Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
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
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
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
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
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
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
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.