canon's, sixth birthday. Those of you who regularly read my blog know who Canon is, and you know how bravely he has faced the physical problems and numerous surgeries he has had over the past four years. He is a special little guy, and truly one of my heroes.


He and his family and friends in New Orleans had a big birthday party yesterday at Chuckie Cheese. We were blessed to have a little early birthday celebration for him here in Kentucky on Thanksgiving day while he and his family were here last week. We love to celebrate the birthdays of all four of our grandsons, because they are all so special to us. Canon's birthday, however, always holds a special meaning for me. That week back in 2004 is reminiscent of what Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times".


Six years ago today, Linda was in New Orleans to be there for the birth of our 3rd grandson, and to help out a little when he and his mother were to come home from the hospital. It was also the day I was admitted to Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital for tests to determine why I had mysteriously lost so much blood. When Linda learned I had been hospitalized, she flew back home the next day. The tests began the day she headed home.


I was praying that the endoscopy would indicate a bleeding ulcer. Now, that is not something that I would normally pray to have, but considering the other alternatives, that seemed to be one of the best options. No abnormalities were found through that test, and so, the colonoscopy was scheduled for the next day.


On that unpleasant procedure, Dr. Warrier "hit the jackpot". He explained to Linda that although we would have to wait for the pathology results for verification, that he was sure the large mass he found in my right ascending colon was malignant. He allowed that the tumor had most likely been growing there for more than two years. Had I done a colonoscopy at the age of 50 (when it is recommended) this could probably literally have been nipped in the bud.


So, things began moving quickly. Surgery was scheduled, and we learned that the cancer had escaped the colon wall and was in numerous lymph nodes, and "spread like grass seed" through out my liver.


"Stage four. Incurable." Sobering words.


We learned that the "average survival time" for people in my situation was 18 - 22 months (with treatments). Less time could be expected without treatments.


Well, the results are a long story. The next two years were a blur of surgical procedures, chemo therapy, CT and PET Scans, blood work, other procedures, and lots and lots of nausea and diarrhea.


I can't begin to tell the whole story here. In fact I am in the process of writing a book detailing the steps on my journey. (hope I can finish it soon, get it published, and sell you a copy!)


At any rate, for His reasons (known only to Him) God did not allow me to die as I was "supposed" to.


Six years later I am still here. Still seeing the oncologist on a regular basis. Getting blood work every month, CT scans periodically, PET scans twice per year. Dr. Jain is pleasantly surprised at the outcome so far, but he cautions us that I "will never be cancer free".


That may be so, but for now, remission is sweet, and I am happy to have it.


God has seen fit to give me the opportunity to see Canon celebrate six birthdays! Besides being a precious grandson, he is more than that to me. He is my marker. Every time I see his smiling face and hear his sweet voice say "I love you, Papaw", I realize anew how blessed I have been by God. Every birthday we celebrate, has a dual special significance to me.


Happy Birthday, Canon! I hope to help you celebrate many more.



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Power!

The believers in and around first century Jerusalem are an interesting lot. Dr. Luke gives us a most fascinating series of scriptural snapshots in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. The narrative gives us some wonderful insight into the actions of these average folks, through whom God accomplished miraculous results. We see the rag tag group of Christ followers increase from 120 somewhat frightened souls in a rented second story meeting place to more than 3,000 in ONE DAY. Within a few short days or weeks, the number had increased to more than 5,000, and many of the Jewish priests were included in the group of new converts.

By the time the narrative reaches the 13th chapter, we see Spirit empowered witnessing throughout the city; selfless acts of love and obedience to Christ; professing believers who lied to the Holy Spirit and to the Apostles, and wound up dead; miraculous healings in the name of Jesus; "small scale" persecution against the leaders of the church; unity and powerful prayer by the community of believers; full scale persecution of the church through the martyrdom of Stephen, and James, and the imprisonment of Peter. We see the first recorded church spat, and witness the wise solution and its productive outcome. We see the miraculous conversion of Saul of Tarsus (who had previously led the efforts to stamp out the Christian movement); the sharing of the Gospel with a Roman Centurion, resulting in his conversion, and that of his entire household; and we see the church spreading out from Jerusalem to outlying areas; and the initial foreign mission endeavors of the Church - the beginnings of taking the Gospel to "the uttermost parts of the earth".


What could bring about such tremendous results?


It was most certainly not the result of some high powered church growth conference. Nothing found in some first century "Purpose Driven Church" treatise or best seller on how to create an effective, growing church. Neither did it result from the human efforts of the initial group, which included a bunch of blue collar uneducated fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, brawlers, social outcasts, and former prostitutes. There wasn't a seminary graduate in the entire initial group. No VIP's or politically well placed individuals. There was no financial support from a "mother church" in the early days of their existence, since none existed at the time.


Nope. None of the above.


The launch of the church and its tremendous geometric growth only came about through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit - and His indwelling in the lives of believers. The second chapter of Acts gives us the details of the event, and the remaining chapters show the tremendous power exhibited in their daily lives.


Jesus had promised such Spiritual power both before, and after his death and resurrection. He sought to teach His disciples about the importance and the future work of the Holy Spirit in their lives ( recorded in John 16) just before His arrest. And He specifically spoke of that Power in Acts 1:4-8, just before He ascended into Heaven from the Mount of Olives:


"... He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, "which," He said, "you have heard from Me; "for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."


It is truly fascinating to see that power manifested in the lives and ministry of the believers throughout the remainder of the book of Acts. Even though the recipients may have been "ignorant and unlearned" individuals, their lives had been forever changed through the power of the Holy Spirit. Their boldness was apparent. Their lives were transparent. And their focus was significant.


These are the same traits that must be found in 21st century Christ Followers if the church is to make similar impact in today's world.


We will never be able "whip up" enough emotion to do it. Formal education (while valuable to the Spirit Filled Believer) is not enough on its own to do it. Church membership, itself, won't do it. Church Growth Conferences and self help books won't do it. Plans, programs, study commissions, and Convention directives will not accomplish it.


If we truly seek to fulfill the Great Commission, we must embrace the simple truths that God's Word is supreme, Salvation is in Christ Alone, those without Christ are hopelessly lost for eternity, and we must do WHATEVER IT TAKES and pay whatever it costs, to take the Gospel to every people group - around the corner and around the world.


The task is impossible, apart from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.


May we turn up our cups and be filled!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Has It Really Been 47 Years?


It was fourth period, Mr. Belcher's American History Class at Beverly Hills Jr. High School. The 30 something crew cut teacher had his work cut out for him, trying to get 25 eighth graders to pay attention to some policy called "Manifest Destiny", while the students were still keyed up from the time spent socializing during the earlier lunch period. The class hour was nearly over when the voice of Principal, Mr. Doug Greenlee, came on to the intercom and made a terse announcement that seemed to cause time to stand still.

"We have a news report that the President has just been shot in Dallas, Texas. His condition is unknown at this time."

There was an eerie silence in the room. For the first time, I had noticed the sound of the old school clock on the wall, ticking off the seconds. We all looked at one another in disbelief. Each student was mulling over the news, and the questions were racing through our minds.

"Why is the President in Dallas?", I wondered. (at that time I had no clue that the Chief Executive was involved in much of anything outside of Washington).

"Who did it?"

"Were the Russians involved?" After all, this was at the height of the Cold War. We all vividly remembered the Cuban Missile Crisis, and wondered if this is something that would lead to a shooting war.

A few moments later, the silence was shattered when Mr. Greenlee's voice again came over the intercom and made the announcement that "President Kennedy died today in Dallas as a result of his wounds".

I remember Mr. Belcher leaning forward on his desk with his head in his hands, mumbling something about "Oh no! Now we've got Johnson". The rest of us were just stunned. No one quite knew what to make of it. No one knew what to say.

The bell rang and we went on to our 5th period classes. Three hundred students moved quietly through the hallways to take their seats in the next class. School was technically over for the day. We still had another class period to go, but there would be no studies going on the rest of that Friday. There were no televisions or even radios in the class rooms in those days, so information sources were virtually non existent. One of the girls mentioned that she had a transistor radio in her locker, and our math teacher gave her permission to go get it. For the rest of the school day, we sat transfixed, listening to faceless reporters talking about such strange sounding places as Parkland Hospital, Dealy Plaza, and the Texas School Book Depository building.

The next few days were my first exposure to round the clock television news coverage. The blue flickering glow of so many black and white television sets shone from windows of nearly every home into the wee hours of the mornings. We watched at President Kennedy's body was returned to Washington, as his beautiful widow still wore the pink blood stained dress from earlier in the day.

We listened to our new President, seeking to assure the American people that we were in no national danger, and leading us in mourning our loss.

We held disdain for the man named Lee Harvey Oswald, who had been arrested for the killing of Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippit, and was later charged with the murder of the President.

We gasped with unbelief as Oswald, himself, was gunned down by a night club owner named Jack Ruby, in the very basement of the Dallas police station.

We watched as an endless line of Americans passed all day and all night through the Capitol rotunda, just to get a glimpse of the fallen President's flag draped coffin.

We choked back tears as we saw the President's brothers, his beautiful wife and pretty daughter and his little son, John, saluting the casket as it left the Capitol building.

We were there in spirit as the funeral procession made its way to the President's final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery, and we witnessed the lighting of the eternal flame.

Our lives changed on that weekend 47 years ago. In a sense, it was the end of the innocence. The rest of the 60's were wracked by violence, trouble, and assassinations (King and RFK).

47 years... a lifetime ago.

Yet anyone who remembers that day can tell you where they were and what they were doing when the news came.

Today we remember.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

OK. Now I Get It!


Most newer 8 and 10 foot step ladders have a warning notice about three steps from the top that says, "Danger! Do not stand at or above this level. YOU CAN LOSE YOUR BALANCE". I always thought it kind of silly that the ladders carry that warning, yet have two more steps (as well as the step on the top of the ladder) above the warning. If it is that dangerous, why wouldn't they just construct the ladder with no steps above that level? That has always seemed a reasonable question to me.



I learned a valuable lesson yesterday, as to why such a warning exists.



Last year, Christmas had sneaked up on me. Although I had done my usual front porch decorations - complete with greenery, garland, wreaths, bows, etc. - I never did get the lights strung around the gutters on the front and sides of the house. I don't remember why I was unable to get the place illuminated, but I was somewhat frustrated that I hadn't been able to accomplish my annual project.



Now, I'm not a Clark Griswold when it comes to exterior Christmas lights, but I do love to have the place illuminated during this wonderful season. My Christmas light philosophy is "Less is more" when it comes to outside decorations. Sometimes I have used the "icicle" type of lights, and at other years, just a string of tasteful, plain white lights around the front and sides of the old homestead.



The months of September, October, and the first half of November have been a tremendously hectic period of time for us this year. In view of last year's lighting disappointment, I decided to take the first opportunity available to get up this year's lights. Yesterday was a beautiful day, a little chilly, but a perfect day for Christmas light installation. After taking care of several ministry projects and hospital visitation in the morning, I helped Thamer Calhoun install furnace vents under the floor of the rental property next door. By 3:00 PM, all the other stuff was over, and I figured I still had 2 1/2 good hours of daylight to get the job done.



Linda was busy inside, putting up the family room Christmas tree, and she wasn't even aware of the fact that I had started the outdoor lighting project. Normally she likes to supervise that, and to "hold" the bottom of the extension ladder for my safety. Knowing that she was busy inside, and a little apprehensive about using the extension ladder with no one holding the base on a somewhat damp yard surface, I opted for the 10 foot step ladder. It seemed reasonable that the four legs of that contraption would provide the support needed to safely protect my 240 pound frame.



This was a decision I came to wish I had opportunity for a mulligan.



I started by stringing several new sets of lights along my 8 foot privacy fence. No ladder really needed for that. Then I began my work across the gutter over the front porch. The ground is fairly level there, and I made pretty short work of the front of the house. Jack Hollan, my neighbor of 30 years, called out to me as he backed his vehicle out of the driveway.



"Careful there! Don't break your neck."



I smiled, waved and told him I had no intention whatsoever of anything like that happening.



It wasn't until I started down the lower side of the house until tragedy struck. The job was roughly 2/3 complete, and dusk was approaching quickly. I had come to an area where the lights had to be strung from the edge of the front porch to the awning that sticks out over the concrete patio on the driveway side of the house. The height required more elevation on my part, so, disregarding the warning sticker, I boldly climbed up to the top step of the ladder. Things were going pretty well until one of the little plastic clips broke in my hand. The small adjustment of my weight caused the ladder to do the unthinkable. It kicked out from under me, slamming my body into the side of the house about 9 feet above the concrete outlined flower bed below.



As I flailed my arms wildly for something to grab, the ladder snapped back against my shins, applying uncomfortable pressure to my shins all the way down to my sudden stop at ground level. My butt landed on the little concrete wall, just before my elbow dug into the soft turf of the flower bed. The result was a wrenching jolt that rendered me helpless for what seemed like a long period of time, but in reality was only a few seconds.



With my body contorted, and in a twisted heap with the downed ladder, all I could do was moan and groan for help. Surely, I thought, that Linda must have heard my the sound of my body crashing into the outside wall, but alas, she was in the back of the house, and my cries for help went unanswered. The neighbors across the street were gone, so I had to suck it up and try to extricate myself from the twisted heap. It wasn't a pretty sight, and I'm sure if a video camera had been present, Tom Bergeron would have had a nice little clip for AFV.



To make a long (and painful) story shorter, suffice it to say, I was slowly able to reach my feet and gingerly make my way into the house, with my back and sides hurting like they had never hurt before.



"What's wrong?" Linda gasped.



"I fell off the ladder" came my weak reply.



If I had thought I would receive sympathy, I was severely mistaken.



"What were you doing on a ladder out there by yourself?" she barked.



"Well, you were busy, and I assumed you wanted to finish the tree."



(wrong thing to say)



So, after a brief breather in my recliner, and further admonishment from my help mate, I realized that if I didn't get the job completed, I wasn't sure when I might be able to do so. So back out I went, righted the ladder and set out to finish the ordeal.



This is where I need to stop telling the story, and repent for all the fun I had poked at my friend Darrell Clark, when he had a similar mishap doing a similar project several years ago. I had visited Darrell in the emergency room after his fall, which injured his shoulder bad enough that he had to miss quite a bit of work, and undergo physical therapy for several months.



Fortunately the most damage I had resulting from the mishap was a wrenched back, and a deeply bruised pride. I slept in the recliner last night and may do so again tonight, this time with a heating pad on my back.



One thing is for sure. As foolish as the warning sticker on the ladder seems to be - this bruised up 60 year old will heed it next time. If there IS a next time!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In The Eyes Of A Child


For the past couple of years, the custom at our house has been hosting two of our grandsons for an overnighter on Friday evenings. The arrangement accomplishes two worthy goals. It gives us some quality time each week with the local grandsons, and it also gives their parents a nice quiet evening together. Benji and Leigh Anne seem to enjoy the break, and Linda and I have come to cherish the Friday night sleepovers.


During football season, the boys like to attend the Ashland Tomcat games before coming to the house. We usually have a movie and their favorite meals on Friday evening, and a nice breakfast on Saturday mornings. Usually Linda cooks it, but on occasion, I do the honors. Either way, it is a special time we have with the two boys, and one that makes us lonesome for the two from New Orleans, whom we only get to see a few times per year.


Last night was no different than usual. But this morning, I had a lot on my plate. It was the final day for Upward Basketball and Cheerleading evaluations at the church, and I needed to be at the Gym by 8:00 AM. Will, the 9 year old, is recovering from a bout with the flu, so Asher, the 5 year old, wanted to know if he could go with me. He is playing Upward basketball here in Ashland, KY but he wanted to go ahead and shoot around at our gym while our make up evaluations were underway. I was glad to have the company, and he seemed to have a great time with an hour and a half of uninterrupted gym time.


The problem arose when I learned that one of our church members was in St. Mary's Medical Center with a collapsed lung. I had been to St. Mary's the previous evening to visit another one of our members, but no one had told me that this lady was also a patient there. I needed to visit her, but the problem was I had a 5 year old with me who is not accustomed to hospital ministry. One option was to drive the 18 miles west to leave Asher at home in Ashland, KY and then turn around and drive all the way back to the east end of Huntington, WV to visit the hospital. This would be both time and gas consuming, and due to a full schedule for the rest of the day, simply unrealistic.


When I asked Asher if he would like to go to the hospital with me, he looked a little chagrined, but agreed that it would be ok.


We made a quick stop on 5th Avenue for a couple of Stewart's hot dogs (a favorite of both he and I), and then motored on to the big medical center, six blocks away.


When we exited the car in one of the hospital parking lots, Asher first wanted to climb one of the small trees in the landscaped median area. It was a beautiful morning, and I waited patiently for him to do his little boy thing. When he finished his tree adventure we headed for the main entrance. He began to talk about the recent stay he had spent in our local hospital in Ashland, and his memories were not pleasant.


"I don't like hospitals" he said flatly.


"I'm not crazy about them myself", I said, "but I come up here frequently to see a lot of people."


"Why?" was his incredulous reply.


"Because that is part of what I do" I said.


It occurred to me that he probably had very little understanding of much of the duties I have as a pastor of a church with more than 300 active members.


"What do you think I do, Asher?" I quizzed him, expecting to hear him say something about preaching, etc.


"Huh?" he said with a puzzled look on his little face.


"What is Papaw's job? You know, like your daddy is a teacher and a coach... What is Papaw's job?"


He looked at me like I was crazy.


His reply made me laugh, and nearly cry at the same time.


"You take care of us. You take us to practice and ball games. You buy us pizza and Italian cheese bread, and watch TV with us, and play basketball and football with us, and you cook us breakfast. You take care of us!"


I have worn a lot of hats over the years. I've been a USAF Sgt. I have been an insurance agent, a youth pastor, a Sunday School teacher, a senior pastor, a state convention president, a school board member, and a seminary trustee. But for a brief moment this morning I experienced an epiphany of what a 5 year old boy thinks I am.


I'm his Papaw. In his eyes, that's what I do - that is my job.


I'm hard pressed to imagine that there could be a better job than that!


Lord, in this Thanksgiving season, I thank you for my grandsons...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

God Lives Under The Bed


My friend, David Clark sent me the following story via email. I don't know the original source of the message, nor the name of the author, but its truth is so profound, I felt obliged to pass it along to my friends.


Enjoy, and take the message to heart.




GOD LIVES UNDER THE BED


I envy Kevin. My brother, Kevin, thinks God lives under his bed. At least that's what I heard him say one night. He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped to listen, 'Are you there, God?' he said. 'Where are you? Oh, I see. Under thebed...' I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room.


Kevin's uniqueperspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world Kevin lives in.


He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result ofdifficulties during labor. Apart from his size (he's 6-foot-2), there are few ways in which he is an adult. He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives underhis bed, that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.


I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life? Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed. The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newbornchild. He does not seem dissatisfied. He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work. He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stovebefore dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day's laundry chores. And Saturdays - oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That's the day my Dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger inside. 'That one's goin' to Chi-car-go! ' Kevin shouts as he clapshis hands. His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.


And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips.


He doesn't know what it means to be discontent. His life is simple. He will never know the entanglements of wealth of power, and he does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats.


His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be. His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it. He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax. He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others.


His heart is pure. He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue. Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere. And he trusts God.


Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, hecomes as a child. Kevin seems to know God - to really be friends with Him in a way that is difficult for an 'educated' person to grasp. God seems like his closest companion.


In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity, I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith.It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions. It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap. I am.


My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances - they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God's care. Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of God. And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I'll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed. Kevin won't be surprised at all!

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Attagirl!" (whoever you are)


I was at the Cabell Huntington Health Department today to check up on my immunizations for the upcoming mission trip to the Philippines. The good news is that all of my shots are up to date and I don't need any boosters (the Typhoid is good until spring). Since I won't see my primary care doctor until early December, I decided to go ahead and get the flu shot the Health Department was offering there.


When they called me back in to the room where the immunizations are administered, on the counter I spied what you see in the photo here. It is an "Eternal Life" gospel tract from the SBC North American Mission Board, and a little bookmark from Westmoreland Baptist Church, containing the gospel message and our church's name, address and phone number. Dallas Ashworth, one of our members who passed away a little over a year ago, purchased several thousand of those bookmarks for our people to pass out. We have included them in correspondence (even with the church's utility bills), our G.R.O.W. Teams have used them, and they have been included in registration packets for everything from Fall Festivals to Upward Sports.


I asked the nurse where she had received the literature and she said a lady was in last week who gave it to her. The nurse, already a believer, left them on the counter for whoever else might show interest in them.


What a pleasant surprise it was to see the tracts, and an encouragement to know that some of our folks are using these tools in witnessing in the community.
Our personal testimony, along with a wisely placed scripture verse, just may be all it takes to lead someone to the Lord. Gospel tracts are a wonderful tool to back up a believer's testimony. They are also a powerful silent witness to someone who may simply pick them up off a counter or table and read the life changing message. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sep-Tober - It's Over. Whew!



The last two months have been an absolute flurry of activity and ministry opportunities for our church and for me personally. It has been a period of great blessing and near exhaustion, and one in which I am so thankful for how God has used our congregation.





The preview to September came on the last Sunday evening in August when we held an Ice Cream Social in the church gym, and a question and answer session regarding the proposed church constitution revision. The event was well attended and positive. All questions were appropriate and relevant and all were answered fully by members of our Constitution Review Committee. I cannot say enough about how faithful Terry Perdue, June Ashworth, David Thompson, Charley Dygert, Jon Blatt, and Barbara Tarter were to the difficult task they had in rewriting our church constitution - simplifying our structure, plainly stating our mission, and moving much of the extraneous material to our Policy and Procedure Manual. With our new Constitution ratified, and our four "Mission Teams" in place, our church is now poised for effective ministry in the 21st Century. The task before is now is to "Just Do It"!



Upward Basketball and Cheerleading brochures had to be completed and ordered in the first week of September.



By the second week of September "First Place for Health" was underway, and our student ministry had already held their second "Fifth Quarter" post football game celebration of the season.



The Third week of September was a biggun'! It started off on Sunday with our annual Church Picnic at CSX Park. It was a great time of fellowship for our church family as well as a number of visitors. Then came Wednesday with the regular quarterly church business meeting. In this meeting The church approved the new constitution with no debate or opposition. This was a great conclusion to 15 months of hard work by the review committee. In the same business meeting the church called Stephen "Bub" Amis as our new Youth Pastor and Director of Student Ministry. Bub is a great asset to the ministry team of Westmoreland Baptist. Joseph Spurgeon also began to serve as volunteer Director of Children's Ministry, overseeing Children's Church and handling the transition in our Children's Ministry from AWANA to TeamKID.



On Friday evening and Saturday morning of that same week, 21 of our people attended a Church Leadership Retreat, staying the night in the new conference center of the Greenup Baptist Association in Cannonsburg, KY. It was a great time of fellowship and vision sharing with many of the leaders of our church in attendance. Jim Drake, Pastor of Brush Fork Baptist Church in Bluefield, WV was our guest speaker for the weekend.



The Fourth week of September included the Greater Huntington Baptist Association Executive Board meeting, and our newly revived Women's Fellowship had a kick off dinner on that Tuesday. Saturday morning saw 30 men come together for the "Bigger Breakfast", and beginning of a 40 day prayer initiative for men.



The first week of October kicked off this busy month with our four day crusade with "Team Intense". Mitch Hodge, of Boise, Idaho, and Kathy Bertram, of Biloxi, Mississippi performed feats of strength and shared their testimonies and the life changing power of the Gospel in six school assemblies and four nights of ministry at the church. In three days, Westmoreland Baptist Church had opportunity to impact the lives of more than 1700 students and their teachers during the day, and share the Gospel with all who attended the evening services at the church. 58 recorded decisions were made for Christ, and one marriage was salvaged as a result of the Crusade. Praise God!



That same week, the "Pairs and Spares" Sunday School Class, ministered to 87 people in a free clothing distribution in their Garments of Grace Clothing Ministry. Next distribution will be Saturday morning, November 6th.



The church celebrated Communion on Sunday morning, October 10th and we had the kickoff of the new TeamKid children's ministry that same evening. I spent most of that week in New Orleans for my Trustee Meeting at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and had opportunity to get in quality time with our NOLA family. I got back in town in time to help set up for the first annual "Light for the Islands" 5K Run/Walk for our Philippine mission work which took place on Saturday the 16th. 63 Runners and walkers helped us raise nearly $1500 for the purchase of Philippine Cebuano Dialect Bibles. A tremendous amount of the success of this project is owed to the efforts of the Davis family. Rhonda, Ed, Jamie and John, thank you so much. You are loved and appreciated!



The next week was supposed to be more or less catch up time on office work and Upward Basketball meetings and other responsibilities, while preparing for the next upcoming events. But I was surprised by an outpouring of love for Pastor Appreciation month (on Sunday the 17th) and a mega surprise birthday party on Wednesday the 20th. Linda really pulled THAT one over on me. I am so thankful that my son Jay, from New Orleans, my brother Carl, from Atlanta, and Aunt Dori, from Houston, were able to join all of the local family here, along with my church family, to make my 60th birthday something really memorable.

That Saturday I served as moderator of the Greater Huntington Baptist Association Annual Meeting at First Baptist Church of Kenova.



The final week of October was jam packed with activity. I preached Sunday through Wednesday evenings in Revival services at Lloyd, Kentucky's First Baptist Church. Tuesday and Thursday were the funeral services for Frank Dowdy and Leona Calhoun, respectively in Ashland and Huntington. Then on Thursday night we hosted more than 400 children and adults in our church gym for a safe and warm Fall Festival for the children of our community.



During this same 8 week period, I did have the usual sermon prep and pulpit duties, along with hospital visits and church administrative stuff to keep up with. I also found time to take my father in law and his lady friend to a Reds game in Cincinnati (her first - his second), attend several of my grandson's football games, attend my father in law's 89th birthday celebration, preach at the homecoming service at Wayside Baptist Church in Boyd Co. KY, counsel and marry one couple, offer an invocation at a Spring Valley High School Soccer game, go to five different doctor appointments, attend a B.A.L.L. team seniors lunch, attend several weekly pastor prayer meetings, three mentoring meetings with a young minister, attend the Holy Fest concert, and went with Linda to her High School Reunion in Belfry, KY.



Tomorrow morning will be "Youth Sunday" at the church. We'll have our 5th Sunday Fellowship Dinner afterward, and "Faith in Action" tomorrow evening. Instead of regular Sunday night service tomorrow evening we will be going into the community doing various ministry projects in the name of Jesus.

At that point, Sep-Tober will be officially over. Whew!

I plan to be in the office Monday through Wednesday on the first week of November, and then attend the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists' Pastors Conference and Annual Meeting, Thursday through Friday at Fairleigh, WV, where I will be nominating Seth Polk for his second term as WVCSB President. Upward Basketball and Cheerleading evaluations are the next week, and then... THEN... we should get back to a more manageable routine.



It sure is going to be nice to get back to normal.



Hey, wait a minute! Isn't this the Christmas season coming up???

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Be The Church


On the last Sunday evening in October, Westmoreland Baptist Church is going to do something a little different than the routine regular Sunday evening service. We are asking our members to put their Faith in Action.
James 1: 22 says “…But be doers of the word, and not hearers only…” and that is the idea. We will be cancelling the REGULAR Sunday evening service routine, and will gather for prayer and then go out to do ministry to our community.

At our 5th Sunday dinner, we will have several local mission projects to choose from. They will range from a list of homebound people or shut ins to be visited … to passing out literature in the community … prayer walking assignments … house cleaning work for a widow … helping the members of the Pairs and Spares Class in the clothing closet… working in the food pantry … working on the gym floor for our Upward outreach ministry … and other possible projects. All of these will be outreach (mission) projects for right here in our community.

We will meet at the Church at 5:30 for prayer time, and then we will go out “on mission”. Even the TeamKID children and the Youth Group will be taking part in the activities. I urge each of our members to chose a project from the ones which will be advertised at the dinner, (or come up with one of your own) and spend a couple of hours on Sunday evening being “doers of the word and not hearers, only”. Next Wednesday evening we will share our experiences at prayer meeting.

James continued in his epistle with these words of wisdom - “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:14-18

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

6 - OH!


Today is a birthday that I never thought I would see. Not only is it the 60th milestone, but the fact is that it is "bonus birthday" number four by my count.

Most of you know the story, and I won't burden you with all the details again, but for those who may be new readers - or just surfing by - allow me to recount the main points.

Just after my 54th Birthday, (six years ago) they dropped the bomb on me. Colon Cancer. Metastatic colon cancer. Conventional wisdom was that I may not live to see my 56th birthday. The malignancy had already spread throughout my liver and lymph nodes. Diagnosis was "Stage 4, Incurable". Prognosis was not good. 18 to 22 months average survival time. There was major surgery to remove much of my colon, several other surgical procedures followed. There were two six month courses of hard, debilitating chemotherapy, separated by a few short months of remission. And then... Nothing.

"You will never be cancer free" my doctor told me. "The cancer cells have spread throughout your body through the blood stream, and we will need to monitor it, because it will come back somewhere" he said.

And monitor it they have.

Since my last chemo treatment I make a monthly trip to the Ashland Bellefonte Cancer center to have my medi-port flushed. While there, they do monthly blood work to check the CEA level (those are the bad guys - a marker that colon cancer leaves in your bloodstream) and other basic blood levels such as hemoglobin, white blood cell count, platelets, etc. There have been quarterly CT scans of my abdomen and pelvic area. Every six months I have a PET Scan of my entire body looking for tumors "as small as the head of a pin". I see my oncologist every couple of months, as he looks over all the reports, and pokes and prods me all around the stomach, groin, and under my arms, feeling (I suppose) for swollen lymph nodes or other tell tell signs of trouble.

So far, so good.

The point is this. I should have been dead four years ago. It is so easy to question why I am still here, when others are gone. I have several friends who were diagnosed after me, and have already passed away. I have even officiated at the funerals of two folks with whom I took chemotherapy.

Why?

I don't know. But I know that God does. So I will not question. I will feel no guilt. I will take no credit.

What I will do today is to enjoy this milestone that He has allowed me to reach. I will rejoice in each additional day He grants me.

I will rejoice that God has given me more years with my best friend and love of my life, Linda. I will relish the fact that I have been blessed to live to see my grandsons grow and to have time to build a special relationship with each of them. I will be thankful for having seen my sons become men of whom I am proud to have raised, and to see them lead their own families in a Godly path. I will be thankful for a wonderful church congregation that stood by me in my darkest hours, and continue to support me as I try to lead them in my 8th year as their pastor. I will rejoice in each day - in its blessings and its challenges.

I will be thankful and appreciative to Dr. Kirti Jain and the wonderful staff at Ashland Bellefonte Cancer Center, and all of the other medical professionals who have worked with me for the past six years.

But most of all, I will thank my God, who in his Sovereign plan, has not only spared my life, but has redeemed my never dying soul, and has ordered my steps and put a new song in my heart. Let me close with the words of the 40th Psalm:

"I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust,who does not turn to the proud,to those who go astray after a lie! You have multiplied, O Lord my God,your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.

As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me! Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether who seek to snatch away my life; let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who delight in my hurt! Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God! (ESV)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Just Thinkin'


It is a common thing here in south Louisiana for alligators to be spotted in the swamps or bayou. It's something entirely different when a 5'7" gator is taken from the waters of the upper Mud River, just south of Hamlin, West Virginia! Lincoln County, West Virginia is a rugged rural area, tucked between the counties of Cabell, Wayne, Boone, Kanawha, and Logan. There are several things found in abundance in Lincoln County. There are coal reserves, timber, natural gas deposits, lots of fish and wildlife, and more Adkinses than you can shake a stick at. In studying my genealogy, I have learned that the first Adkinses in West Virginia migrated to the Mud River area from Wales, by way of Henrico County, Virginia. Our family's "Old Home Place" is on nearby 14 Mile Creek, and ours is probably the most prominent surname in Lincoln, and nearby Wayne Counties.

I'm sure my distant cousins do their share of hunting and fishing, but I dare say that none of them have ever come across any critter like the one that the WV Department of Natural Resources personnel shot and removed from the waters of the "Mighty Mud" earlier this week. DNR officials say that the reptile appeared to be half grown and they had no explanation as to how the prehistoric looking creature found itself in the shallow waters of southern West Virginia. Speculation is that someone probably brought home a cute baby alligator from some vacation trip to the coastal areas of the southeast USA. Whenever it got to be too big to handle and a hassle to feed, splash! into the river he was chucked.

However it may have found its way to the banks of the Mud River, it certainly raised some eyebrows among local fishermen who crossed paths with it and promptly informed the DNR of its presence. All the fishermen, that is, except one guy who told a local TV station, "I didn't report it. Heck, I didn't even tell my wife! Who would have believed me?"


*******

"Dancing With The Stars" is a television phenomenon watched regularly by millions of Americans. I can honestly say that even though many of my friends, and some of my family rarely miss the show, I have never seen a single episode.

By watching cable news, however, I have had a vague awareness of some of the "celebrities" who have appeared on the series, and the general concept of how it works. Apparently, like American Idol, Big Brother, Survivor, and other such reality shows, someone is voted off the show periodically, as the field is narrowed down to the best celebrity dancer.

In the news this morning, the big story is that the two celebrities up for elimination last night were Bristol Palin (daughter of the former Alaska Governor and Vice Presidential candidate) and some guy known as "The Situation" from "Jersey Shore" (another program I have avoided like the plague). Now, I believe in the live and let live philosophy, and in the words of those great philosophers, Sly and the Family Stone, "Different strokes for different folks". However, this reality show genre is just a little hard for me to swallow.

If that is your thing, OK. Enjoy. I hope that "The Situation"'s ejection and Bristol's survival meets with your approval. I personally think the whole thing is "chewing gum" for the eyes and brain. (For What It's Worth).


*******

On the REAL NEWS front, however, what about those miners in Chile who have been trapped underground for 70 days? I'm sure that everyone from mining country is watching with interest this morning, as the 33 men are slowly being safely brought to the surface, one by one. This rescue effort has been a triumph of ingenuity, technology, and international cooperation.

Apart from the fear of drowning, my greatest phobia is that of being trapped underground. These guys were trapped for 17 days, with no one knowing whether or not they were dead or alive. Imagine the angst of the families and loved ones above, who agonized over the unknown fate of their loved ones for more than two weeks, before learning that all 33 miners were indeed alive and safe in an underground refuge after the August 5th tragedy.

The first estimates were that a rescue was possible, but that it would most likely take until Christmas time to drill a suitable way of escape. The world's attention was riveted to the reports coming out daily about the progress. One could only speculate how deplorable and maddening the conditions must have been in that 600 square foot (would be) tomb for 70 days. But last night, rescue efforts began to move the men one by one from their underground prison. As of this writing, the tenth miner is slowly being brought to the surface. The whole operation will probably take a little more than 33 hours to complete. The world will sit with fingers crossed that each man will be safely delivered to his loving family.

Only time will tell the physical and emotional toll that these 70 days of trauma will take on these miners. One thing is for certain, however. All of us who have lost loved ones to underground mining accidents are rejoicing today with those families in Chile, whom we have never met, but with whom we feel an inseparable bond.

Monday, October 11, 2010

God Speaks


The poet/warrior/shepherd/ and great King of Israel - David - the son of Jesse - is called a man after God's own heart. He was a man who could hear God speak. In the 19th Psalm, David tells us how God speaks (not in an audible voice - but much louder than that!)


This Psalm tells us that God speaks through Creation, through His Word, and through us.


See how He speaks through His creation in verses 1-6.


'The heavens declare the glory of God,and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech,and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words,whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth,and their words to the end of the world.In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens,and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. "


Consider also, how He speaks through His word in verses 7-11


"The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;the testimony of the Lord is sure,making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure,enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean,enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true,and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward."


Then He tells how He speaks through us, His people in verses 12-14


"Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."


No one can silence, or pervert how God speaks through His awesome creation. It is what it is! Some may argue or dispute over the interpretation of certain passages of His inspired Word, but that does not negate the fact that it has stood the test of time, and speaks clearly in His message of holiness, sin, redemption, love and grace.


The big question is, "Does He speak through us"?


David prays that the meditations of his heart and the words of his mouth might be acceptable in God's sight.


Wow!


How many times do our words bring honor to God, and how often do we dishonor Him through our speech? There is power in the tongue. Power to speak life, and power to communicate evil. Yet David hits on something that is most important here. The words of our mouths are important, but in reality they are only the communication of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Those things upon which we meditate are the things that dictate what we speak.


Do you ever dwell on thoughts that you know are contrary to what is acceptable to the Father? I am ashamed to admit that there have been times that I have. Invariably, such thoughts will go directly to the tongue! How tragic to think that we might bring reproach on the Father, through corrupt communication.


God speaks so clearly and powerfully through creation and through His word. Let us join David in a prayer that He will also speak distinctly through us. He will, but we must be sure that the meditations of our thoughts and the words of our mouth will be acceptable in His sight. After all, He IS our rock and our redeemer!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Full Flight Blues


My plane just arrived at gate 13A at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. We are due to leave at 10:30 pm. Should arrive in New Orleans at 11:30 Central time (half past midnight to my Eastern Time Zone body).


You always find yourself hoping there will be an empty seat beside you, since coach is like riding in a cattle car.


I asked the lady at the gate if there were any exit rows or bulkhead seats available, in hopes of being able to stretch the legs a bit. She told me what I was afraid I would hear. "The aircraft is basically full. Only two seats are open as of now."


Neither of them were an exit row or bulkhead seat, so I can just cross my fingers that one of the two empties is next to me. (but the odds aren't too good)


At least I am in an aisle seat, and I do plan on sleeping on this flight. Hopefully my snoring won't keep anyone else awake.


Either way, New Orleans, here I come!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Loving the Lord's Church



This article is not original with me. I got it from Joe McKeever, whom I am proud to call my friend. I assume it is original with Joe. At any rate, I have a copy of this article framed and on my office wall. I also have a framed copy on the wall in the "crossroads" section of the building with connects the worship center with the educational and office wing of the church. I do not know how many of our folks have stopped to read it, but it is so powerful that I wanted to reproduce it here for the folks who hit this blog from time to time.



Many folks still think of the church as buildings of wood or bricks and mortar. Nothing could be farther from the true concept of the church. The church is the bride of Christ. It is a fellowship of believers. A group of Christ Followers who are united to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

How do you feel about the church and how you relate to it? Here is what Joe wrote. They are words that every member should take to heart.


Since I love the church, I will be careful how I treat it.

Since I love the church, I will honor the people who make up its membership.



Since I love the church, I will not hurt its members trying to get my way.



Since I love the church, I will pray for its members and its ministry.



Since I love the church, I will deal with problems quickly and healthily.



Since I love the church, I will work for its unity and strive for its effectiveness.



Since I love the church, I will guard its reputation in the community.



Since I love the church, I will be careful of my own actions in the community since I am one of its members and people will make decisions about this church based on what I do and say.



Since I love the church, I will pour myself into making it stronger, its members more Christlike, and myself a better example.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Team Intense Is Here!

I spent five hours yesterday with two of the most impressive evangelists I have ever met.

Kathy Bertram and Mitch Hodge are members of "Team Intense", an evangelistic strength team that will be ministering every evening, Sunday through Wednesday, this week at Westmoreland Baptist Church. Their "intensity" is obvious as they perform feats of strength that will amaze every person in their audience, but the entire purpose of their work is to exalt Christ, and bring people to saving faith in Him.

Kathy is a U.S. Air Force veteran, who met her future husband while they were both in the service. She has lived in the U.S. and Japan. After a bad automobile accident she got into body building and eventually, six years ago, began in strength ministry. She is only the second woman ever to be involved in this type of ministry. Although she makes her home in Biloxi, MS at the present, Kathy and her husband will be moving back to her native Minnesota in the near future.

Mitch was born and raised in Idaho, where he owns a gym and a screen printing business. He has been involved in body building since his high school days and has won such competitions as "Mr. Idaho", "Mr. Northwest", and "Mr. Western America". He is also involved in world strong man competition. His soft spoken manner belies the tremendous physical strength he possesses. Mitch began his work in strength ministry with the world famous Power Team several years ago. He is an ordained minister and evangelist, and he and his wife, Shari, have a 16 year old son named Gabriel.

Mitch will be bringing the message this morning in our 10:45 AM worship service at Westmoreland Baptist Church

Team Intense will be appearing during the days Monday through Wednesday in assemblies in several elementary, middle and high schools. They will preform feats of strength and give the students a positive message about character, honor, and integrity. While encouraging them to be good students, Mitch and Kathy will also warn the kids about the dangers of alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and bullying. Each child (and teacher) will be invited to the service that evening at Westmoreland Baptist Church. There Mitch and Kathy will perform even more amazing feats of strength, but will also share a powerful presentation of the Gospel to all in attendance.

As impressive as their public feats of strength are, Kathy and Mitch's love for Jesus and passion for sharing the Good News is equally striking. I had opportunity to get personally acquainted with Mitch and Kathy during the five hours we spent together, and I can tell you that these two folks love Jesus, and want others to come to know Him as well.

Some cynics may ask, "Why do we have to have this type of event at the church? Is this really necessary?" The answer to that is, because we haven't yet gotten the job done in reaching our community for Christ. We must do whatever it takes to get the Gospel to where the people are. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22, "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some". While this week's activities are not those of the typical Baptist church's "Revival Campaign", many will hear the Gospel, through the ministry of Team Intense.

There are numerous people in our community who would never attend a traditional church service, but would flock to this place to see such a performance. They will witness a man and a woman breaking baseball bats, tearing phone books in half, busting bricks and cinder blocks, ripping license plates, and bending steel rods into a pretzel. But more importantly, while there, they will hear the Gospel presented in power and clarity. Thousands of folks around the country have given their lives to Christ as a result of the ministry of Team Intense.

I hope that every member of Westmoreland Baptist Church will support this evangelistic effort, with their prayer and attendance. Invite all your friends, co-workers, fellow students, to come to the program with you. Don't expect deep theological exegesis of the scriptures. That is not what Mitch and Kathy do during these crusades. But they do share the greatest theological truth ever communicated - "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Hope to see you all every evening, today through Wednesday, at 6:00 PM. That's Westmoreland Baptist Church, 3401 Hughes Street, Huntington, WV.