Friday, March 23, 2012

Ever Had One Of These?

Ohio Art Company should pay a bonus to Mitt Romney's campaign strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom.

In one brief interview on Wednesday, Fehrnstrom single handed put this classic toy back in the news, and prompted maker, Ohio Art's stock price to triple on Thursday, closing at $9.65 per share. Ohio Art spokesperson, also reported a major gain in sales overnight.

I didn't even know they still made the gadgets!

Now, at every campaign appearance running up to the Louisiana primary, one can see Romney's competitors for the GOP presidential nomination, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich waving around an Etch A Sketch. It's almost surreal.

This all came about as a result of Eric Fehrnstrom's answer to a question about Romney's political views now as compared to this fall. He likened Romney's views and candidacy to an Etch A Sketch, saying, "You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again." This, of course, only adds to the perception of Romney being a flip flopper on issues such as abortion and health care. Santorum has seized on the remark, stating that he is a candidate who "stands firmly on the rocks of freedom, and not on the sands of an Etch A Sketch toy." Needless to say, the Obama campaign aides are jumping on the Etch A Sketch bandwagon as well.

Politics aside, just seeing the little red gadgets on television news casts has brought back a flood of memories.

In a non digital age, before video games were ever thought of, the Etch A Sketch was a staple in our family. Looking back, it seems as though I remember us having three different units over the years, each one replacing one that had been worn out from use, or a knob missing, or a cracked screen. Dad loved to tinker with the thing as much as we kids did. It was easy to make designs or pictures that featured right angles, but mastering the use of the knobs to draw diagonal lines, or better yet, curves and circles was quite a challenge.

I remember the Etch A Sketch was required basic equipment in the back seat of the car on long vacation trips, or the two hour jaunts to visit relatives in Logan County. As memory serves, Linda and I also bought an Etch A Sketch or two for our kids, 30 some years ago.

As I said earlier, I didn't even know they still made the things, but there was a warm feeling that went all over me when I saw Newt Gingrich on the news last night holding up one of my favorite old toys. They may not be as exciting as "Mortal Combat" and the like, but the Etch A Sketch was a great toy. Now that I know they're still around, I may have to get a couple for the grand kids. Who knows? It's not playing games on a cell phone, but they might even like them (and it has nothing to do with politics!).

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thoughts of Appreciation

Yesterday, I had opportunity to do some hospital ministry to a gentleman whom I have only recently met, and to a family I formerly served as pastor.

Both were pleasant visits. The one gentleman was recovering from open heart surgery, and the other lady had gone through hip replacement.

The visit with the latter brought back so many memories. These folks were friends of my parents. My father had been their pastor in a country church many years ago, and it had been my privilege to serve the same church for four years in the early 80's. It was my second pastorate, and as I look back on those days, so long ago, my heart fills with appreciation for the congregations of that church, and others, who took a chance on me, and gave me opportunity to serve God, while learning and gaining valuable "on the job training".

I suppose that with the first three churches I served, it helped that I shared my father's name. I was certainly short on experience, and slowly gaining theological education, and I had a large set of footprints in which to walk. Two of the churches were small, "country" churches, but they gave me wonderful opportunity to learn what it means to minister to people. I had a couple of great teachers in my Dad and my other spiritual father, Carl Vallance, but there is nothing that can compare with learning by doing.

I am so thankful for the boost of encouragement I received from Bro. Vallance. He had been my pastor since I was two years old, and was a dear friend to my Mom and Dad. He was a great example to several young preacher boys who were called into ministry from his pastorates. One thing I appreciate about him so much is that he would give us ample opportunity to preach. I know some of those messages must have been tough to endure back there in the early 70's (some of them still probably are!), but he was such an encourager to me.

I am also very appreciative of other church members like the late Ray Wilcox and Deacons like the late Grant Chaffin who always had words of encouragement for a young would be expositor of the Word.

Having served six churches over the past 40 years of pastoral ministry, it is a joy to know that I never left any of those churches under bad circumstances. I have always felt welcome to "come back home" at any time, and have had opportunity to worship with all of them on occasion after leaving.

Even though the family I visited yesterday has their own pastor, (and I would never suppose to intrude on their relationship) it was nice to feel as though there was still a bond that tied our hearts together. I pray that I can be a blessing to some of my former church members in the future. Most of them have been a wonderful blessing to me!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Spiritual Birthday

I miss my friend, Rick Rakes. He's been gone now for more than three years. He was known to those of us in the Huntington East High School Class of '68 as "Ricky". I didn't know him real well back in those days, but got to know him well about 10 years ago, when God brought us together after all those years.

Rick served as chairman of the pastor search committee that brought me to Westmoreland Baptist Church. In the years that followed, we grew very close. Cancer took him from us far too soon, but I cherish many memories of Rick and our time together at WBC. He served as Church Treasurer and as a Deacon. I think of him often.

I especially remember Rick today. This is the day that I could always count on receiving a birthday card from Rick. He did it every year!

Now, to family and friends who know me well, I know you are probably thinking, "Your birthday is in October." It's true that I celebrate my first birthday eleven days before Halloween, but March 15th is my second birthday. That is the day I experienced the New Birth.

I was born the first time about 2:00 AM on October 20, 1950 in Holden, WV. My name was duly recorded in the clerk's office at the Logan County Courthouse and the West Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics. The Adkins and Stidham families rejoiced when Caudle and Patsy's first son came into the family. I was there, of course, that night, but I don't remember a thing about it, other than what I have been told.

My second birth also came in the wee hours of the morning. It was March 15, 1969. Mom and Dad happened to be there also that night, and I remember everything about it. There was no note taken at the Cabell County Courthouse that night, but that was the night that my name was written down in "the Court House in Glory"!

I had grown up a PK (Preacher's Kid) and had been going to church since 9 months before I ever saw the light of day. I knew many of the songs in the hymnal from memory, and could repeat details of numerous Bible stories I had heard for the past 19 years. I had the Sunday School faithful attendance pin, knew most of the "spiritual jargon", and had even been baptized by my dad and my grandfather in the Ohio River - but I was lost.

"Lost" is not a word we use in church much anymore, but it is one of the most accurate adjectives there is to describe my spiritual condition. I had been a church member since age eleven, but sadly, I had no personal relationship with God. My life was very busy. It was my Freshman year at Marshall University. My time was spent revolving around music, liberal political causes, school work (Poly Sci major) , writing poetry, and, of course, girls! I worked as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant, and there were just not enough hours in the day. I was in my prime, and I was going to enjoy every ounce of life.

But in quiet times, I knew I was lost. There was a void in my life, which nothing seemed to fit or fill, no matter how hard I tried. And I did try! But late at night, the emptiness would hit home, and my inner being ached for something more, something with meaning.

Perhaps that is why God waited till 2:00AM to be able to get my attention. I was dead tired from the long day of school, work, and dating, but instead of being asleep before my head hit the pillow, (my usual late night condition) sleep fled from me that night.

Looking back, I realize that there was no great crisis, nor dramatic event that night which led me to think about spiritual things. But I could think of nothing else!

I lay there on my back in my bed, staring straight into the blackness of the night. Something was gnawing away at my spirit. I know now, that it was simply the Holy Spirit, dealing with my godless heart. He was doing his work of conviction, and I was feeling it full force.

In my mind's eye I saw the familiar picture of Christ on the cross. I'd seen variations of that depiction thousands of times, but for the first time I saw it in a new light. His eyes pierced my soul. Even though I knew the story by heart, for the first time ever it hit me. He did that for me. He died in my place! It should have been me on that cross.

Suddenly the scriptures I had heard all my life began rushing back to my memory. Concepts of Grace, Peace, Forgiveness and Love became vividly alive to me. It was Love in the eyes of Jesus that I saw that night. It was love beyond any I had ever known, and deeper than I could fathom. It broke me that night. It broke my heart that God could love me so much that He would give Himself as a ransom for me.

I went into mom and dad's bedroom, crying, and woke them. (must have scared them half to death) I asked them to pray with me, and they did. It had nothing to do with them praying, but everything to do with me trusting Jesus, turning from my way to His way, and receiving the peace that surpasses anything in this world. That night I was born again - born into the family of God. It sealed my eternal destiny, and changed the course of my earthly life from that day forward.

Was His Grace irresistible that night? I can't answer that for sure, but looking back over these past 43 years, I have to say that I'm not really sure that I could have resisted that pure love, and the powerful drawing of His Spirit.

I do know this... He is mine and I am His. I am loved. I am forgiven. I am a recipient of Grace so amazing. I have abundant life. I have eternal life. I have peace. My destiny is sure.

Today is my spiritual birthday. I am thankful for the first one, but without the second one, the first one would have not been worth anything of lasting value.

My old buddy Rick understood that. I miss not receiving his card today, but I glory in the thought that because of the second birth... I'll see him again one day... in the presence of our Lord.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spiritual Blindness

If you are a follower of Christ, allow me start this post by asking you a few questions. Aren’t you glad you are a Christian? Isn’t it a
blessing to have a personal relationship with Almighty God through His Son Jesus? Can anything in this world compare to the comfort and presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? Do you long for the time when you will be
able to be in His presence for eternity, in a place where there is no more sorrow, pain, sickness, and death?

The answers are obvious.

There is nothing that can compare with the joy, peace, comfort and
security of knowing Christ!

Why then, isn’t EVERYONE a follower of Christ? Why wouldn’t others want to know the
satisfaction of a life in Him – life abundant – life eternal?

Have you ever asked those questions? I have. It seems incomprehensible that anyone would forego the myriad blessings of being a recipient of Grace so amazing.
And yet they do. Hundreds, and thousands, and millions of our family members, friends, and fellow human beings are living empty lives of spiritual darkness, and most do not even realize it!

Paul the Apostle explains this phenomenon in his second letter to the church at Corinth. In
chapter 4 verses 3-4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them
from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of
God… “ (ESV)

The answer is simple. “The god of this world” (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers. He has placed spiritual cataracts on the eyes of those who are lost, to the point that they cannot see the simple truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ. He uses the things of this world to accomplish this. “For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires “(1 Jn 2:16-17a, ESV)

Sadly, as the Apostle John writes here, the world and all of its desires are only temporal. The things of God are what have lasting value. These are the treasures that God wants for every person to possess!

There is only one remedy for spiritual blindness - laser surgery by the Great Physician!
Paul explains the cure in 2 Cor. 4:4-6 “…the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

As believers, we must understand that we cannot expect our lost loved ones to “want to be part of our church”. We cannot force them to be able to see their spiritual need, apart from the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Sometimes, we try to do the convicting, and that is not God’s plan. He can handle that work on His own.

Our responsibility is to share the Gospel, and to live a transparent life that reveals Christ. True, we are flawed creatures. We do not amount to much on our own, but we do have a tremendous resource available, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (v. 7)

What then, can we do?

We can pray for our loved ones.

We can pray for all the lost souls who are out there. There is a void in each of their lives that
can only be filled by a relationship with God, Himself. Don’t be discouraged if they have not come to the light just yet. Keep them in your prayers, and keep sharing Christ (and Christ alone) and keep trusting God to do the miracle in their lives that He has done in yours.

Here is His promise: “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of
glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercyof God, we do not lose heart…” (2 Cor 3:16 - 4:1 ESV)