Pastors, Parents, and Josh McDowell

Tuesday we (the association) sold some unused church property to a bank that is wanting to expand. Freddie Arnold and I signed the papers and made BAGNO a little money which will be re-invested in more churches.

At 11:30 a couple of hundred pastors of all denominations met for lunch at Celebration on Transcontinental to meet and hear Josh McDowell. We also heard from Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, and enjoyed some terrific around-the-table fellowship. But the star of the morning was the crawfish etoufee the ladies of the church served. Definitely not your typical cold ham and peas.

Gene Mills gave us two memorable quotes. “Governor Earl Long used to say that when he died he wanted to be buried in St. Bernard Parish so he could continue to be active in politics.”

“People are more interested in studying the powerful to learn how to dominate the world than studying the meek to learn how to inherit the earth.”

Gene heads up a coalition of pastors known as PRC Compassion which has poured hundreds of manhours and untold thousands of dollars of resources into this area. His Family Forum monitors and advises the state legislature on issues pertaining to the family. Their website is

Host pastor Dennis Watson said, “I have two things to put before you. This Saturday at the New Orleans Arena, Anne Graham Lotz brings her ‘Just Give Me Jesus’ crusade to town. It’s for men and boys too, not just the ladies.”

“Second, next Tuesday night, August 29, a city-wide prayer rally will be held at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans at 7 pm. We’ve got Fred Luter speaking and George Huff singing, and a lot of you leading in prayer times. Frankly, we’re trying to get President Bush and Governor Blanco, too.”

Dennis spied FBC pastor David Crosby and said, “David, want to add anything?” “Yes! Come early to get a good seat. We’re looking for a houseful!”

Dennis looked around the room and said, “The greatest miracle I’ve seen since Katrina is the coming together of our pastors. Someone said unity is not a result of revival but a precursor to revival.”

Josh McDowell has been speaking to youth groups for 46 years and may well have addressed more than any person on the planet. He had something to say to us today about the children in our homes and churches.

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Doing the Right Thing Regardless

Spike Lee premiered his new HBO movie at the New Orleans Arena Wednesday night. They gave away thousands of tickets for locals to see “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” which is scheduled to be shown on the cable movie channel Monday and Tuesday. It’s four hours long, so they’re airing two hours nightly. I haven’t heard anyone who’s planning to watch.

Most of us around here are like the young teenage girl in Manhattan who said she almost never watches television anymore, just the food channel, because it’s the only place where she can be sure of not seeing a replay of the collapse of the Twin Towers in which her father died. The pain is still palpable.

According to the paper, reactions to the premiere were mixed. Some say movie-maker Lee focused only on his race and neglected whites who also lost homes, businesses, and neighborhoods. Some say he villified the whites in authority and gave the blacks in high places a free pass. Others say this was not the case at all. In one sense, so long as he is putting the New Orleans story out there, keeping our situation before the public, anything is better than nothing.

They arrested two National Guardsmen this week. Brought in last June to help patrol the streets of the city after a recent upsurge in lawlessness, the Guard has succeeded in putting a huge dent in the crime wave. Sergeant Caleb Wells and Specialist Junious Buchanan were charged with taking money from the wallets of people they stopped for traffic violations. A Sunday columnist writes that the only military group not charged with malfeasance in any way over the past year has been the Coast Guard.

Something I don’t understand (okay, one of many such things). The mayor and governor are working with federal officials to line up shelters for as many as 250,000 citizens in the case of another major hurricane. That number would probably have been appropriate a year ago, but since the population down here has dwindled so severely, why do they think we need that many spaces now? As far as I can tell, the poorest and the neediest of our citizens did not return. In case of another hurricane taking aim at this city, my own feeling is very few would need the emergency transportation and shelters being arranged. In fact, one of the main hurricane-preparedness-tip being broadcast is: For the first seven days of an evacuation, you should be able to take care of yourself.

A controversy rages among small businesses here regarding FEMA contracts for the trailers. This emergency agency has signed contracts for some $6 billion to place trailers in our part of the world, with a certain percentage of those contracts required to go to local businesses. For reasons not clear, FEMA decided that a huge company with offices in California and Texas qualified as a local business and assigned it a large slice of the pie. The company, called PRI/DJI, is licensed in this area and has done business in the state, said the FEMA people, and that qualifies it as a local company.

A government watchdog outfit called “CorpWatch” has complained about “disaster profiteering on the American Gulf Coast.” One key finding is that local companies are being overlooked when it comes to handing out these fat contracts.

Remember the old saw that goes: “Where there’s a will, there’s a relative”? In our case, where there is a government contract, look for a profiteer.

The Kenner City Council has ruled that all new homes or all old ones with more than 50 percent damage that are being rebuilt will have to be 3 feet above the middle of the street in front. Kenner is the highest ground in metro New Orleans and took only isolated flooding after Katrina, but one can’t be too careful, I suppose.

I was going to report here what Mayor C. Ray Nagin said about the role race played in the government’s slow response to the Katrina event, but I’m preaching today and need to keep my religion. You’ll have to read about it somewhere else. I find myself with less and less patience with this man.

Lakeview Baptist Church, in the neighborhood of the same name and just a few blocks north of Interstate 610 on Canal Boulevard, is meeting in their renovated fellowship hall. We had 25 in attendance this morning at 10:30, all of them home folks according to longtime staffer Harry Cowan. I preached on “Regardless.” (Scroll to the bottom of this article for my notes.)

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David Crosby’s August 18 Update

Periodically, Pastor David Crosby of New Orleans’ First Baptist Church e-mails his take on the local situation to his church members and friends across the country. His update for Friday was so poignant, the metaphor so creative and right, and his analysis so on-target, I want to share it with a wider audience.

“A View from Sea Level”

“My home is near the mammoth Lake Pontchartrain. I walked over the levee this morning and enjoyed a stroll along the shore. Schools of fish often announce their presence by rushing to the surface when predatory redfish circle below.”

“This morning what got my attention was a lone pelican diving again and again into the same water. I climbed the small pile of rock near the shore and stood up for a good look. The water was boiling with schools of small fish. Apparently, the speckled trout and redfish were feasting on the slow ones. Sometimes the small fries would launch out of the water completely in their efforts to avoid being eaten.”

“Unfortunately for the prey, this pelican had discovered their distress and managed to gorge himself before moving on.”

“I thought about the plight of those small fish. They were being attacked from below and above. They found no safe haven.”

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What I Said to Newsweek

Someone e-mailed me Wednesday that they had seen my letter to the editor in the July 24 edition of Newsweek. I had missed it and had to comb through piles of papers and books around here before locating that issue. It’s probably worth sharing with you in order to make a point.

The magazine had named recipients of their “giving back awards,” the people who make America great. It was a fascinating selection of the great and the unknown who have gone to unusual lengths to do good. Elsewhere in the issue they had published a list of organizations that gave the most money to disaster relief in our part of the world following Katrina. To my surprise, Southern Baptists–to our way of thinking, the biggest of all givers from the religious world–did not even make the list. I studied it and figured out why.

“Thanks for a great issue: wonderful concept, terrific selections, excellent variety in the choices. We especially appreciate the New Orleans flavor in the choices, including nurse Ruby Jones (who stayed with her patients at a New Orleans hospital), anchor Soledad O’Brien (who came to New Orleans when everyone else was headed out), and preacher Rick Warren (who replaced the libraries of hundreds of our pastors who lost theirs). The simple fact is, I could give you a hundred other New Orleans heroes in a half hour, people who are champions in every sense of the word. Even as you left Southern Baptists out of the list of ‘Big Names in Katrina Relief’ (mainly because the Southern Baptist Convention’s gifts came from so many scattered sources and not through one umbrella agency), it doesn’t really matter; we just rejoice that so much good is being done by so many.”

Well, two points actually.

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Those Who Keep Us From Sinking

“It’s one thing to announce something. We’re meeting each Wednesday at 10 am at Good Shepherd Church. That’s an announcement. But to promote an event is to sell it. Do a little arm-twisting, maybe. Motivate people to want to come. August 29 is our “Katrina One-Year Anniversary Prayer Rally” at FBC-NO. Here are the reasons you need to be there. That is promotion.”

We urged the pastors to PROMOTE this prayer and praise rally. The latest e-mail from Pastor David Crosby shows in the order of service that Anne Graham Lotz and Fred Luter will be the two featured speakers, that a number of our ministers from various denominations will lead prayer times, that the combined choir from several churches will sing, and that American Idol runner-up George Huff will be singing.

Events of all kinds–from concerts to parties to worship services–will be held all over the metropolitan area that Tuesday. We invite everyone who reads this blog to join us that evening at First Baptist New Orleans for the 7 pm service.

Fifty pastors, leaders, and guests attended the weekly pastors’ meeting at Good Shepherd Wednesday morning. I always leave amazed, reflecting on how different every meeting is, as unique as your children, and what a blessing each one has been. We begin with group prayer times, lifting one another to the Father. Honestly, that may be the best thing that happens all day. And we end with extended fellowship around the lunch tables. Good Shepherd’s fellowship hall is taxed to the limit as we crowd in and gorge ourselves on this authentic Hispanic food.

“Last week’s menu was Honduran,” said Dona Rodriguez, the pastor’s wife. “Today, this is Mexican.” I smiled and said, “You know how we are around here–if it’s Hispanic, it’s all Mexican to us!” She laughed, “I know.” Large tacos, three to a plate, unlike anything Taco Bell ever dreamed of, adorned each plate today. And for dessert, a bowl of fresh fruit with ice cream and chocolate syrup on top. I’m caught up eating for the next 48 hours.

“A man came in to our church on crutches,” Travis Scruggs said. “He was with the New Orleans Police Department and a retired Marine. During the rescue operation following the storm, he had fallen off a roof and broken his leg. Now, he needed help in gutting out his house. At the time, he was living on board the ship docked down at Chalmette. We took care of his house. Now, we’re ready to start rebuilding houses. We can’t help everyone–this is a big job–so we’re trying to be selective. And I thought of him.

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The One-Year Anniversary of Katrina: August 29

Three events of special interest to the Lord’s people will take place in our city on Tuesday, August 29. While various concerts and meetings will be going on all over the metropolitan area commemmorating the first anniversary of life changing forever in New Orleans, we will have a prayer rally at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, the Baptist Seminary will mobilize a thousand students and teachers throughout the city, and we will address the city with a full-page ad in the Times-Picayune.

The Prayer Rally

Held at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans on Canal Boulevard that Tuesday at 7 pm, this event is sponsored by the interdenominational Pastors’ Coalition of New Orleans, the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans (that’s us), and PRC Compassion, a pastors’ group from throughout a larger area.

In our planning meeting, one thing everyone agreed on was that “prayer rallies” tend to do everything but pray. As with mayors’ prayer breakfasts, you line up speaker after speaker and very little actual praying gets done. Not this time.

Some of the prayer leaders will include Dennis Watson of Celebration Church, Michael Green of Faith Church, Kathy Radke of the West Bank Cathedral, and Cornelius Tilton of the Irish Channel Ministries. Bishop J. D. Wiley and I will do invocation and benediction. In between, Fred Luter will speak and possibly–just possibly, we haven’t heard for sure yet–Anne Graham Lotz.

Music will be provided by a choir composed of the praise leaders from Williams Boulevard Church, Franklin Avenue Church, and FBC-NO. George Huff, popular local singer who made it big on American Idol a year or two ago, is expected to be present; if so, he may do a mini-concert after the program ends.

Host Pastor David Crosby says, “We will recognize the amazing work of the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Operation Blessing, and PRC Compassion as well as the wonderful work of many of our churches as part of the rally…. We are preparing a 5-7 minute video that seeks to capture this part of the story.”

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Extra: A Prayer for Cleansing

“Father in Heaven. My Lord and my God. Saviour and Redeemer. Friend in my deepest need.

Hear the cry of my heart, feel the pain of my soul, see the need of my life.

Cleanse me of all my sin.

Take away everything in me…

…that does not bow before Thee as Lord.

…that does not have Thy name on it.

…that is resistant to Thy Spirit.

…that is impure and unworthy of Thee.

Remove from me…

…all attitudes and opinions and convictions that do not originate in Thee;

…every desire and motive and plan and ambition in conflict with Thy holy will;

…anything that runs and hides when You enter, that laughs when I believe, that squirms when I pray, that fears when I trust;

…Whatever in me does not give Thee joy, make Thee proud, and serve Thy purpose;

All of this, take away, please…

…everything that holds me back, weights me down, and cheapens my praise,

take away and make me whole.

By the precious blood of Jesus, purge my iniquity.

In the matchless name of Jesus, make me clean.

For the wonderful sake of Jesus, draw me to Thee.

Make me whole and holy and wholesome.

Make me right and upright and righteous.

Give me a heart that wants only to do Thy will, that answers only to Thy call, that serves only to hear Thy ‘well done.’


Have you ever been so filthy you wanted a bath more than anything else in the world? I have. Have you felt that kind of soul-soil that stains and defiles and makes you shrink from reading your Bible or bowing in prayer out of pure shame? I’ve been there, too.

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So Totally Tricked

Every two weeks Neil comes over with 12-year-old Grant and works up our lawn. We pay Grant, who is learning the craft from a master teacher. Meanwhile, Neil’s 9-year-old twins, Abby and Erin, take over our household for those two-hours. Saturday, they gave me no peace for sitting at this computer the entire time, working on the “Learning to Receive” blog. “Grandpa, we’re here! It’s time to play!” I adore them and see them often, so it’s not like we don’t log enough one-on-two time together. Grandma played with them while I worked. That’s when they tricked her.

They played rummy–this family’s favorite card game for generations–and checkers. Only later did Grandma discover they had alternated on her. She thought she was playing with Abby the whole time, but they were switching, having a little fun at her expense. You would think at their age they had done this a lot, but they haven’t. That’s why it took Margaret so completely by surprise.

Abby stood at my shoulder and said, “Write about me, Grandpa.” I said, “I do. Whenever you do something worth writing about.” She puffed up and said, “I do. All the time. I turn cartwheels. I stand on my head. And Erin and I have this long routine we do, our special handshake.” That’s true. That handshake is something to behold, with perhaps a hundred elements. They twist and bump in unison, slap hands, rub elbows, on and on, all the while with eyes locked on each other and laughing all the way.

Our Plano, Texas friends, Jeff and Tiffany Dillon, have just found they’re going to have twins. My observation is that these two children will be the envy of their siblings; each one will always be next to his/her best friend. From a grandparent’s point of view, twins are double the fun and laughter.

They’re returning to regular school in a few days, after two years of being home-schooled by Julie. Neil and Julie have evidently decided the kids are missing out on some important aspects of school which they do not get when they do their lessons at the dining room table, still in their p.j.s. After looking into a number of local schools, they chose–to my complete surprise–a Catholic school, Our Lady of Divine Providence, located a half-mile from their home. In the same way our school at FBC Kenner had Catholic kids, this one has plenty of Protestant young-uns and even some Muslims. The religion classes, we’ve been assured, are basic Bible stuff. The children are eager and understandably a little anxious. The girls just learned they will be in separate classrooms. “But that’s all right,” one said. “We’re on the same hall.” Only a year ago did their parents install bunk beds and introduce them to the concept of sleeping in your own bed. That was an adjustment, but they made it.

Bryan and Rebecca Harris were in town Friday, helping their daughter Aleesa move into a dormitory at our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This was not a small thing on their part–they live in Vallejo, California, where Bryan pastors a wonderful church. He was a member of the staff of FBC Columbus MS and then FBC Charlotte NC where I pastored, so this family is like our family. Aleesa was entering her second year of seminary last August when Katrina intervened. I love it that she’s back. No one returning to school here this fall will come just because they love the exoticism of New Orleans. This is all about a calling to help a city find its soul.

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Learning to Receive

My “daughter in the Lord” Mary has a keen insight into the Lord’s servants, being one herself. Recently, she commented that her husband and some of us down here in Katrina-land are great quarterbacks but lousy halfbacks. I recognize a football metaphor when I see one but had to ask what it meant.

“A quarterback gives to others but is a poor receiver. My husband would give the shirt off his back and serve until he couldn’t stand any longer. But he can’t receive a gift graciously. Once he returned a Lazy-Boy recliner we gave him for Father’s Day. He can’t catch a compliment without dropping it.”

She added, “I worry about you burning out and pray for God to give you the encouragement and renewal that you need.”

It might come as a surprise to Mary, but I think a lot about the necessity of learning to receive graciously. Couple of little stories on that subject. (Sorry. Everything reminds me of a story.)

Years ago, Evangelist Perry Neal of Montgomery was passing through our city of Columbus, MS, and I invited him to lunch. As we sat in the dining room of the Holiday Inn, I remarked about the huge “Alabama” belt buckle he was wearing. Without a word, he unsnapped it and handed it across the table. I said, “Perry! I don’t want your belt buckle.” He said, “McKeever, learn to be a gracious receiver!” I said, “Give it here!” And I’ve kept it ever since. It’s as big as a platter and reminds me of a rodeo champion’s buckle, but I break it out occasionally and wear it with my denims, usually while donning my Bo Parker cowboy boots from the same period in my young adulthood.

Cindy Pelphrey, wife of Tom, long-time friends, was serving as a youth minister at a large church. One day a man in the congregation approached her. “Cindy, would you like some turnip greens? My garden is really looking great this year.” Cindy told him the truth: “No, thank you very much. We don’t eat turnip greens and frankly, they’re a lot of trouble to prepare.” The man’s jaw dropped and he walked away. He was obviously hurt, but Cindy had no clue what to do about it. A moment later, her pastor’s wife walked over and put her arm around her. “Honey,” she said, “never turn down a gift. It gives pleasure to the giver, and if you can’t use it, you can always pass it on to someone else.”

I have assured Mary that as a veteran pastor, I long ago learned how to receive. Preachers live off the generosity of others. This, of course, offends some with an inflated sense of ego, and leaves all of us in a quandry. Either we resist people’s gifts and deprive them of the blessings of giving, or we overdo it and become focused on finding ways to get people to give to us. Both are ditches in between which lies the road.

Recently after preaching at Calvary in Alexandria, a gentleman thrust a hundred-dollar bill in my hand. “Put it where it’s needed,” he said. Then, this week, a friend from Mississippi sent me a check for the same amount. Friday, when one of our pastors came by to discuss a problem he is going through, I presented him with two hundred dollars. Gifts from the Lord.

One of our Mission Service Corp couples received some money from our Katrina relief funds the other day. We knew they were having a financial struggle and put in a request for some assistance for them. Friday, the wife sent an e-mail asking whom to thank. I said, “God. I’ll tell Him.”

Someone once said, “No one unwilling to be eternally in debt can ever become a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

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A Day Wonderful and Burdensome

John McCusker is a photographer for the Times-Picayune whose great shots have long been a special feature of the paper. When I was pastoring at Kenner, he sometimes took our photos for articles and interviews. Tuesday, he tried to commit “suicide by cop.”

Reports indicate he was depressed over his insurance check being insufficient to rebuild his flooded house in East New Orleans. In that deep funk, he tore out down Napoleon Avenue in his SUV, driving erratically and side-swiping several vehicles, which attracted the police to him. As they approached with guns drawn, he called, “Just kill me. Get it over with,” and threw the gear into reverse, pinning an officer between his SUV and the cruiser. To the credit of the police, they did not fire their weapons but immobilized him with a taser. He’s being held for psychiatric examination. Police were uncertain what charges would be filed.

At our Wednesday pastors meeting at Metairie’s Good Shepherd Spanish Baptist Church, NAMB Counselor Joe Williams spoke to the depression and fatigue McCusker and others are experiencing. We need to talk about how we are feeling, he said, before emotions become so overwhelming we’re ready to explode. Joe is working up a program for helping pastors assist their congregations with these scary feelings.

Steve Gahagan (Operation NOAH Rebuild) introduced Tim Agee who has come as his assistant. Tim and his wife are from a small Alabama town. “We’re here for the duration,” he said. (I wonder if he knows what he’s saying!) Tim meets with homeowners to assess their situations, then coordinates volunteers coming to work on those houses. Gahagan asked our pastors to please let him know anything they find out about what’s going to happen in their respective parishes after August 29, the deadline some have established for houses to be worked on or face demolition.

Alberto Rivera (Regional strategist for the LBC) introduced his wife Romy to the group of 50 attending Wednesday’s meeting. Last week he spoke to mission specialists across America about our situation. “They are praying for us,” he said. He looked at me and said, “Brother Joe, they are praying for you.” Thank you.

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