Friday, December 30, 2011

A Mighty Fortress

Martin Luther is a towering giant in the history of the Church, and an iconic figure in the Protestant Reformation. Born in Germany 498 years ago, he became a Roman Catholic Priest, scholar and professor. His study of God's word led him to rebel against the teachings of the church which allowed for sin to be forgiven by monetary purchase. His "Ninety-Five Theses", presented in 1517 brought him in direct conflict with the Catholic Church. Pope Leo X demanded that Luther retract his writings. Luther refused, and as a result, was excommunicated from the Church.

Luther is perhaps best known for his teaching of Justification by Faith. He taught that salvation came through Christ alone, and could not be earned by our good deeds. This Biblical doctrine teaches that only a belief in the vicaroious death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Christ could bring one into right standing with God. He rejected the concept of the Papacy and taught the priesthood of all believers.

His translation of the Latin Bible into the language of the people, made a tremendous impact on the church, by making God's Word more easily accessible to the common man. It also led to further translations, and influenced the the King James translation in 1611.

Luther also authored several hymns. One of those hymns has become one of my very favorites. It has long been a standard and a comfort to believers who face tribulation and persecution. It was inspired by Psalm 46, and my heart thrills when I sing (or even just read) the words of this great treatise of faith. I joyfully share this message with you today.

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

A mighty fortress is our God. A bulwark never failing;

Our helper, He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,

On Earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.

Were not the right man on our side, the Man of God's own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;

Lord Sabaoth, His name, from day to day the same;

And He must win the battle.

And tho' this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us;

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his end is sure,

One little word will fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours, through Him who with us sideth:

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;

The body they may kill; God's truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas from C.J. and Linda!

2011 is winding down to its last few days, and Christmas is only two days away.

Linda and I want to take this opportunity to wish a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our friends, at home, and around the world!

Christmas is a busy time. Decorations are out. Shopping is being done. Get togethers are underway for church, business, and families. For a few short days, we take a break from most of the cares and worries of life and bask in the glow of the Christmas holiday.

At Christmas time, during this season of gift giving, I am always reminded of the greatest gift ever given (John 3:16) and of all the blessings that come with that gift, to those who believe.

I am thankful for Jesus. Thankful for the fact that He, alone, brings access to a personal relationship with Almighty God. Thankful for the family of God into which I have been adopted. Thankful for the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that He has brought to my life. Thankful for the treasures of eternal and abundant life that reside in this temporary earthen vessel. Thankful for a peace that passes earthly understanding and a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. Thankful for the ultimate healing that He has brought to my never dying soul.

When we celebrate His advent during this very special time of the year, I always try to focus on the true reason He came to earth. He came, not just to be the Holy Child in the stable, but the one who came to show us the Father - the one who came to reconcile us to Him - the Lamb of God who became our sacrifice - the risen Savior with healing in His wings.

As we celebrate His first coming, nearly 2000 years ago, let us look forward with anticipation to His coming again - not as a helpless baby in an obscure stable - but as King of King and Lord of Lords!

We wish you all the blessings and joy of knowing that you are His - at Christmas time, and all 365 days of the year!

Until He Comes,
C.J. and Linda Adkins

Friday, December 9, 2011

What If...?

It’s that time again, and we are constantly reading and hearing news reports about “The War on Christmas”. As followers of Christ, we know what Christmas is all about. We all know and regularly use the current religious clich├ęs, ie. “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”, “Christmas begins with CHRIST”, and “Don’t take Christ out of Christmas!”

Many of us go out of our way to find Christmas cards with religious messages and depictions of Nativity Scenes, (complete with shepherds, wise men, barnyard animals, a big star, and Mary, Joseph and the Baby) or cards with singing Angels, or at least cards with depictions of quaint churches in little villages under a cover of snow. We make sure the inside message makes reference to Christmas (with words like “Peace” and “Joy” prominently displayed) rather than the secularly popular “Happy Holidays” or the most bland “Season’s Greetings”. The faithful among us eschew the very mention of a “Holiday Tree” and make sure that the trees that decorate our homes, and the public square are properly named, “Christmas Trees”. We’ll protest loudly or sign petitions if they are called anything but the proper nomenclature.

After all, this is “war”. Right?

Why should we be surprised by a “war on Christmas”? There has been one going on for centuries. The Enemy has done everything within his power to derail God’s eternal plan of redemption. The Old Testament gives several examples as to how Satan has used kings and nations to try to stamp out the Jewish people before “The Anointed One” could arrive through the Tribe of Judah and the lineage of King David. If he could short circuit the promise of the “protoevangelum” (Genesis 3:15) or nullify the Messianic promises given by God to Israel and Judah by ancient Hebrew prophets, perhaps he could continue to keep mankind enslaved to sin. But alas, the genocide against the Jewish people, by the likes of Pharaoh and Haman were overcome, and his other plans were to no avail.

Even after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the Enemy used Herod the Great to try to eradicate the Messiah by the slaughter of the infant boys under the age of two! Satan has been, and still is, serious about nullifying the message of Christmas.

I’m going to risk making some wonderful folks angry here, but let me advance a proposition this Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we scrap the trees, garland, tinsel and holly, or any of the other trappings with which we are familiar. I certainly advocate the scriptural message for any greeting cards sent by Christ Followers. Nativity Scenes in our yards and in our homes should certainly hold a more prominent place than Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the big guy in the red suit. “The true meaning of Christmas” most certainly should be taught to our children.

But what if we went beyond even that?

What if we weren’t so militant about demanding our rights to publicly celebrate Christmas?

What if we celebrated Christmas in a different way?

What if we REALLY believed that Christmas is the real prelude to Easter, and celebrated it as such?

What if we explained to our children that the tree in our living room should be a bold reminder of a tree that was once used to fashion an old rugged cross, where our Savior died as our substitute.

What if we used the red lights and bows and greenery to be reminded about the True Light who came to a sin darkened world? He shed His red blood on the cross of Calvary, and died as a sacrifice for our sins.

What if we let the familiar evergreen boughs of the tree serve as a reminder that Jesus is the author and the only source of eternal life?

What if we were not so focused on the Baby Jesus, but rather on the adult Jesus who taught with authority?

What if we focused on following His radical teachings, denied ourselves, took up our crosses daily and followed Him?

What if our actions would identify us as His followers?

What if we allowed Him to fill us with His Spirit and cultivate His Fruit in our lives?

What if the gifts we gave one another spoke more about God’s great gift to us?

What if we were more focused on His example, and we learned that it is more blessed to give than to receive?

What of others would know that we are Christians by the love that we have for one another?

What if we were not only grateful recipients of His Grace, but also active conduits of it?

What if we had the faith of a grain of Mustard seed?

What if we really were Salt and Light in the world?

What if we were more mindful of the spirit of giving, and shared more quickly with others what God has given us through Jesus?

What if we smiled and exchanged more cheery greetings with others like we often do at Christmas time?

What if we did more random acts of kindness, gave more food, clothing, and water to those in need, in the name of Jesus?

What if we were so transparent in our motives, speech, and actions that others could readily see Jesus in us?

What if we followed the marching orders He gave us, and took the message to every people group on Earth?

And what if we did all these things 365 days per year, and not just on December 25th?

Surely the true Spirit of Christmas, would be so prevalent in the lives of Christ’s Followers, that we would never have to concern ourselves with the “war on Christmas”.
Lives would be changed, eternity would be effected, and Satan’s influence would be nullified in the lives of those who hear and accept.

After all, the victory was completed in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, nearly 2000 years ago.

We know that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. But we know that He WAS born, of a virgin, and we know the familiar story. However, the events surrounding Christmas many years ago in Bethlehem would be meaningless without the events of Passover week, centered around an execution site called Golgotha and a borrowed tomb that was only used for a portion of three days.

What if those “Good tidings of great joy” would be published to every people group, from around the corner to around the world?

It’s up to us.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"It's Christmas"

Larry Gunnoe is a friend whom I met in January 1970 at Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, Tennessee. Larry was another West Virginia native (from Raleigh County) and we became great friends. He, Doug Goolsby, and I were an early version of "The Three Amigos" there on West End Avenue. We worked at the same laundry, laughed together, prayed together, and made many a pizza run when the meals just weren't exactly what we were hoping for at the dining hall.

They both served as grooms men in my wedding. We were all so close, I just assumed that we would always be close, but after school we all went our separate ways. I ended up in pastoral ministry, Doug carried mail for the U.S. Postal Service, and Larry has worked for Xerox, and has been involved in music and teaching ministries throughout the south. We actually lost track of each other, until one day Larry appeared in my former insurance office. He was working in the area and looked me up and we had a great visit, but alas, we lost track of each other again, until we recently found each other on Facebook!

Larry recently wrote the following article for a Sunday School Department Christmas Booklet at his church, and subsequently posted it on Facebook. I thought it was well worth posting here, and I have his permission to do so. So here 'tis:

"It’s Christmas"

"Have you ever heard someone say, “That’s what Christmas is all about”? Usually when I hear this comment, it is referring to the provision of a good meal for a needy family. Perhaps it is because an ...organization provided Christmas presents for children who would get none otherwise. I heard a man last year speak with enthusiasm about a concert he had recently attended. He stated, “You really get into the Christmas spirit when you hear Mannheim Steamroller!” Thinking about it later I wished I had invited him to the Christmas at Hilltop presentation, but it was too late then.

These things do help us get into the “Christmas Spirit” if you are thinking about the traditional American idea of Christmas. But this year, I want to go a little farther. As we study these two lessons about the birth of Jesus in our Sunday School classes, let’s think more about what Christmas meant to Jesus. We can plan to be even more appreciative of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us.

The best way to do that is to take upon ourselves His mindset as described in Philippians 2, verses 5—7. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:”Jesus, Who is God, did not think being God was worth holding onto when He could become a babe which would lead to His sacrifice on the cross — Philippians 2:8 “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”That is the true beauty and joy and cause for celebration for Christmas time. That Jesus surrendered to His Father’s will to become the perfect sacrifice to pay for my sin, and yours.

Notice, the story does not end there. Philippians 2 9—11 give the great conclusion to this venture. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” If we exalt Jesus during this season, we are doing what God Himself is working to do. To me that’s what Christmas is all about."

Good word for today, Larry. Thanks for sharing it, and now I've done the same. Merry Christmas Bro.!

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Happy Birthday - And A Sobering Anniversary

This handsome guy is grandson number 3, namely, Canon Josiah Adkins. (that's right another C.J. Adkins!)

Canon, who is seen here in his favorite hat, celebrates his seventh birthday tomorrow, with his brother and their parents in New Orleans. Seven years ago, he was born at Oschner Medical Center in the Big Easy, and it's one birthday I suppose I will never forget.

You see, Canon is not only my grandson, but he's also my marker.

The day he was born in a New Orleans hospital, I was admitted to Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Ashland, KY. My family doctor socked me in the hospital for tests to determine why my hemoglobin level was less than seven. The day Canon was born, the doctors in Ashland explored my innards from north to south. (I was praying for a bleeding ulcer, but no luck on that!) The next day, the doctor (like the Starship Enterprise), "boldly went where no man had ever gone before", and he hit the jackpot!

The pictures showed a huge, ugly yellow looking mass that the doctor allowed was surely malignant. He immediately got me in touch with a surgeon, and within a week, I was back in Bellefonte Hospital, having three feet of my intestines unceremoniously removed. Biopsies were performed on the tissue that had been removed, as well as on my liver and several lymph nodes. The reports came back positive, and I was told I had an aggressive cancer that was spread throughout several organs. "Stage 4. Incurable" I remember the doctor telling us. Research (and later the oncologist) revealed that 18-22 months was the average survival time for someone in my condition.

And so the adventure began.

I could go on and on, but let me just say that with wonderful medical attention from the doctors, nurses, radiologists, etc - and (most importantly) the hand of Almighty God - has kept me here five years beyond the average survival rate.

Since he lives so far away, I don't get to see Canon but about four times per year. Those visits are precious. Partly because he is such a special little survivor himself (5 surgeries on his leg in four years) and partly because he is my marker. Whenever I see that little grandson, and note how grown up he is, I am reminded of how long God has allowed me to stay here beyond the expected time.

I can't tell you why He has spared my life, but I thank Him that He has, and I want to make every day count for Him!

Happy birthday Canon! Papaw loves you - and hopes to be around to see you have many more November 29ths!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Are You Smarter Than A Sixth Grader?

The whole family came in for Thanksgiving this year. It was totally unexpected, as Jay had told us there was no way they could come from New Orleans for the holiday. I believed him. Both boys are in school, Michelle is teaching at John Curtis Christian School this year, and Jay is on the downhill side of his Ph.D. work at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Then there is also the little matter of pastoring a church. It is difficult for them to come home very often, so when he told me they couldn't come this year, I understood.

However, it seems that he and Benji had been conspiring for a couple of months or more to surprise the old folks - and surprise us they did!

So, Thanksgiving morning, about 11:00 AM, I stepped out of the bathroom to find both sons, their wives, and the five grandsons in the family room. (glad I was not in my underwear at the time). What a wonderful blessing it was to have them all here together. It was the first time both of the boys families had been together for a year and a half, and the very first time all five grandsons have been together. Little Nathan (who will be four months old this week) didn't seem real impressed, but he did seem to be interested in all the activities, and the rest of the folks seemed to realize the importance of the day.

It was a pretty emotional time for Linda and I. For the obvious reasons, but also the reminder that it was seven years ago this week that I was hospitalized for the events that revealed I had stage four, incurable colon cancer. With an 18-22 month average survival time for my type of illness, the fact was not lost on me that I was enjoying my fifth "bonus" Thanksgiving - that's a full five years past the time I should have already been in Heaven. I thank God for every day that He gives me.

Well, the gathering was great, and I realized how really quiet it is around here with just me and Linda.

Anyone who regularly reads this blog or my posts on Facebook will realize how proud I am of all my grandsons. Nathan is still working to develop his attributes (although he is obviously gifted!) while each of the other boys are very distinctive from one another. Benji's boys are very athletic and excellent students. Will is on the Academic Team and Asher is a terrific dancer and loves to play around with musical instruments. Jay's sons are both sharp as a tack and musically talented. Both are involved in Scouting, Canon is very creative and Quint (the oldest) is a technilogical whiz! He has had an analytical mind from his earliest age. While most toddlers would play with a car or other toy, Quint would take them apart, and analyze what made them work.

He is a student at Patrick Taylor Academy for Math and Science (a Magnet School in Jefferson Parrish, LA), and even though he is only in the sixth grade, he's got some goals. One evening Jay walked into the house, and found Canon playing with some toys and Quint working on some project on his laptop. "What's the plan?" Jay asked as he often does. Quint quickly replied, "Well, my plan is to go to MIT, but that's all I have right now."

He's not kidding.

While the family was gathered together on Thanksgiving, Linda was aggravated because we were having trouble logging on to the Internet, and our email wasn't coming through. Quint began tinkering with the desktop computer, checking out the modem, and also got Linda's laptop up and running on the Internet. The whole time he was working on my computer, Uncle Benji was flashing me some worried looks, as if to say, "This kid is a sixth grader. Why are you letting him mess with your computer?"

Had it been anyone else, I might have shared the concern, but I have seen Quint in action before, and I knew he knew what he was doing.

Later in the evening, Jay asked, "Isn't that television a High Definition set?" I replied in the affirmative, and that I have the converter box and cables, etc, but when Linda and I had tried to hook the stuff up a couple of months ago, we were unable to get it to work, so I just put the stuff up "until I had time to fool with it, or to get a technician in to set it up". Up to this point, I had not had time, nor had I called the cable company to send someone out to help with my technical disabilities. Furthermore, I had no idea how to program it all and set up one remote to work the TV, Blue Ray box, etc.

As one might imagine, the ridicule was harsh. After everyone getting a good laugh at my expense, Quint asked quietly, "Do you want me to fix it for you, Papaw?"

"Yes", I said. That would be nice.

I provided him with the converter box, remote, and all the spaghetti like cables that Time Warner Cable Company had given me, and he went to work. After about two minutes of setting everything up, cables plugged into all equipment, etc, he asked me a simple question.

"Where is your power cord?"

"Whadda you mean" I replied dully.

"The AC power cord that hooks into the wall receptacle" he said patiently.

"What you're looking at, is what the Cable Company gave me. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less."

"Well, that's one reason it doesn't work. Here is where it plugs into the box, and the other end will plug into the wall." he said quietly.

I was feeling torn between anger for the wretchedly rude woman at the cable company who had told me that the bag of stuff she gave me was all I needed for an "easy quick setup" - and the humbling realization that I was not as smart as a 6th grader.

Benji has the whole set up I had, and it worked fine. "Why didn't you tell me how to set this up?" I asked indignantly. Ben, who teaches High School English, and coaches basketball, simply said, "Because they came and set mine up when we moved in."


Anyhow, that was Thanksgiving evening, so since nothing was open, we all had to suffer the indignity of watching everything in (I guess) low definition - which is apparently how I have watched TV since 1950 and didn't realize the difference. I mean, I was just thrilled to have color TV.

So, on Black Friday, I headed down to the Time Warner office to pick up the power cord that they didn't give me in the first place.

"Why have you waited so long to come get this?" asked the "friendly" lady at the window. "You've had the service for over two months!"

"Because I couldn't figure it out, and my 11 year old grandson lives 960 miles away and this is the first time he's been here to hook it up for me."

With a look of disdain (and perhaps a hint of pity) she handed me the cord and I was on my way back to the house.

The LSU - Arkansas game was just ready for Kick Off, when I arrived, and Jay told Quint to hurry and get it all hooked up.

To make a long story short, he did just that, and we were watching exciting SEC football in High Definition. Between commercial breaks, Quint got all the connections set, programmed the remote to work on all devices we have, and gave me a quick run through of what seemed like several hundred channels, and a "Remote for Idiots" lesson before the game ended and they left for the return trip to New Orleans.

I used to laugh at my Dad, who had 12:00 flashing on his VCR for a couple of years until one of his grandsons got it all fixed up for him.

I'm laughing no more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The End of the Innocence

Mr. Belcher leaned back in his swivel chair until the back of the chair rested firmly on the chalk tray of the new green chalkboard. It seemed to be his favorite position during fourth period American History class at Beverly Hills Jr. High School. When lecturing the class of eighth graders, he normally sat on the front edge of the big wooden teacher's desk, but when the students sat quietly reading an assigned chapter, he would lean the chair back against the chalkboard. This allowed him to be within arm's reach of one of the black felt erasers. That was important to Mr. Belcher this time of day.

Fourth period was just after lunch, and sitting in the quiet class, with a full stomach, head in hands, reading about such things as Manifest Destiny, it was not unusual for a student to drift off into dreamland. That's when the flat top crew cut Mr. Belcher's eyes would light up and he would slowly grasp the nearest eraser, and with a lightning like delivery, hurl it across the classroom, bouncing it off the head of the sleeping pupil. It always made for a cloud of chalk dust, a roar of laughter from the other kids, and a red spot on the forehead and complete embarrassment for the rudely awakened malefactor.

It was in that setting, studying American History, my fellow Black Hawk classmates and I were plunged into one of the most defining events of 20th Century America. History was being made fifteen hundred miles away in a Texas city called Dallas.

About a half hour into the class, the voice of Principal Doug Greenlee broke the silence over the intercom speaker located on the wall behind the teacher's desk, just below the Register Clock.

Mr. Greenlee sounded even more serious than usual when he said, "May I have your attention please. There is a report that shots have been fired at President Kennedy while he rode in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. That is all we know at this time."

A buzz went through the classroom. There were many unanswered questions. A concerned look came over the face of Mr. Belcher as he sternly reminded us to get back to our reading. There was going to be a quiz on the chapter at the end of the class period. Only 32 days past my 13th birthday, I wasn't even sure what a motorcade was. Up to that time in my life, I had never been any farther from home than Atlanta, Ga. Dallas seemed to be so far away it might as well have been Mars. Besides that, I wondered what was the President doing in Dallas anyhow. Wasn't he supposed to be in Washington, DC?

The suspense didn't last too long, as within a few minutes the voice of Mr. Greenlee came over the intercom again. In a somber tone, he announced to faculty and students that President Kennedy had, indeed, been hit by gunfire in Dallas, and that he had been pronounced dead. We all sat in stunned silence. Mr. Belcher had already sat up in his chair, and now with elbows resting upon the desk, he dropped his crew cut head into his hands and said softly, "Oh God! Not Johnson!"

I knew who Lyndon Johnson was. He had been a rival to the young Massachusetts Senator. I remember hearing that Kennedy had chosen LBJ as his Vice President, to "balance the ticket" by bringing southern voters into his camp. That was about as far as my knowledge of Johnson went at that time. Obviously Mr. Belcher was not a fan. I knew that Kennedy was a war hero and a good looking younger man with a beautiful wife and to small kids. I had seen him one time when he was in our town, shaking hands at the main gate with workers at the shift change at International Nickel Company, where my Dad worked. Then there was that booth at Jim's Steak and Spaghetti House in downtown Huntington where he had sat with Congressman Ken Hechler on a campaign trip there during the 1963 West Virginia Primary Election. A photo marks the spot there even today, where guests still like to sit at "President Kennedy's Table".

The rest of the school day was surreal on November 22, 1963. It was a sunny "Indian Summer" Friday afternoon in November, but even though bright and beautiful outside, there seemed to be a pall cast over our lives. Our classes were not cancelled, as they might have been if it were to have happened today, so we continued on through fifth and sixth period until the final bell rang - but school was truly over for the week.

To my knowledge there was not a television set in the entire school. We only had three television stations in our market and there was no cable TV here at that time. The only time I remember a TV in school was when Mrs. Esposito brought a portable one to Mrs. Stone's class room at Gallaher Elementary so our class could watch President Kennedy's Inauguration in January, 1961. Since no televisions were on site, we kept up with the sketchy news reports the rest of the school day on small transistor radios that someone had in their locker, or that some of the girls may have had in their purses. We gathered in little groups around the classrooms, listening intently to every report that came in from Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and from NBC radio studios in New York and Washington.

Over the next few days, we would be bombarded with the first 24 hour television news coverage I had ever seen. There were those grainy black and white video images of Air Force One arriving in Washington later that night, with new President Johnson, his wife, and Mrs. Kennedy still wearing the blood stained pink dress she had worn in Dallas earlier in the day. The slain President's younger brother, and Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy was there to meet them and oversee the President's casket being unloaded from the cargo bay and placed in the hearse that would take his body to Bethesda Naval Hospital for an autopsy.

We watched intently as reports came back from Dallas about a slain policeman named J.D. Tippit and a strange man named Lee Harvey Oswald who was arrested for Officer Tippet's death. Oswald was later implicated in the shooting of the President. We were introduced to a building known as the Texas School Book Depository Building, where Oswald had allegedly set up his sniper's nest to assassinate the President at a sixth floor window in the area where Oswald was employed.

We watched in horror as Oswald was, himself, gunned down on live television by a man named Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas Police Department Headquarters. Our collective heads swam with confusion and questions.

We saw live video of thousands of Americans lining up outside the Capitol Building to file past the President's flag draped coffin. And we wept as we saw his beautiful young widow kneeling there, children at her side, gently kissing the casket that held the remains of her slain husband.

None of us will ever forget the image of young "John - John" Kennedy saluting his father's casket, and the funeral procession as the former first lady and her brothers in law walked behind the hearse as it made its way to Arlington National Cemetery. An eternal flame marked the grave of our slain President. It burns there still today.

For one of those rare times (much like in the wake of 9-11) for those few days there were no Republicans or Democrats. only Americans who mourned a President who had brought much hope to a nation. It's been a lifetime ago, but it all began 48 years ago today, and I can remember it like it was yesterday.

For my generation it was the end of the innocence.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Are You Adopted?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Golden Rule?

It must have been late August of 1959 and I was ready to enter my fifth grade year at Gallaher Elementary School as soon as the Labor Day holiday was over.

One of the kids in the neighborhood had done something that hurt me badly. For the life of me, I can't recall now what it was, but I can tell you it hurt at the time. I felt the need to get even. I wanted revenge in the worst way.

My mother knew that something was wrong, and asked me what the problem was. She listened intently as I poured my heart out about how I had been wronged, and how I planned to get even with the malefactor.

With her usual wisdom, Mom asked me, "Do you know what the Golden Rule is?"

"Yes" I snapped. "Do unto others AS they do unto you!" I said with the thoughts of revenge in my heart.

Mom corrected me quickly and firmly with the correct paraphrased version. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

Over the years I have heard other perversions, such as "Do unto others BEFORE they do unto you", and even just the plain old open ended, "Do unto others!"

We live in a world in which we often forget the true nature of Jesus' commandment. Some folks are just unaware of it. Worse yet, some are very familiar with His command, and do not heed it. After 41 years in pastoral ministry, I confess that I have seen that happen far too often - when God's people treat others in a way they would never appreciate being treated themselves.

There are more examples than I have time or space to discuss here, but recent events have served to remind me of how some of God's servants have been treated at the hands of others.

Pastors sometimes get treatment from their congregations that even secular employers would not consider appropriate. I have a dear friend who was called to a church in another state several years ago. At a welcome reception, he was confronted by an angry church member with a doctrinal question. My friend answered the question in a straightforward manner, and the member (who was part of an influential family in the church) was put out with his answer.

Before the family's moving boxes were unpacked in the parsonage, the pastor was asked to resign. He refused to do so, and a special business meeting was called. Since it would have been cruel to "fire" the pastor, someone made the motion to "zero out his salary".

His younger daughter asked her mother, "What does that mean?"

"It means they aren't going to pay Daddy his salary."

"But how will we be able to buy food?" she asked honestly. It should have broken the hearts of everyone in the meeting, but sadly, it didn't.

The next day, the utilities were cut off in the parsonage, and with no pay, and no heat, the pastor and his family had no choice but to move. He had no where to go, but go they did.

He told me once, "You can never imagine what it is like to scrape together a few dollars to buy hamburgers for your family, for Christmas Dinner in a motel room, with no idea where you were going."

It's a good thing God takes care of His servants, in light of how their fellow Christians sometimes treat them.

In the Annual Meeting at Orlando, FL in June 2010, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to receive the recommendations of a "Great Commission Resurgence Task Force". There is not a Baptist alive who doesn't believe in the Great Commission. Furthermore, I didn't know we needed to take some kind of deliberative action to see such a "resurgence". I always thought that was called "revival" which always results in carrying out our Savior's marching orders. That comes through prayer and surrender, not through politics and agendas.

Those well meaning folks who voted for the implementation of the task force's report, had little idea what it would mean to many faithful missionaries, whose lives would be turned upside down by the so called mandate that came with the GCRTF passage.

Let me say here, loud and clear, that I understand that in church work, as in every aspect of life, change is inevitable. When churches, or associations, or conventions change direction (and there is nothing wrong with re-prioritizing from time to time) someone is going to be inconvenienced. Positions sometimes have to be eliminated and workforces reorganized.

The problem is, that sometimes we forget that God loves people. He especially loves His people, and it is shameful as to how we sometimes treat those who have been so faithful to serve.

We were told in Orlando that the resulting changes would be phased in over a seven year period. There were mission board employees who were counting on an orderly transition, and then the bomb was dropped. In our state, some faithful men who served as missionaries in local associations were informed that their positions would no longer be funded by the Mission Board after December 31st.

The official line is that these men have "elected to take retirement", when in reality, they had no choice in the matter. Their positions would be defunded. They could take the severance package offered them or just enter the new year with nothing. What kind of choice is that? The man who serves our association just built a new house about five years ago. He was counting on working another five years, and hoping that the "7 year phase in" would allow him to continue to work and live in his home until it is paid off. That is not going to happen.

Besides the association missionaries, there are other mission employees who have also had their mission work shut down and given severance. One individual in another state told me of having to sign a "no talk" document and was threatened with the loss of the meager severance that had been offered if they told anyone of the details. Before finally finding employment in another ministry field, this faithful 30 year missionary was forced to go on food stamps.

Sadly, similar stories are being repeated all around the SBC, all in the name of Church Planting. Church planting is a noble goal. We certainly need to reach all of North America (and the world) with the Gospel of Christ, but can we not accomplish this with more Christlike treatment of our own faithful servants? Surely none of us would want to be treated in this manner.

Jesus said, ""In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 7:12 (NASB)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Beautiful Drive

We left Huntington before daylight this morning, for the five hour trip to Martinsburg, WV, for the Annual Meeting of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists.

I traveled with three of my fellow pastors and one of my deacons. The company was excellent, the conversation was lively, and the drive was beautiful!

Martinsburg is about as far away from Huntington as you can get in West Virginia. It is in what is known as the eastern panhandle, and the city is quickly becoming a bedroom community for Washington, DC. It's hard to get to Martinsburg from Huntington, without traveling through parts of Maryland or Virginia. I have traveled both ways, and they both seem to be about the same number of miles.

Cledith Campbell was driving us in his van, and he chose to take the southern route, which took us through Charleston, down the West Virginia Turnpike, and continuing to follow I64 East until we came to I81. The route took us through the famed Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and was that drive ever beautiful!

Church and denominational business meetings always carry the danger of there being tension and sharp differences on issues. Our Annual Meeting this year holds some potentially volatile issues. I for one, needed that ride up the beautiful Shenandoah Valley to be reminded of the beauty of God's handiwork and His abiding presence with His people.

Thank you Lord for speaking to me today through nature. Thank you for speaking to me tonight through your messenger, and thank you for placing me back in my home state in your service to your church. Thank you for the fellow laborers with whom we are blessed to serve.

Bless us through our times of worship tomorrow, as well as the sessions of business. Strengthen our fellowship, and give me a Christ like spirit in how I deal with others.

Help us to always keep the Great Commission before our eyes and in our hearts. If we differ on methodology on some issues, help us to be able to disagree in a spirit of Grace.

May we be a great spiritual force for You in this great state, until the nets are full!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Follow Up On My Open Letter

I have received several public responses and a large number of private responses to the "Open Letter To West Virginia Southern Baptists" that was posted here last week. A hard copy was also mailed to every Southern Baptist Church in West Virginia. The blog shows that there have been 513 visits to the letter and that is obvious from the number of responses I have received.

Those responses were both positive and negative toward the subject matter of my letter.

The responses I have received have run 8-1 in the positive, toward issues I raised in that letter. I do not know how that will translate out into votes in Martinsburg this week, but it does indicate that there is a deep division among our people over portions of the Strategic Planning Group Report.

My primary concern is over the issue of a perceived danger of an ecclesiastical hierarchy developing in some areas of the Southern Baptist Convention. Numerous secondary and tertiary issues come under that overarching issue, and they trickle down to the state convention levels as well. What Baptists are facing in West Virginia and around the SBC are a result of the outcome of the "Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report" vote in Orlando last year. The GRC vote is over and done, as the messengers to the convention voted to accept it. I can deal with that. However, as I have talked with Southern Baptists from all around the country, I am hearing more and more say, "This is not what I voted for in the GRC".

I hope that there will be ample opportunity for debate on the issues we face in WV when we gather at Westview Baptist Church in Martinsburg later this week. My prayer is that folks on both sides of the issue will be able to state their positions clearly and in a Christlike matter. I've said my piece, and we'll see how it all shakes out.

One more thing regarding the Open Letter. One dear pastor took issue with my letter on the grounds that he felt the hard copy sent to his church, itself "Interfered with the autonomy of his local congregation". This brother drove 50 miles to sit down with me in my office and discuss the matter. He disagreed with certain aspects of my letter, but defended my right to express my opinion. He had first read the letter on the blog, but when he received the hard copy at his church, he took issue with the fact that the letter was addressed to the church, rather than to him as Pastor.

We had a long and fruitful meeting. I assured him that I had no intention of interfering with a local church and its autonomy (we are both strongly on the same page when it comes to that). Since my letter was an "Open Letter" to all Southern Baptists, I did not look at sending it to the churches as interfering with their own operation, but he did take it that way, and even though that was not my intention, I offered sincere apology to him for that. I also told him I would offer that apology in the same forum that the letter appeared in on my blog, and that is what I am doing right now.

I have tremendous respect for that pastor and for his coming to speak to me face to face. As we shared with one another for more than an hour, we both left that meeting with a better understanding of our positions and with the realization that we agree on far more of the major issues than over some of the more minor issues on which we may disagree. We will probably cast opposing votes on the SPG report, but we found much common ground, and a mutual respect for one another, without questioning motives.

That is the kind of meeting we need to have in Martinsburg.

Friday, October 28, 2011

An Open Letter To West Virginia Southern Baptists

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am writing today after much prayer and soul searching. I hope you will take time to read this letter through, and give prayerful consideration to what I am trying to communicate.

Next week many of us will gather at the Westview Baptist Church in Martinsburg for the Annual Meeting of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists. I look forward with great anticipation to the good preaching at the Pastor’s Conference, to the Bible Study time in each of our convention sessions, and the Saturday morning preaching of my dear brothers Dan Jividen and Robby Gallaty. Danny is well known to all West Virginia Southern Baptists, and those of you who have never heard Robby are in for a great blessing. I especially look forward to the fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ from all around the Mountain State.

Our convention agenda will take care of the usual business of approving a budget, hearing reports from state and national agencies, and elect committees and officers for the coming year. However, one of the most important issues to come before our Annual Meeting is the report of the Strategic Planning Group, which was appointed by our State Convention President, Dr. Seth Polk last year. The SPG has met several times throughout the year and have prepared a report with recommendations to our Convention. Each Pastor should have received a copy of their final report, but if not, it is available online at the Convention website,

I am writing this open letter today to sadly advise you that I will be voting “NO” on the SPG report as presented, and to urge each messenger to the Convention to prayerfully consider how you will vote.

I am writing this letter after meeting for nearly two hours with our State Convention Executive Director, Terry Harper in his office on October 20, 2011. I thank him for the time he allotted for me and another pastor to ask questions and express our concerns. Our meeting was cordial and gracious, but we have agreed to disagree.

I have read with interest over the past several months, of the updates from the SPG which Brother Seth has been kind enough to share with all of us. I have listened with an open mind to the presentations by our State Leadership at meetings with our local pastors here in Greater Huntington Association, and at the Shepherding the Shepherd Conference at Pipestem. Now, after prayer and soul searching, I just feel that I have to speak out.

Please believe me when I say that my decision is NOT about personalities, but about principle. My vote in the negative is not because I am against reaching West Virginia with the Gospel of Christ, nor is it a vote against “my fellow West Virginia Southern Baptists who have worked on this committee”.

I am the pastor of a 96 year old Southern Baptist Church which, itself, exists from a church plant in 1915. Over the years it has planted numerous Southern Baptist Churches around West Virginia, and helped plant churches in Asia. We have long given 10% of our undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program, with an additional 3% for our local Association, and other gifts to various mission projects, as well as the usual gifts to Lottie, Annie, and Ola. We have not only financially supported missions at home and abroad, but some of our members have worked as Journeymen Missionaries for IMB, one served for more than 50 years as a missionary in Gaza and the West Bank. Many have made short term international mission trips and have served in Disaster Relief efforts. We are a missional church!

I have been privileged to serve as your State Convention President for two years, and to serve on several committees and as a trustee for one of our Southern Baptists seminaries. I have worked closely with our State Executive Director and staff. In fact, I am the one who nominated Seth Polk for his second term as First Vice President of our State Convention, as well as his first term as President. Furthermore, I was scheduled to do so for his second term last year, before I was called away from the meeting at Fairlea by a death in my church. I love these men, and I have the utmost respect for them, and for every man and woman who have served so faithfully on the SPG. Many of them are dear personal friends. My vote has nothing to do with any of these dear folks.

My vote is based on a principle. A principle that defines every aspect of Baptist life – the autonomy of the local church, the local association, and the State Conventions. We believe that the only authority higher than the local church is the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved it and gave himself for it. Unfortunately, over the past few years, it is becoming more and more apparent that we are seeing a hierarchy develop in the Southern Baptist Convention, and Baptists abhor an ecclesiastical hierarchy! Some in State Convention leadership have admitted in private that the mandate we have received from the North American Mission Board is a “top down” initiative, yet none of them will say it publicly.

The so called “Great Commission Resurgence” which was passed at the SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando last year was very controversial in how it was handled. Many of our WV messengers were strongly opposed to it. The issue did pass and we have been told that “The Convention has voted on this and we need to get on board”. I do not believe that the voting messengers of the SBC Churches had any idea that the leadership of NAMB would interpret this as a mandate to defund Associational Directors of Missions, BSU Campus missionaries and others, and force its program on the various State Conventions it supports. West Virginia (as a Pioneer State Convention) receives $1.2 Million from NAMB, and as a result, our leadership has taken the “cookie cutter” approach to church planting, and attempted to color it as a plan “devised for West Virginia, by West Virginians”. This is not the case. We are told that “this is all that NAMB will accept”.

There are numerous issues that have come out of this overarching issue of a hierarchy that exists with NAMB and the State Conventions it supports. I fully support NAMB’s efforts to focus on unreached areas and great metropolitan areas of North America, where SBC witness is small or non existent. Perhaps it is time that West Virginia should get off the NAMB dole and shoulder more responsibility (but that is another argument for another time).

Rather than go into any more detail here, let me say that I am not saying “vote NO just to vote No”. I am enclosing a list of concerns I shared with Brother Terry, along with my observations and suggestions as to how we could deal with this. Please look over them carefully. The State Convention Annual Meeting will not allow time for full discussion, so that is why I am sharing this with you today. I pray that you will take this in the spirit in which it has been sent, in love from a fellow WV pastor. Please allow God to lead you as to how you vote on this issue, if you are a messenger at Martinsburg.

I would be happy to discuss details with anyone who would like to talk further about this. We all want to reach WV, North America, and the world with the Gospel. However, the NAMB/SPG plan is NOT the only way that this can be accomplished. If you are not coming to Martinsburg, please pray that God will be with us, and give us wisdom in everything we do.

In His Grace,

C.J. Adkins, Pastor

Westmoreland Baptist Church

Huntington, WV

The following information contains my notes that I used to stay on target during my meeting with the Executive Director last week. I apologize that it is in note form and not narrative, but I hope those who are interested will be able to decipher them

Issues Regarding SPG Process and Final Report

The Process

Too FAST – First we were told 7 years, then 2 years, Suddenly 6 months! Why the rush?
Other states have taken up to two years to make the changes

Top Down Process (which Reeks of denominational Hierarchy) –
· Slap in face of autonomy of churches, associations, and state convention
· WVCSB is too dependent on NAMB funding
· We are a “New Work” state that is 41 years old!

* Our West Virginia SB Churches give just over $1 million through the Cooperative Fund
· Perhaps our churches would give more if they saw us being weaned off NAMB funds, and moving more to 50/50 CP Split
· We have a welfare mentality
1. WVCSB receives $1.2 million from North American Mission Board

2. $72 thousand from LifeWay
3. $51 thousand from Florida Baptist Convention ·

* yet we keep 62% CP $744,000.
· Send on 38% CP $456,000.
· Is NAMB a “Partner”? I think not. They tell us how we must use these funds
1. to keep our funding from NAMB
2. but NAMB doesn’t have any money
3. WVCSB doesn’t have any money
4. they only have what monies our autonomous churches give

Church Planting Model – Church Planting Catalyst Missionary
· Where did this model come from? It did not originate in WV!
· SPG did not come up with it. It was presented to them as to what NAMB would accept
· it is a Cookie cutter plan NOT, as reported “What was best for West Virginia”
· The only concession was getting 5 regions rather than the original 4 regions proposed
· If we vote against this, the implication is that we don’t care about reaching WV for Christ…
· Or we are voting against our fellow WBCSB brethren who worked so hard for us. I reject these statements as written in our Executive Director's column in the State Paper

This Plan will create a Growing State Office Staff –
· Florida Baptist Convention is reducing state staff by 55 positions.
· Under this plan we are actually growing state staff-
· Fill the Evangelism position first determined to leave vacant
· 5 new CPCM’s
1. 20% of their salaries (80% paid by NAMB)
2. six cars & travel expenses (counting evangelism position)
3. Computers & I phones
4. Health Insurance and other benefits

· Told we’re moving toward a 50/50 CP split (as funds allow)
· How will this be possible due to extra staff and expenses?
· Associations are expected to tighten belts and be self supporting
· Local churches are also facing financial difficulties, have to take on more support of Local Associations,
· Yet are asked to increase CP Giving
· Everybody is downsizing and tightening the belt except State Convention Office Staff

Collegiate Church Plants – foolish and unfeasible
· Campus missionaries are needed, but a campus church plant seems unwise.

* The Campus population is Transitory by nature
· Most on campus are very young and strapped for cash

· How will they ever support a pastor and become self supporting?

Now The SPG Report has been Pushed upon us
· If we vote against it, the implication is that we are against the Great Commission and reaching WV for Christ
· This is how we were treated in Orlando with the GCRTF report
· If we vote against it, we are painted as those who do not support “our fellow WV Southern Baptists who have worked so hard for us”
· Allowing only a small time of discussion by including it in the Friday afternoon Miscellaneous Business Session, along with Election of Officers (pres and 1 vp), Discussion of Budget, Nominating Committee Report, then Report of SPG is not sufficient time for debate
· Then voting in evening session (without discussion) right after Frank Page
· Slick video presentation will not change the facts that our state is very divided on this report
· There seems to be the False assumption that only WVSBC can evangelize WV with new church plants (while there is a huge presence of American Baptists, Independent Baptists, Free Will Baptists, and other evangelical denominations all across WV.)
· The Greatest need is for strengthened existing churches – then we will see church plants, from strong congregations
· Our Region's CPC will cover 12 counties – the job description calls for him to spend 60 percent of his time in church planting activities and 40 percent of his time to be spent in Church Strengthening. That will be tough to do since 90 percent of his time will be driving! The idea that he can effectively help strengthen churches is an insult to our intelligence!

The SPG Report

I can support three articles of the report
· #1 Church Strengthening (fully support)
· #2 Church Mobilizing (except for the collegiate church planting part)
· #4 Cooperative Program (support 100% - way past due)

I cannot support two of the articles
· #3 Church Planting (could support this with some changes especially CPCM on Page 9 and Collegiate church plants on Page 10)
· #5 Associational Relations (Cannot support at all. Reject the premise on page 12)
· could support these two with changes
If Required to vote on report as a whole – Will have to vote NO and urge others to do the same
(this was what most of us West Virginians wanted in Orlando with the GCRTF Report, and were all disappointed when we could not)


This Process Has Been Done BACKWARDS
· Forced upon us by our “partners” at NAMB
· Took cookie cutter approach
· Shove it through, apply spin and pressure to approve
· Alienation and demonization of those who disagree on principle
· THEN we are asked to pray for 8 weeks for Unity (after damage is done)
· Should have had major prayer emphasis first – then proceed

Major Objections
· Top down procedure – Denominational Hierarchy
· Calloused treatment of DOM’s and some other faithful state missionaries
· Cookie Cutter approach – yet saying this is best for WV!
· Not open to any options suggested (the only “concession” went from 4-5 regions)
· Bloating of the state office budget with extra staff, and related expenses – there by delaying moving to a 50/50 CP split (because monies may not be available)
· Implying that vote against this report is a vote against evangelizing WV and against our fellow WV Southern Baptists

Suggestions –
· Let Us Vote on report article by article
· For any article that is rejected - Re-impanel the SPG to come up with other options for our consideration (some compromise idea have already been proposed)
· Bathe the undertaking in fervent prayer
· Present new findings to State Convention annual meeting in 2012
· Explore ways to wean ourselves off the NAMB funds so they can be best spent in more unreached areas (according to their strategy)

· This exercise has been backwards from the start.
· Neither Associations nor Conventions plant churches. Healthy churches plant churches!
· Great damage has already been done to the unity of our state’s Pastors and churches in West Virginia
· Passage of this report (as is) will do irreparable damage to our unity, fellowship, and financial support of the CP in West Virginia

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I've Been To CHURCH Tonight!

I was one of three Caucasian faces in the crowd at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Ashland, KY tonight. I felt right at home as I attended night four of their Fall Revival Meeting. Several long time friends greeted me at the door, and the old memories came flooding back from years gone by. Man! Do I feel like I've been to church!

(This photo was not taken at New Hope tonight, but I can tell you that it depicts much of what the service there was like.)

Last Friday night, I ran into New Hope's Deacon James Thomas at the Ashland Tomcat Football Game at Putnam Stadium. I hadn't seen Brother Thomas in some time, and after exchanging pleasantries for a few minutes, he said, "We're going to be in revival down at the church next week. You ought to come join us", he said with his usual smile.

"I'd love to worship with you folks again" I told him. "Who's preaching?"

When he told me it would be Pastor Mosley's son in law, Rev. David Peoples, I promised him I would do my best to attend. I had heard this young man before, and I really looked forward to hearing him preach again.

Circumstances and other ministry responsibilities kept me from being able to attend until tonight. I was very tired this evening after a long day of work, and was running low on time, but was able to grab a bite to eat at home, change clothes, and make it to New Hope with five minutes to spare. I was tempted to stay home and rest, but I am glad I made the effort to go.

The service was tremendous!

I have many old friends at New Hope, as we had several joint services and fellowship revivals with them (and nearby Central Baptist) back in the late 90's when I was pastor at Ashland Baptist Church. Pastor Henry Mosley and I built a strong personal relationship with one another and we even traveled on our first short term mission trip to the Philippines together in February of 2000. We were able to work together from time to time, until I was called away to Westmoreland Baptist Church in December of 2002.

We've stayed in touch over the years, and I have even had the New Hope Choir sing for us at Westmoreland, and had Bro. Mosley preach for us. Even though our paths hadn't crossed in a while, we always remember one another in prayer and feel the warmth of the relationship God kindled in us many years ago.

I enjoyed watching the church family come together for worship tonight. It is always a blessing to see the worshippers smiling, exchanging handshakes and hugs, and just genuinely enjoying being there.

There were visitors there tonight from Pastor Peoples Church in Paris, KY and from his former pastorate in Ironton, OH. Bro. Peoples is married to the daughter of Pastor Mosley, and the whole service was just a big homecoming.

The Deacons all sat on the front row, left side. Four visiting pastors, including myself, were asked to come sit on the platform, with Pastor Mosley and Evangelist Peoples.

The piano and drums were loud, the Spirit was moving, and the worship was exuberant. Those people came to have church, and did they have it tonight!

David Peoples (pictured here) preached from Ephesians 5:20 "Now unto Him who can do exceeding, abundantly above all we can ask or think, according to the power that works in us." His message was entitled "Great Expectations" and as the old timers use to say, he really shelled the corn!

The service was lengthy, compared to what many of us are accustomed to, but no one seemed to notice the time. In fact, I didn't see a clock on the wall anywhere in the building. Now THAT is my kind of church.

I never felt out of place there (never have) and it was easy to get into the lively music, and to "scotch" for the preacher as he worked his way into a rhythmic cadence, often bringing the crowd to its feet with applause.

We could sure use some of that spirit and exuberance in many other churches today.

I'm glad I visited New Hope tonight, and got a little taste of Heaven, right there on Carter Avenue.

Word to the Wise

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nine Years Together

Nine years ago (come November 10th) Westmoreland Baptist Church called me to serve as pastor. I cannot believe how quickly the time has passed, and how many changes have come about in those nine years.

The first two years here, I spent working hard to minister to a congregation that was hurting. The next two years, you ministered to me and Linda as we faced the diagnosis of Stage Four Colon Cancer and the resulting tests, surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, and other related procedures. I will forever be thankful for the patience, love and affection you showed us with during that very difficult time.

I have officiated at 99 funeral services since I have been your pastor. My first was Curt Maynard’s service in February of 2003 and the most recent was that of Frances Adkins about a month ago. Randy Spurgeon and Rick Weber have also assisted my by handling several other services in my place during a time of my illness or when I have been out of town. Our church has ministered to each of these families in some way during their time of loss. We have seen many of our dear loved ones depart this life, but we take comfort in the fact that they are waiting for us on the other shore.

We have been blessed to have baptized many precious souls - not nearly enough, but grounds for rejoicing, none the less. We have married numerous couples, beginning with Evelyn Looney and Robert Bentle in November 2002, up through the nuptials of Rowina Gantalao and Joseph Spurgeon last December. God has blessed us with many new babies over the past several years, and we thank God for those young families that are such an important part of our church.

We have had seasons of abundant spiritual blessings, and times of drought. There have been financial difficulties and yet God has always supplied our needs. New ministries have begun, and some have come to an end. We have received numerous new members, and have had others move away. New ministries like Upward, First Place, and TeamKid have been a blessing. My greatest yearning is for growth in numbers and in the quality of our Discipleship Ministry – especially the Sunday School component.

Many folks have been pleased with my ministry here and have been most supportive, but a few have been upset with me and moved to other churches. This is always disheartening to a shepherd, who loves each member of his flock – but it sometimes happens in the course of the life of a church.

We have remodeled the sanctuary, restructured our church organization chart, and written a new constitution. Staff members have come and gone, and I thank God for the opportunity to have worked with each of them. We are blessed to have staff members who love the Lord and love His church, and give of their talents in His service.
I have been blessed to work with the most harmonious group of Deacons here, than at any church I have ever served. None of them seek to grow a power base, all have the heart of a servant, and each has the desire to see unity and spiritual growth among our congregation.

We have supported missions at home and abroad through our gifts to Southern Baptist missions and the Cooperative Program. We attempted a church plant in Wayne, that did not bear fruit, but we have financially supported church planters in the Philippines, and sent our members there who have helped plant several churches for the Glory of God and the sake of His Kingdom.

In looking over the rich 96 year history of Westmoreland Baptist Church, I note that the average tenure of a pastor here has been 5 ½ years. If the Lord tarries His coming, and allows me to continue to serve you as pastor, I will become the longest tenured pastor at Westmoreland Baptist Church in May of next year – passing Rev. Ralph Webb who served the church from May 5, 1948 through November 10, 1957.

I am honored and humbled that God has brought me to this place of ministry, and to serve these people. If it is His will, I hope to have many more years with you. I will forever be thankful for the day that God put Kenny Adkins and me together in a golf outing and brought the conversation around to the point that WBC was without a pastor. I am thankful for the day I spoke with Terry Perdue over the phone, and he encouraged me to take a resume’ and audio tape to the late Rick Rakes at his office at “The Daily Independent”. I will always be grateful for the fact that the pastoral search committee, consisting of Rick, June Ashworth, Charley Dygert, Steve Howerton, Rachel Lackey, Sam Wellman, and Hope Smith recommended me to the church.

I thank you all for your love and prayers and thank God for these past nine years together. I am praying that God will give us even greater days ahead. I’m getting older now (as are we all) but I have never been more excited and enthused in my ministry as I have been these past few months. Fresh Wind… Fresh Fire.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Disarming the Frustration With Humor

Anyone who has flown commercially more than a few times can probably recite the pre flight safety announcements from memory. You know the ones I am talking about, seat belts, oxygen masks, disabling smoke detectors in the lavatory, etc.

Today on Delta Airlines flight DL1059 from Detroit to New Orleans, we were blessed to have a chief flight attendant - a red haired girl named Angie - who added some levity to a somewhat tense situation.

The flight to the Big Easy was scheduled to leave DTW at 8:42 AM. Boarding began on time around 8:02 AM, but the routine ended from there. Due to my Silver Medallion Sky Miles status, I am beginning to get a few perks when I fly, like free checked bags, exit row and bulkhead seats, when available at no extra cost, etc. I'm nowhere near the goodies that the Gold Medallion and Priority Status folks get, but it is nice to get an upgrade here or there.

I was in a bulkhead seat on the aisle, just behind the first class part of the cabin. There were only six rows of seats between me and the open flight deck door, giving me a fairly close up view of that vital area of the plane. I noticed the large area of instrument panels, and one particular orange button that was illuminated. What caught my interest was a technician looking guy who stood between the captain and the first officer, with his head cocked to one side, studying the Little orange light. He had a manual of some type in one hand, and when he began to flick the lighted button with the fingers of his other hand, the thought occurred to me that this might not be a good sign.

Indeed, there were a stream of individuals who came into and out of the cockpit area, all of whom seemed to be focused on the little orange light. Eventually the pilot came on the PA system and informed us there was a small mechanical issue that was delaying our flight. He had every reason to believe that we would soon be underway.

That didn't happen. Eventually one of those funny looking airport tractors pulled up towing a boxlike trailer. The driver got off and uncoiled what looked like a large vacuum cleaner hose. I don't know what it was, but he attached the end of the hose to the plane, somewhere just below where we were sitting. After starting up the machine, he stood by for a long time, looking at some type of meter on the side of the trailer.

Then one of those cherry picker type vehicles came by and hoisted a couple of guys up to check out the tail section of the plane. The pilot told us the malfunction had something to do with some type of "bottle". Again it was not something that would cause the flight to be cancelled, and he assured us that we should be underway soon. Power was shut off to the plane, and the longer we sat there, the warmer it got. After nearly an hour, a flight attendant by the name of John Carlo came around offering the warm passengers cold cups of water. I was thankful for John Carlo and his merciful mission.

Finally after a parade of visitors to the flight deck and a flurry of activity around the outside of the plane, the pilot announced that we would be pulling back from the gate, momentarily. Total time on the plane - at the gate - one hour and a half. New Orleans was my final destination, but I sure felt sorry for my fellow passengers who had to make connections in the Crescent City. I hope it worked out for them.

As the power came back on, the AC kicked in, and the engines began to power up, the regular pre flight routine began.

As John Carlo and the other flight attendant took their spots at the front and midsection of the plane, Angie (the chief Flight Attendant) began to make the familiar pre flight safety announcement's, in a manner that made me literally laugh out loud!

"Ladies and gentlemen. In the unlikely event that you have not been in an automobile since 1972 our flight attendants will now demonstrate how to use a seat belt."

"Complaining, Drama, and Smoking are not allowed aboard this flight. If you feel that you must have a cigarette during this two hour and thirty minute flight, feel free to step out on the wing and enjoy your smoke."

"If this plane should lose power, pretty little lights will appear on the floor and guide you to the nearest exit - one of which may be sneaking up right behind you."

"If the cabin should depressurize, oxygen masks will magically fall down from the ceiling. Please follow these instructions. First, stop screaming and pull the oxygen mask over your face, and secure it by tightening the elastic bands on the side. Please be sure your mask is properly affixed before you help children, or other folks who may be acting like children."

"Should our flight unexpectedly turn into a CRUISE, your seat cushion will serve as a flotation device."

"As we prepare for takeoff, please stow and lock your tray, and return your seat to its upright and most uncomfortable position."

I think you get the idea...

Don't you appreciate someone who really loves their job?

I sure do!

Thanks Angie, for taking the curse off the flight and helping us, through humor, get over the frustration of the one and a half hour flight delay.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Goodby Summer 2011

Summer is over. Wow! Where did it go so quickly?

I seem to have spent the season immersed in all the usual activities, as well as some new ones. Linda and I built a small deck at the house. Weeks of work went into finishing off the remodeling project on the house on the corner as Benji, his father in law, several other kind volunteers, and I got the place ready for Ben's family to move into just before the arrival of the new bambino. It's been a very nice thing to have some of our grandsons living next door. But even though we see the boys more often, Linda and I were talking last night about the fact that we really haven't had as much quality time with the boys since they moved in next door as we had when they use to come over and spend Friday nights with us! We'll look into correcting that situation.

I have also spent an unusual number of hours mowing grass. Did your grass grow faster this summer that in years past? Mine certainly did!

Linda and I observed our 40th Wedding Anniversary in June, and celebrated it with a Caribbean Cruise on the week of Labor Day. I still marvel that I managed to grab her so many years ago, and that she has had the grace to stay with me all these years. Must be love!

I had opportunity to spend some time (not nearly enough) with the Louisiana grandkids for a few days in June and September, and cherish that time together. They are growing so big and handsome and our hearts yearn to be with them more, yet we are appreciatave of those fleeting opportunities when we can.

There was no Little League baseball for us this Summer, but there was Soccer in the Spring, and Football kicked off before the end of Summer.

No trip to Cincinnati this Summer to watch my beloved Redlegs, but Jay and I had opportunity to take in a Diamondback/Giant game in Phoenix together this Summer, after the close of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

Lots of ministry activity this Summer, with sermon prep, counseling sessions, radio program productions, meetings, Seminary and local Baptist Association business, four funerals, and numerous hospital, nursing home, and other visits. And, as always for the past 7 years, regular monthly visits to the Ashland Bellefonte Cancer Center as well as the other required specialists for podiatry and endocrinology! I thank God daily for each additional day He has chosen to allow me to be here.

An entire Spring and Summer have passed, and I have not set foot on a golf course. I miss that, and must make some time next year (if there is a next year).

Biggest joy of the Summer? There were many blessings, but I suppose the highlight was the birth of our fifth little grandson, Nathaniel Ray Adkins.

Greatest disappointment? The sad treatment of several dear brothers in the ministry, who had their positions defunded in an arbitrary, "top - down" action by an agency of the SBC. These missionaries and their families had faithfully served the Lord and their convention for years as local association missionaries, campus ministers, and in resort missions. My heart breaks for these brothers and sisters and their children, but the good news is that they serve a God who is greater than any agency or administrator or council. Although many of us were shocked and disappointed by the way this all came down so quickly - none of this came as a surprise to Him.

Brothers, remember the promise of God in Isaiah 41:10 "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'"

Some of you might also take comfort in those next three verses as well. Just sayin'...

Monday, September 5, 2011

And We're Off! (We Hope)

Hopefully Linda and I will be departing today on Carnival Cruise Lines' ship, "Triumph" out of the Port of New Orleans. At least we're scheduled to leave today. Whether or not we leave on time today is up to Tropical Storm Lee and its aftermath. Most of the storm has now passed through New Orleans and its remnant is now on its way up through the southeastern U.S. to be enjoyed by our neighbors back home through the coming week.

I knew very well that a potential tropical storm, or a hurricane could complicate our plans for a Western Caribbean cruise, back when I made plans for this trip. After all, August and September are peak months in Hurricane season. However, this week would be the only week that would work for both of us, so we whispered a prayer and made our reservations back in June.

It's the first cruise for us, and I have approached this with mixed emotions.

Suffice it to say that an Ocean Cruise has never been on my bucket list. I am a landlubber with a capital L. I didn't even enjoy watching "The Love Boat".

The Ocean is a beautiful thing. The seas cover 3/5 of the Earth's surface, and have long fascinated mankind, and inspired countless poets. I have always viewed the ocean in awe of God's beautiful and powerful handiwork. I just prefer to view it from terra firma. I'm not even a "beach person". Don't get me wrong... I don't mind going to the beach for a day or so. It's great to see the beauty of the ocean, and enjoy the sun and sea breeze. But a day or two of that will do me fine. Sometimes I'll even wade out into the water waist deep or so, but that is the boundary of my comfort zone.

Their are varmints that live in that ocean. They range in size from tiny creatures to huge leviathans. Although God has created all creatures great and small, and each have a purpose in creation, I have always had an aversion to any animals with less than two legs or more than four. I firmly believe that God has given them that territory, and I have no desire to intrude upon it. In fact, once, about 20 years ago, something brushed against my leg as I played in the surf at Topsail Island, NC, and I have really had little desire to go out into the water since then.

Give me the mountains, with a cabin by the lake or river, and I'll call that a vacation!

Why then, one might ask, would I want to go on a cruise?

Because Linda Adkins wants to go on one!

Linda has always indicated that she would love to take a cruise. I usually said something like "Harrummph!" and moved right along. (pretty selfish, huh?)

Well, call it my conscience (or whatever) but when it came time to plan for something nice I could do for Linda for our 40th Wedding Anniversary, the concept of a cruise kept coming to mind. I honestly sought for several other alternatives, but deep in my heart I knew that, given the choice, Linda would have most certainly chosen the cruise option. So I bit the bullet, and asked my daughter in law, Michelle (our family travel agent) go into planning mode. It was the least I could do for one who has put up with me, and taken care of me, for 40 long years.

The smile on Linda's face when she was told of the plan, was enough to make the whole thing worthwhile.

Our anniversary was actually in June, but this is the week that we could both work out vacation, considering her work schedule and my own ministry constraints. We have both been looking forward to the first week of September, and our opportunity to get away for a special time together to celebrate the past four decades. All of our friends and relatives who have done cruises, say that we will love it. I expect we will!

We drove into New Orleans on Friday afternoon, just as Tropical Storm Lee arrived from the south.

Outdoor activities here have been scuttled, to say the least, but it has been great to be with our son, daughter in law, and two of our grandsons for the past three days.

Our ship was scheduled to depart today at 4:00 PM, but Lee put a crimp in the plans. The high seas and flooded Mississippi River have kept the Triumph at sea in the Gulf, until this morning. The latest notification we have received said that the ship has begun its trip up river and that (weather permitting) boarding should begin at 8:00 PM.

So, bags are packed, seasick patches firmly affixed behind the ear, and "Fun Passes" in hand, we are ready to go.

Praying for a timely departure, smooth sailing and a relaxing few days ahead.

(Don't tell Linda, but I think I'm actually going to enjoy this!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

God's Call

Watching Dr. Chuck Kelley today live, online form Leavell Chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary brought back vivid memories from nine years ago. As he spoke from Hebrews 11 today in the opening Chapel service of the 2011-2012 school year, my mind raced back nearly a decade ago.

Back in August, 2002, my oldest son, Jay, had been in pastoral ministry for five years. He had been wrestling with God's call on his life to further his theological education. He had looked into the possibility of attending seminary in our home state, and was praying for God's guidance. A mission trip to France, earlier in the year, however, changed all that. During that trip (a musical mission trip - Jay is a percussionist) he became acquainted with Gary Halquist. At that time, Gary was a professor of music at New Orleans Theological Seminary. Although Jay was interested in Biblical Languages and Theology more than music, Gary talked Jay into considering NOBTS.

Concerned about ministry, Jay wondered aloud about the possibility of serving a church in the area, and Gary assured him that numerous churches in the area were always ready to call seminary students. He sent Gary a resume' and things began happening soon. He was called to come for a weekend revival service and went thorough an interview process, and was soon called to be pastor of the church he continues to serve today.

We had always hoped that both of our sons would serve God in whatever way He chose for them. Jay had served my previous church by leading music and working with the youth group. I was thrilled when he answered God's call into a preaching ministry, and he was soon called to be the pastor of a mission church in South Shore, Kentucky. Under his five years of work in the South Shore area, he helped lead the church to self supporting status. I had visions of Jay continuing to serve God in the general area and we rejoiced when his firstborn son arrived. Jay grew in his ministry and and had gained a lot of respect from the other pastors in our local association.

Then in 2002 the unthinkable happened.

Our prayers had been answered, and God was calling him somewhere far away. That was not what I had in mind when I prayed for God to use him. My vision was more local - God had other plans. So amid tears and heartbreak, Jay and Michelle took our two year old grandson and moved 1,000 miles away!

Selfishly, it was tough for Linda and I. Jay's wife, Michelle, was no more thrilled than we were, as she was not too crazy about going to an area that would not have been of her choosing. However, Michelle is a devout Christian and was open to whatever God had in store for her and her little family.

The past nine years has brought a lot of change - for Jay, Michelle, Quint, and Canon. First Baptist Church of Westwego has changed a lot as well! About three years into their stay there, a storm named Katrina came ashore, and New Orleans was changed as never before. Jay's disaster relief work and tremendous ministry opportunity in the area was a great blessing to many. It was after Katrina that I finally came to peace with the fact that Jay was exactly where he needed to be. The last nine years have been jam packed with pastoral work, school work, and ministry in an area that is one of the greatest mission fields in North America.

Jay completed his undergrad degree at NOBTS and immediately enrolled in the Master's Program. He's earned his M. Div. in Biblical Languages and is now enrolled in the Ph.D. program. Jay and Michelle have New Orleans in their hearts. Eleven year old Quint has grown up there, and six year old Canon was born there and it is the only home he has ever known. When he finally completes his doctorate program, he has no other plans but to continue to minister in the area.

It is an understatement to say that we miss them, and at times our hearts ache that we are so far away from two of our grandsons, and not able to be involved in their lives as we would like to be, but seeing the big picture, I wouldn't have it any other way.

I am glad that Jay and Michelle have been obedient to the Lord's direction in their lives. As Michelle use to sing, "The will of God won't lead you where the grace of God can't keep you. You will never be out of His care..."