Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Childhood Hero!

So, this is the day that we always knew would come and likely contemplated how the news would affect us.

I have often shared in sermon illustrations a part of my testimony that spoke to who my hero was when I was a young boy. All of my friends had heroes from sports figures to entertainment personalities and even some that were political.

I liked Bart Starr and Roman Gabrielle and Andy Griffith and John Wayne. But my hero was a man not known for sports, although he did want to play professional baseball. Nor was he known for entertainment, though he became a huge influence on many in the entertainment industry.

Ironically another part of my testimony is that I was not a reader growing up. In fact I was told in high school that I didn't know how to read. However, in junior high school, I checked out one book from the library and carried it with me almost every day. I even got fined a number of times for not turning the book in on time. As soon as I was able, I would check it out again and again. I wonder if any body else ever checked that book out.

This was fifty years ago and even then there was a biography of Billy Graham, my personal hero.
One summer, our church did bible school in a public housing development and I volunteered to help. I also carried newspapers to that same housing development every day. In the morning I was helping with bible school and in the afternoon riding through tossing papers on the porches. The kids in the neighborhood started calling me "preacher man" or "Billy Graham". I was probably about thirteen or fourteen at the time.

Later, people, usually people who didn't share my christian beliefs, called me "Billy Graham". I guess it was their way of insulting me but they had no idea that I wore that name like a badge. Still later people would call me that more out of respect than insult. 

I have had the privilege to represent the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in working with the World Wide Picture divisions for several years when they were producing Christian movies. I was invited to attend the grand opening weekend (one of two such weekends) of the Billy Graham training center at the Cove in 1988 I believe. There I met Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea. It was a great weekend. 

Also I have had Billy Graham's grandson speak in our church. But, unlike many preacher friends of mine, I have never actually met the man himself.

I just recently finished reading "Billy" which is a book of his early years and how he started out. I also just finished three days ago, reading George Beverly Shea's book "Then Sings My Soul."

Billy Graham has influenced millions of people over the years and maintained a multi decade ministry with the highest of integrity and respect. Now, as he was once quoted as saying, he is "more alive than ever." He is now in the place that he so passionately and humbly preached about.

Thank you sir for being such an influence in this young boy's life so many year ago. I can't imagine doing anything other than preach the gospel and I can't think if anyone who inspired me more.

So, I sit here today saddened that we have lost such a giant in the Christian world who directly and indirectly reached so many people with the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ. I also sit here today rejoicing with and for his family knowing he is now in a place more grand than our greatest imaginations and experiencing what he so passionately preached about for over seventy years. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The NFL and I!

I have recently been called out by two friends regarding my continued viewing of NFL games. People who know me, know I am an avid Kansas City Chiefs fan. In fact, I have been for many years since meeting Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier.

You may also know as of this writing the Chiefs are 5-0, making them the only undefeated team in the NFL. This is not something that has happened very often and is quite exciting for me.

Now many people are boycotting the NFL and I support them and applaud them for doing so if that is what they choose to do. I understand their motives. There are some things I have decided to boycott as well that have affected my life for doing so. NFL viewership has decreased sizably in the past few weeks as has their attendance. Again, I applaud those who are exercising their rights to make that kind of impact.

I will not even get into the discussion as to why these people are kneeling. I feel that if they truly want to protest and draw attention to their concern of racial inequality that is certainly fine and their right to do so. I just feel this is not the vehicle by which to do that. But that is as far as I'm going with that.

The reason these two friends called me out is because they both know how patriotic I am and how sappy I get when I hear any song about America. 

Here is something they may not know. I have stood at events for YEARS and shed tears, bit my lip, fostered my anger and even confronted disrespectful people. For years while I am standing there with my hand over my heart, fully erect in my stance and with tears in my eyes I have seen kids play, teens scoff and adults laugh and talk and eat and dink the whole time the anthem played. It makes me seethe. I didn't boycott the NCAA or professional sports because of the fans lack of respect.

I even had to research military protocol before because I saw men in uniform who were not covering their hearts or even saluting. I learned there is protocol I knew nothing of in the military and standard procedure that is their own show of respect and honor.

On August 17th of this year Northeastern High School was playing D. H. Conley (it was a Thursday night because of predicted rain on Friday) I was doing yard work that evening in my yard from which I can hear the game being announced at every home game. I was weed eating when I heard the national anthem begin. It wasn't the band because it was the first game of the season and I don't think school had even started yet. It was a recording.

I immediately stopped what I was doing and went to full attention. Holding my weed eater in my left hand and covering my heart with my right hand, I stood in my drive way facing the school. Tear in my eye, I begin to wonder what my neighbors must think but really didn't care. I listened to a beautiful rendition of the anthem that I later found out was a Whitney Houston recording.

Some times I stand up in my own living room and cross my heart for the anthem.

The flag, oh my goodness how I love my flag. I display American flags in my yard very often. Several years ago I began a little tradition on Memorial Day. I buy several flags and I visit the cemetery. I put a flag my daddy's grave and my father-in-law's grave and then I just walk around and look for random veteran markers. I don't go to the veteran's memorial section where there are already hundreds of flags, I go where there are no flags. I place American flags all over the cemetery and no one sees me. I go alone and I am often crying as I place the flag at a grave.

So, yes, I can see why someone might question my continuing to watch football on TV. But here is something you will not, can not question. You can not question my allegiance to my country, my anthem, my flag and fellow Americans who helped secure my freedom. 

Now, I run through the emotions when I see the way some of these football players act. I have lots of feelings about what they are doing. But let's use my team as an example. Last Sunday, as I understand it by looking up how our players reacted during the anthem, I found that two of them remained seated.

There are typically 53 dressed out players on the field. If two remain seated, than fifty one are standing some crossing their hearts some just standing still. I get to choose whether to boycott the two or appreciate and honor the 51. 

There are good men out there who do not feel the way the small group does. Why should I hold against the vast majority of my players what the small amount does?

God Bless the players and staff that remain standing and respect the anthem, the flag and this country.

The difficult thing here is whether or not I have offended anyone at all for watching and celebrating my team play. I am even willing to stop watching if I receive a significant response saying people are offended. I would rather miss the game and show you my heart of Christ than to offend you over some worldly pleasure like football.

Remember there are some good Christian men out there on many of the teams who are doing all they can to share their faith with their fellow players. May I encourage you to join them in prayer that God may touch hard hearts because of obedient and loving servants who happen to play football for a living.

God Bless you all!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

If I Say What I Think ...

If I say what I think, some will be offended, maybe even hurt...
If I say what I think, I will be labeled... (pick one)...
If I say what I think, I will be considered an alarmist...
If I say what I think, I will be condoning things...
If I say what I think, I will be condemning things...
If I say what I think, I will be "judging" somebody or something...
If I say what I think, I will be unfriended (removed from a list)...
If I say what I think, I might inspire someone (who knows?)
If I say what I think, I might inform someone (who knows?)
If I say what I think, I might help someone (who knows?)

This may be a good place to decide to read no further ...
Because here is some of what I think ...

I think the choices we have for president is a very sad and telling commentary on the state of our nation ... I think our country has followed the cycle of every democracy in history (200 years is usually when democracies eventually fall according to historians) which is as follows ...Bondage...Spiritual Truth ... Courage...Liberty...Abundance...Selfishness...Complacency... Apathy...Dependence... and then back to Bondage! (I think we have probably passed complacency and are well through the Apathetic stage)... I think we have swallowed lots of lies and deception ...
I think there is a dangerous spirit of unrest and anger in our country ... I think respect and humility is at a dangerous low in our country...
I think a culture that accepts an Intact Dilation and Extraction procedure for pregnancies beyond 20 weeks (or any time for that matter) should understand that The Sovereign God of the universe and the sole Giver of Life can not be pleased ... I think much of the good of the days of my childhood is a thing of the past ... I think some of the bad of the days of my childhood have returned ... I think aside from some great Spiritual revival, we are in dire straits... I think opening the door (literally) to the girls bathroom to any sick mind that may walk in under the guise of "identifying as a women" on any given day with evil thoughts and for evil reasons is another sad commentary on our country (A true transgender using the bathroom or dressing room does not concern me, I'm sure that has been happening without incident for a long time) ... I think the most important issue regarding the current election is The Supreme Court issue ... I think, that as disgusting and annoying and childish as Trump is, he is the best hope for a Supreme Court that will preserve the rights we have enjoyed throughout our existence...I think Clinton will be a very bad choice for America and under her leadership our decline will continue or worsen...However, I also think she will win this election...

Those are some things I think, here are some things I know ...
I know God is not shaken ... I know Jesus is our Hope and our Ever Present Help ... I know in pure perfection Jesus stepped out of Heaven to pay once and for all for mankind's sins and I know that " many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name." (John 1:12) ... I know Eternity is near, and Through Jesus Christ, mine is secure and Holy and waiting for me ... I know Love conquers and heals ... I know "My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' Blood and Righteousness ... On Christ the solid Rock I stand ...ALL other ground is sinking sand..."

Some are looking to the donkey and some are looking to the elephant, but our real and only Hope is to ... Look to the Lamb!

[This blog is my opinion and is shared as such and does not necessarily reflect the thoughts or beliefs of all who are the family of Fellowship Baptist Church]

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Love For June

I love the month of June for the many topics she inspires.

High School graduation is a major one. Schools all across America will say good-bye this month to thousands of young people who are about to find out how good they have really had it.
Now I do know that not all young people have have it made as many have faced struggles that no kid should ever have to deal with. However, life is definitely about to change for many people. Saying good-bye to friends who have been there and helped you through some tough times and have laughed a thousand laughs with you is going to be very difficult.
Walking out of that school one more time, this time knowing that if you ever walk back in for any reason it will never mean what it has meant for the last few years.
There will be teachers who you owe a great deal to and others who you would like to unload on, but now they are in the rear view mirror.
So, to you, congratulations and Godspeed!

Then there is Father's Day. Woo hoo! Dads get their day! A new tie, a bag of kit kats and a home-made card. It's a great day! Maybe your favorite meal and definitely some "do-nothing" time.
Okay, that days over, next topic!

Summer officially starts. Hot days, rainy weekends, horse flies and grass to cut. Cook outs on the grill, days at the beach and longer periods of sunlight! Vacations, baseball and weddings. I always wondered why the most popular month of the year for weddings, where everyone seems to wear extra clothes, happen in one of the hottest months of the year. 
I love strawberries on a hot biscuit, fire-flies flashing in the dark and children playing outside. Shorts and flip flops and tank tops. Visits to the ice cream shop and cantaloupe and fresh peaches.

June also gives us Flag Day which doesn't seem to have the same bang it did years ago. I love the flag and I'm glad there is a day set aside just for Old Glory! 

June begins the time of year for Vacation Bible Schools in neighborhood churches and dinner on the grounds. Okay, if mind hits the ground I aint eating it but you get the idea.

One of my favorite things about June is how nicely she introduces us to July. I really love July. More heat, more cookouts, more flag and more ice cream. Thank you June!

Summer was always a favorite time for me. It was a time to sharpen and utilize my imagination. There were lots of wars to win and Indians to chase and villains to catch. Sometimes I would slow down long enough to catch a doodlebug or chase a butterfly and just hang out with my dog.

Later years were filled with pick up games and hanging out with friends and cruising the strip. If you lived in my home town, cruising the strip could burn, oh three, maybe four minutes. But it was great and all of those things live right in my mind never to be disturbed. They are a great asset.

June is also the  month of starting Summer Camp. I love summer camp and planned to go this year but our week for camp conflicted with family plans so I had to back out. But I have been to my share of summer camps as an adult and as a teenager. I have been the Camp Pastor for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) camp of over five hundred teens and one with less than one hundred teens. I have chaperoned camps that were high energy and exhausting. I have played games as an adult that adults are not designed to play. 
As a teen camp was always lots of fun and many great friendships were fashioned in those experiences.

But there is one camp in June that sticks out above them all. It was in 1969 (the best I can recall) and it was in the hills of North Carolina. It had been a fun week filled with lots of adventures. This particular event happened on the last night of Camp as we would return home the next day. No doubt by design that was the night that we attended an out door chapel service by the lake with a fire and a cross. We did that every night, but this night, the last night is when they shared a very specific message. I do not remember a word that was said or who said it that night. But I do remember a tugging at my heart and an inability to stay put as I moved from my split log bench and walked to the front where the fire and the cross was. It was that night that I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.

My life has not been perfect and I have messed up many, many times. My life in Christ is a work in progress and His incredible grace is more than sufficient to cover all my failures. 
But since that hot Thursday night in June about 47 years ago my life has not been the same and my eternity is set and secure!

So I wish you a Happy June

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Time of Remembering

Okay, so it has been quite a while since I last wrote a blog and I think today is a good time to try and get back on track.

Today, of course, is Memorial Day in our country and for many people it means a day off of work. For many, it also means a day of celebrating, cooking out on the grill, enjoying games and the beach and the family and so many other things. Outdoor activities have been somewhat altered due to the wet weather and lack of sunshine in our area. However, a day off just the same

Truthfully this is day is much less about the things listed above and so much more contemplative of the reality of the cost of the amazing freedoms the fine folks of the U.S.A. have enjoyed for so many years. Originally it was called "Decoration Day" and involved women from both the North and South decorating the graves of their War Dead in the 1860s just after the Civil War.
It grew from that with each war over the years and has since become a National Holiday. A day to remember the brothers and sisters and moms and dads and sons and daughters and cousins and neighbors and all the thousands of others who gave us  the wonderful gift of freedom and opportunity.

A few years ago, I don't remember exactly when, but I started what has become my own private tradition of honoring this day. I bought some American flags and visited a local cemetery. I began by placing a flag at my father's grave and my father-in-law's grave and then just started hunting for random graves of former members of the armed services. Neither my father nor Dawn's father died while serving our country but they both served and are now deceased. Likewise it may well be that many of the random graves I have chosen over the years have held men and women who served but may not have necessarily  died while serving. Nonetheless, they all served at some point in their lives.

It has been interesting and also meaningful for me to walk through the cemetery and find markers that indicate past service to our country. Once my eye catches a marker that identifies the occupant as a service member I read the dates of their births and deaths and the branch of service if provided. Then I begin to imagine something about the individual. My imagination is quite healthy and I have created many stories in mind that may or may not even come close to reality.

Today, I came across two graves side my side. They were graves of two young men, one was nineteen and the other was twenty one. They both were born in the late 40's and died in the 60's, both having served during the Viet Nam era. I wondered what their stories were and why they were buried side by side. I will likely never know. I thanked them for their service, whispered a prayer for their families if indeed they have any and then gently placed a flag in their honor.

At some point I decided to stray from my pattern of visiting just my father's grave and father-in-law's grave and all random graves beyond those two. I began searching for the graves of a few men who had touched my life along the way who had also served our country at some point. All of which served during WWII as my daddy did. First was my childhood Pastor, Dr. R.W. Kicklighter (buried beside his wife Helen who was also a veteran). Next I found Scott C. Callaway, my high school band teacher who taught me much more about life than just music. Finally I found the grave of Melvin R. Daniels who was buried five years ago yesterday on Memorial Day weekend. Melvin not only served our country but he also served as a N.C. Senator and Mayor of Elizabeth City. He became a dear friend to me and I was honored to serve as a pall bearer at his funeral.

I know my tradition doesn't touch the world but it does indeed touch me and fills my heart with gratitude and pride in these men and women known or unknown by me.

I cannot salute in an official fashion having never served but from my heart I salute and from my eyes I contribute a tear of thanksgiving and humility.

May God have mercy on the United States of America and thank you to all who have served!   

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Capsule

Yesterday, I wrote about the Elizabeth City Boy's club and it's influence on my life. Obviously, I have many stories I could tell as do hundreds of other boys. Some years ago, I don't know how many, the club was changed to be the boys and girls club so no doubt there are many stories to be told now by girls as well.

There is another fairly strong connection to me and that particular building. I was quite mortified Thursday when I rode by the building and saw that the corner stone bearing the year 1963 was missing. Behind that stone was a capsule that was placed there when the building was completed. In the capsule were various items to identify the year and the events of that year for posterity. In 1987 the capsule was removed during a 50th year celebration and some things were added and the capsule was returned to the wall and resealed.

That capsule has significance to me because my daddy made it. I actually remember the day daddy came home and told us about the capsule.

Today, I saw it on the front page of the paper. I was very happy to know that someone had retrieved it and they had shared the contents with the current Boys and Girls Club members.

I don't know what the plans are for the capsule itself but I would love to own it. I have a small museum in my office at the church with lots of personal belongings as well as other things I have accumulated over the years.

In that museum is a section dedicated to my father which include two pairs of his old tin snips. I guess it is possible that one of those was used to create this capsule, who knows. I have inquired and hope that I may gain possession of the capsule. If not, I truly hope they display it somewhere for anyone who desires to see it.

It is a simple round box made from metal, I would imagine copper. Nothing fancy or elaborate, just a piece of my daddy's labor that has held a special place in city history for almost 50 years!

Friday, November 1, 2013

The End of an Era, Again!

This morning I sat in my car a few minutes and watched the heavy equipment operator as he was methodically disassembling a building that was built in 1964.  I don't know anything about that man or what his feelings were about that particular building. After all, he operates heavy equipment, he has a job and he was doing it.
Me? I was dying a little. He doesn't understand. He is driving his bulldozer/crane-whatever-monster machine right into a major part of my life. Removing large beams effortlessly and dropping them outside in a pile.
Much of who I am today was molded to some degree in that building. It wasn't my home or my church but it was a place where I spent many, many hours of my childhood and quite a few as a young adult.

It was the Elizabeth City Boys Club on Ehringhaus street.

I remember attending the Boys Club on main street in an old building that was also used as the Elizabeth City Police department. The boys club, I believe occupied two floors, the second and third floor of this old building. But the gym was possibly on the first floor but only assessable to us by going up stairs from the outside entrance and then back down some stairs on the inside.

Then some property was bought on Ehringhaus street. I remember in 1963 they had a special celebration on the empty property. We roasted hot dogs over open fires and played lots of games.

After the building was built, I spent many hours playing ping pong, pool, basketball, boardgames and dodge ball and so many other things. There was a library for reading and a shop for building things and a TV room and a game room and of course a gym.

I can still smell the fresh popcorn and hear the sneakers squeaking on the gym floor and the constant slapping of the ball on wooden paddles and the whizzing of the woodcutting saws. I can hear the shouts of competition and the storytelling and the laughter of boys of all ages.

One particular night we were having our annual Christmas party and it came to the time of giving away prizes so we were summoned to the bleachers in the gym. They drew the name for the flashlight and I did not win. Then the radio and I didn't win it either. My hopes of winning were over because I certainly was not going to win the bicycle. In fact, when they called my name I just sat sadly on the top bench waiting to see who won. Somebody must of smacked me or something to get my attention. "YOU WON!" What? "I won? I won!" I jumped off the bleachers and ran out to my new red bike. They told me to ride it around the gym in front of every body and I almost forgot how to ride a bike all of a sudden.

My whole football career happened right there on that property one day. Yep, my whole career in one day. During practice, someone stole my watch  and I got mad and quit football. Shame really, I probably could have been a great football player. After all, I weighed in at about 115 as a senior in high school.

Later in life, I began coaching basketball at the boy's club and had some pretty good teams. In fact one of my boys is now the High School basketball coach at a local high school. (He must have forgotten everything I taught him).

Well, another part of my past is by now flat on the ground and soon to be hauled away. Makes it a little tough to ride by there now.

But I still hear the sounds and smell the smells and am grateful for Mr. Don Helms and Mr. Rose and David Hodges and so many others who invested in me and hundreds of other young boys over the years.