Tony Merida has been my pastor only five weeks and I like him already. In fact, he grabbed me in his very first sermon with a little story he related about prayer.
“Once in a seminary class, some of us asked the professor about all these saints of old who are supposed to have risen at 4 o’clock every morning and prayed for hours. After all, we wanted to know, didn’t these people go to bed at dark? I could get up at 4 o’clock too, if I’d gone to bed at 5.” We laughed, and he continued.
“Then someone asked the professor what time he gets up in the morning. He said, ‘For the past fourteen years, I have gotten up at 4 a.m. so I can spend two hours with the Lord in prayer and the Word.'” Tony continued, “What struck me about that was that he did not work this little fact into his lecture or class notes, but the only way we found it out was by asking him.”
One of the best parts of serving as a Director of Missions for a Baptist association is that churches in trouble call on you for assistance. That’s also one of the worst aspects of the job. Best–because you have a chance to make a difference for the Kingdom; worst–because you get to see the least attractive side of the Lord’s people.
Recently I was meeting with a congregation that is trying its best to self-destruct. They have chosen one of the hardest tasks for themselves I can imagine–to be a mixed congregation in a city where most of our churches are primarily white or mostly black. And they’re not new at this; they’ve been a racially mixed church for at least a generation. The members I talk to say they want to remain such. As one lady said, “If I want to join an all-Black church, there are plenty to choose from. But I drive 25 miles to get here.”
Is it true that the Blacks drove off the former White pastor? Is it true that the Whites are trying to control things? Since the neighborhood is 80% Black, shouldn’t the church have an all-Black leadership team? Who will be deacons? Who will control the finances? Should the interim pastor be White or Black? They are struggling with these and other issues.
The exact words of the orthodontist, preparing me for radiation treatments in the wake of my oral cancer surgery, were: “I want you to repeat this process each night for the rest of your life.”
He had just outlined the nightly routine I was to follow: squeeze fluoride from a tube into the soft plastic molds he made of my teeth, place over my lower teeth for 10 minutes, then the upper for 10 minutes, and go 30 minutes without rinsing, eating, or drinking. The steps are not difficult and certainly not stressful. But every day for the rest of my life on planet Earth? What a sobering thought.
At first, it felt as if I had been sentenced to a lifetime in a prison cell. It felt confining, burdensome, depressing. Then I began to put it into perspective.
The folks from Mobile will tell you that Mardi Gras did not originate in New Orleans, but as soon as the locals found it the perfect excuse for a prolonged party, they took it over. I’ve sometimes told people that New Orleans and Heaven have several things in common, with “loving a good party” coming toward the top of the list.
Actually, most of the citizens of metro New Orleans have a love-hate affair with this holiday. A surprisingly large number hate it and go to Breckinridge, Colorado, for a skiing vacation at this time. They tell me it’s “New Orleans west” out there right now. And others leave town for the beach or grandma’s to avoid the congestion. But, to be fair, a lot of the locals love it. They take the kiddies and line Veterans Highway in Metairie or St. Charles Avenue in uptown New Orleans and catch beads and other throws from the floats. They overflow the Quarter and Canal Street, they wear all kinds of masks and disguises, and they do things they would not want anyone back at home to know about.
In his 1999 biography of Alastair Cooke, the Brit-turned-Yank who helped to interpret the USA for several generations of British, author Nick Clarke tells how Cooke’s father, a lay Methodist preacher, helped to found a mission for the down and out in a suburb of Manchester. The mission was built…
“…for deadbeats, drunks and derelicts, which acted as a shelter for runaways and battered wives, as well as carrying out
voluntary work amongst the very poor. Only as an old man did Samuel Cooke reveal the full seaminess of life at the Mission,
blushing as he related to his son tales of roaring drunks and whores, and children abandoned outside pubs. In Cooke’s
recollection, ‘my father never tried to convert them. They could be the foulest human beings alive, but they wouldn’t be
turned away.’ “
I confess to being puzzled by this tribute Alastair Cooke raised to his father. Samuel Cooke obviously was a man of compassion, spending his life and energy helping the needy, regardless how society treated them. The son had good reason to be proud of such a father. But learning that his “father never tried to convert them” leaves me with unanswered questions. What does Cooke mean by that? Did he see conversion as brain-washing, scalp-counting, or arm-twisting? Why does trying to convert the down and out strike Cooke as disreputable? And why does he laud his father for never attempting it?