Not Helping Matters

When my nearly 91-year-old mother on the remote Alabama farm says she heard that New Orleans is the murder capital of the world, the secret is out.

I tried explaining that it’s just New Orleans proper, not all the surrounding areas, that it’s a per capita thing, not the total number of murders, and that with the population of the city less than half what it used to be, that is not necessarily a high number. But no matter. The damage is done.

Now the bad press is bearing fruit.

“Groups call off meetings in N.O.,” trumpeted the headline in Friday’s newspaper. Two medium-sized trade groups scheduled to bring some 6,000 visitors to town and use 12,000 rooms over a weekend and therefore help the local economy have canceled their conventions. The two associations cited the high crime rate and the problems of the city’s slow recovery from the hurricane.

Argue all we want, it’s a done deal. Point out that the National Association of Realtors brought 25,000 to town in November, that Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society brought in 24,000 in February, and the American College of Cardiology a whopping 30,000 just last week. They all reported successful meetings in our city. When contacted, spokespersons for the two smaller conventions that just canceled cited concerns over the “unfortunate events” that have occurred in the city recently–presumably, the killings–and their belief that their members will not want to journey to New Orleans for this meeting. Since both organizations have contracts with the Morial Convention Center, canceling will cost them some bucks.

A medical doctor called from Mississippi. He will be doing specialty training with a local hospital for a year or two, and wants to find employment for his wife who is a trained pastoral counselor. If they’re unable to find her a position, he says, they will live on the Northshore (anywhere from Hammond to Covington to Slidell) and he would commute. “She’s deathly afraid of moving to New Orleans,” he said.

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Giving Thanks

“Dear Joe: Enclosed is our check for $3,319.72. During the evacuation for Hurricane Katrina, Boulevard Baptist Church in Lake Charles was an evacuee site. A church in Decatur, Illinois sent them $4,000 to minister to Katrina’s evacuees. This is the remainder of those funds, unused due to Hurricane Rita coming to town.”

They sent the money in our direction so we could use it to minister to churches and pastors. Lynn in our office and I talked of several congregations in our association, then sent checks of $1,000 to three churches and a check for the remaining $319.72 to one of our pastors who will find a good use for it.

Such fun. One of my favorite things to do. I’ll be writing a thank-you to Boulevard Baptist Church in Lake Charles and to their director of missions, my counterpart, J. P. Miles.

This afternoon, I wrote a thank-you to the Presbytery of South Louisiana. Those Presbyterians have quickly become some of our favorite people.

I’ve mentioned here how Pastor James “Boogie” Melerine of the Delacroix-Hope Baptist Church in St. Bernard Parish has seen his church attendance triple since Katrina, from 25 to 75, and that they’re now meeting on his property while they look for a place to meet permanently. The little Creedmore Presbyterian Church down there has seen its membership dwindle over the years, and drastically as a result of Katrina. Boogie has talked to the remaining members about merging and investigated the possibility of buying the church buildings.

Today, Wednesday, Boogie brought a letter to our weekly pastors meeting, one he had received from The Rev. Dr. Alan Cutter, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of South Louisiana, headquartered in Baton Rouge. Here’s the letter. You will recognize the final sentence as the one that drew the murmurs of appreciation from the 50 or so ministers and guests present.

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Three Things I’ve Learned About Tithing

One. No one ever starts tithing if he waits until he can afford it.

Everyone I know needs a little more money than they have now. Suggest that they take the first 10 percent of their income and give it to the Lord through His church, and you’ve asked them to do something extremely difficult. It’s a tremendous faith decision and was probably even meant by the Lord to be hard.

So, underline this, highlight it, capitalize it: BEGINNING TO TITHE IS TOUGH! Always has been, always will be–for everyone. No exception.

And yet, there is a little deception that plays in the back of our minds. “We will start tithing when we get the next raise.” A better job. Past these bills. When the kids leave home. Come into our inheritance.

But it’s a deception. It is not going to happen. If you’re not tithing now, having more money is not going to make it easier to begin.

Anyone who begins to tithe does so when he cannot afford it. You just take it off the top, write that check and with perhaps a little fear and trepidation, give it to the Lord in prayer, and go forward. Faith.

Expect it to be hard for a while and for your fears to well back up each payday. Do not do this automatically; do it prayerfully. Let your check-writing and your offering-giving be acts of worship, both at the kitchen table and in the church pew.

We might should emphasize that tithing is not the end-all and be-all of the Christian. It’s one aspect and only one of a full Christian life, one characterized by devotion to the Savior, dedication to the Word and prayer and worship, and by obedience in every area of life. We must never mislead some carnal church member to think that if he starts tithing, he’s going to get something from God.

First, give yourself to the Lord, then give what you have to Him. In turn, He will give Himself and what He has to you, and you will come out the winner, believe me!

Two. After the first year or so, tithing becomes easier.

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News You Might Have Missed

Two main items in the news caught my attention. First, the one about money.

Despite the money insurers have paid out to Katrina victims over the past year, we learn now that the big insurance companies have just had their best year ever. The Times-Picayune reports that Allstate–much maligned in this part of the world for its stingy payouts to their customers–earned a whopping $5 billion last year. State Farm’s profits were up 65 percent. St. Paul Traveler’s earnings rose sixfold in the fourth quarter, and American International Group (AIG) saw its profits rise eightfold. Profits are expected to be high in 2007 too.

Anyone smell a rat? Listen to some of these companies and you would think they are about to go belly-up and cannot afford to insure people in this part of the world any longer. (As obscene as the gas company profits are–and we’re all stunned to learn of the billions they earn at a time when the gas prices keep going up–at no point do they suggest they ought to quit selling their product. Insurance companies do however.)

People who know tell us that insurers are themselves insured, that they do not bear the full weight of liability for the properties they insure, and that if a catastrophe hits, they are protected. Otherwise, one big hurricane could wipe them out. Okay, makes sense. And, apparently, that’s what happened.

J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the non-profit Consumer Federation of America, is coming down hard on the insurance companies. Hunter says the reason their profits are so high is that they have used Katrina and other major hurricanes to justify “overpricing insurance, underpaying claims and reaping unjustified profits” at the expense of homeowners and business owners. He expects these companies will continue to prosper because they are increasing costs, upping deductibles, and excluding high risks from the policies.

Eileen Frank, a former resident of our state and an insurance broker in New York, disputes the insurance industry’s claim that they have already paid out 95 percent of the claims made since Katrina. Many others are still pending, she says, and cites personal examples of being shunted from one adjuster to another with the people she was trying to help.

Frank gave an example of a homeowner whose insurance she handled recently. Prior to Katrina, he paid $2,000 a year for insurance; now it’s three times that. Worse, the policy now has a deductible for wind damage in an amount equal to 5 percent of the house’s value. That is, if my house is worth $200,000 and we have a hurricane, the first $10,000 of damage is my problem.

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The Diverse People of This City

One reason this city has always held such a fascination to Americans is due to so many flavors of nationalities–people from all over the world live here. Case in point.

Saturday, down in St. Bernard Parish, the annual “Los Islenos Festival” was held, even though most of the members of this group are living elsewhere since Katrina. In the 1700s, residents of the Canary Islands moved to this most eastern of our bayou parishes and their people have been here ever since. The parish started the festival some 30 years ago to honor this part of their heritage.

And why were Canary Islanders of all people moving here? I’ve not been there, but we’re told that the islands making up this little colony in the eastern Atlantic has some of the loveliest scenery on the planet. It turns out that Spain–owner of the Louisiana territory at that time–paid the Islanders to move here to protect the colony from the British, the Canary Islands being a Spanish territory.

Drive up the highway a few miles and we have neighborhoods populated by thousands of Vietnamese. West of New Orleans is a little fishing village named “Des Allemands.” French for “The Germans.” We have the Irish Channel and St. Patrick’s Day parades and all kinds of Italian events. And did we say we have Cajuns?

We have several Korean Baptist churches in New Orleans, one Chinese, one Vietnamese, two Haitian, and at various times have had works with a number of French-speaking congregations as well as West Indian, Middle East, Portuguese-speaking, and such. And that’s not to mention the dozen or so Hispanic churches.

Mostly, what you will find in our churches is a blend of members whose lineage can be traced to exotic locales on the globe but are now just Americans. I’m confident other large cities have the same situation–Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Miami, Los Angeles–but it’s so gratifying to see congregations whose makeup looks a lot like Heaven must.

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For the Record

No one questions that New Orleans proper has lost a major percentage of its pre-Katrina population, but the debate continues as to exact numbers. Now comes the first official U.S. Census Bureau numbers. Before the hurricane, the city showed 484,674 residents. The July 2006 number is 223,388–down by 54 percent. To no one’s surprise, some are questioning the accuracy of this report.

The problem in counting population is that people are distributed so unevenly, which prevents pollsters from counting a few blocks in a neighborhood and then making assumptions for the entire area.

Anyway, here are some more numbers. The western half of metro New Orleans–Jefferson Parish–counts 431,361 residents, making it the most populous parish in the state. That’s a 5 percent drop from the 2000 census. East Baton Rouge Parish comes in second now, with 429,073, up by 3.9 percent from 2000. To no one’s surprise, the Baton Rouge folks are raising serious doubts about that. It would appear that that city’s population has exploded, judging by two infallible barometers: the traffic and the cost of housing.

The folks on “New Orleans’ Northshore”–that would be the Interstate 12 corridor from Hammond east to Covington and on to Slidell–are likewise arguing that their numbers are much higher than the census shows. Again, it’s the traffic and the skyrocketing price for housing that convinces them the numbers are high.

Columnist Stephanie Grace writes that over a year ago she predicted that even though Governor Kathleen Blanco’s popularity index was abysmally low, once she starts handing out billions of federal dollars to local homeowners that situation will reverse itself. She wrote, “There aren’t too many politicians who can manage to look bad in those shoes.”

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Church Cartoons by Joe McKeever — CD-ROM Volume 1

Introducing…

Church Cartoons by Joe McKeever, Vol. 1 — on CD-ROM!

Over 200 Cartoon Illustrations for Church Bulletins, Newsletters, Presentations, and more… only $19.95!

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Includes both large high-resolution images for printing, and smaller low-res versions perfect for the web or email.

Order your copy today!


Our readers know that I draw cartoons for religious papers and church bulletins. In fact, back in the 1980s, two other cartoonists and I put together 8 volumes of religious cartoons for use in the church office for newsletters and over the years sold some 300,000 copies. They are long since out of print, however. Good thing, because now putting artwork on CDs is the way to go. And that’s what we’ve done

Most church offices are now able to handle this kind of technology. (It’s a different day from when I started pastoring. Back then, high tech meant a mimeograph machine!) What I’d love for you to do is either purchase one yourself and give to the church office or print this out and hand to the person in your office who makes up the church bulletins, so he or she can order it. We’ve checked the market and believe ours to be lower priced than the others.

I’m always working at improving my cartooning, and I frequently pray that the Father will lead me in this. After all, He knows all His children and sees all our idiosyncrasies–and since He gave me this desire to draw cartoons for His people in the first place, I don’t hesitate to look to Him for creative ideas.

Any way, thanks! Hope you enjoy them!

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Smarter than Pigs

Tom Lester played “Eb” on the wonderful old “Green Acres” television series. He’s semi-retired now and living on his family farm in Laurel, Mississippi. Tuesday, Tom and I were on the program together at the First Baptist Church of Covington’s annual senior adult thing, and over lunch he told me this story about another star of “Green Acres,” Arnold the pig.

“Pigs are smart,” he said, “but not like dogs. A dog can learn all sorts of tricks because they want to please you. But a pig is like a cat. It’s selfish. It thinks only of itself. So, people who work with pigs in movies and television have figured out that the way to get them to obey you is with food. First, they let them get hungry, and only then can they get them to obey.”

“But,” he continued, “as soon as the pig gets his belly full, he’s not good for anything the rest of the day. So, they bring in another pig that looks like the first one and use him.” At any given time, Arnold was a half-dozen pigs.

We laughed about that, thinking how like humans pigs are. We see it in church a lot. People go to this church or that one because, “I get fed there.” Not: “I can serve the Lord there.” And how many times have we heard people remark about a sermon that “I didn’t get fed.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

I found this in my notes from a Wednesday pastors meeting some weeks ago. We were talking about positive leadership in our congregations and communities.

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Why We Tithe–Or Why We Don’t

I was a sophomore in college when God began doing a special work in my life. I joined West End Baptist Church in Birmingham and jumped into all the activities I could work into my schedule. That’s when the minister of education made a false assumption about me.

Ron Palmer stopped me in a church hallway one day and said, “I’d like you to give your tithing testimony in church.” I said, “What is that?” He said, “Tell us your story, why you tithe your income to the Lord through the church.” I said, “What is this word ‘tithe’?” I could not remember ever hearing it before.

Ron explained that to tithe is to give one dollar out of every ten to the Lord through our church. I said, “Well, in that case, I can’t tell my story because I don’t do that.” At the time, I had almost no income–I worked Saturdays selling men’s clothing at the National Shirt Shop downtown. What little giving I did in church was infrequent and miniscule.

It was several years before I started tithing, and even then I struggled with it for the next decade. Part of the struggle was just doing it–when you’re in seminary or getting started in those early poor-paying pastorates, every bill that arrives in the mail is a challenge–and the other part was coming to terms with the doctrine itself. Is this something God expects of us? Where is this taught in the Bible? Since most all the references are Old Testament, wasn’t that Jewish and not Christian?

Recently on my website I reported talks given by two ministers to a small group of pastors and seminary students in which both happened to mention tithing. One church is in Texas and the other Georgia, but both require their teachers and staffers to tithe. One speaker had said his accountant does the tax returns of 600 ministers and had found that only one-fourth of them were tithers. The pastor had concluded a lot of ministers are not living up to what they preach.

In the “comments” section of our website, where readers can register their opinions and reactions to articles, one fellow exploded in anger, accusing me of hypocrisy of the worst sort. When I tried to respond, I found that his website was all about promoting his book against tithing and that his computer blocked my message. I also discovered some of my friends wanted to weigh in on the subject of tithing.

That’s the purpose of this little article. At the end, you are invited to tell us why you tithe or why you don’t. Disagreements and differences are welcome. Just be respectful.

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SEVEN CHURCHES: The Initial Run of “Unlimited Partnerships”

This is Bill Taylor’s brain child. Officially retired from Lifeway Christian Resources as their senior educational consultant–Southern Baptists’ Mr. Sunday School–Bill now works for the North American Mission Board as a “senior strategist.” On numerous occasions he has spent several days in our part of the world and with churches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, looking for a key way to make a difference.

Out of that search came “Unlimited Partnerships.” Bill began to imagine a plan by which we could match a gifted and dedicated seminary student with one of our local needy churches to serve a year or more in the area of education and evangelism. He imagined large churches in the SBC led by consecrated pastors who would want to pay the salaries of these students. Then, he set out to make it happen.

“We couldn’t have done it without David Hankins,” Bill Taylor said, referring to the executive of Louisiana Baptists. “When he first heard of this, he told me, ‘Bill, this is the right thing to do. Even if you can’t find the sponsoring churches, we will back it.'” But it wasn’t necessary. “It wasn’t a matter of dollars,” Bill explained. “This was all about matching up enterprising students with responsive churches and successful sponsors who could teach them and mentor them.”

The program kicked off March 1, with 7 students working out of 7 of our churches. This is the pilot program, a test run by which we find out what works and what doesn’t. We’re finding our way.

For the record, here are the seven churches.

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