Around the Crescent City

The First Baptist Church of Buford, Georgia, is here this week, working in St. Bernard Parish, staying in Hopeview Church, helping to construct the new FBC of Chalmette. Mike Rhodes, a former leader of our Kenner church, now belongs to the Buford congregation along with wife Pam and daughter Molly.

Susan, a member of the Buford team, visited our associational offices today (Monday) and said the folks back home are clamoring to be part of the next trip. She is one enthusiastic lady–and this is after her second night sleeping on a foam pad on the church floor! We are delighted these folks are here and we welcome them. (see below for Tuesday’s encouraging update.)

Monday we officially welcomed part of our new Baptist collegiate ministry team which will be working on our local campuses. Corey Olivier has the overall responsibility and came by with Kevin, who will guide the BCM work at Delgado, and Ben, who will spearhead the UNO ministry. Corey is full-time and will work out of the Tulane Center, while all the others will be interns while they’re pursuing seminary degrees. We appreciate the support of Dr. David Hankins and Student Ministries director Mark Robinson of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

We’re always glad to get good news anywhere it can be found. The front page of Monday’s Times-Picayune announces the rebirth of the Eastover community in New Orleans East. This is an expensive part of town and the 225 homes of Eastover lie inside a high fence with entrances gated.

After the hurricane’s floodwaters receded, residents returned to find the area looking like a bomb had gone off. Authorities say from 6 to 10 feet of water covered this area for weeks.

Today, 87 of the homes are occupied and 81 are being repaired. The other 25 percent have been gutted with a single exception (the owners are still waiting on their insurance).

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Location is Not Everything, But It’s Something

If I had the power, I would send Bridgedale Baptist Church of Metairie one new family a month for the next year. I know what would happen: those new members would find themselves gifted with a brand new family of aunts and uncles and grandparents filled with love and ready to teach them in the ways of the Lord.

I worshiped with the folks of Bridgedale Sunday morning at eleven o’clock, and wondered if they are the last of our churches to keep to that traditional hour. Most seem to be meeting at 10:30, some at 10, one at 9:30, and several earlier (Franklin Avenue meets at 7:30 am) or later (Good News and New Vision at 2 pm). Someone told me Celebration’s primary worship service is Saturday night. I love that. Find what works best for you and the people you’re trying to reach, then do it.

The Bridgedale people are the kind I grew up with–about 25 or 30 lovely and saintly veterans of the Christian faith. Richard Dunnam is their pastor and Andy Condrey leads the worship. They have a wonderful location, excellent buildings, and a loving spirit. I wish them new families.

Sunday afternoon at 3 pm, Thomas Glover’s New Covenant Mission held the dedication of their “new” buildings at what was formerly Woodmere Baptist Church, their sponsor. Former pastor Randy Capote drove in from Grand Prairie, Texas, to preach the message. He told us, “A month ago, Pastor Glover and I were on the program of Christ Baptist Church as they dedicated their new facility. I said, ‘I’ll be back in a month for your dedication.’ Jill Glover said, ‘Ours will be longer and louder.'”

It was. It ended at 5 pm. I made a personal commitment that the next time I come to an African-American church service, I’m leaving my watch in the car. But hey, it was a great service. Really.

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A Short Piece for Godly Leaders

If you are not familiar with the 1966 movie “A Man For All Seasons,” may I urge you to rent it and watch it. Lock the door, turn off your phone, and shut yourself in for two uninterrupted hours and I promise, you will be stirred as few movies have ever touched you. At the end, you will wipe away the tears and sit there contemplating the implications of the story you just saw for your own situation.

I was in seminary when this movie was released, and was so touched after seeing it I read everything I could find on Thomas More and King Henry VIII. Then I bought the Robert Bolt play on which the movie was based so I could go back and savor some of the choice lines. There are as many gems in this movie as any play Shakespeare ever penned. Mostly, it’s a photo essay on the high cost of integrity.

Turner Classic Movies played this Academy-Award winning movie Saturday night and I sat there for the full two hours, drinking it in as much out of curiosity as anything. Was it as wonderful as I remembered from 40 years ago?

It was far, far better–one of the true treasures from Hollywood if there has ever been one.

I have one caveat at the end of this short piece, which does not detract at all from the beauty of the movie or its impact upon anyone who would try to be faithful to God when all around him is flowing in the opposite direction. But it needs saying.

You know about Henry VIII’s succession of wives in his search for one who could give him a male heir. You perhaps know that when the Catholic Church would not dissolve his “present” marriage in order to legitimize the next union, Henry pulled his country out of the Roman Church and made himself the head of the Church of England, a condition that exists today.

The story of “A Man For All Seasons” concerns Henry’s Lord Chancellor, Thomas More, the only one of his inner circle who refused to sign off on the king’s shenanigans. For that, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and then beheaded.

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Peterson and McGrath–Two of Your Best Friends

Eugene Peterson tells us about a little dog he once owned that loved to drag up big bones.

“In his forest rambles he often came across a carcass of a white-tailed deer that had been brought down by the coyotes. Later he would show up on our stone, lakeside patio carrying or dragging his trophy, usually a shank or a rib…. Anyone who has owned a dog knows the routine: he would prance and gambol playfully before us with his prize, wagging his tail, proud of his find, courting our approval. And of course we approved: we lavished praise, telling him what a good dog he was. But after awhile, sated with our applause, he would drag the bone off twenty yards or so to a more private place, usually the shade of a moss-covered boulder, and go to work on the bone. The social aspects of the bone were behind him; now the pleasure became solitary. He gnawed the bone, turned it over and around, licked it, worried it. Sometimes we would hear a low rumble or growl, what in a cat would be a purr. He was obviously enjoying himself and in no hurry. After a leisurely couple of hours he would bury it and return the next day to take it up again. An average bone lasted about a week.”

Dr. Peterson has written a book with the intriguing title “Eat This Book,” which Bible students will recall is what the angel commanded of John in Revelation 10:9-10. Peterson wants you and me to learn to savor the Word of God, to do with Scriptures what his little dog used to do with that bone: spend time with it, enjoy it, work on it at a leisurely pace, and get all the good it contains, to leave it for a day and return tomorrow to see what else we can get from it.

That, you will agree, is a far cry from the hurried way many of us rush through the few verses we scarf down in the morning on our way out the door.

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Like I Knew Anything About Prayer

“Forgive me, Father, for sounding forth on other people’s praying. Acting like I knew something about approaching you they don’t. I do that a lot, and I’m quite sure it’s out of line. Forgive me, Father.

“You have taught me how wrong I’ve been before. Like the times I used to criticize those who pray long prayers that begin by telling you what you already know about yourself. And then I read the Scriptures and saw that is precisely what many of the psalms do and it’s what makes them so special three thousand years after they were first offered up.

“Like Job of old, you showed me I did not have a clue what I was talking about.

“And there are the times I used to quote one of your servants of an earlier generation who said, ‘Prayer is not a touring sedan in which to see all the sights of the city, but a pickup truck. You drive it to the warehouse, pick up the goods and come home.’ You showed me there was enough truth in that to get it quoted a lot and smiled at and even copied down, but not enough truth for it to actually be right. Lots of Bible prayers tour the city and enjoy the sights before heading for the warehouse and home.

“In fact, some of them never seem to know where the warehouse is. And yet your Word records those prayers as authentic and worth our studying.

“Over the years some of the prayers that have inspired me most from your precious older saints began with a comprehensive tour of the city. When I wasn’t feeling too rushed to appreciate what they were doing, I recall being inspired by the sights they pointed out, informed by the things about You I never knew, and rebuked by their insights into your people and methods and values which I had missed along the way.

“You’d think by now I would know to be wary of criticizing other people’s prayers. The way I did yesterday morning.

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Prayers of Faith

I wonder sometimes about our Wednesday pastors meeting, if they have outlived their usefulness, and then the Lord says otherwise in no uncertain terms.

We might have begun our weekly meeting with 10 people today, but they kept coming in and we ended up with around 25. In the course of the sharing, two pastors volunteered how much these weekly sessions mean to them. One said, “I always know you are going to be here. You have no idea how much that means.”

He has no idea how much his words encouraged us. We have 92 churches and missions operating now, and most of our pastors are either knee-deep shepherding their flocks and don’t have time to come to these gatherings or they have second jobs and can’t get off. Either that, or they’re in seminary. But when I’m tempted to think of 25 as a small turnout, I recall that in the pre-Katrina years, that would be a good turnout for our monthly pastors conferences.

A few highlights here. If you want the entire rundown of our Wednesday meeting, this week or any week, go to our associational website www.bagnola.org. Lynn Gehrmann takes notes of the proceedings and posts them there by mid-afternoon.

“We’re prayer-walking this Saturday,” said David Rhymes. A number of folks from outside this area will arrive at the Baptist Center here at 8:30 am Saturday. Within an hour, they will disperse into a number of neighborhoods where pastors have requested prayer-walkers, and return to the center in time for lunch and a report time. We’ll be doing six sessions in 2007. You’re invited.

One of our pastors whose church disappeared from the earth has been meeting with his re-gathered people in his section of St. Bernard Parish. Today he reported that the local Presbyterian church–which had fallen onto hard times before Katrina and whose congregation since the hurricane might be a half-dozen hearty souls–is close to turning over the property to his congregation to move in and use for an indefinite period of time.

“What’s wonderful about that,” he told the group, “is that at first we tried to purchase the property, and they wouldn’t sell it. Then we tried to lease it, and they turned that down. Now, they’re using the money they got from Bush-Clinton to restore the facility and then they’re going to give it to us.” It’s a God-thing.

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“Just a Little Bit of Foolishness”

Dr. Ronald French, an ear-nose-and-throat physician, has been named “Rex, King of Carnival,” for today. Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday, before Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent. His queen is Brooke Hastings Parker, a lovely young co-ed from the University of Georgia studying international business. She’s a local girl, of course, with a long tradition of participation in these events.

Don’t ask me why, other than maybe that men plan these things, Dr. French is 69 years old and Brooke is perhaps 21. And it’s always that way–old guy, sweet young thing.

Dr. French has a fascinating thing about books. A friend said French will be reading a book and start talking about it. “You ought to read this,” he’ll say. I’ll answer, “Well, I will, as soon as I get a copy.” At that point, the doctor will tear his book in half and say, “Get started on this.” The friend continued, “Many times I’ll see him walking around reading half a book, and I’ll know what happened.”

Parades are going down St. Charles Avenue and several other thoroughfares of metro New Orleans today. Having just driven in from Alabama Monday, my plans were to catch up on my rest Tuesday. I did, mostly. But I still caught some beads. The parade came to me.

Late Tuesday morning, our son Neil and his family decided to walk the 1.8 mile track around LaSalle Park, which lies alongside Airline Highway in Metairie and encases the Saints’ training camp and headquarters as well as the Zephyrs baseball field, and I was invited to join them. That’s how we got caught by the beginning of a parade.

The walking track crosses the exit from the Zephyrs parking lot where perhaps fifty floats of all descriptions had been parked. By the time we arrived, all the riders–hundreds of them–had loaded up and the trucks were pulling the floats onto Airline and heading toward town. Police motorcycles were everywhere. So, we stood and watched and waved at the riders.

The occasional rider, spotting my grandchildren waving, pitched a string of beads our way. These kids have been to several Mardi Gras parades and knew this was not a real one, so were not impressed sufficiently to even bend over and pick up the cheap beads. So I did. I joked that this is the first Mardi Gras parade I’ve attended since the 1965 version in the suburb of Arabi.

The floats seemed endless, slowly making their way from the parking lot to the highway. No traffic moved on Airline, doubtless making for a lot of frustrated motorists.

King Rex’s wife Flora, herself with a long history of involvement in these events, said, “It’s fun and festive. But my mother used to say, ‘In a way, it’s just a little bit of foolishness.'”

Good. Long as everyone knows that and keeps it in proper perspective. The people who study these things say 750,000 visitors come to our city for these parades and parties. To no one’s surprise, the local economy depends on these guests.

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Just Before Mardi Gras

The planes coming into and leaving New Orleans are all filled. Party-goers from “your” city are arriving for the five-day parade season, today–Friday–through Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day. And many locals are taking the long weekend as a great time to go skiing or visit relatives–or just leave town, period.

I say “your” city, because the untold thousands of partiers jamming the streets along parade routes and filling the bars on Bourbon Street tend not to be locals but out-of-town visitors. The reason I point this out is as a gentle reminder for residents of New Hampshire (and “your” state) who slam New Orleans as sin-capital because of Mardi Gras. If the folks in your town would stay home, we’d have to shut ‘er down.

Why New Hampshire?

Several years ago when I was pastoring FBC of Kenner, across the street from the New Orleans Airport, I ran up to the church on Mardi Gras day to get some work done in the quiet. The phone rang. Some salesman of church supplies from New Hampshire was asking for Jim Lancaster, our associate pastor. I told him Jim wasn’t in, that it was a holiday here and the offices were closed. Long silence. What holiday, he wanted to know. “Mardi Gras,” I said.

The poor man almost had a stroke. “You’re telling me that a church of the Lord Jesus Christ closes down its operations and observes that ungodly holiday?” I said, “Sir, the entire area is shut down. Streets are clogged. It’s hard to go anywhere. So we give our people the day off. Most spend it with the family, some go out of town, and some are down in the French Quarter witnessing on the streets.”

That still did not satisfy him. Finally, I said, “Sir, the people down here doing the worst partying are from your town in New Hampshire. If they would stay home, we could cancel the holiday.”

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I Talk With Seminarians About Church

Today, Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, was my day to speak in chapel at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I love everything about this school and relish the times I’m invited to speak in chapel or to a class, but my only regret today was that every student did not hear the message.

Here’s a brief summary of the message entitled “You and New Orleans.”

I’m abbreviating points 1, 2, and 3, and 4 in order to emphasize the heart of the message: point 3, “Join a church.”

1. Thank you for coming to New Orleans. By your very presence, you are helping to rebuild this city.

2. Get to know New Orleans. There is so much to love about this city, from the historic districts to the great restaurants and shops to the parks and museums. Venture off campus and discover some of the delights of this incredible city.

3. Join a church. Join a church. Join a church.

This seminary was planted in New Orleans in 1917 to bring the Gospel of Christ to its people. Today, we have 92 Southern Baptist churches and missions in the metro area, and many could really use the help and encouragement your presence would bring.

In the last few days, I’ve talked to a number of seminary students who told me you don’t plan to join a local church during your stay here. When I asked ‘why not,’ you gave me four reasons.

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Iva Jewel Update–and a great story

Back on January 27, my blog introduced our readers to this precious lady–Iva Jewel Tucker of Birmingham. You may drop back and read it for yourself when you have a few moments and I predict you’ll find yourself treasuring her too, the way the rest of us do.

This week, she sent me an update on her situation as she endures the radiation treatments.

“I am having a few side effects of the radiation, even as I swore–yes, swore–the treatments wouldn’t bother me! It is a new adventure, true, but I kick against losing some of my stamina and giving in to tiredness sometimes. The feeling of nausea comes and goes and I hate it.”

“Sometimes nausea streams through me. I do not act on the nausea, just feel sick. At least I’m not pregnant and I’m thankful for small blessings. I have an occasional cough. Not a bad cough, but I know the radiation is affecting some tissue here and there.”

“Food does not taste as good as it used to. I have always loved good food, savoring the joy. Now I don’t really care if I eat or not. Peanut butter on a cracker tastes about as good as baked Alaska salmon.”

“The multimillion-dollar radiation machine swings over me, backs up, comes another direction. I told the girls it was like a car wash. They said tomorrow I may get a wax and buff.”

“The late writer/columnist Molly Ivins had it right. When she went to the hospital with breast cancer, she described it: ‘First they mutilate you. Then they poison you. Then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.’ I skipped the poisoning, but I agree with her description of surgery and radiation.”

“All the staff is great at the Bruno Cancer Center at St. Vincent’s Hospital. These professionals do good work as well as caring about the patients. Why, today I even had a fashion evaluation while I lay on the table waiting for the long arm of the radiation machine to swing over me. Usually I wear skirt, blouse, and stockings like a good Baptist should, but today I wore slacks. Wearing my cute little hospital gown, I slipped out of my shoes and lay down on the table as gracefully as possible. The radiation therapist announced from the other room that I had on a black sock and a navy sock. I told her that was obviously a side effect of the radiation since the real Iva Jewel would never have done such a thing.”

“The oncologist–with whom I am madly in love even though he’s only 60-ish–said with radiation treatments on the LEFT breast, the rays go through a certain way to cause nausea, while treatment of right breast does not. No problem. I can live with times of nausea without having to look forward to another child to raise! Hallelujah, sing praises all day!”

“Some years ago I worked in conversational English with a doctor from Shanxi Province in China. I think he taught at UAB. We have remained friends. You will enjoy a couple of his comments when he heard about my cancer. Dr. Li encouraged me:

“You have a pleasure mood. It is important to fight disease. You help some much people like me, you are so nice, God will help you to fight cancer.”

“I am worried some side effects of radiation to hurt you. More pleasure mood is benefit to fight side effects. I pray God bless health to you, bless happy life to you.”

(Iva Jewel continues:) “I count my blessings night and day. Some of my new friends at the Cancer Center are in serious condition. Many of them drive long distances for their daily treatments, and some of them are undergoing chemo as well as radiation. God bless them.”

(She concludes:) “Joe, I do pray that you will have more ‘pleasure mood’ during these days. You are blessed, too, for you love your work. Also you are a cancer survivor, praise God.”

“It is exciting to receive mail from many who received the news of my cancer via Joe McKeever. Thanks for everything. Love you.”

She signed the note: “With tired love, Iva Jewel.” Then added a P.S. at the bottom: “If I reread this rambling message, I’ll probably delete it. So here it goes to you.”

As you may have deduced, I forwarded to her all the comments from readers about this remarkable lady. And we’ll do so again for you who leave comments below.

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