Friday, January 29, 2010

"Preachers and Things"

It gets dark early in late November, and to a kid of 10 years old, the country back roads of Scioto County, Ohio are a mighty lonely ,deserted ,and down right scary place. We were on our way back home from the Antioch Free Will Baptist Church “out back of” Wheelersburg - about 50 miles from home. It was about 9:30pm and I was settling in for the long ride home. As usual, Dad was driving the ’55 Buick Special. With Dad and I on this trip were Rev. Carl Vallance and deacon Worlie Edmunds. I listened closely to the grown up’s conversation all the way to church and back. Especially interesting were the comments about a prison escapee who was rumored to have been seen in the Wheelersburg area earlier in the week. I gazed intently out the side window from my place in the back seat, through my faint reflection in the glass, and imagined that crazed killer in a striped prison suit hiding behind every tree in the dark woods. Would he take a shot at us? Might he place some obstacle in the lightly traveled road to get us to stop so he could hijack our car? If not tonight, what about one of the nights when Dad might be traveling alone? What if he were to hide in the back seat of the car while its parked outside the church some night, then springing up from the back floor, demanding that Dad drive him to his hide out in another state?

Apprehension reigned in my young mind until we finally topped the small hill that had the lights of town spread below us. A stop at Pop’s Drive In was in order, and Pop’s legendary steak sandwich and milk shake helped to drive the last vestige of my fears away - at least until tomorrow night, or until the fugitive may be apprehended. After the late snack, I leaned my head against the cold glass, looking out at the full moon shining over the Ohio River as we drove along US Rt. 52. The tires hummed on the pavement and Bro. Worlie snored rhythmically from the other corner of the back seat while Dad and “Preacher” Vallance talked in the front seat. It got quiet for a while, and just before drifting off to sleep myself, I heard Bro. Vallance jokingly say to Dad, “Well Caudle, you know, the only ones out this time of night are preachers and things!” Even at the age of ten I had to laugh at the thought of preachers and "things" lurking in the night.

Carl Vallance was my Dad’s closest friend and brother in the ministry. He was Pastor of the Thomas Memorial Free Will Baptist Church in Huntington, WV when we moved there in 1952. He had earlier pastored in Logan County, where my parents were from, and Mom and Dad had become acquainted with him there. I guess it was only natural that they would be drawn to his church in the new city. He has been like a second spiritual father and mentor to me over the years. Even though Dad pastored several churches over the years, Thomas Memorial always was our home church, and “Preacher” (as we called him) was our pastor and friend.

“Preacher” Vallance was a dynamo. Bi-vocational, like Dad, he worked a secular job as well as ministering to the needs of a congregation that grew to over 300 people. He was a carpenter by trade, and a good one. A native of Kitts Hill, in southeast Ohio, Bro. Vallance had worked as a company carpenter for Island Creek Coal Company in Logan County, WV. Various circumstances led him to be called to pastor the Thomas Memorial Church in Huntington, where he supplemented his meager income by working as a self employed contractor, building and remodeling houses. Mom and Dad’s house still has the beautiful kitchen cabinets that Bro. Vallance built in the early 60’s. Mom was always fond of pointing out that Jesus was a carpenter too. Just like Bro. Vallance.

At Thomas Memorial, Bro. Vallance and his family lived in the parsonage next door to the church, a fact that I found fascinating. It was a regular “stopping off place” for us (and others) after church services. The kids would play in the bedroom of Robert and James, and the adults would sit around drinking RC colas, eating Moon Pies, and talking about who was likely to die next.

As the church grew in membership and attendance, plans were drawn up for an educational wing to be added to the building. The problem was that the parsonage sat squarely on the property needed for the new addition. In a move which was absolutely unheard of by me, the parsonage was literally moved across Buffington Street from the church. That was the first time I had ever seen an actual house jacked up and moved to another location, and visiting the parsonage after the move just never seemed the same as before. (You know how we Baptists are about change!)

I still remember Bro. Vallance as a young man, with a pretty wife and with two boys older than I. It seemed as though his eyes sparkled, of course so did his gold tooth (which also fascinated me). He had a zeal for lost souls, a heart as big as Texas, and a voice to match! Dad called him the human amplifier, and “Preacher” used to joke that he couldn’t tell his wife he loved her, without the whole neighborhood hearing it too. One thing for sure - he never needed a microphone or sound system when preaching. God had blessed him with some powerful lungs.

The church was located in the Guyandotte section of Huntington. Guyandotte was famous for its many taverns, prostitutes, and bootleg joints. It was also the unofficial meeting spot of the Friday and Saturday night knife and gun clubs, which kept St. Mary’s Hospital’s ER hopping each weekend. It was in this “mission field” that “Preacher” Vallance ministered to an assorted crowd of heathen characters, and blue collar Christians. The Preacher faithfully stood for the Lord in this environment, preaching against all manner of sin (in which Guyandotte seemed to be a smorgasboard) and sprinkling his message with the Grace of God as the only hope for sinners. Bro. Vallance’s sermons were often as colorful as the characters in the congregation. He touted holy living, proclaiming things such as, “Dancing feet and praying knees don’t grow on the same legs!”, and spoke of the necessity of being, “Paid up, prayed up, and ready to go up!” Disheartened Christians were often reminded to “Get under the spout where the glory comes out!”

In 1976 a group of us who started a new church in downtown Huntington called “Preacher” Vallance to be our initial pastor. After 26 years at Thomas Memorial, with an energy that belied his age, he took on the new task with the zeal and fervor of a man half his age. He led Central Free Will Baptist Church through its formative years, and an ambitious building campaign until his “retirement” in the mid 90’s. He was well respected, not only in Huntington, but throughout the state of West Virginia, and nationally in his denomination. “Preacher” Vallance served as a mentor and an impeccable role model to me and a dozen other “preacher boys” over the years. I had the privilege of seeing him again shortly before he went to be with the Lord. Well up into his 80’s at that time, his body was but a shell of what I remembered him to be. Medical problems had taken their toll. He was feeble and unsteady on his feet. His voice was much weaker but the sparkle was still there in his eyes when he threw his arms around me and said, “It’s good to see you, son.” He has been gone for several years now, and I thank God for the privilege to have known him.

Next to my father, this man had more of a spiritual impact on my life than anyone else I have ever known. Whenever I think of Carl Vallance, I think of Isaiah 52:7, which says,
“How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sunday Dinner In The Country

The story is told of a pastor who was invited to come to dinner on a Sunday afternoon at the home of one of the large families of the congregation. All the kids had been put on notice by the worried mother that they be on their best behavior due to the pastor being the special dinner guest. As they all gathered around the bountifully set table, little Billy looked up to his mother and announced with surprise, “That looks like Pot Roast!” “It is Pot Roast”, replied the mom and dad in unison. To which Billy said, “ But Mom, I heard you tell Dad we were having the old Buzzard for dinner!”

One of the benefits (and/ or curses) of being a Preacher’s Kid is the large variety of after church dining adventures that one experiences – especially when Dad is the pastor of a country church, several miles from home. This can be an especially traumatic experience for kids like my brothers and I who were very picky eaters as youngsters. That is what made eating at Hugh and Nanny Meadow’s house a great experience. They owned a “Mom & Pop” grocery store next door to their rural home in Putnam County. When Nanny found out from Mom how finicky we were, she had Hugh go next door and pick up some Campbell’s Tomato Soup and Peter Pan Peanut Butter. At that time these were the only two brands of those particular foods that met our discriminating tastes. Dinner at Hugh and Nanny’s was always fear free for us kids. Sadly I can’t say the same about some of the other places.

Don’t get me wrong. As I got older I came to appreciate that many of these dear country ladies were absolutely great cooks. The ample waistlines of their husbands bore mute evidence to the fact. I came to really appreciate and love their various recipies for fried chicken, meat loaf, pork chops, turkey, beef and pork roasts, etc. These families always seemed honored to have the preacher and his family for dinner. They always brought out their best, and in later years I really regretted what we must have put Mom and Dad through with our finicky behavior around the dinner table.

As I began to enter my teenage years I became more appreciative of our country hosts. Especially those with teen aged daughters! The food was always delicious, and in some cases “dessert” came later on long walks through the woods or down country roads. One home in particular quickly became a favorite dinner destination of mine. Those after dinner walks with the young lady of the house (who will remain nameless for these purposes) led to a long term friendship that grew into a teenage romance that lasted all the way through our high school years. As Dusty Springfield sang, “When they gathered ‘round and started talkin’ that’s when Billy would take me walkin’. Through the back yard we’d go walking, and he’d look into my eyes, Lord knows to my surprise, the only boy who could ever reach me was the son of a preacher man…”. I sort of fancied that I might have been the inspiration for the song… but that’s another story for another time.

One Sunday afternoon in Putnam Co. West Virginia we went home with a particular family to their cozy home on Cow Creek Road. (Yep! Cow Creek Road) It was a family of three with a daughter two or three years older that I. Before dinner, while we could smell the rolls baking, we were treated to the dad’s old time country guitar style. Even though at that time the Beatles and the Dave Clark 5 were more my style, I was very impressed with his renditions of such old country favorites as “Wildwood Flower”, “Grave on the Green Hill Side”, “Great Speckled Bird”, and “He’s In The Jail House Now”.

Dinner was terrific and as it drew to a close , the mother said to her daughter, “Honey, why don’t you take the boys with you to feed the animals?” Feed the animals? This was NOT the after dinner activity I had been hoping for, but like it or not this is what was in store for me. All of the table scraps were dumped into a large bucket which already contained some soapy dishwater. Meat scraps, mashed potatoes, various mixed veggies etc all floated around in the nasty concoction.

I had the privilege of carrying the bucket out the back door all the way to the pig pen, where dwelt one really large, really smelly hog, which squealed with delight at our appearance. I gagged for the hundredth time or so as I was instructed to pour the buckets contents into the contraption that led to the feeding trough, and “Miss Piggy” went after it for all she was worth. This is the first time in my life I came to understand why in the country they call it “slopping the hogs”. Truer words were never spoken, and this city boy got a real education that day. What sweet memories!

While that Sunday was a memorable one, it pales in comparison to an afternoon spent in another rural home in the next county. This dear lady whom I will call “Sissie” (not her real name) had been after Mom and Dad for months to come home after church some Sunday for dinner with her family. She was a hard working single lady who lived in their small farm with her older single brother, and a mother who appeared to me to be about 100 years old, who stayed bed fast in a hospital type bed in a corner of the living room.

Sissie, stayed after Mom and Dad for months until I guess they finally ran out of excuses, so we made the trek about a mile down the road from the church to the little country house. This was the MOST country of all houses I had been in to that point. It was summertime, July or August and was it ever hot! The doors and windows were all open and all were devoid of any types of screens to keep out flying insects and other assorted varmints. Several dogs, cats, and a couple of chickens came and went as they pleased. The barn was not 50 feet from the house and there was a strong odor that gently wafted from the barn throughout all the farm house. Some strategically placed floor fans assured that the barn smells made it to every corner of the house.

There was no running water in the house. Water had to be drawn from the well on the back porch. This made the kitchen sink (which was connected to NOTHING) seem somewhat superfluous to my young mind. Sissie cooked on an old wooden cook stove and soon put out a big spread on the large kitchen table. We all gathered around the table on two long wooden benches (Walton’s style). Now I have already mentioned that I was a picky eater in those younger days and this particular Sunday presented a real challenge to me. There was a large bowl of what appeared to be some sort of potato dish. I figured that might be safe. However I was not sure of the cooked green stuff, some other brown something or other, and the bowl of lima beans. I reached for a piece of raisin bread and was shocked when all the raisins flew away!

The main course sat on a large platter in the center of the table. This mystery meat was a large slab of something with about 6 little bumps on it in two rows of three each. As I studied it in wonder, I heard Dad ask, “Sissie, what kind of meat is this?” With her speech impediment I was a little confused when she replied, “Dat’s tow belly.”

“Tow belly?” I thought, wondering what in the world that was, until I heard dad repeat, “Sow belly?” “Yep”, she said with a large toothless smile. That explained the nature of the little bumps on the meat, and at that point, dinner was finished for me!

That was many years ago, but the experience was seared into my memory. There are still some culinary concoctions I'm not too crazy about, but since then I have made several short term mission trips, and have "broken bread" with folks in other cultures. Some of the offerings were what by late friend, Rick Rakes, would have called "Fear Factor Food". I have had a few UFO's (unidentified food objects) set before me. I am very thankful that God has given me a little stronger stomach, less of a gag reflex, and a couple of verses of scripture that have helped me through some culinary crises.

1 Corinthians 10: 25-27 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. (NKJV)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Of Peacock Feathers and Lost Boys

Have you ever been lost? I'm not talking about making a wrong turn in a strange town, or taking the wrong exit on the interstate. Those mistakes can be easily remedied by turning around and back tracking, or looking at a map and making the necessary course corrections. The kind of lost I am talking about is the helpless kind of lost - the Hansel and Gretel - birds ate your breadcrumbs - lost in the deep woods kind of lost.

If you have, you know how frightening it is. The sense of loneliness is overwhelming. The amazing thing is that you don't have to be in the deep, dark woods to be lost. In fact, it's entirely possible to be in the midst of a crowd of people and still be like a lost ball in the high weeds. Let me give you a personal example.

As I remember it, I was probably about 8 or 9 years old, so it must have been around 1959. My Grandfather, Jerry Stidham, who lived in the coal mining country of Logan County, WV decided to make a trip to Kentucky to look up some of his relatives. Papaw had been born in Breathitt County, KY (Bloody Breathitt as it was called back then) in 1909. Shortly thereafter, his father, Asbury Stidham, relocated from the mountains of eastern Kentucky to the mountains of West Virginia. An old photograph showed Asbury to be a rather severe looking fellow who sported a handlebar moustasche. He was a blacksmith by trade. I don't know exactly why he moved, but I remember my grandmother saying that there had been some kind of "incident" in "Bloody Breathitt" which resulted in the move. I can only imagine what might have happened to cause Asbury to take his wife and son, and make such a sudden and distant exit.

All of the Stidhams in America are said to be the descendants of a Swedish doctor named Timen Steddem, who immigrated to what is now Wilmington, Delaware in the late 1600's. You won't find a lot of Stidhams in the phone book, and, since he had no close relatives in West Virginia, my grandfather was always interested learning more about his family, and doing whatever he could to meet his kinfolk. Over the years he had located some cousins in Perry, Powell, Morgan, and Montgomery counties in Kentucky. On this particular occasion he took a week of his vacation to visit some of those Stidhams of Kentucky. Dad was in a remodeling project at our house and it was a good time for Mom to take the two boys and go along with Mamaw and Papaw on the trip. So we did.

Cincinnati was the farthest place from home that I had ever been, and that area of Kentucky was entirely foreign to me. Places like Stanton, West Liberty, and Mount Sterling might as well have been Timbuktu to this nine year old. We were a long way from home, and for me, the trip was a real adventure. Our home base for the week in the Commonwealth, was at the home of Chester Stidham, which was either in Montgomery or Powell County. I confess, I am not sure which at this point in my life (after all, I was young then, and it WAS 50 years ago). Chester was a member of the Kentucky General Assembly and Papaw had served a few terms in West Virginia's House of Delegates so these two were political (Democrat) blood brothers as well as cousins.

Well, so much for all that. Let me get back to the story about being lost.

One of the events Chester took us to was a Fish Fry. I don't remember the exact location, but looking back, it seems that it must have been at a county fair ground. It must have been the biggest event in the county because there seemed to be hundreds of people there. I had never before been to a Fish Fry, so this event was just as curious to me as the foreign territory we were in, and the unfamiliar folks who attended the event. In all this multitude, in this unknown place, you would have thought I would have stuck close to the only four folks whom I knew, but my curiosity got the best of me.

Kids were everywhere, running in and out of the groups of adults who stood around, drinking RC colas and talking about what was going on in the world and who all had died recently. A number of the kids carried Peacock feathers in their hands. I had seen pictures of peacocks in full display, but I had never seen one of the beautiful, colorful feathers up close. Now don't ask me why they had peacock feathers. I have no idea. But I do know I wanted one - in the worst way. Oblivious to the crowd, and temporarily forgetting about my family who were engaged in deep conversation with some of Chester's friends, I trailed off after a couple of the kids to see if I could find the source of the peacock feathers.

I never did find out where the kids were getting the feathers, nor did I see any plucked peacocks running around. I did, however, soon realize that I was lost. Mamaw and Papaw and Mom and Bruce had disappeared in the huge crowd, and I was alone. All around me were large groups of strange men in straw hats and unfamiliar ladies in summer dresses, yet I was more alone than I had ever been in my life. Desperately alone, far from home, and scared. I wandered all over the grounds frantically searching for a familiar face but found none. Searching through the area where people were eating at scores of picnic tables, I found no one I knew. Eventually I came to the area where they were actually frying the fish. The people who were doing the actual frying were midgets.

Midgets - frying fish! I had never seen a real midget in my life, and now here were half a dozen of them. Frying fish... and I didn't even like fish!

The whole episode just seemed surreal, and the growing waves of fear and despair kept sweeping over me. As tears rolled down my face, I wondered if I would ever see home again. When things seemed the most hopeless, I heard my Mother's voice. She was calling my name and I ran to her as fast as my little legs could carry me. Little did I know at the time, but she was probably more frightened that I had been. Her son was lost. I didn't know it at the time, but the whole Stidham entourage had been looking for me!

I believe it was Dr. Chuck Kelley who I heard say, "The only worse thing than being lost, is being lost, with no one looking for you."

There are a lot of lost people out there today. Like the little boy at the fish fry, they are surrounded by people, yet lost, scared, and alone. Many are searching for something, but they don't know what. They are looking for it in bottles, powder, needles, pornography, gambling, and loveless relationships. They're "looking for love in all the wrong places" and finding only emptiness. They are seeking something to fill what is actually a God shaped void in their lives that nothing else can satisfy.

They're lost.

Jesus said, He came "to seek and to save, that which was lost".

He told three stories in Luke chapter 3 about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. He described both the desperate state, of that which was lost, and the urgent motivation of the seeker. He also told of the joyful reaction (on earth and in Heaven) when the lost item or person was found.

There are lost people all around us today. Some may not yet realize it. They're still allured by the peacock feathers of life, but that quest leads them farther and farther from the one who loves them, and actually gave His own life to bring them home. They need to be found, before the despair sets in, or worse yet, before they are beyond hope of ever being found.

We must help! How? We can point them to Jesus. He is looking for them, and only He can take them safely home.

Friday, January 15, 2010

It Can Happen In A Moment

I have been reminded again this week about the transitory nature of our lives and how everything can change in a moment.

It was 5:30 in the afternoon. The routine ending of an average day. My friend was taking care of some of his work related paper work in the computer room of his two story home. His wife was in the shower just down the hall. In the midst of the regular routine, at a mundane hour of the day, everything changed suddenly for this unsuspecting couple.

Larry heard a noise that he described as somewhat like the sound that the heat pump makes when it kicks on - but slightly different. Accompanying sound, the lights flickered, but didn't go off. He thought it would merit a brief investigation, and to his surprise and horror, when he descended the steps into the living room, he found the side of the sofa on fire!

Rushing to attempt to beat out the flames, he discovered the back of the sofa was also ablaze. Suddenly the curtains behind the couch ignited and the flames shot to the ceiling and spread quickly through out the room. Frantically, Larry ran up the stairs yelling to his wife in the bathroom that the house was on fire and they had to get out immediately. He screamed for her to follow him, now! However, when he got back to the living room it was an inferno. He turned to look for Denise, but she had not followed. The flames spread so quickly that he could not get back to the stairway.

Standing outside the ICU Burn Unit the next day, Larry's eyes welled up with tears and his voice broke as he recounted the story to me. "My wife was upstairs and I couldn't get to her. I have never felt so helpless". He continued the story -

The heat was intense and overpowering, and his lungs burned from thick heavy smoke that quickly filled the room. He found the front door, and when he opened it, the back draft blew him and the flames through the threshold. He found himself outside yelling for his neighbors to call 911 and frantically wondering about his wife.

As the flames quickly engulfed the remainder of the house. As Larry stood helplessly below as Denise called to him from the second floor bathroom window. There was no way out. Trapped, and herself aflame, she had no alternative but to leap from the window, falling over twenty feet to the snow covered yard. Although only five blocks from our city's excellent medical center, the seriousness of her burns and injuries convinced first responders that she should be life flighted to the Trauma Unit of Cabell Huntington Hospital, about 18 miles upriver.

As I visited with Larry and his family at the ICU unit, Doctors and nurses were doing a procedure on Denise, and we could not be in the room. We stood there in the hallway, and Larry, who was, himself, badly burned on his neck, ear, and on both hands, told me the horrible story. "We don't have a home" he said sadly. "We've lost everything we own, but I fear I may lose my wife..."

Her condition was critical. She faces a tremendous battle with respiratory problems. Her lungs were damaged from the smoke inhalation and extreme heat exposure. Second and third degree burns covered her body. Should she recover from these, Denise faces even more problems with several broken bones and other internal injuries from the two story fall.

"It all happened so fast and the intensity of the heat was like nothing I have ever felt!" Larry kept repeating.

And that is exactly how it is. Everything we know can change in a moment, in the blink of an eye. All that we own can be suddenly and unexpectedly taken away. Beloved family members can be snatched away from us by accidents, tragedy, or sudden illness. You and I are only a heartbeat, only one breath away from transitioning from this life to the next, and there is not always even a moment's warning.

Larry and Denise are devout followers of Christ. Although unsuspecting of the tragedy that has changed their lives, they trust in the One who holds the present and future in His sovereign hands.

"God is in control" Larry told me, through his tears. "I know He will do what is right."

You and I are headed for the unexpected and the unknown in this life. Count on it. It is imperative that we have a personal relationship with the One who can bring us safely from this uncertain world, into the next.

The Bible reveals that Jesus told his followers on numerous occasions, "Be ready". The warning is not just for emergency preparedness, but for your eternal security.

Are you prepared?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January Blahs

It had been a long busy day. The cell phone rang as I loaded the groceries into the trunk of the car. The voice was that of my older son, a pastor in the New Orleans area.

"Why is the last post to your blog dated January 2nd"?

"Because I haven't written anything since then", I replied matter-of-factly.

"Why not?"

"Been busy."

"Well, you need to write something."

Perhaps I should. In fact, I have thought the same thing for nearly 10 days. But I felt drained... Empty... Non creative... Writer's blocked ... Dull ... Word weary... Uninspired... Bummed out... January blue ... Subfreezing... Snow Shoveled out... Overcast... Unable to put enough thoughts together to be coherent, or to feel like I really have anything of consequence to say.

Did you ever feel like that?

The stuff just piles up. Ministry responsibilities continue. Sermon prep. Hospital visits. Counseling sessions (when you feel like you could use some counseling, yourself!). Programs demand attention, and you feel like you have attention deficit disorder. Administrative responsibilities cry out for attention. Unfinished tasks. Deadlines loom. It's cold and miserable outside and the first day of Spring is still nearly 70 days away. Bills pile up, as unexpected expenses come one after another.

The natural human reaction seems to be to slide into some kind of funk, and sing the blues.

Some of you have been there and done that, yourself. It happens more than we would like to admit.

That is where I have been for the past week or so. I'm not proud of it - just stating the facts. Furthermore, I'm not asking for pity, or for someone to say, "I really feel sorry for that poor guy". Nope. Hold the pity. None requested. None deserved.

The problem is simply a missing joy.

The good news is that I know what to do about it. In a word, it's prayer.

When I step back and take inventory, it's obvious I haven't been praying enough. I haven't been praying fervently. I haven't been praying effectively. I haven't been praying the promises of God.

Prayer is to the soul what oxygen is to the body.

Prayer is communion with the Father.

Prayer can be whispered, shouted, or silent. It should be bold, but not arrogant. It can be, at the same time, plaintive, penitent, and personal. It involves confession, praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and petition, and it puts me in touch with my Lord.

Prayer seems to unlock the meaning of the scriptures I read. It helps convict me of sin, encourage me in the faith, and put me to work in service. It restore the Joy of His Salvation, and it clears the cobwebs from the soul.

I'll try to blog a little more regularly, and post something that may be worth the time spent in reading it - but for now, I think it's time to just get off the computer - and spend some time in prayer.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Day By Day

2009 was an exceptionally busy year for our family life, our Church family and for my ministry.

It began with the funeral service of a dear friend and faithful deacon, included a two week mission trip to the Philippines; Upward Basketball and Cheer leading, my 82 year old father's surgery and 2 month hospital confinement due to complications and rehab. We shared "custody" duties for our mother with my brother and his wife during Dad's confinement. The year included regular ministry duties; family responsibilities; the never ending visits to the oncologist, CT & PET scans, monthly blood work and other doctor visits.

There were three trips to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for Trustee meetings; and the better part of a week in Mingo County, WV on a disaster relief project after flooding devastated much of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. June brought the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting in Louisville; and Mom and Dad's 60th Wedding Anniversary Celebration. Our church hosted eight World Changer teams here in Huntington this summer. Our own youth group attended M-Fuge in Charleston, SC and, in July, we hosted a Mission Team from New Orleans which was based at our church. We also hosted an Upward Soccer Camp this past Summer.

The church campus was a bee hive of activity in late summer and early fall, as many projects were underway, as we prepared for our hosting the Annual Meeting of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists in November. But first, we had to prepare for Revival Services and for hosting the Annual Meeting of the Greater Huntington Baptist Association in October. As part of our Focus Week, we held a Fall Festival that saw over 500 people in attendance.

Sadly there were way too many funerals this year, and our church ministered to a number of people who were hurting in many different ways. A couple of families left our fellowship, but several others joined our church family through baptism and other additions. There were times of joy and laughter, and seasons of sorrow and grief.

Our very capable church secretary of seven years tendered her resignation, in order to better her personal financial situation with higher pay and retirement benefits, (which we were unable to provide). And finally on the week between Christmas and New Years Day, I took an actual vacation. Four days of basically doing nothing other than resting and enjoying being with our far away grandsons. We drove overnight on the Sunday after Christmas to have a "late Christmas" with our family in New Orleans, and then drove back home, overnight, on New Year's Eve. I took some work with me to do, but can honestly say that I basically didn't do anything. Although I traveled a lot in 2009, it was the only real vacation I could enjoy. And enjoy it, I did!

There were other family and financial issues in 2009. I ended years of "retirement" and actually helped Benji coach a few Little League Baseball games in the spring. We saw several of our grandsons' basketball and football games as well. The months of November and December were so hectic, that I didn't have time to blog like I love to do. Will try to be more available in the coming year.

So, 2010 has arrived.

Resolutions? No. Not really.

However, a familiar tune from back in my "Jesus Freak" days of '70-'71 keeps going through my head today. If I were to make a New Year's Resolution, it would probably revolve around the words of the song.

It's called "Day by Day" and it comes from the 1970 musical, "Godspell", written by Steven Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak. "Godspell" is an ancient English rendering of the word "gospel" and the musical is loosely based on the Gospel of Matthew (with a couple of incidents from Luke's Gospel included). The words go like this:

"Day by day.

Day by day.

Oh, dear Lord,

Three things I pray.

To see thee more clearly,

Love thee more dearly,

Follow thee more nearly,

Day by day."

Now whether you approve of Christian "Rock Musicals" or not, I think you would have to agree that those words include three really important goals.

I expect that 2010 will bring as much activity, and as many challenges as did the previous year. Doing ministry requires lots and lots of activity. The calendar is filling up already. However busy this coming year may be, I want to make it my personal goal to do what is most important.

See Him more clearly...

Love Him more dearly...

Follow Him more nearly...

Day by day.

Really, in all the rush and activity, our relationship with the Father is what is of utmost importance. I plan on cultivating that relationship, going deeper this year than ever before.

Will you join me?