Thursday, February 25, 2010

"God Bless You, Brother Racoon!"

One of my old bosses used to say “there’s one in every church.” He was speaking of those wonderful folks that can simply be identified as the “church character”. Now the church I grew up in was blessed with numerous colorful characters. However, if there was a “church character All Star Team", the consensus captain would have to be Mallie Adkins. I will hasten to add that Mallie (although he shared our very common surname) was no relation to our branch of the family. At least we hoped so. In the interest of fairness, it should be mentioned that different sets of Adkinses in Wayne and Lincoln Counties of West Virginia rarely claimed kinship with other sets of Adkinses. However, serious genealogists will note that all of the Adkinses in our area migrated here from Wales, by way of Henrico County, Virginia, so, like it or not we probably were some distant relation to Mallie.

I must have been about twelve years old when I first became aware of this very interesting character. Mallie was not a member of our church – yet he seemed to be there at every revival, homecoming, or other special event. In fact, he seemed to be at EVERY revival , homecoming, or special event in EVERY church with which I was familiar! I later learned that Mallie was a member of 18th Street United Baptist Church. Now the term “United Baptist” sounds impressive, but my personal experience has led me to believe that the terms “united”, and “Baptist” are a classic example of oxymoron (like “Military Intelligence” and “Jumbo Shrimp”).

Some of the greatest fights I have ever seen were in Baptist churches, but I digress!

The United Baptists to which Mallie belonged was a loosely associated group of small churches mostly in rural areas of Cabell, Wayne, and Lincoln counties in West Virginia. He was a tad more “ecumenical” than the typical “hardshell” United Baptists, in that he would visit just about any kind of garden variety Baptist church – especially if there was going to be some type of fellowship dinner involved! Hence, you’d see him at many country Free Will, United, Missionary, and Independent Baptist Churches all over the tri state area of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. That is, whenever he could catch a ride with someone. My Dad was often that someone.

Mallie was a middle aged life long bachelor, who was unable to hold a regular job because, as the old folks used to say with a knowing look, “He’s not just right”. However my Mom would always reply that, “He was “right” enough to love Jesus, and to want to be in church, and there’s surely nothing wrong with that!” Well, Mallie did want to be in church. Every church. Every night. It was his life. The thing that first called my attention to his existence was his penchant for making announcements. At every service Mallie attended, he felt it his duty to announce upcoming events (revivals, homecomings, etc) at other churches. One of his favorite churches, apparently, was the Raccon Baptist Church out on Mallie’s native area of Beech Fork, in Wayne County.

In whatever church he may have been in, when the pastor would ask at the close of the service, “Are there any announcements?”, invariably Mallie would have an announcement about some big doings at the Raccoon Church. For the longest time, Dad didn’t know Mallie’s name, and would always just refer to him, privately, as “Raccon”.

One night at the close of a revival service at Thomas Memorial Church, Dad and fellow preacher T.C. Morgan were standing up front as the service was closing with a “handshake” time. T.C. was a pretty colorful character in his own right. He worked for a local dry cleaning company and was very active in the local Free Will Baptist Association, serving as it's Clerk. I remember him as an older man with a real shiny balding head, with salt and pepper fringe benefits, and a toothbrush moustache. He also fascinated me because he got around on a wooden leg and he was the first person I had ever known with a prosthetic device. He had a daughter (whom I avoided like the plague) and a couple of sons. The older of the two was Luther (also a preacher) and the other was named Morgan Morgan. (that is another story for another day!)

Anyway, Dad , T.C., and several other ministers were standing there shaking hands with, and greeting the members of the congregation as they came around at the close of the service. T. C. saw Mallie approaching in the line. Like almost everyone, T.C. recognized Mallie, but had no idea of his name. He leaned over to Dad and whispered, “Caudle, who is that fellow back there with the glasses?” Dad looked up and jokingly said, “Why, that’s old Raccoon!” Not realizing that Dad was kidding, T.C. firmly grasped Mallie’s hand and said, “God bless you, Brother Raccoon.” I thought Dad would die laughing!

As the years went by, Dad apparently became one of Mallie’s favorite preachers. He constantly desired to travel with Dad to his revival services. The longer the trip, the better Mallie liked it! I suppose Dad actually appreciated having company on many of those long lonely drives when the family wasn’t along. Mallie may not have been the best company, but he was company nonetheless. The phone would normally ring at our house about 4:00 pm and Mallie’s voice on the other end would say, “Brother Caudle, do you have room for me to go with you tonight?” The answer was usually, “Sure Mallie. Be here by 5:30.”

Mallie was close to being legally blind, and wore glasses that were roughly the thickness of the bottom of a coke bottle. So, he never got a drivers license, and walked nearly everywhere he went in town. He wore the same brown wool suit every night, and walking all over town in the hot summers, well let’s just say that he could get pretty ripe. Dad didn’t have air conditioning in his car in those days, so there was more than one reason to roll down the windows!

Summer, with it’s church picnics, and the early fall with homecomings and “dinner on the ground” seemed to be Mallie’s favorite time of the year. If there was a feed going on anywhere, Mallie would be there, his paper plate piled high and overflowing. He was always back for seconds and thirds and the ladies would usually see to it that he had some leftovers to take home with him. Living alone, he probably ate better at that time of year than any other.

If there is one thing Mallie liked to do as much as attending church, it was visiting the hospitals. Since he visited so many churches and knew so many people, he was a walking “patient information directory”. He could tell you who was in what hospital, how long he’d been there, and what was wrong with him. One of my favorite stories regarding Mallie comes from 1968, when Dad had Gall Bladder surgery. Dad had some huge gall stones, and as anyone who has ever had gall bladder trouble can verify, he was very sick! Well, gall bladder surgery was much tougher back then than the laproscopic variety they do now. Dad was feeling really rough, and there was a steady parade of people who kept coming in to visit him. Now, Dad was pretty well known, but he couldn’t figure how so many folks knew he was there. Finally asking the nurse to put a “no visitors” sign on the door, Dad said, “I don’t mind company, but I don’t know where they’re all coming from!” The nurse then informed him that there was “a little man with thick glasses” down in the lobby telling everyone who came in, “Brother Caudle Adkins is in room 5117. Go by and see him!”

He may have been one of those “characters” but Mallie loved Jesus, and he loved my Dad. When Mallie passed away, the crowd at his funeral was huge. Not a bad turnout for a fellow who seemed on the surface to just be “one of those characters”. I can picture Mallie now walking streets of gold, wearing a new white suit, and eating at the King’s Table. I can’t help but think that when we get to Heaven, he’ll meet us at the gates of pearl, make all necessary announcements, and give us a guided tour, pointing out who lives in what mansion.

That’s just the kind of guy he is.

1 Thessalonians 5: 14 “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men”. (KJV)

Hebrews 13: 1-3 “Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” (NASB)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What a Jerk I've been!

I've been whining lately about the weather. This has been a more severe winter here (with ice, snow, and very cold temps) then we have had in the last 17 years. Although a few sick, twisted folks out there seem to like this weather, it has been tough on my old bones. We have cancelled more church activities this winter than any other year in my memory.

The (almost) daily ritual of shoveling out the driveways, and clearing off both cars has left me uncharacteristically dreading mornings. All of the shoveling on the steep driveways has put a real strain on my sore back, which was badly twisted in a fall in the church gym three weeks ago. Linda has heard me gripe about the snow ad infinitum. ("Get over it" is her most common reply.) Most of the folks I have talked with, feel the same way about the wintry blast as I do. Everywhere you go in this area, you'll hear comments like, "We can't stand any more of this global warming" or "I've had about all the winter I can take!" etc, etc, etc. Several of my Facebook posts have whined about the weather, and I guess I have just generally had a case of the winter blahs (or the "blobs" as Thamer Calhoun calls them).

That changed last night when I read something written by Mindi Bell Spurgeon. Mindi is a sweet young lady from our church who obviously has a pretty good handle on things. It really made me stop and think about my attitude in general. Here is what Mindi wrote:

"Tonight I am sick.I don't mean sniffle-sneeze-whine sick... I mean
I-wish-I-could-remove-my-stomach-and-rinse-it-out sick. This, of course, is never fun. While sitting, trying to calm down the barfy feeling (that is so obviously spending the night), I looked at my stomach and could see my heart beating... a soft pulse and a quick beat... over... and over... in a perfect rhythm. This got me thinking...This heart, this seemingly ordinary thing, is keeping me alive... keeping you alive. It's a most amazing blessing given to us by God, and when have I ever thanked Him for it? It's just another thing I take for granted. I am so extremely blessed that words would not suffice. The gifts God has given me are too high in number to ever be counted, and to know how much I've been given without telling you and giving God the credit would be a slap in the face to my Maker. So let this note (tiny as it is) be words of praise to my God, and a small reminder that even when we are at our worst, there is someone who loves us enough to give us that beating heart."

As Dr. Chuck Kelley would say, "to coin an ancient Hebrew term, 'WOW!'"

As I thought about what Mindi wrote, it came back to me, how much I have for which I should be truly thankful. According to the average survival time for patients with my type of "incurable" cancer, I should have been dead before December, 2006! And here I am in January of 2010, griping about something over which I have no control, and something that soon will pass anyhow. Furthermore, the Sovereign God who has chosen to spare my life all these extra years, has also determined that we need some cold and snow.

I feel like a fool - or at least like a jerk. The little chorus written below, should be a constant reminder not to forget all His benefits:

"Count your blessings, name them one by one.

Count your blessings see what God has done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one.

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!"

Prayer: God, please forgive me for taking for granted your daily goodness and mercy toward me. Help me to remember to rejoice in the midst of all situations. I thought I had learned not to sweat the small stuff, but I guess I sometimes forget that it is basically ALL small stuff. It is my old nature to be a jerk. Please let your Holy Spirit "jerk" it out of me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mission Trip, Anyone?

In the last recorded words that Jesus gave His disciples while on earth, he said "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." (Acts 1:8) This is His geographical plan for evangelism. Starting at home, moving out into surrounding areas, and eventually to the far reaches of the earth.

At Westmoreland Baptist, we desire to be a missional church. We are a congregation which began as a mission in 1915. We have long been involved in supporting SBC missions in foreign fields, North America, and West Virginia through our giving to the Cooperative Program, and through the Annie Armstrong, Lottie Moon, and Ola Cox mission offerings. WBC has begun mission works in Huntington and across the state of West Virginia. We have had members who have answered the call of missions, both as career missionaries, journeymen, and in other capacities, such as through disaster relief, short term mission trips, and working through the Huntington City Mission.

In Acts, chapter 16 the Apostle Paul was on his second missionary journey and, while at Troas, he was impressed to bring the Gospel to folks across the sea in Macedonia. This call came in a vision at night. Here is how Luke recorded it in one of his "we" passages:

"And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. "

I have felt such a calling in my ministry as well. While hoping to go on a short term trip to Poland and eastern Europe in 1999, God gave me a "Macedonian Call" of sorts to a very different place. The Philippine Islands, and He has used us in a wonderful way to help bless the work that He was already doing in that place. It has been a true blessing. Now here is my question to you.

Anyone out there interested in a possible short term mission trip to the Philippines early next year? Multiple opportunities for Ministry. Ministry opportunities include:

· preaching
· teaching
· music (vocal or instrumental)
· scripture distribution
· house to house evangelism
· hospital ministry
· ministry to men, women, students, and children’s groups,
· prayer walking
· personal evangelism
· possible painting and light construction/maintenance
· and other opportunities should the Lord open other doors…

This can be a life changing experience. First time mission workers (men and women) are welcome. Tentative dates would be in late January or in February, 2011.

We will be working with native Filipino pastors and church planters. The trip would last two weeks, (11 or 12 days of actual ministry in the Philippines). Number of ministry teams and individual team members will be determined by the number of folks who will make the trip. Actual mission projects and itinerary are set by our Filipino hosts. We can take team members as young as 18. Some have gone on the trip in the past who were in their 60’s and 70’s. One should be in reasonably good health and be able to walk some distance. (I’ve done it with a broken foot!)

Actual cost is very reasonable, and includes plane fare, shared room, and shared ground transportation. Only other costs would be for your food and personal needs while there. Passport required (but visa not required). Tickets will not be purchased until late September, so no money would be due until then. For more information, contact me by email at or by calling me at 304-412-0352

I am praying that God will put it on the hearts of several folks to participate.
Love to have you along!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Two Birthdays

My 41st birthday rolls around one month from Monday. My, how the time flies! Most of my Facebook friends will not send me a birthday message on that day because March 15, 1969 does not appear on my profile page. My Facebook profile shows my birth date to be in in 1950. So which is it?

The answer is, both!

I was born the first time on the 20th of October in 1950 (about 2:00 in the morning) the first grandson on both the Adkins and Stidham sides of my family. My name was recorded in the birth records of little Holden Hospital, and in the county records of Logan Co. WV, and subsequently in the West Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics. I don't remember a thing about it, but those who were there tell me there was much celebration in the communities of Dehue and Holden where the Adkinses and the Stidhams resided. Their tribes had increased!

Coincidentally, it was also about 2:00 AM, when I was born the SECOND time, in the back bedroom of Mom and Dad's house on Gallaher Street in Huntington, WV. The date was March 15, 1969, and unlike the first birth, I remember this one like it was yesterday. My new birth was recorded in the "Book of Life" at the "Courthouse in Glory", and according to the Bible, there was some kind of party thrown in Heaven. Angels rejoiced at the news of my new birth! (Luke 15:10) The Kingdom of Heaven had gained another subject.

I don't remember the first birthday, but I do the second. Without the first one, the second would have been impossible. Without the second one, the first wouldn't have been worth a plugged nickel. The first, made me a son and legal heir of Caudle Adkins Jr., a coal miner from Logan, WV. The second marked my adoption as a chosen child of Almighty God (John 1:12-13) and made me an heir of God, and a joint heir with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14-17). The first birth gave me temporary life on this planet. The second gave me full, free, and abundant life on this earth (John 10:10), and everlasting life in the world to come (John 3:16). This abundant, eternal life, and personal relationship with God, comes only through faith in His Son. Not just a mental assent that there was a Jesus, but a single, clear conscious choice to rely fully on Him as Savior and Lord. The testimony of God's word seals the deal, "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:11-13)

Have you had such an experience? Have you been "born again" or "born from above"?

The Bible tells us of the life changing moment experienced by Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Many of us have heard testimonies from other believers regarding dramatic conversion experiences. I confess to you that mine was hardly dramatic. No booming voice from Heaven. No earthquake. No lightning flash was involved. But the moment was as real, and powerful, and eternity altering as any "Damascus Road" experience. It is forever burned in my memory, and settled in Heaven, as the moment when I truly first began to live.

Allow me to share what happened to me on that night.

I had finished my shift as a curb boy at Wiggins Fifth Avenue Bar B Que that evening. It was a job I had taken when in high school, and was still working during my freshman year at Marshall University. We stopped taking orders at midnight on week nights, and by the time the lot was cleared, tables wiped down, rest rooms cleaned, dishes and windows washed, it was usually around 1:30 AM by the time I got home.

I was exceptionally tired. Too tired to even take a shower. After a full day of classes, and an eight hour shift of pounding the pavement and serving up Steakcheburgers and fries to a few hundred customers, all I wanted to do was fall into bed and sleep. I could clean up in the morning. So, still smelling of ketchup and Windex, I turned out the lights and lay down, exhausted, on top of the covers. But instead of simply immediately losing consciousness, as I normally would, I couldn't sleep. Unbeknown to me, I had a divine appointment scheduled.

Now keep in mind, I was a preacher's kid. I had been in church since nine months before I was born. I knew all the Bible stories and hymns. I had heard about Jesus all my life. In fact, at the age of 10, I had even come forward during a Vacation Bible School invitation. A group of believers had gathered around me and prayed, and I had cried like a baby. The pastor asked me if I felt better. Sure I did. You always feel better after a good cry. I was even baptized on Father's Day of 1961 by my Dad and Grandfather, and became a member of the church. Only one thing was missing. I had gone through all the motions, jumped through all the hoops, and did all the right things - but had not simply trusted Christ as my Savior.

Even though I knew the right words, and thought that I understood all the concepts, there was no change. Nothing had taken place in my life. It was simply an embracing of a religion that I knew ABOUT. Instead of a relationship, I simply had a religion. As the years passed and I grew older, it became increasingly more obvious to me that I was living a life of pretense. My slavery to sin increased as I grew into my teen aged years, and now, at age 18 and a freshman in college, I was simply going through the motions in church and in front of my family. A hypocrite, pure and simple, in my heart, I knew I was terribly lost. My life was miserable to say the least.

Then came that night in March of '69.

Lying there on my back, staring into the darkness of my bedroom, the Holy Spirit drew His work in my sad life to a crescendo.

In my mind, I began to picture Jesus on the Cross. You know the image. It was the well known, sanitized version we have all seen in multiple paintings, crucifixes, and Hollywood movies. But the picture began to change in my mind. It became more frightening, more brutal than I had ever noticed before. The sense of the suffering of Christ seemed to engulf me. The anguish and pain was etched on His face, visible through the flow of blood that ran down from the crown of thorns that had ripped the flesh on His brow. The image was more disturbing than any I had ever seen depicting His crucifixion.

The picture focused upon His face, and His eyes were looking right at me. They seemed to look right through me, and try as hard as I might, I could not look away. And for the first time in my life, I heard Him speak to me. He looked sadly into my eyes and said, "C.J. I am doing this for you. I am doing this BECAUSE of you. Your sin has nailed me here. Why do you reject my love for you?"

Was it an audible voice? No, of course not. But it was much louder than that. It reverberated, not in my ears, but the deepest recesses of my soul.

Like the prophet in Isaiah 6, I was "dissolved". My heart was broken. The vastness of my sin was before me in technicolor and I suddenly realized for the first time the enormity of what Jesus had done - for me! Suddenly the biblical words, which I had heard hundreds of times, became real to me:

"But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. " (Isa 53:5-6)

Now, understand that I believed then (as I do now) in the reality of Hell. The Bible plainly tells us that it is a real place of torment and eternal separation from God for those who die in their sin. Jesus taught that it was a place to be avoided at all costs. But hear me on this! It was not the fear of a Devil's Hell that brought me to God that night! No. No. No! It was the enormous, overwhelming, unfathomable power of the Grace of God and the Love of Jesus that brought me to my face before Him.

I was so sorry for my sin. I was so ashamed of my life. I had trampled through the blood of my would be Savior for so many years that I cannot express the guilt and shame I experienced that night. I knew only this. I was lost. Unable to help myself. Carrying a burden and a spiritual weight that I could no longer bear.

Broken, I came to him.

I had nothing I could offer Him. No goodness. No merit. Worthless. Spiritually bankrupt.

But it didn't matter to Him. All that mattered was that He loved me and He wanted a relationship with me. So I did the only thing I could do. I repented. That means I made a 180 degree turn from my way to His way. I trusted Him to do for me what I could not do for myself. I asked His forgiveness, and He GAVE it! (Jn. 6:37) The burden was lifted (Matt. 11:30). The guilt was gone (Rom 8:1) . My sin was covered (1 Jn. 2:2) . I was alive for the first time in my 18years! (Rom 8:10-11)

My son asked me recently, to write about the three or four most memorable spiritual experiences in my life. March 15, 1969 has to be number 1. Now, nearly 41 years later, I understand it much better than I did that night. However, it all boils down to what the Apostle wrote in 2 Cor. 5:21 "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

My dear late friend and brother in Christ, Rick Rakes, used to send me a birthday card on March 15th. He is the only person who ever did that for me. I miss that now as much as I miss him. But birthday cards or not, of my two birthdays - THAT is the one that matters most!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Power of Forgiveness and Redemption

I never cease to marvel at the wonderful power of forgiveness and redemption found in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

That is the message of the Bible, from Genesis 3:15 in the Old Testament, all the way through the end of the Book of the Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. It explains that we are a fallen race - alienated from a Holy and Loving God, who desires to bring us back into relationship with Him. The Bible is a beautiful love story of God reaching down to fallen man and purchasing him back from the slave market of sin.

Not only does God seek to redeem the unregenerate soul, but His forgiveness is always available to those who, although once His, may have wandered away from Him. (Read the famous story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15). Sometimes we do wander from Him. It is never His choice for us to do so, but like the father in the parable, He is always looking to restore us to the relationship (and all that goes with it) that we may have foolishly spurned, like the younger son in the parable.

Many of us are examples of the same concept.

Now, I know that the Enemy seeks to discredit such experience. The Accuser will cast doubt all around our testimony of the same. But the fact remains that God is a "God of the second chance". He calls erring children to come home, and sometimes uses harsh measures to catch our attention and to make us realize our need for Him.

Whenever a high profile person falls into this category, it is very easy for us to doubt. The story of Michael Vick is a good example of that. Who among us is not familiar with the rise and fall of the football superstar quarterback. His despicable actions of financing and operating a dog fighting ring, led him not only to public humiliation, but to financial ruin, suspension from his career, and 23 months in a federal prison. But something happened to Vick while incarcerated at Leavenworth. Through the work of the Holy Spirit and the help of another well known football personality, Vick came back to a long neglected relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

It is very easy for doubters to scoff at what we often call "jailhouse conversions", and I'm sure that many of those "conversions" lack validity. However, God can, and does use such circumstances to change men and women's lives if they will but respond with repentance and trust. Former White House Counsel and Watergate co-conspirator, Chuck Colson is a perfect example.

I've never been a big fan of Michael Vick, and certainly not after his shameful, arrogant and inhumane activities came to light. But I rejoice in the news story I read last night on Baptist Press regarding Michael Vick, forgiveness, redemption and his public testimony of the same.

Here is the story from Baptist Press. Please click on the link and be blessed by the story of redemption.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Bless God, I'll Bust You Right In The Mouth!"

My late friend, Dan McBride was a Baptist humorist from Jacksonville, Texas. Dan’s album “Tiptoe Through The Tithers” contains many light hearted songs. One of those songs begins with these words:

“Every month we’ve got a meeting in our plan.
It’s the church’s business meeting. Man, oh man!
You’ve really got to see it when you’re in our town,
‘Cause you’ll never see a better fight in 15 rounds!”

Anyone who has ever been present at a business meeting in a Baptist church can relate to this concept! What is it about we Baptists that make us want to argue and fight at business meeting? It matters not whether the meeting is held monthly, quarterly, semi annually, or once a year. In fact, it really doesn’t matter if it is a local church conference, or an associational level meeting, or a national convention. It just seems as though whenever two or three are gathered together to conduct the “business of the Lord and His church”, you can bet that sparks are likely to fly.

What is it about God’s people (who like to talk about spending eternity together in Heaven) that makes them want to step outside over a financial report, or the report from “the ad hoc committee to investigate the empty beer can found on the church parking lot”? Obviously, David, who wrote, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133: 1) never witnessed Baptist brethren in passionate debate over such highly spiritual matters as, “whether to serve ham or turkey at the holiday dinner”, or the ever popular “color of the new carpet” debate. Churches have actually split over such weighty matters as “who should be allowed to have a key to the church kitchen?” As a matter of fact, the church where I grew up came into existence from a church split. The reason? Debate over whether the walls of the Sunday School rooms should be painted or papered! No wonder our business meetings were so lively. It was our heritage!

As a Pastor, myself, I look back on those days and think how “Preacher” Vallance must have dreaded that evil Saturday evening on every month’s calendar. That’s right, Saturday. I have no idea why the church chose to have the monthly business meeting on Saturday, but I can tell you that it often made for interesting Sunday morning services!

Fear of litigation prohibits me from mentioning any names in this chapter, however a number of deacons and assorted other church members certainly distinguished themselves in those “main events” that one neighbor called “The Saturday Night Fights.” Two ladies in particular seemed to have a real talent for kicking off the festivities. Both of them seemed to live only for the opportunity to stir something up at business meeting. I formerly thought that things would have run a little smoother if we had literally enforced Paul’s admonishment to the Corinthians (chapter 14 verse 34), “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak,…” . However, later in life I served a church who DID practice that. It didn’t work.. Since the women couldn’t speak, one of the deacons would see to it that something got stirred up.

It is absolutely amazing to see the transformation of otherwise “Godly saints” into spiritual pit bulls, bent on having things their way. In the heat of debate, I have actually heard statements like, “I don’t care WHAT the Bible says, here’s the way I feel about it…”. Honestly, I’m not kidding. I’ve actually heard that said in a business meeting! I’ve seen folks get mad and not speak to each other over some silly issue. I’ve heard one church member refer to the pastor’s wife as “an angel faced hypocrite” from the floor in business meeting. I’ve seen folks who haven’t been to church in YEARS show up at business meeting trying to vote on some hot issue. I’ve seen pastors reduced to tears, people walk out in anger, and on one occasion a deacon tell another deacon, “You either meet me at the altar as a Christian, or meet me outside as a man!” I thought that was the worst business meeting action ever, until a Church of God brother related a story to me about two of their preachers getting into it at a district conference. I have no idea what the issue was, but the debate was lengthy and fiery. Both were becoming exasperated with the other to the point that one, not having anything else he could add to the debate, shouted to the other, “Bless God I’ll bust you right in the mouth!” I guess that kind of behavior crosses denominational lines. Kind of makes you want to sing, “To God Be The Glory”, huh?

As a pastor myself, I dread business meeting night. I know we need to hear financial reports, deacon activities, Trustee recommendations, elect teachers and officers, etc. I just wish folks would always be as passionate about evangelism and discipleship, as they sometimes are over how much money we’re spending on toilet paper. I know that business meetings are a necessary evil in Baptist churches. I’d just like to see Christians act like Christians when the dreaded date rolls around!

Romans 12: 9-18 “Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (KJV)

Ephesians 4: 29-32 “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (KJV)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What Matters Most

America's last surviving World War I Veteran celebrated his 109th birthday Monday in Harrison County, West Virginia. Born on Feb. 1, 1901, Frank Buckles lied about his age to join the U.S. Army to fight the forces of the Kaiser in the "War to End All Wars". One of 4,734,991 American "Doughboys" who fought in the Great War, he now is the only one left.

A couple of years ago I first noted that Mr. Buckles was the last remaining WWI Veteran. That was a shocking revelation to me, since I have known so many of his fellow soldiers in my lifetime. It was sobering to realize how quickly time slips away. It doesn't seem so long ago that there were many WWI Vets among us. Now there is one.

My Grandfather, Caudle Adkins, Sr. served in that war. Corneilus Bowling, my wife's grandfather, did the same. As a child, my neighborhood was full of older men who had served in "The Great War". In fact our next door neighbor, and a few old men at church had actually served in the Spanish American War! (talk about old timers!!!)

Most of the other men in our community, those with the young families like ours, were WWII Vets. They were the young guys like my Dad. Now, THOSE surviving fellows are in their 80's and early 90's. Sadly, the numbers of that "Greatest Generation" are diminishing daily at an astounding rate. Now, we Viet Nam Era Vets are in our 60's, and we make up a large number of the "gray beards" you'll see on any given day at the VA Medical Center.

The ever spinning cycle of life picks up speed as we grow older. Our life's transitory nature can be somewhat depressing when one realizes the futility of trying to find what we think of as "fulfillment" (in human terms of possessions, relationships, and even knowledge). It is like trying to "catch the wind". Consider how the wise human author of the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes treats the subject in the very first chapter of his book (vs. 3-11):

"What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit. All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again. All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this is new"? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after."

On reading the first chapter, one can feel the overwhelming sense of futility.

So what is the answer? Where can one find fulfillment? Where can we find meaning and satisfaction in the few fleeting years of our lives? In the midst of all this "vanity and vexation of the Spirit", the question remains, "What on earth am I here for?"

The writer answers very simply in his closing argument of the ancient book:

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
The preacher's concern is to edify the people
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
The fear of God is the chief antidote of vanity
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

The fact of the matter is that we are only here for a short time. As an old African American lady once told me, "This is only a gettin' ready place".

Even if we might be blessed, like Mr. Buckles, with 109 years on the planet, our lives are only like a vapor in the vastness of eternity.

The next realm where we exist will be forever.

Are you ready? Are you living for what matters most?