Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Saddle Ridge Ranch VBS Underway at Westmoreland Baptist

Saddle Ridge Ranch" Vacation Bible School is underway this week at Westmoreland Baptist Church. We are off to a great start on the first two nights. Here are some random photos taken by Jeff Blake. Jeff's pix give an indication of the great time the kids are having, "Rounding up Questions" and "Driving Home Answers".

Friday, July 23, 2010

I Think There Is A Lesson Here

It's been a hot summer here in the Ohio River Valley. The Kentucky-West Virginia-Ohio tri -state area has been much like the rest of the sweltering country this season, with soaring temperatures and brutal humidity. Spring was quite pleasant, but brief. Seemed as though we almost went directly from late winter into summer, with very little transition. When the first heat wave hit our area, I made a most unpleasant discovery. Something was wrong with the air conditioning unit in my car. All I got was hot air!

The 2001 Ford Taurus, which I usually drive, has rolled up more than 120,000 miles, and thus it is at that place where things have begun to "go south" mechanically. I have always been one of those car owners who drives the vehicle until it simply succumbs from old age. This has been a good old car (and I believe she still has many more miles in her) but reality tells me that I can't expect it to continue to be serviceable without the inevitable mounting repair issues that age and high mileage bring.

Like most everyone else in this economy, we are constantly feeling the pinch of household expenses and the general rising cost of living. As much as I would like to stay cool during my commute, and on the many errands I run each day in the car, the air conditioning was a luxury that I thought I could live without. After all, when I was a kid, there was no air conditioning in Dad's car and none in our home for many years, and we all seemed to survive pretty well. I am no kind of mechanic myself, and knowing how expensive A/C work can be, I have put off looking into repairs until my personal budget was a little less strained.

Brother, has it been hot in that car this summer! I've left the windows down and parked in shady areas whenever possible, but there is no escaping the oven like atmosphere of the car's passenger compartment. Being spoiled by so many years of comfortable motoring, I had forgotten the wretched "sweaty back" feeling from way back in the pre A/C good old days.

Thamer Calhoun asked me the other day, "Have you got your air conditioning fixed yet?"

I explained that it really wasn't that bad, and that I was waiting until the end of the month when I would be more financially able to have the situation looked into. He volunteered to take the car to a guy in Proctorville, Ohio who does a lot of automotive work for his family and for the volunteer fire department he belongs to.

"I can't afford to have it fixed right now" I explained again.

Thamer pressed on, "I'll just get him to look at it and see what might be wrong, and find out how much it might cost you."

Reluctantly, I gave him my key and reminded him not to let the guy do any work on it until I knew the amount of the damages. I took the little church van and headed out to an appointment at our local Baptist Association Office. (boy, did that air conditioning feel nice!).

When I returned to the church, my Ford was back in it's parking place. The key lay on my desk on top of a note with "Fixed" scrawled on it. I found Thamer in the secretary's office, where he was replacing a light switch.

"What's the deal?" I asked.

He grinned at me and said, the mechanic wanted to know if his pastor had stepped on anybody's toes recently. Seeing my puzzled look, Thamer continued, "The compressor was unplugged. He plugged it back in and the air is working fine now."

I felt like an idiot.

As far as I can tell, it must have been unplugged back in the winter, when some other mechanical work was done under the hood at another shop. Apparently the mechanic had just failed to reconnect it. The oversight went unnoticed until warm weather arrived and the air conditioner failed to work. I have been driving around all summer, sweating profusely, windows down, with a "wind blown look" hair style, for no good reason, other than my reluctance to have the problem checked out for fear that repairs would cost more than I could afford.

How many times have we done the same thing in other areas of our lives?

Physically, I unnecessarily carried a malignancy around in my colon for over two years allowing it spread to other organs. Why? Fear of the tests that would have discovered the problem. We had health insurance that would have paid for the tests, but I really didn't relish the idea of what I might have to go through. Turns out, my neglect caused much more pain and suffering than I could have imagined.

Often we carry other burdens (emotional, financial, physical, spiritual, familial, etc) around with us, when there is no need to do so. Fear and anxiety can take a terrible toll on our lives. They feed upon one another, and grow to a point that we feel completely helpless, when there is one who asks us to "Cast all our cares upon Him".

A well known old hymn contains these words:

"Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."

What burdens are you lugging around today? Why? Fear of the unknown? Take it to the Lord. It may surprise you how simple the solution is, when you put it in His capable hands.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Be Men!

Do you have an X and a Y chromosome? Do you enjoy the company of other guys? Do you like sports? Enjoy hunting and fishing? Do your cable TV preferences lean to ESPN or Spike TV rather than Lifetime? Do you prefer Cornhole and Tailgating to dinner parties? Do you find Clint Eastwood and Steven Segall movies superior to those with Leonardo DiCaprio? Did you ever sprain an ankle in a pick up basketball game, or pull a hamstring trying to stretch a single into a double in a softball game? Congratulations, you show every evidence of being a genuine, red blooded, "semper peratus" American guy.

Several years ago a friend once told my son and his high school buddy, "Boys, women aren't like us regular folks!"

Ain't that the truth? We are as different as daylight and dark. God has wired us that way, and that's a good thing. The Creator knew what He was doing when He created the companion for the first man. The Biblical creation account reveals that God took a bone from Adam's body to fashion the woman. I suppose He could have scooped up another handfull of dirt and created the perfect woman, but the Almighty chose to do it differently. It is worth noting that He didn't use a bone from Adam's cranium, so the woman might rule over him. Nor did He choose a bone from his heel, that Adam might keep her "under his foot". But God took a rib from the man's side - close to his heart - that his companion might walk beside him.

We are different, indeed. And we compliment one another. It's part of the Divine plan.

But there is more to being a man than the physical and emotional ways we may differ from the fairer sex. Machismo and "doing guy things" are not all there is to being a man. We are first, and foremost, spiritual beings. We were created to have a relationship with the Creator. Because of our fallen nature, that original relationship was breached. That is why God sent His Son to reconcile us by taking our sin upon Himself, while miraculously imputing His righteousness to us (2 Cor 5:21). Men and women, are meant to have a personal relationship with their God.

Sadly, somewhere along the line, it seems we men have dropped the ball. Designed to be the spiritual leaders of our homes, many of the masculine gender have forfeited that responsibility. It may be almost undetectable in some areas, but the lack of participation of men in the ministry of the local church has become obvious, and epidemic in its proportions.

George Barna's research shows that "More than 90 percent of American men believe in God, and five out of six call themselves Christians. But only two out of six attend church on a given Sunday. The average man accepts the reality of Jesus Christ, but fails to see any value in going to church." While we know that church attendance is not what brings us into a right relationship with God, we also know that the Bible encourages Christians to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV) The local church serves as a center for fellowship, and discipleship training, as well as a home base for outreach ministry, evangelism and missions.

A man (or woman) who loves Jesus, will love His church. Yet on any given Sunday, there are 13 million more adult women than men in America’s churches (figures from Barna Research and U.S. 2000 Census). This begs the question, "Where are the men?" Could it mean that a great majority of Christian men just don't feel that the ministry of the local church is important? Could it come from a life of focus on all the other manly responsibilities we have, while ignoring the most important - a personal relationship with the Father? The frightening thing is what this poor example shows to the boys we are raising. LifeWay research reports that "Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return." After all, boys are going to mirror the behavior of their fathers - whether it be good or bad.

Christian men today must wake up! We must step up to the plate and take on the spiritual responsibilities that God has given us as husbands, fathers and grandfathers. Oh, for men today who will state like Joshua of old, "And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15 (ESV).

I'll be writing more about this later, but in closing this article let me share with you men the words of an old hymn, written almost a century ago by William Merrill, that ring ever true today:

Rise up, O men of God!

Have done with lesser things.

Give heart and mind and soul and strength

to serve the King of kings.

Rise up, O men of God!

The kingdom tarries long.

Bring in the day of brotherhood

and end the night of wrong.

Rise up, O men of God!

The church for you doth wait,

her strength unequal to her task;

rise up, and make her great!

Lift high the cross of Christ!

Tread where his feet have trod.

As brothers of the Son of Man,

rise up, O men of God!

Brothers, real men love Jesus! Real men take up their cross and follow Him. Real men seek to fulfill His mission.

Rise up and serve Him!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sharing My Story With The Medical Community

I have a new experience awaiting me on Wednesday morning, July 21st. I have been invited to speak at the Oncology Update sponsored by Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital.

The program, to be held at the Bellefonte Centre, includes several oncologists, surgeons, and nursing professionals. The subject for tomorrow is Colon Cancer. I will be the only non medical person on the day long program. When I was called by Becky Grady (a clinical trials person at OLBH) with the invitation to speak, she asked if I could talk about my experiences for about 50 minutes. I told her I could talk in my sleep for 50 minutes!

My assigned talk kicks off the program at 8:00 AM with an assigned subject of: "Psycho-social Support for Cancer Patients". I told Becky I was not sure exactly what all that was, and she said, "Just share your experiences and your testimony."

No problem. I can do that!

I never tire of telling others what God - and Dr. Kirti Jain have done for me.

Honestly, I am a little nervous about the whole thing. Not the public speaking part - I've been speaking to groups of people, large and small, for 40 years now. Perhaps it is the fact that my audience will all be medical professionals. Some of my apprehension also probably stems from the fact that the illness is very personal. Linda and I have been through a lot during this journey, and I get very emotional at times when I talk about it. Metastatic Colon Cancer is something that has consumed our time, thoughts, and resources for nearly six years now.

God has extended my life for more than four years longer than the average survival time. He has a reason for doing that, and I'm not sure exactly what that reason may be. I do know this. I will give Him the praise and glory that is due Him, every day he extends my stay here.

Tomorrow will be no different.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Da da da da da da da da da - Bat Man!

What a wild 45 minutes!

After dinner, Linda and I decided to drive down to McDonalds for one of their chocolate dipped ice cream cones. As we furiously licked the quickly melting frozen custard, she drove up to the Community and Technical College (where she works) so she could show me the major work being done on the entrance and parking lot off College Drive. After a pass around Central Park, we headed on home for the evening. I had left my cell phone at home, and it was ringing as we walked through the back door. It was my son, Jay, from New Orleans. Linda had walked on into the kitchen and was pouring a cup of coffee as I greeted Jay, only to be interrupted by her scream - "There is a bird or a bat flying around in the living room!"

Having made that announcement, she immediately headed for the basement, pulling the door closed behind her.
There is a big difference between birds and bats. Basically I like birds. Bats, not so much (after all , they are flying rodents! I have always had a healthy respect for both species, and have a live and let live attitude toward all living things. However, both and bats and birds completely creep me out when they get loose in a house! I quickly saw that this particular intruder was, indeed, a bat - which gave me a case of the wiggles.
"How did it get in here?" Linda called from behind the basement door. I allowed that I had no idea, but was more concerned at the moment about getting it out!
I quickly donned a hat. Don't laugh, that really was my first course of action. I think there is an old wives tale about bats getting into your hair, so on went the hat. My grandson, Quint, (who once laughed uncontrollably, when he found out I carry a comb in my pocket) would think that hilarious - seeing that I am increasingly more follically challenged each day. Once I had donned my safety hat, I called for my assistant to come out of the basement and bring me a broom. Many years ago in the early days of our marriage, I had bludgeoned an intruding mouse in our home with a golf putter. It's airborne cousin tonight called for something with a little wider head - thus the broom. I had no illusions about killing it with the broom, but I thought I could possibly steer the intruder to the open front door by waving the broom furiously.
I was mistaken.
He flew wildly around the living room, going tantalizingly near the open front door, only to make a sudden 180 degree turn and zoom directly toward me. He would then make an immediate 90 degree turn and repeat the process. This went on for what seemed like an eternity. The bat flapping furiously around the room at various levels, and me bobbing and weaving while swinging that broom like Adam Dunn swinging at a major league curve ball - with the same futile results. The bat took refuge behind the sofa in a dark corner of the floor. While he took a well deserved breather, I thought about the danger of it getting loose upstairs, where there was a myriad of potential hiding places. I quickly ran to the top of the steps and closed the doors leading to the bedrooms and the bath. Now I knew if the devilish rodent flew up the stair well, it would be a dead end trip.
By this time Linda had made it back into the living room. She asked me where it was. I pointed it out in the corner and she made a quick retreat to the kitchen yelling, "Get it out of here!" After poking at it with the broom handle, the circus was on again. When the bat took another break, I walked over to the open front door and saw several of my neighbors, curiously watching the spectacle from the street. God only knows what they thought must have been going on in here.
Patrick, the high school student who lives next door was standing there next to his 20 year old uncle, T.R. who lives directly across the street.
Patrick called out, "What's wrong C.J.?"
Lest they thought I was beating my wife with a broom, I quickly announced that there was a bat in the house. He sagely advised me, "Those things are dangerous!"
Duh! I had already just about destroyed the living room.
"Do you want me to get my grandmother?" he asked seriously. "She knows how to kill them. They had one in their house about a week ago and she got him."
Considering Linda's reluctance to enter the fray, I was ready for any help I could get. So Patrick called out to Becky Hush, who strode confidently across the street and into the living room, asking, "Where is he?" Before I could answer the question, the bat took off from his hiding place and round fthree was under way. With four people now flailing away in the living room, and Linda calling out instructions from the kitchen, things were really beginning to heat up. With that, the bat flew up the stairwell. We waited, but he didn't return.
What a time for the stairwell light to be burned out!
T.R. and Patrick called for flashlights, preparing to make an excursion into hostile territory. By this time, Patrick's mom and dad (Billy and Jane Williams) had also entered the room. Becky's younger daughter, Opal, watched with interest from the front door. T.R. said he needed something to hit the thing with, and Linda handed him a lid from a small plastic cooler that happened to be in the kitchen. The two young men ascended into the darkness, with flashlight beams moving all over. Billy followed close behind on the stairs. T.R. called out that he had found it lying on the carpet on the landing at the top of the stairs.
The next sounds I heard were the "whap, whap, whap" of the cooler top hitting the soft carpet, the squealing of the rodent, the sound of flapping wings, and the thunderous noise of three rather large men, climbing over one another trying to get down the steps. Billy, who was bringing up the rear, was first to the foot of the steps, but tragedy ensued, when he stepped onto the rug on the hard wood floor in the living room. As the bat flew by them all, Patrick and T.R. fled in different directions. Billy's feet shot out from under him and he fell, face first, out the front door. He lay there motionless, half in, half out, gasping for his breath that had been knocked out of him as his ribs hit the threshold - hard!
The bat again took refuge somewhere behind the sofa.
After Billy was able to catch his breath and determine that no ribs seemed to be broken, Becky announced, "It's in this room and we have to get it tonight."
"Amen to that!" I thought silently. I wasn't about to go to sleep tonight with the whereabouts of that furry demon unknown.
By now Linda had again joined us in the living room. The furniture was in disarray, rugs turned up, and curtains and wall hangings askew. By now, eight of us had joined forces to extricate the beast. The young men pulled the sofa away from the wall and turned it on its back.
No sign of the bat.
We hit at the curtains with the broom, but the varmint had seemed to have vanished.
As we stood there, scratching our heads, Linda crept through the seven of us looking suspiciously into the dark recesses of the corner of the room. She pulled away a small octagonal end table by the sofa, screamed, "There it is!" and fled to the kitchen, pulling the basement door behind her again.
Billy seized the moment and pinned the bat to the hardwood floor with the broom. The bat squealed, but he was temporarily trapped in the bristly prison. Becky quickly instructed Billy to drag the broom (and the bat) toward the front door. As he complied, the bat, now somewhat addled, came out from under the broom. In one fleeting moment, Becky flipped one of the area rugs over it and with four powerful stomps, dispatched the rodent into eternity.
And with that, the saga ended as quickly as it had begun. I only wish we could have caught the operation on video.
That is what we did tonight.
How did you spend your Friday evening?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Food For Thought

Tonight, "Lebronapalooza" finally comes to a close, when ESPN will televise a one hour broadcast in which Akron, Ohio native, and Cleveland Cavalier free agent Lebron James will announce which NBA team has earned the privilege of paying multiple millions of dollars to purchase his considerable talent. When one steps back and considers what is really important in life, it seems almost obscene that such a spectacle should be made of "King James'" decision. To his credit, James is reportedly donating all of the proceeds from the program to his favorite children's charity, The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, but really... let's think about this for a moment.

In a nation torn apart by partisan political bickering... where the economy is in the tank... where thousands of unborn babies are killed daily in what should be the safest place on earth (their mother's wombs)... where unemployment hovers near 10%... where millions of Americans are struggling to keep their homes, pay their bills, and meet their other obligations... where millions of gallons of crude oil are belching 24/7, unchecked, into the Gulf of Mexico and have already fouled the coastlines of all five Gulf Coast States, killed thousands of sea creatures and birds, and cost the livelihood of fishermen, merchants, and related businesses - countless Americans breathlessly await the answer to the all important question, "Where will Lebron go?"

We are an entertainment and sports gluttoned society. The 24 hour news cycle constantly bombards us with stories about the moral failures of Lindsey Lohan, Ben Rothlesberger, Tiger Woods, John Edwards and other celebs from Hollywood, Washington, and the sports world. They wouldn't report so much of this vile stuff, if we didn't have the proclivity for watching it. Like passers by at a terrible wreck along the highway, we can't seem to turn away, but we watch with a morbid curiosity.

So tonight, another sports millionaire gets richer. The James saga comes to a crescendo, and that will be the top story in all the newspapers and talk shows tomorrow morning. Then our attention will be turned elsewhere - to the next "big story". The beat, as they say, goes on.

Lost in all of the Lebron James news extravaganza, is a sad story out of Lexington, Kentucky about a former NBA first round draft choice.

Today Melvin Turpin apparently took his own life.

Many readers may say, "Who in the world is Melvin Turpin?"

Hard core college basketball fans, and ALL University of Kentucky Wildcat fans remember Mel Turpin.

The 6'11" Turpin, along with 7'1" teammate Sam Bowie, were the "Twin Towers" that led the Cats to three consecutive SEC regular season championships in the early 80's. He was an All American and All SEC player who averaged 15 points per game in 1983-84 and hit 74% of his shots from the field for Coach Joe B. Hall. He went sixth in the 1984 NBA draft, in a field which included Bowie, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley. Ironically he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers (who also drafted Lebron James straight out of high school) but Melvin was traded to the Washington Bullets. He later played for the Utah Jazz, but his career never hit the heights of some of his fellow first round picks.

Frankly, I had lost track of Turpin over the years since his basketball career had ended. The Lexington Herald Leader reported that he had been living in North Lexington and worked as a security guard at the UK Medical Center. Neighbors expressed shock at the news of his suicide, and characterized him as a quiet guy who always wore a smile. Apparently no one knew he was crying on the inside, and there is no known motive for his tragic action.

Tonight millions of boys will watch breathlessly as their present basketball hero signs a multimillion dollar contract. Mostly unnoticed is the death of an obscure security guard in Lexington, Kentucky, who a generation ago, helped fill up Rupp Arena, won All American honors, thrilled basketball fans in the Bluegrass State from the mountains to the Mississippi, and signed a big NBA contract. Today he took his own life.

Fame and talent are impressive. Celebrity is a fleeting thing. What are the lessons here?

I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Food for thought.

(by the way, Lebron chose Miami)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

This One Will Make You Feel Old!

Here is a sobering thought for all my fellow Baby Boomers out there. Ringo Starr turns 70 today.


Wasn't it just a few short years ago, when the mop top quartet from Liverpool took the world by storm, leading the musical British Invasion here in America? Remember how we rode the bus downtown on Saturday morning and checked out all the new 45's at Davidson's Record Store? Wasn't it just yesterday when we danced to "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" at the sock hops in the Jr. High gym? It seems that way, but alas, 1963 was nearly FIVE DECADES ago. With apologies to my friend, Joe McKeever (the youngest septuagenarian I know) it just doesn't seem possible that Ringo Starr is 70. What seems even stranger is that this is the year when we three Adkins brothers will be 60, 55, and 50! Where has the time gone?

Those frozen moments of time from our childhood or teenage years that dot our memories , have a way of lulling us into a false sense of "forever young". The hard truth is that we are all getting older, and these bodies (as we all understand) are simply transitory.

Back in the 60's, some of us never entertained the thought that The Beatles wouldn't always be around. But things change. People change. Relationships change. Time changes all of us. Even after the break up of the super group, some felt that they might one day all get back together. But it didn't happen. John Lennon was gunned down by a mentally deranged character in front of his apartment building in New York City, and George Harrison died of cancer. Those, along with the earlier deaths of stars like Janis Joplin, Jimmie Hendricks, and Jim Morrison, all served to shock my generation into the stark reality of our mortality. And now, seemingly overnight, those of us who survived the 60's and 70's are quickly entering the Medicare and Social Security benefit years. How is it possible?

The 90th Psalm (the only Psalm attributed to Moses' authorship) speaks eloquently about the eternal quality of God, and the frailty of we mortals.

"Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth,or ever you had formed the earth and the world,from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers...

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble;they are soon gone, and we fly away..." (ESV)

We are reminded by the writer, James in the New Testament that our lives are "a vapor, that appears for a short while and then vanishes away."

So how do we deal with such a sobering truth? Shall we despair at the fleeting days of our lives and spend the twilight years mourning the loss of our youth? Or should we sit around wishing we had the good old days back again?

No way!

Even though the years are quickly passing, and we cannot get them back... even though we have seen war, tragedy and pain in our generation... there is hope. There is still work for us to do. There is time to focus on what is most important. Verse 12 of Psalm 90 is a poignant reminder:

"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."

Sage advice to my generation, as well as those who are much younger, would best be summed up in the concluding verses of that 90th Psalm. Let us join our hearts with Moses as he prays:

"Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants,and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!"

So, although it is not likely he'll be reading my blog today, I would like to wish Ringo a happy 70th birthday. He's had quite a ride in this life. I pray that, even as a septuagenarian, if he hasn't hasn't experienced the New Birth, that he might hear the call of God today. As a wise man once said, "Only one life soon will pass; only what is done for Christ will last."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

God Bless America

In 1938 the world was in turmoil. In the midst of a Great Depression, World War was brewing, and ready to erupt. The economic unrest and political turmoil was strikingly similar to what is happening in the world in which we live today. Consider some of the events of 1938.

In Asia, the Japanese were pushing the Chinese army of Chiang Kai-Shek farther and farther inland.

In the Middle East, Arabs massacred 20 Jews in the ancient city of Tiberius, and the Turkish army unleashed genocide on the Kurdish people.

In Europe, Spain was in a brutal Civil War... Fascism was growing in Italy...Adolph Hitler was extending his power beyond the borders of Germany... Hitler forced Austria into capitulating to his demands... Germany began to threaten Czechoslovakia... The Mauthausen Concentration Camp was built in Austria... Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler and Mussolini and announced that he had secured "Peace in our Time" through what became known as the Munich Agreement, which allowed Germany to annex Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland... and the German government expelled 12,000 Polish Jews living in Germany.

Then on November 9th the Holocaust began with "Krystalnacht" - known as The Night of Broken Glass - as Nazi activists and sympathizers destroyed 7,500 Jewish owned businesses. That night, they burned 267 synagogues, killed 95 Jews, and arrested at least 25,000 Jewish men.

Here in the U.S.A., anxiety levels were high. Although officially our government was trying to maintain a state of isolation, it was becoming more obvious that the world was being dragged into a global conflict. On the night after "Krystalnacht", on her weekly radio program, singer Kate Smith sang a song for the first time. It had just been written by noted Jewish American

composer, Irving Berlin. The words were as follows:

"While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,

Let us swear allegiance to a land that is free.

Let us all be grateful to a land so fair,

As we raise our voices in solemn prayer.

God bless America,

Land that I love.

Stand beside her,

And guide her,

Through the night with a light from above.

From the mountains, to the prairies,

To the Oceans, white with foam,

God bless America.

My home, sweet home!"

Like Irving Berlin of old, my prayer today is that God will bless our nation and all Americans. Here is what the Bible says about God's blessing on a nation and its people:

Psalm 33:12-22 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance. The LORD looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out On all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works. The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness, To deliver their soul from death And to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name. Let Your lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, According as we have hoped in You. (NASB)

While this Psalm primarily speaks to the ancient nation of Israel, the principles remain the same today, to any people who will honor the Great "I AM".

I am not one who believes that patriotism and old time religion are the same thing. They are not. We must understand that America is not today, nor has it ever been, a literal "Christian Nation". We were founded as a Republic, not as a Theocracy. But our nation DOES have a Godly heritage that is quickly passing from the scene. There are several thoughts I would like to share with you today about God's blessing on our nation.

The United States of America was founded on Biblical principles. The earliest Pilgrims came here to escape religious persecution in their homeland. Liberty, justice, and truth have always bee a hall mark of our culture. Our founding documents acknowledge God's provision and protection, along with our need to trust Him. And while all of our founding fathers were not devout Christians, many of them referenced the Creator and the God of the Bible in public speeches, in private correspondence, and in diaries. All of them seemed to recognize the sovereignty of the Supreme Being.

God has blessed us in so many ways in the past. He has given us a land that is abundant in natural resources. The Native Americans lived from hunting, gathering and farming their abundant land. Vast expanses of rich forests met those Europeans who first came to these shores. There were powerful rivers and streams and countless freshwater lakes. The land stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a rich natural habitat for man and all living creatures. Natural resources such as coal, natural gas, limestone, and gold were discovered in abundance in this land of natural beauty. Green Appalachians and towering Rocky Mountains framed the interior plains.

We are a land of opportunity. The American Dream allows for anyone who is willing to work hard and do the right thing to rise to whatever heights they may attain. Thomas Edison, a poor hearing impaired young man used his imagination and ingenuity to create 1150 inventions, some of which lit up the homes and cities and brought a better way of life to all. Abraham Lincoln, born in a log cabin in Kentucky, became a self educated lawyer, rose to be President of the United States, and with one stroke of his pen, righted the wrong of slavery. He presided over the country during it's darkest hours, and saved the Union. Henry Ford, a young mechanic, changed transportation forever as he developed a way to assemble his new automobile models. Two of our own West Virginians come to mind as well. General Chuck Yeager and the late Senator Robert Byrd, started life as poor country boys in rural parts of the Mountain State and rose to the heights of their chosen professions. Yeager as the daring test pilot, who became the embodiment of having the "Right Stuff" required to become an astronaut. Byrd served in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate longer than any other man in the history of our nation, casting 18,000 votes. He recently died at the age of 92 with a 98% attendance record in the Senate. Presidents, past and current, along with officials from around the nation attended his Memorial Service in Charleston last week.

A song recorded back in 1963 by Jay and the Americans sums it up this way:

"Only in America

Can a guy from anywhere

Go to sleep a pauper and wake up a millionaire.

Only in America,

Can a kid without a cent,

Get a break and maybe grow up to be President.

Only in America,

Can a kid who's washing cars,

Take a giant step and reach right up and touch the stars."

In a greater sense, God has blessed us with a unique system of government which has stood for 234 years as the standard longed for by oppressed peoples around the world. It is founded on the concept of "We the People". We loan our authority to a governing system that guarantees freedom of speech and a free press. Our Constitution grants us the right to keep and bear arms, to assemble peacefully and to worship freely as we see fit, with no interference or direction from the government. We have a system of checks and balances through the three distinct branches of a government (as Lincoln said) "of the people, by the people, and for the people". To fight the potential of tyranny, there are provisions for the removal from office of those who would abuse the power granted them by the people.

Although the Constitution does not use the actual term, there is (as Jefferson wrote) a "wall of separation between church and state". Although we may sometimes be frustrated by the way this term is mischaracterized, it is a concept that has long been valued by people of faith. The "Establishment Clause" of the Constitution's First Amendment says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Therefore, we are free from any imposed "state religion" and allowed to practice our own with no interference from the state.

I could go on and on about God's blessings upon our nation throughout our history, but we must not forget that America needs God today! Because we have become such a totally secular society, we are often like gluttonous hogs gobbling up acorns on the ground, without ever looking up to see from whence our blessings have come.

We still need God today in the public square. We need Him in our schools, in our businesses, and even in the halls of government. Furthermore, as shocking as it may sound, we need Him in our CHURCHES as well!

Here is how we can have His influence in all of the above. First, it does not come from marches, and protests. Not by depending on political parties, legal defense funds, or political action committees. It will not come through the ballot box, or even by depending on Ethics and Religious Liberty Commissions.

God's influence in America will come ONE PERSON AT A TIME. It will come as individuals will come to a personal relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. His blessings will fall upon us as we honor Him in our homes and in every aspect of our lives. His blessings will come as His people become fully committed to His mission. When we do that, we will truly be Salt and Light to our nation and the world.

God can change the downward spiral of America and bless us again.

Here is what He promised (and warned) King Solomon upon the dedication of His house of worship in Jerusalem, centuries ago. Again, while the message was to the people of Israel for that particular occasion, the principle is true in any time and any place.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (NASB)

I hope you have a wonderful Independence Day holiday. In the midst of all the division and bitterness around us today, let us join TOGETHER as Americans and implore the Creator in unison with the prayer written by Irving Berlin, so long ago - "God Bless America!"

Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 4th Memories

The ritual was the same each July 4th. Dad would rise early and make the rounds preparing for the family's combined celebration of our nation's birthday, and Mom and Dad's July 3rd wedding anniversary. First order of business was to bring out the galvanized trash can and hose it out. This trash receptacle was different than the others that sat along the back of the house. The July 4th can was shiny and new. It was kept stored away in the former wash house all year, and only made it's annual appearance on July 4th. That's the day that Dad would brag to all his friends that we were going to "eat out of a garbage can".

Finding a cannonball watermelon was the next task. When I was very young, we would go to the old City Market on Third Avenue at the foot of the 6th Street Bridge to find the perfect melon. Dad preferred the round cannonball melons. Other watermelons were acceptable substitutes if a cannonball could not be found, but he was never quite as satisfied with the lesser melons. From there it was a trip to any number of neighborhood markets, to find the soda pop. July 4th pop was different from the normal RC, Pepsi, or Coke that usually graced our refrigerator. On Independence Day, we had a variety of soft drinks. There was Orange Crush, Grape Nehi, Cherry Soda, Frostie Rootbeer, and Seven Up - along with the regular colas. The drinks were all in glass bottles - no cans in those days.

The final stop was the City Ice Company, where Dad would purchase a large block of ice. We had to stop there last so the ice wouldn't melt away before we got home. Once back at the house, the watermelon and soft drinks were placed gently in the trash can, and Dad brought out the old red handled ice pick that was only used on July 4th (and occasionally to aid Mom in defrosting the old white Frigidare refrigerator). He would place the huge block of ice on a towel spread out on the table and would chop away. The chopped ice would then be placed in the trash can and the can filled with water from the garden hose.

Then we waited, for what seemed to be an eternity.

Eventually, around mid day, the best July 4th celebration on Gallaher Street would get underway. The grandparents would usually arrive first. Many times Uncle Bob, Irene, and our cousins from Logan would come. Assorted Aunts and Uncles who lived in town (or were here on vacation) would also come by. Dad told us to get the word out to all the neighborhood kids, and Ricky Hall, Donnie Smith, Joe Peck, Paul Turley. Rusty Watrous and his brothers would usually arrive before the melon was sliced. Most years, our Pastor, Carl Vallance, and his wife, LaVerne, would come by before the day was over, as would assorted other friends and neighbors.

Looking back, I sometimes wonder how everyone was fed and hydrated from the contents of that 30 gallon can. It was a far cry from 5,000 being fed from 5 loaves and 2 fish, but I allowed it was somewhat of a minor miracle in itself.

Eventually the ice cream freezer was brought out. This was Dad's favorite part of the day. He'd call for the men and boys to gather round and take their turn at cranking the handle, as he would add the ice and salt required for the mysterious process. "You don't eat if you don't crank!", he would call out with a grin. We kids always wanted to get our cranking in early, before the mixture began to solidify and the cranking became a real labor. We usually worked up a pretty good sweat and got sore in the biceps, but all was forgotten when the delicious frozen desert was spooned out into the waiting cones!

There were badminton games and lawn darts. Some of us guys had our gloves and would toss a baseball around, others might take part in a game of touch football. The adults sat around in folding chairs and talked and laughed about the things that adults talk and laugh about. The younger kids would play on the swing set. One of the favorite contests was a test of endurance in which some of the braver kids would see who could immerse their arm in the icy water of the trash can, and keep it there the longest. Eventually, as the day came to a close, Brother Vallance and Dad usually caught one of the unsuspecting kids and dunked them in the icy water (you know how those preachers are about baptising folks!).

Folks came went all afternoon, and by late evening, usually it was only the immediate family and a few of the neighborhood boys left for the fireworks. Back in those days, you couldn't buy fireworks in West Virginia, so Dad would always load up in Tennessee or somewhere when we were on vacation and put them away for the next 4th of July. Firecrackers popped away, and Dad would light the Roman Candles and Bottle Rockets as we "oooh'd and ahhhh'd at the beautiful colors splashing across the evening sky above our yard. We usually finished up with the kids running around in the dark trying to create patterns with the lighted sparklers we held in our hands.

Tomorrow, Linda and I will spend the morning in worship with the congregation of Westmoreland Baptist Church. From there we will visit my brother Bruce's house as he carries on the family tradition. He'll have a couple of big wash tubs filled with watermelon, pop, and ice water. His and Sandi's blended family will be there, and he has invited his neighbors. We'll also celebrate the beginning of Mom and Dad's 62nd year together.

Our kids and their families will be far from us tomorrow. Jay's family will watch the fireworks in New Orleans from the levee along the Mississippi River. Benji and his family will enjoy the fireworks in the coolness of the top of Snowshoe Mountain. Linda and I will view the display in downtown Ashland with a number of her friends and coworkers from the college, and another Independence Day will draw to a close.

Seems the memories of those days back on Gallaher Street get more precious each year.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Go Black Stars!

The kids in our neighborhood didn't play soccer when I was growing up. Back then, on Gallaher Street it was the big three - baseball, football, and basketball. Although some of us guys played on organized little league teams, and some played in grade school intramural basketball, most of our sports activities were of the sandlot and back yard variety. Soccer was a game, played in faraway countries, and most of our exposure to the game came from photos in social studies books.

My ignorance of the game is still tremendous, although it is probably the fastest growing sport among young people in America today. Although my boys never played, I have two grandsons who have, and our church even offers Upward Soccer as a very important part of our children's ministry. Although not a student of the game, I have attended a couple of High School and other competitive youth leagues to see some of our church kids play. I can't call myself a fan, but I certainly do recognize the tremendous skill and endurance that is required to play the game. My hat is off to anyone who can do what soccer players do. (I still have a little trouble, however, with a sport that requires you to hit something with your head - while not wearing a helmet).

The 2010 FIFA World Cup Games, being played in South Africa have caught the attention of the world during these past few weeks. It was a big deal here in the USA due to the fact that this edition of Team USA advanced further in World Cup competition than any team we have fielded in the past. While I have no favorites in the tournament, my interest has been piqued by the games of the quarter final rounds that are taking place in Johannesburg today.

I am pulling for the "Black Stars" of Ghana. Not because I really know that much about them, but what I have learned has made me a fan. (They are called the "Black Stars" after the large black star in the center of their flag)

The team from Ghana has not only caught the attention of the world by their tremendous athletic skill, but also through their winning attitude, strong team spirit, and Christian witness.

Of the six teams from African countries who qualified for the World Cup, Ghana is the only team still in the hunt. Ghana is the team who knocked the USA out of competition earlier in the tournament.

I find it interesting and thrilling to read what Jeff Bradley writes of Team Ghana in ESPN The Magazine:

"From their pregame -- and postgame, and halftime, and pre-training and post-training -- songs and prayers, to their disciplined adherence to [coach] Rajevac's rigid system that features a single striker, they are true believers that the whole can be greater than the sum of its individual pieces"

Once, while waiting for the Ghanaian team in their hotel lobby, Bradley heard singing from an upper floor. "I could feel the joy and passion," he recounted. Moments later, when he asked team members about it, the response was, "We love to sing together, dance together, pray together." ... The singing, dancing and praying, Ghanaian team captain John Mensah says, are no afterthought. "We are Christians and we all know how important God is," he told Germany's DPN news service. "We respect God and we pray every time before the game and after the game. We praise God for what He has done for us."

As a Christ Follower, myself, I am thrilled to read these words.

Even though the USA is out of the tourney, and I don't have a dog in the hunt, my sentimental favorite has got to be Ghana.

Go Black Stars!