Wednesday’s Cup Runneth Over

This morning the pastors were in great spirits. “I’m still glowing from last night,” one said, referring to the wonderful prayer rally at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans. Fred Luter was being congratulated on his incredible sermon. David Crosby was also basking in compliments for putting together that outstanding program.

At the beginning of the morning session, I told the pastors, “I’m going to list five biblical men. Tell me the characteristic that comes to your mind about each one.” Moses, Samuel, Noah, Daniel, and Job. Courageous and faithful, bold, prayerful, and persevering were mentioned. I said, “Turn to Jeremiah 15:1. God names the two best prayer intercessors He knows: Moses and Samuel. The question is why?”

We thought of the way Moses stood between Israel and God and refused to turn loose of either. And how Samuel (whose name means “Heard by God”) told Israel, “God forbid that I sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (I Samuel 12:23).

Next, I asked them to go to Ezekiel 14:14. God names the three most righteous men He can think of (and He ought to know them all!)–Noah, Daniel, and Job. In words reminiscent of Abraham interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, God warns His people that when He sends judgment, it does not matter who is within their walls. “Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, they could only deliver themselves and no one else!” He says.

Five of the greatest people God knows, each one worth meditating upon.

Our guests almost outnumbered the regulars. (Total attendance: 48) From the Louisiana Baptist Convention, we welcomed David and Patti Hankins, Wayne Jenkins, Mike Canady, Gibbie McMillan, and Ed Jelks. From the North American Mission Board, we recognized Jim Burton, Bill Taylor, and Richard Leach. The Baptist Message was represented by Managing Editor Karen Willoughby, who brought stacks of copies of this week’s “Katrina” issue.

David Hankins (Executive Director, LBC): I have three things to say to you: thank you; we know it’s not over; and we’re with you for the long haul. (Since I had given the pastors a sermon starter earlier, David gave one also. “How do we move on from here?” Philippians 3:12-14 1. Formulate a healthy perspective 2. forget a hurtful past. 3. find a heavenly purpose. 4. focus on a hearty performance.)

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A Long Day and a Day-Long Observance

Let me say it officially here: we appreciate the nation’s turning its eyes in our direction for these few hours this week. Every news program on television seemed to be doing recaps on Katrina-land today. We appreciate it. Mostly. But as with the rest of the nation, this is one anniversary we’re glad to get behind us.

Someone said, “The President is coming to a church service tonight. It might be ours,” referring to the Prayer Rally at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans Tuesday night at 7 pm. It wasn’t, but that’s all right too. The nature of meetings change when the president is there, and honestly, our meeting tonight did not need him. It needed nothing. What we had was two power-packed hours of praise and prayer, of rejoicing and loving. I don’t know when I’ve been more blessed.

The day started too early for me. I knew Scott and Lorri on FamilyNet Radio’s early morning talk show would be calling at 7:05 for a half-hour interview, so–groan–I woke up at 4 o’clock and could not get back to sleep. So, I did some Bible study and other things, some exercises and then my usual walk/prayer-time on the levee, then a shower and it was time for their phone call.

I spent a couple of hours in the office this morning, then drove to the seminary to get in on the last of their disaster relief training for students and faculty before the 11 am worship service. I stood in back of the Leavell Chapel and marveled at what I saw–nearly a thousand young adults crowding the building, adorned in the obligatory yellow t-shirt, taking in this training before fanning out into the community for some of the hardest work any of them will ever do, gutting out houses. During the worship service which followed, Jay Adkins and Byron Townsend shared their Katrina testimonies–both were spectacular–and I told a couple of stories illustrating how God not only knew this hurricane was coming but had put certain people in place in preparation. After the service, the students ate a lunch provided by the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief team, on the front lawn.

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Our Full-Page Ad in Tuesday’s Anniversary Edition

Our friends in the Arkansas Baptist State Convention footed the bill for our full-color, full-page ad in the Tuesday, August 29, 2006, “Katrina Anniversary” edition of the Times-Picayune. Here’s the ad, everything except the two color snapshots toward the bottom from Keith Manuel’s photography.


You know us. We’re the Baptist church in your neighborhood–like Williams Boulevard Baptist Church in Kenner at Interstate 10, Riverside Church on Jefferson Highway, West St. Charles in Boutte, and Celebration Church on Transcontinental. We’re El Camino Iglesia and El Buen Pastor Iglesia in Metairie, the Vietnamese Baptist Church in Gretna, and the Korean Agape Church in Marrero. In New Olreans, we are Edgewater Church on Paris Avenue, New Salem in the Ninth Ward, and Franklin Avenue, now worshiping with First Baptist Church on Canal Boulevard. We are Grace on North Rampart, Oak Park on Kabel, and Horeb Spanish on Bellemeade. We are Port Sulphur Church downriver in Plaquemines Parish, and in St. Bernard, we’re Poydras and Delacroix Hope Baptist churches, and the coalition church meeting at Chalmette High School. Before Katrina, we counted 140 of our churches large and small in the metro area. At the moment, that number is 85.

We are the yellow-shirted “Disaster Relief” volunteers you saw for months after Katrina–running chainsaws, gutting out houses, handing out food and water, preparing and serving literally millions of hot meals throughout the area. Our people arrived from every state in the union to assist New Orleans, serving under the leadership of our own Louisiana Baptist Convention (

We are Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana red-shirted “Builders for Christ,” reconstructing houses throughout the metro area (

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“Six Things Not to Say to a Katrina Survivor”

In Monday’s Times-Picayune, FBC-NO pastor David Crosby wrote an op-ed column under this title. Here it is in its entirety:

Not too long ago, a well-intentioned fellow from somewhere else began to tell me what he thought we should do to return our city to “normal.” I stopped listening immediately.

Processing the encounter later, I realized that I have reached my limit on helpful suggestions from well-meaning advisers. Outsiders may not realize how familiar residents of New Orleans are with our own failures–before and since the storm. This list is crafted to help family members and friends avoid blunders that can kill a conversation or incite civil unrest. I’ve heard all of these questions and comments in one form or another over the last few months.

“Hey, why don’t you guys clean up this mess?”

We’re working as hard as we can. The implication that we have not been working is an insult and does not recognize the amazing expenditure of energy and time and resources in the flood zone this past year. I calculate that if every barge and train and sea-going vessel that visits the Port of New Orleans were to haul nothing but debris, it would take 18 months to clean up the destruction of our city. And that’s if the debris were all neatly packaged and ready for containers. Just the ruined mattresses, lined up, would stretch from here to Chicago.

We’ve made a lot of progress in the first year. We fight the discouragement of knowing that we have just begun. This is going to take years.

“When my neighbor’s roof sprung a leak, we all pitched in and fixed it.”

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What the Pastors Coalition Said Sunday

Not long after Katrina, Pastor Dennis Watson had the idea of calling together pastors of all denominations to work together for the rebuilding of this city. He started with a handful of the mega-church pastors and got them behind it. Thus was born the Pastors Coalition, a group of some 200 ministers of all stripes. Among other things, they sponsored the Billy/Franklin Graham Crusade in March, and they are co-sponsoring the Prayer Rally Tuesday night at the First Baptist Church.

Sunday, they took out a full page in the Times Picayune. At the bottom are the photos of most of the people on the Tuesday night program. Here is the ad.


One year ago, our lives were changed forever. Pulled from our homes and ripped from everything precious and dear, we struggled in a murky abyss seeking stability and solace. We discovered that the unknown was much bigger than the known.

A few days after the storm, a number of local ministers and pastors gathered to seek God’s face both for comfort and direction. They did not meet as Baptists, Charismatics, Methodists, Pentecostals, or by any denominational title. Nor did they meet as African-Americans, Asians, Caucasians, or Hispanics. They gathered as brothers and sisters and as servants who love this community.

Out of that gathering came an exceptional display of outreach, benevolence and aid, all delivered without the tethers of bureaucratic red tape. Swift acts of compassion and care were delivered through the channels of the institution equipped to do it best…the church! The church of Jesus Christ stepped forward and became the leaders in bringing help, hope and healing to the people of our city and region.

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Ernesto, What Are You Up To?

I have no idea what he thought he was doing, but a local weather forecaster has already charted the path of Hurricane Ernesto as coming toward our city. I mean, it’s still in the Caribbean and not even a hurricane yet. Let’s not rush things. There will be time enough to panic.

Phone call from Seattle. Freddie and Elaine Arnold were about to step on board their ship for the cruise to Alaska. A dream vacation. He was thinking hurricane and what we would need to do in case of evacuation. I assured him we would do everything necessary, and that he should put all this out of his mind and enjoy the trip. Which is the whole idea, to get away from it all.

Some of our family members are flying out to New York City early Wednesday, taking a long Labor Day weekend, seeing some sights, Broadway shows, and such. This may turn out to be a perfectly timed evacuation.

I spoke Saturday night at Enon Baptist Church in the Washington Parish community of the same name. They showed videos of their community under seige from Katrina last year, then paid tribute to their people who worked chain saws and distributed food and water from the church and prepared meals for workers. They did not have the flooding much of our area experienced, but they came through a life-changing event with flying colors. Tonight, they too had Ernesto on their minds.

I told them about the fellow who was deathly afraid of getting on a plane, fearing it might have a bomb on board. Finally, he hired a statistician to calculate the odds of that happening. “One chance in a million,” the expert reported. “That’s great,” the fellow said, “but what are the chances of getting on a plane with two bombs?” The guy worked his calculator a few minutes and said, “The chances of that happening are something like one in a hundred million.” “That’s more like it,” the fellow said. Thereafter, any time he got on a plane, he took a bomb with him.

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Anne Graham Lotz Comes to Town

I caught the first 2 hours of the “Just Give Me Jesus” revival at the New Orleans Arena Saturday morning. Perhaps 5,000 women and a few men made up the audience. Babbie Mason brought the crowd to its feet as she opened with “God Bless America.” Then, to my surprise, Anne Graham Lotz stepped out and began this one-day revival.

The reason that surprised me is that I was expecting the singers to be something of a warmup act for her. They would “entertain” for an hour or so while the crowd was assembling, after which Anne would appear. I found myself wondering if she was even in the building. I was so wrong.

“Lord, you are our Rock,” she prayed. “In our storms, our floods, our devastation. You are our Comfort in our pain. Our Wisdom when we don’t know what to do. You are our Lord.”

“How many are here from Texas?” she asked. Women across the arena waved and clapped. “How many from Alabama?” Some in front of us and a large contingent seated together near the front clapped and stood. “From Mississippi?” Ditto. “Louisiana–from outside New Orleans.” Another large group. “And from right here in New Orleans?” The biggest group.

“I want you to think of that woman who met Jesus at the well. John chapter 4. She had slept late that day. She was probably depressed. She was doing her chores later than normal. When she arrived at the well, Jesus was there. The Bible says Jesus HAD to go through Samaria. He had a divine appointment with this one woman who was troubled and depressed. He asked for a drink and she was shocked. He said, ‘If you knew who was speaking to you, you’d get your focus off secondary things.’ She did. That day she embraced the living Lord, and went into town and told everyone about Jesus.” Anne added, “Some of you know what it is to be depressed and troubled. To not feel like getting up and doing your chores. But I want you to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is here for you. He came for you, as though you were the only person who would be present today.”

“Today I’m going to be challenging you to go out and tell everyone we can have joy in New Orleans because of Jesus.”

The co-chairs of this event are Vicki Watson, wife of Pastor Dennis Watson at Metairie’s Celebration Church, and Lisa Wiley, wife of Bishop J.D.Wiley of New Orleans’ New Life Cathedral. Vicki told the group, “We’ve had a spirit of corruption and violence, of murder and wickedness. We’ve been called the big easy and the place where hell reigns. But we’ve been praying for God to transform this city into the place where Heaven reigns. Since Katrina’s devastation of a year ago, God’s people have been coming to this city, bringing hope, help, and healing. We have seen thousands come to faith in Christ.”

Lisa prayed, “A year ago, Katrina was stirring things up. Ever since, Lord, you have been stirring things up for good. Katrina lasted only so long, but you are forever. In spite of the tragedy, you are faithful and just.”

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What to Do on the First Anniversary

The program for next Tuesday night’s “Katrina Anniversary Prayer Rally” at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans looks like this:

American Idol’s George Huff does pre-session music.

I lead the invocation.

Pastor David Crosby welcomes.

Praise and Worship: “In the Sanctuary”

Combine Choir Anthem: “We are United”

Recognition of Relief and Recovery Ministries: Frank Bailey, Victory Fellowship

Video Presentation

George Huff brings special music

Special prayer sessions led by

Dennis Watson, Celebration Church

Michael Green, Faith Church

Kathy Radke, God’s House Westbank Cathedral

Cornelius Tilton, Irish Channel Christian Fellowship

Praise and Worship: “Thank you, Lord”

Special Music: James Tealy

Inspirational Message: Fred Luter, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church

Combined Choir and Congregation: “Days of Elijah”

Benediction: J.D.Wiley, Life Center Cathedral

Post-service music: George Huff

Everything starts at 7 pm promptly. Karen Willoughly, managing editor of our Baptist Message, will be on hand to distribute 2,000 copies of the hot-off-the-press issue dedicated to this anniversary.

All the weeklies are featuring massive coverage of our part of the world on this anniversary. New Yorker magazine for August 21, 2006, devotes an amazing 18 pages to “Letter from New Orleans: The Lost Year: Behind the failure to rebuild” by Dan Baum. Anyone needing a recap on the local political snafus and roller-coasterisms over this last year would do well to turn to this article which focuses on the fate of the Lower Ninth Ward.

Pastor David Crosby gets a mention in the New Yorker article. “If ever a city needed a voice of brotherhood, it was New Orleans after Katrina. No one could find the right words, including the city’s powerful clergymen. When I visited the First Baptist Church on Canal Boulevard, which has about a thousand congregants, mostly white, its blue-eyed and flinty pastor, the Reverend David Crosby, told me, ‘There is nothing left in the Lower NInth Ward but dirt! A woman who has a house down there, what’s she got? A piece of dirt worth two or three thousand dollars.”

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Wednesday’s Reminders

“Reminding the Lord” is how Isaiah 62:6-7 sees prayer. The Hebrew word there, “mazkir,” was the title of a recording secretary on the official staff of various Old Testament kings. He took notes on what the king did and said and promised. Later, when requested, he consulted his notes and reminded the king of past dealings, treaties, promises, that sort of thing.

It’s a great insight on how to pray: remind the Lord.

The Lord Jesus said, “Your Father knows what things you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:8) Our task is to remind Him. Throughout the Bible–particularly the Old Testament–perhaps half the prayerful entreaties consisted of telling the Lord things He had done, said, seen, promised. In Acts 4, when Peter and John were threatened against preaching in Jesus’ name, they reported this to the church. Everyone dropped to their knees and began praying. “Lord, you made the heavens and the earth.” A reminder. “Lord, you said the heathen would rage and oppose your Anointed One, the Christ.” Quoting Psalm 2; reminding Him. “Now Lord, behold their threatenings.” Reminding Him of their predicament. “Stretch forth thine hand and let us speak with boldness.” Boom. The power of God fell.

Somewhere along the way I have heard people criticize church prayers for the way the minister spends half the time telling the Lord what He has done and reminding Him of what the people have experienced, before finally addressing their needs. The critic needs to read his Bible. This is the biblical way to pray.

Try it sometime. Congregations will appreciate hearing the pastor build a historical context for the requests he is making in his Sunday prayers. After all–and this might come as a surprise to some–that Sunday prayer is not just a prayer. It is a teaching moment. You are showing your people how to pray.

That’s how we learn, you know, by hearing others. If you question that, notice all the poor prayers uttered every Lord’s Day in churches across this land. Listen to the sameness, the trite cliches, the vain repetitions. They learned those lines from someone.

How many times I have heard someone pray before the offering: “Help us to give for the betterment of Thy Kingdom.” I want to scream, “How in the sam hill are you going to BETTER the Kingdom of God?” And don’t you love the way we pray before the offering telling the Lord to use these gifts wisely!

So why do we pray that way? The pray-er heard it somewhere and thought it sounded spiritual and added it to his prayers.

God, deliver us from dumb prayers.

No wonder the Apostle Paul said, “We do not know how to pray as we should.” (Romans 8:26) Thankfully, the gracious Father ignores our mindlessness and accepts our sincerity. Perhaps like cutting the rotten off an apple and eating the good part.

Wednesday, some 40 or 45 gathered at Good Shepherd Spanish Baptist Church at 10 a.m. We emphasized the Anne Graham Lotz “Just Give Me Jesus” event Saturday in the N.O. Arena. 10 am to 6 pm. No charge; an offering taken; men and boys are just as welcome as women and girls.

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Ms. Geltman’s Wish for New Orleans

Patti Geltman of Wayne, Pennsylvania, wrote this to our editor Tuesday: “Two weeks ago, I visited New Orleans. I could not imagine the condition until my sister gave me the tour of the city from levee breach to levee breach to levee breach. My heart broke as I saw the massive devastation of all the neighborhoods and thought of the displaced families who call New Orleans home. Yesterday, I felt guilty after visiting the new public middle school that my child will attend this year…. Why not rebuild New Orleans as the model city for the 21st century? I hope that the nation and our government will stand behind New Orleans as it struggles to rebuild the lives of those who lost so much.”

Ms. Geltman, I’m assuming no one will answer your good letter, so I will. There will be no “model city for the 21st century” built here for the simple reason that it takes strong, courageous leadership to make that kind of thing happen. We have non-leaders in our city government who want to occupy the office and to be treated as celebrities. We do not have leaders. A non-leader takes a poll to see what will make people happy, then rushes to the front of their parade and declares himself their champion. A leader sees what must be done for the good of everyone in the long run and stands courageously, alone if necessary, to get that done.

To turn even one neighborhood into a modern, well-planned, orderly site would require tough decisions by the mayor’s office and the city council as well as the leaders of that neighborhood. After all, not everyone is going to like the plans. People would holler to high heaven. “You’re violating my rights. That was my home you are demolishing.” Or taking by eminent domain. Whatever.

But not to worry. It’s not going to happen.

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