Monday, November 29, 2010

Another Special Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Stage four. Incurable." Sobering words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Power!

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

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

What could bring about such tremendous results?

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

Nope. None of the above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we turn up our cups and be filled!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Has It Really Been 47 Years?

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

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

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

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

"Who did it?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

47 years... a lifetime ago.

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

Today we remember.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

OK. Now I Get It!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What's wrong?" Linda gasped.

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

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

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

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

(wrong thing to say)

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In The Eyes Of A Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why?" was his incredulous reply.

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

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

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

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

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

He looked at me like I was crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

God Lives Under The Bed

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

Enjoy, and take the message to heart.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Attagirl!" (whoever you are)

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

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

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

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