Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Birthday Tribute To The Mountain State

In the mid 60's my maternal Grandfather, Jerry Stidham, was named West Virginia Poet Laureate by Governor Hulett Smith.  Papaw Stidham was an excellent poet.  As long as I could remember, back into the 1950's (and even before that) he wrote an original Christmas poem each year.  He would have the poem printed on shiny white cards, with borders trimmed in tinsel, holly, Christmas bells, and evergreen, and mail a couple of hundred out to his many friends, neighbors and collegues.

He had served three terms in the West Virginia House of Delegates along with some other delegates who became well known politicians in the Mountain State.  He had served with Robert Byrd, Arch Moore, A. James Manchin, and Jennings Randolph, all of whom became fixtures on the West Virginia political scene.  Papaw went from working in the mines to become an official with the United Mine Workers of America. I remember two pictures on his living room wall in Holden, WV.  UMWA President and icon, John L. Lewis, and Jesus Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsamane.  Papaw was well acquainted with the former (and worked closely with his brother, Raymond Lewis, in the District 17 office in Charleston).  Later in life he became acquainted with the latter, and he spent the final 9 years of so of his life, preaching the Good News of Jesus to many people over the radio, and in churches he pastored in Kanawha and Logan Counties.

Papaw dearly loved the Lord.  He loved his job.  He loved his family.  And he deeply loved the state of West Virginia, the state his family adopted after moving from his native Breathitt County, Kentucky when he was a child.

For West Virginia's Centennial Celebration in 1963, Papaw Stidham wrote the following poem, verbalizing his affection for the Mountain State.  I think it to be a fitting tribute to share today, 50 years later and 45 years after his death.  Every true West Virginian will be able to relate to the words.  Read on.

A Particular Place

When God made the Earth, He looked out in space,
And graciously blessed a particular place.
Some mountains He molded to begin His plan
As He knew they would be cherished by mortal man.

The valleys He shaped so deep and so wide,
And the streams so swift , never to hide 
The sparkle or ripple from man;s sharp eye,
So crystal and clear as if dropped from the sky.

The seasons He made our desire to delight;
With light of the day and darkness at night,
Overcast with stars and a silvery moon,
The Sun in the heavens every day at noon.

With seeds of Summer's green grass to grow,
Sleeping under the beauty of a winter snow,
The gorgeous Spring flowers for all to see,
And the abundant color of the autumn tree.

Game creatures for the bow and fish for the rod.
Rich fertile soil for the tiller of the sod.
Great beds of coal and timber galore,
Limestone and gas, very much in store.

So great, so fine, wonderful and rich,
A pleasant surprise in each corner and niche.
Nowhere you go will be the same,
For West Virginia is its name!

Author:  Jerry Stidham

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What To Do When Facing Insurmountable Odds

One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in 2 Chronicles chapter 20.  Jehoshaphat  was king of Judah at the time.  The narrative tells us that a confederation of three nation’s armies were marching on Jehoshaphat’s capitol at Jerusalem. The Kingdom of Judah was outnumbered, out “gunned”, and basically helpless before this great army.

When the news came to the attention of the King, he naturally feared the possibilities. There were no doubt many thoughts that raced through his mind, but the Bible records that he did the right thing.  He “set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah”. (v. 3)  All of Judah gathered together from all the villages and cities and held a national prayer meeting. 

The King led them in prayer (that would be a welcome action today wouldn’t it?) for God’s protection.  All of Judah, the men, women, and little ones stood with him in prayer. The King poured his heart out to God.  He acknowledged God’s Sovereignty. He acknowledged God’s power and might.  He recounted their history and how God had provided for His covenant people, the children of Israel.  Jehoshaphat came to the close of his prayer with these powerful words (v.11)

“…For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Oh! That each of us would remember this example when we face the worst crises imaginable.  When we are outnumbered… when we are at a loss for any human solution…we must simply fix our eyes upon the Lord… looking to Him, alone, for the answer.

The narrative continues with a Prophet standing before the king and all the people, with immediate answer to the King’s prayer. Here are his words as recorded in vs. 15-17, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's….You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

Wow!  Let the impact of those words speak to you for just a moment, and then look at the absolute miracle that takes place next in vs. 20-22:

“…And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” 21 And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” 22 And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men … who had come against Judah, so that they were routed.

Friends, God gives us intellect to use, and blesses us with numerous resources.  He expects us to use each of these gifts to the best of our abilities.  But sometimes the greatest weapon we have against the enemy is simply to sing to the Lord. To trust Him completely, and to praise the beauty of holiness. Then stand still and see the salvation of the Lord – He can handle the situation without us even firing a shot!  Praise His Holy Name!