Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Praying At The State Capitol

It is customary for the West Virginia House of Delegates to open each session in prayer. I had the honor of offering the invocation at the House Chamber at the State Capitol in Charleston on Tuesday, February 21st. That also happened to be the day that Home Schoolers from across the Mountain State came out for a large rally on the Capitol steps.

Some of our readers have shown interest in the content of the prayer I offered that day, so I thought I would share it with you. The text follows:

"Father in Heaven, it is truly my honor and privilege to stand in this hallowed chamber, where my grandfather served more than six decades ago, and to offer up prayer on behalf of today’s session of this House.

We thank you, Lord, for the men and women in this chamber, who have come from across the Mountain State, from Shepherdstown to Kenova, and from Chester to Bluefield, elected to represent the citizens of their home districts. We ask that you would bless them in their deliberations here this day. We thank you for our form of Civil Government authority for your Word tells us that “ there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

As they come together today for their duties in forming the laws of this great state, may they all remember that the basis of all law in western culture springs from your Decalogue, given to man, centuries ago at Mt. Sinai. Help these delegates feel the weight of the awesome responsibility invested in them, and may we be reminded this day of the words spoken of old by the great King David, who told his son, Solomon, “'He who rules over men must be just, Ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises, A morning without clouds, Like the tender grass springing out of the earth, By clear shining after rain.'

May we be reminded again of the words of the Great Teacher, “but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. "And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—“

We ask that you give these, your servants, wisdom to do what is right… that they would always protect those who are the weakest and most helpless among us (from the unborn to the advanced in age) … that they would be good stewards of our natural resources, and protect our religious liberties ... that these delegates would lay aside partisan bitterness… that they would flee from any self interest and influence of special interests… and simply do the people’s business, representing the citizens of this state in a manner that will be just, and will bring honor unto you.

May we lay aside for this time of business, the labels that divide us – Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives, and Liberals – and while in session, remember that we are first and foremost, West Virginians, and Americans, all.

We thank you for your Grace and Mercy toward all men, and the liberty that comes only from you. We beg your blessings this and every day, ask all of these favors today in the name that is above every name, Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord. Amen."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Saying Goodbye To An "Old Friend"

We were born the same year, me and the "Grand Old Lady of 5th Avenue and 26th Street". It was at the mid point of the 20th Century, in a very different time in Huntington, WV. It was a heavy industry town in those days, with companies like International Nickel, AC&F, Standard Ultramarine, H.K. Porter Steel, Owens Illinois Glass, Houdaille Hershey, and C&O Rail Road employing thousands.

There was a vibrant downtown area in those days. The Ohio Valley Bus Company ran coaches all over the area out of the old "Bus Barn" in the west end. There were no malls in those days. Men wore hats (not baseball caps) to outdoor activities ranging from Industrial League Baseball games to the annual Band Festival Parade in May. Lots of Mom and Pop stores were scattered from Westmoreland to Altizer, and there were elementary schools in every neighborhood in town. No school buses ran in Huntington in those days. Most everyone walked to school. Just down the road a small but growing Marshall College was beginning to enlarge its footprint between 3rd and 5th Avenues and 16th and 20th Streets.

That was the setting when The Veterans Memorial Field House was constructed in 1950. It became the largest arena in the Jewell City, seating 8,800 for many events, and over 6,500 for basketball. It remained the largest arena in town until the "Big Red Barn" was constructed at 3rd Avenue and 8th Street in the early 70's, and the Field House was the home of Marshall University basketball until the Cam Henderson Center was built on campus.

The Field House (as it was known to all of us in the east end) played a big role in our lives. Not only was it "Herd Heaven", but it was also where Huntington East High School played its home basketball games. Highlander football practices were often held on the adjacent field. There were many warm days in the spring when my classmates and I would run the three blocks down 5th Avenue in our gym clothes, to play touch football or softball games during our Phys Ed period, then back to HEHS for our showers.

My earliest memories of the Field House go back to about 1955. Over the years I had opportunity to attend events there. I can fondly remember going there for:

  • The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus

  • Ringside seats with Walter and Ricky Hall for the Golden Gloves

  • East Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast

  • Dick Clark's "Where the Action Is" Concerts

  • "The Chaplain of Burbon Street" Bob Harrington in Crusade

  • Cabell County Junior High Basketball Tournaments

  • Huntington East High School Basketball games

  • St. Joe Invitational Tournaments

  • High School Graduation ceremonies

  • and, of course, Marshall University Basketball

Parking was always a challenge at the Field House. One often had to park on Third or Fourth Avenues, or on the numbered side streets and walk for blocks to get to the venue. Sometimes we might park on the lower end of the B&B Supermarket parking lot, but that was always dangerous. Market employees would turn away would be parkers, and if one did happen to get by, there was always the fear of being towed away. After the games it was always great to go across the street to pick up a burger at the Adkins Fat Boy or have a pizza at Gino's Pub. Many of us spent a good bit of time three blocks up 5th Avenue at Wiggins. I can still taste that spaghetti, bar b que, steak sandwiches, and steak che burgers on the curb, or inside the small dining area at Wiggins. Good times.

Besides High School graduation, there are a few special events that stand out in my mind at the Field House. I remember a great game in 1967 when we beat the Ashland Tomcats, who were at the time the top ranked team in Kentucky. Mark Dawson was deadly that night, raining down 20 footers, long before there was a three point line.

There were lots of great high school games there, and a few real donnybrooks outside after some of the games. There was always tension after the games with cross town rival, Huntington High. I remember one cold night after a game with Logan High School when a fight broke out, emptying two chartered basses that were filling up with Wildcat fans. One of our football players had some words with someone from Logan, hanging out the bus window, and the fracas was on! There were several good punches thrown by a few folks on both sides, but mostly it was just a bunch of pushing and shoving by those of us standing on the perimeter of the fight.

We watched some great players at the Field House. I was too young to remember Walt Walowac and Charlie Slack, but how well I remember those teams with guys like the D'Antoni brothers, Jim Davidson, George Stone, Bob Redd, Greg White, Randy Noll, and future NBA star, Russell Lee. There was a great triple overtime Mid American Conference victory for Marshall, over a tough Bowling Green Falcons team in 1969. And many memorable Marshall Memorial Invitational Tournaments, which came into being after the plane crash of 1970.

There were some great coaches who plied their trade there over the years, and who can forget the time back in the 60's when Marshall Coach Ellis Johnson put a pair of eyeglasses on a dog, to rag the officials?

One of my personal special memories surround the year I did radio play by play for the Rose Hill Royals. Rose Hill had a 7th grader named O.J. Mayo, who played on the varsity team, and I had the privilege of calling their games in the St. Joe Invitational Tournament. O.J. went on to become one of the most well known high school players in America, and today plays for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA.

Yes, the Field House has seen some great events over the years. Most were happy times, but there were also some truly sad occasions such as when it served as the site of the community memorial service after the Marshall plane crash.

Over the past few years, the building has become a maintenance headache. Its aging structure was beginning to deteriorate. It recently was sold to Marshall University to make room for a badly needed new Soccer facility. So, last Friday night, the Field House played host to one final celebration. Over 100 former Marshall basketball players, and several thousand community members showed up for one last celebration.

Soon the wrecking ball will reduce the once proud structure to a pile of rubble, and eventually college soccer games will be held at the new facility at 5th Avenue and 26th Street. The Field House will physically be gone, but it will live forever in the memories of those of us who grew up with her. Good bye old friend... we won't be far behind you!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Good News for Southern Baptists!

Besides the personal reasons to be looking forward to this year's Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in New Orleans, the June meeting of Baptists has taken on the prospect of being a very historic occasion. Not so much because of programs, potential name changes, etc. but due to the fact that an African American will allow his name to be placed in nomination for President of the world's largest Protestant group. Fred Luter, Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans has announced to his congregation that he will allow his name to be entered into nomination. Here is the latest story regarding Luter's decision on Baptist Press.

I pray that there will be no other nominees this year (do you hear that Wiley Drake?) in order that we may come together in unity to elect this dynamic pastor to lead our Convention during these difficult times. He was elected SBC 1st Vice President at the Annual Meeting in Phoenix last June.

The obvious fact that no black man has ever been nominated to the top office in the Convention makes this year's meeting unique. The SBC has often been maligned by liberal detractors as racist, due to policies that go back to the days of slavery in America. Several years ago, in a public display of repentance and racial harmony, SBC leaders apologized for racial wrongs that had been done in the past. Our convention desires to be a mutli ethnic body of born again baptized believers who follow Christ - which can only be accomplished by reaching out to every people group on earth. I personally pray that one day the ethnic makeup of Westmoreland Baptist Church will mirror that of the entire Body of Christ. All reasonable Christ Followers desire such!

However, my desire to see Fred Luter ascend to that leadership position goes far beyond the racial reasons. Fred Luter is a man of God. He is a man of the Word. He has the soul winning fervor of an evangelist, and the shepherd's heart of a pastor. He is an eloquent preacher, and a man who models the grace and love of God to everyone he touches. I have met him personally on only three occasions (my son, Jay, knows him well) but on the occasions when I have had opportunity to speak with him and to shake his hand, I knew I was in the presence of a man who loves Jesus, and one who loves telling the Good News to anyone who will listen.

Fred has been used by God to help build Franklin Avenue Baptist Church from a small inner city work to one of the great churches in Louisiana. He was a catalyst and an inspiration, not only to the congregation of Franklin Avenue Baptist, but to the entire New Orleans area during the dark days that followed Hurricane Katrina. He and Pastor David Crosby of First Baptist New Orleans became the public face of NOLA's Baptists who welcomed in Disaster Relief workers, and led the way in the spiritual and physical rebuilding of their community.

Luter held his congregation together, even though many of them were scattered to places like Houston and Baton Rouge. That is the kind of shepherd that is needed to lead this great Convention at this point in its history.

When it comes to secular politics, I am saddened by the mediocre choices that we Americans have to choose from in our nation's Presidential race in 2012. I do rejoice, however, in the prospect that we Baptists DO have a real leader we can support to lead our divided (and in some ways declining) Convention.

Thank you, Fred Luter, for being open to the call of God in your life. And thank you, Franklin Avenue Baptist for being willing to share your shepherd with all of us!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Timely Message From "The Sacred Sandwich"

For my 600th post to "For What It's Worth", I didn't have time to come up with anything creative or original - so I thought I'd just share this message from "The Sacred Sandwich". Have a great and godly day!