How To Tell If You Are A Baptist — (You might be one and not know it!)

1. When you go to Las Vegas, Times Square, or New Orleans’ French Quarter, it’s to minister to people in the name of Jesus.

2. When you hear about a church fight, you say, “So, where’s the news?”

3. When you hear of a foreigner thrilled at getting his first Bible, you feel guilty. You own 33 of them.

4. When someone tells you that old joke about the sinking ship and the captain asking someone to do something religious and so the Baptist took up an offering, you say, “So, what’s the joke?”

5. You know at least a dozen funny things that happened during baptismal services.

6. You complain about the pastor’s long sermons, but you would feel cheated by one under 20 minutes.

7. You have at times envied the Episcopalians because their adults don’t have to go to Sunday School.

8. You have sometimes felt superior to the Episcopalians because you know more of your Bible than they do.

9. You think a church building ought to look like a church building.

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Helping A Child Through His First Faith Crisis

Six-year-old Matthew believed his mother totally, and that’s what caused the problem. He had swallowed whole all the stories of Santa and elves and the North Pole which she had fed him ever since he was a baby. Now, he’s a bright child and he listens to the other kids. That’s how he found out that not only Santa and the elves, but the whole gamut of childhood companions–the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, etc.–are all figments of someone’s imagination. Fictions. Fantasies.

“You lied to me,” he said to his mother. Caught red-handed, she hemmed and hawed and tried to put the best face on it. “Honey,” she said, “these are childhood legends, every parent tells them, my mother and dad told them to me. It’s part of growing up.”

“You lied to me,” said Matthew.

The lady who told me about this child, the son of one of her co-workers, also informed me that he has recently prayed to receive Christ as His Savior and has joined the church. Most of us are a little older when we take these steps. But, as she said, he’s not your average kid. Which explains what he did a few days later.

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A Friend Is God’s Apology For Your Relatives

When George Gravitte showed up on campus, everyone noticed. Now Berry College, near Rome, Georgia, in those days was geared to students from the rural and small-town South, but even among this bunch of unsophisticated youth, George stood out. He was six feet, five inches tall, weighed 165 pounds, and he wore a straw hat–the kind the rest of us used in the fields but only the securest guy on the planet would be brave enough to walk out onto the college quadrangle with it on his head. But there he was. He was who he was. And what was that? Think Gomer Pyle.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that’s not a putdown. The reason we all loved Gomer Pyle on the old Andy Griffith show was that, hailing from small town Alabama as he did, he came across as genuine and authentic and solid gold. There was a purity about him, a childlikeness. George always made me think of what our Lord said about Nathaniel, “An Israelite in whom there is no guile.” (John 1:47) That was my friend George Gravitte.

As soon as we could work it out, George and I became roommates. I still remember him slaving at the desk in front of the window, looking up and saying, “Joe, how do you spell ‘from’?” You can see one reason I adored him is he asked easy questions to which I readily had the answers. Years later, they discovered he had dyslexia. He also had leg cramps. Often in the middle of the night, he would come off that top bunk with a crash, jumping and hopping around the room until the muscle spasms quit. The first time he did it, we thought he had been shot.

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Ain’t Love Grand? Only If It’s Also Upright.

As a pastor, I used to get so tired of people jumping in and out of marriage just because they fell in love or fell out of it. I said to one, “You sure are doing a lot of falling!”

The best thing I’ve read on the subject of love in ages is a small booklet which Margaret and I have used for our newlywed (and nearlywed) Sunday School class. “Romantic Love” has as its subtitle: “Using Your Head in Matters of the Heart.” Since it’s by Psychologist James Dobson, you know it’s filled with straight talk and biblical common sense. And a great story, which I’m saving for last. (No fair scrolling to the end!)

The trouble starts, says Dr. Dobson, when boy meets girl and the entire sky lights up in romantic profusion. “Smoke and fire are followed by lightning and thunder, and alas, the starry-eyed couple find themselves knee-deep in true love.”

At least, that’s the modern perception.

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Think Of Life Like Climbing Everest…And Surviving It.

Monica Kalozdi is a New Orleans resident with a passion for climbing mountains. Ten years ago, after the birth of her third child, she came out of the experience with a yen to mountain-climb. Hey, I’m a husband who has gone through childbirth with my wife twice; it does strange things to people. I can guarantee you, this lady is not the first mother to take a look at her crowded household with three needy children and want to run as far away as she can get. In Monica Kalozdi’s case, she started climbing hills and then mountains, and pretty soon she got ambitious. She would climb the highest mountains on the seven continents of the world.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (Wednesday, July 13, 2005), Monica Kalozdi scaled Kilimanjaro in 2000, Aconcagua in South America in 2001, McKinley in 2003, and this Spring/Summer she reached Everest. That’s where the story lies and why I thought you would be as fascinated as I am.

For 55 days, she and her team lived in the frozen regions of Everest, eating dried food out of bags, living inside tents that were sometimes shredded by hurricane-strength winds. The story lies in the final 1500 feet of this 29,035 ft mountain. They call this the death zone. Monica says, “You’re exhausted. You feel your body giving out. You can’t see where you are stepping, and you know one misstep can kill you. You’re terrified to take another step because you know you could die. But you also know you can’t stop, because if you do, you’ll die.” Pretty terrifying, but it gets worse. “We knew we had not drunk enough water and hadn’t eaten any food. Those were mistakes.” She says, “It was the scariest, most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. It is a death zone.”

Just 1500 feet? A breeze, right? Monica says the path is not particularly steep, except for three places…where it’s straight up for anywhere from 50 to 200 feet. Sheer rock wall. Through snow and ice, the climbers walk with steel claws called crampons attached to their boots for traction. But in rock? Well, good luck. This is where people die.

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It’s Different Down Here In New Orleans

Today (as I write) I spoke to a noon prayer/Bible study group that meets in a local cafeteria each Wednesday. At their invitation, I talked about “the challenge of ministering in New Orleans.” Since most of the 15 people admitted they too were not native to the area, they nodded in agreement at some of my observations on the neediness of this city and the strangeness of its customs.

A few years back, a family moved here from Baptistland (that large crescent above New Orleans that extends from Texas across Arkansas and into Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and on toward Georgia and Florida, an area peopled primarily by Baptists) and after visiting a half dozen local Baptist churches, they showed up at the one I pastored. That week I sat in their living room to welcome them. The husband wasted no time getting to the point.

“Our biggest disappointment on moving to New Orleans,” he said, “has been the churches.” He paused and said, “Pastor, there are no normal Baptist churches down here!”

I knew what he was talking about. It happens all the time. People move in here from Birmingham or Memphis or Dallas and expect to find churches like the one they left back home, and it doesn’t happen.

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It’s VERY Different Down Here In New Orleans

I was telling someone that the other day, that of all the places I’ve served, there is something completely unique about living and working in New Orleans.

Take these situations for example.

I did a funeral one day for a 64 year old man and his 34 year old grandson. One funeral for both men. Study the ages and you quickly see something doesn’t quite add up.

The grandfather had been dead for 10 years and the family had kept his ashes in an urn, and had never had a funeral. When the grandson was murdered, they decided to get two burials for the price of one.

The young man was killed by his wife’s lesbian lover who lived in the house with them. She was of another race, and from what I’ve heard, another species. She was so manly they called her Charlie. When she began ruling the roost, eventually he moved out, but she would not let him take his kids. He kept coming back, of course–his wife and kids are there–and one day in a heated argument with Charlie, she planted a meat cleaver in his skull, then packed him away in the freezer. He was found several days later when family members and friends went searching for him. Charlie and the wife are now serving time in the state penitentiary for women.

The first funeral I had in one of New Orleans’ unique above-ground-cemeteries was back in 1990, just after we moved here from North Carolina. The day before the service,the wife of the deceased’s son said to me, “Now, pastor, tomorrow when we bury Raymond’s mother….” “Yes?” I said. “My mother will be in the casket with her.” I said, “How’s that?”

She said, “We cremated her years ago and haven’t known what to do with the ashes. We found out it’s legal, so just before we seal the casket, we are going to slip the urn inside and then put both their names on the marble slab.”

She got a little gleam in her eyes and said, “Just think–my mother and my mother-in-law in the same casket.” As we laughed, I said, “Did they get along well together?” She had a great answer. “It really doesn’t matter, does it?”

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Two Strategies To Make Your Church Business Meetings Christian

(Today, in going through old blogs, I found this one which was identified as a draft, meaning it had never been posted.  It’s a little dated–2005, actually–with personal references. I’m now in my fourth year of retirement. But the message is so on-target, perhaps some of our readers will benefit from it.)

I cannot tell you what I miss most about pastoring churches, but I can tell you what I miss least: church business meetings. After forty-plus years of pastoring, one year ago I moved across town to become the director of missions–sort of a bishop without any authority–for the Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans.

Every Sunday, I’m in a different church and often fill the pulpits for the ministers. I come in, greet everyone, confer briefly with the worship leader, then take my seat on the front pew and enjoy the service until time to preach. I walk to the pulpit and deliver the message God has given me, then extend the Lord’s invitation for people to come to Christ. After the benediction, I shake a few more hands, then get in my car and drive home. On the way, I stop at Wendy’s for a takeout salad and frostie, which I leisurely consume while working the crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper. That night, I’m usually in another church as a visitor, taking up space on the pew, greeting a few people, enjoying the worship, hearing a good sermon, and going home. It’s a great life.

No monthly church business meetings. No monthly deacons meetings. Not ever again. Can you hear the music in my words?

Now, the good people in my last church may be surprised to learn that I will not be unhappy if I never attend either of these meetings again. The last six or eight years, all our deacons meetings were harmonious and even spiritual while the monthly business meetings were benign and productive. As any veteran minister will tell you, however, it’s all those other meetings that forever poisoned me against them. The ones marked by dissension and bickering and negativism. The meetings where leaders chosen for their maturity acted like a bunch of children fighting on the playground.

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The Tragic Passing Of A Thoroughbred

My friend Larry died recently. I had not seen him in 25 years, but the news still came as a shock.

Larry may have been the most gifted young preacher in the 1960s and 70s any of us will ever meet. At the age of 27, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Biloxi, Mississippi. Something happened while he was there that changed his life forever.

A hurricane named Camille hit the Mississippi coast and left much of it as clean as a sidewalk. Within days, gifts of food and clothing from a caring nation were arriving in Biloxi by the truckload. Not knowing what else to do, the mayor ordered it unloaded and stored on the tarmac at the airport. Within a couple of days, it formed a small mountain, yet none of it was being distributed because the city leadership did not have a clue where to begin.

Larry went to the mayor and volunteered to direct the distribution of those supplies. His one condition was that he be put in charge, that he would make the decisions. And that’s how the people of Biloxi and surrounding areas got through those first few weeks after the worst hurricane in U.S. history to that time.

It’s also why the U.S. Jaycees named Larry one of their ten outstanding young men of America a year or two later.

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Angels Unawares?

I’ll just tell you what happened and you can decide what to do with it.

Doctor Jim is my dentist, but he looks like a weight lifter. He married the campus beauty, Celeste, right out of college, and they are the parents of two outstanding children. Their youngest, Eve, will turn four in a couple of days. This story is about her.

A couple of weeks ago, Celeste’s grandmother died at the age of 86. A photo of her on Celeste’s office desk shows a lovely white-haired lady with the two grandchildren adoring and being adored. Prior to her death, Celeste spent a lot of time ministering to her, and Dr. Jim was back and forth across the state with the children. A few days after the funeral, the three-year-old Eve said something that stunned Celeste.

“Mommy, I saw Aunt Barbara.”

“No, honey,” said the mother. “You saw Aunt Wanda, grandmother’s sister.”

“No, I saw Aunt Barbara. Bar-BRA!” As only a small child can emphasize it.

Celeste’s aunt Barbara, one of her favorite people, died when Celeste was twelve. She has never mentioned her to her child. So, this was puzzling.

“When did you see Aunt Barbara, honey?”

“I saw her in Grandmother’s room, standing by the bed.”

“What was she doing?”

“She wasn’t doing anything. Just holding her hand.”

Then Celeste said, “What did Aunt Barbara look like?”

“She had long blonde hair.”

Not only had Celeste never mentioned her aunt to the child, Dr. Jim says she had never even told him the beloved relative had long blonde hair.

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