Sandra Bullock, Prayers, and Wetlands

Jeff Box has resigned as pastor of Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans East to move to a church in Walton County, Georgia in the Atlanta suburbs. He writes, “We have been a part of one of God’s miracles here at Suburban. We leave at a time when the church is physically more beautiful than ever. We leave at a time when the potential for community growth and outreach is as bright as when the church was first planted almost half a century ago. We leave with no enemies and with no animosity. In fact, we can truly say that we love everyone at Suburban and are sure that they love us as well.”

Jeff writes that when he came to this church four years ago, God made it clear that his work would be that of a transitional pastor. The plan now is for Jeff’s co-pastor, Jeffery Friend, to become the sole pastor of the church. Readers may recall that prior to Katrina, Friend pastored Hopeview Church in St. Bernard Parish, which took on great depths of water and oil and whose building is now housing volunteers working in that struggling and sparsely populated parish. Friend moved into New Orleans with the members of his congregation he could locate, and they began worshiping with the mostly-Anglo Suburban Baptist Church. My impression is that in recent months, the congregation has become predominantly African-American as the community was, is, and shall be. Therefore, this is a natural and positive development for Brother Friend to assume the leadership. He’s a fine man and we wish him and Suburban well.

New Orleans needs more psych beds, the mayor says. The lead paragraph in a front-page article reads:”Frustrated with the volume of mental patients being thrust upon local police departments and emergency rooms, Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday sent a letter to the governor demanding that the state restore psychiatric beds that were lost when Charity Hospital closed because of Hurricane Katrina.”

On Monday, 191 students graduated from Warren Easton Senior High School in New Orleans, the first complete year together for this group since Katrina. Sitting in the audience were actress Sandra Bullock and her husband Jesse James. Bullock had donated $100,000 to the school to purchase band uniforms and surprised the students by showing up for their graduation. She told the teens, “You are the miracle that came out of this.”

(A little name-dropping here. I don’t recall meeting Sandra Bullock, but she was at a wedding I performed some years back. Her godmother–Dr. Ann McAllister–was a member of our church in Mississippi, and was marrying John Mitchell, a terrific Methodist gentleman and banker in Starkville. Ann ran a travel agency for years and handled all of Sandra’s travel arrangements. They’re good people.)

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Our Women on the Edge Receive the Grand Treatment: May 12, 2007

I waited until now to report on the women’s special day held last Saturday at our associational office. Organizers Becky Hughes, Kathy Frates, and Terry Dickson called it “Spa Day Getaway” and invited all the ministry women and ministry wives from our churches they could locate. They ended up with 70 ladies present and met from 9 am until 3 pm. Back at home, the dads were keeping the kids.

Here is Becky’s report, abbreviated slightly.

“Spa Day Getaway was a smashing success. Our last number of total attendance was 70 women! We turned the Baptist Building into a high end spa for a day. The pastors who meet there each week wouldn’t have recognized the place. Nor would they have been terribly comfortable with the nail polishing, hand massaging, and all around feminity that abounded, I imagine. Only one man was brave enough to enter the Spa Day, our own Dr. Joe came by around lunchtime and read a beautiful poem he picked out for the ladies….”

“The ministers’ wives who attended enjoyed the day so much. I could watch as their precious faces relaxed, some of the tension melted away, and they started to really enjoy themselves.”

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Dr. Jesse Dee Franks of Kentucky

Last week while ministering in the Madisonville/Providence section of Kentucky, something occurred to me. While talking with my hosts Donald and Anna Cole and their longtime friend Thurman Harris (thank you to Barbara Wilcox of Providence who reminded me), they mentioned going to college in Hopkinsville, just down the road. Since their college days were in the 1950s, it occurred to me that they might have studied under Dr. J. D. Franks, who was one of my predecessors pastoring the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi.

They lit up when I mentioned Dr. Franks and had numerous memories of the lovely Christian gentleman from the classroom. By the time he taught them, he was in his sunset years, having pastored FBC-Columbus from 1921 to 1946, I think, and then serving the SBC Foreign Mission Board in Europe following the war. Some of our leaders will be familiar with the Baptist seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland. Dr. Franks chose that site for the seminary in the late 1940s and served as its first unofficial president, then as a teacher and business manager, as I recall. During this period, he led Southern Baptists’ relief work in that part of the world, which following the war was a critical ministry.

Dr. and Mrs. Franks are buried in Hopkinsville. Back in Columbus, the church’s educational building is called “The Franks Building,” named for this pastor who led in its construction during the difficult years of the Great Depression. Oldtimers in Columbus still have numerous stories of this gentleman. I always felt honored to follow him in that pulpit.

Perhaps a year ago, I reported here on the book “Safely Rest” written about Dr. Franks’ search for the body of his son Red who had been a bombardier in the war, and whose plane was shot down over Romania.

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Sunday Potpourri

People are praying for Sheriff Harry Lee. Suffering from a particularly severe form of leukemia, Jefferson Parish’s chief law enforcement officer is in San Diego taking chemotherapy. A group calling itself “Prayerful Friends of Harry Lee” purchased a full page ad in Sunday’s Times-Picayune and invited five spiritual leaders to write a brief prayer for the sheriff. In addition to the Catholic archbishop, the rabbi of one of our leading Jewish temples, and the pastor of Faith Church, the president of the Jefferson Muslim Association and the dean of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral wrote prayers.

As one who went through a bout with cancer a couple of years back, I understand their involvement of all the religions. In that situation, you welcome every prayer you can get.

Here is the prayer of Father Anthony Stratis of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

“Master and lord of hosts, our God, who is seated upon the Cherubim and praised in hymns by the Seraphim, accept us and this prayer that we offer for Sheriff Harry Lee. From Your holy dwelling place, and drawing upon Your compassion, walk with Your servant and grant him healing of body and soul. Bless and guide the hands of those to whom You have given the talent to effect the cure of ailing as You show mercy upon Your suffering servant. For Yours it is to show mercy and to save, and to You we ascribe glory, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.”


The First Baptist Church of Kenner where I belong did something today it has never done before: congratulated Dr. Ken Gabrielse, minister of music, on his 15 years on the church staff. The church was formed in December of 1926 and as far as I can determine, has never had a staffer–and certainly not a pastor–to stay 15 years.

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Anyone Could Have Told Bartimaeus

Anyone could have told Bartimaeus not to make a fool of himself that day when Jesus came to town. As soon as someone said the Man of Galilee was on His way into the city, the blind beggar commenced to yell and carry on, trying to attract the Lord’s attention. When the city fathers tried to shush him–“Hey, we’re trying to make a good impression here, friend. Hold it down!”–Bartimaeus hollered that much louder.

Anyone could have told him he would have other opportunities to meet Jesus, that the Lord was still a young man–some said in His early 30s–and He would be back this way again. No need to lose one’s dignity. All things come to him who waits, someone must have said.

They were wrong of course. This was Jesus’ final trip through Jericho and the last chance Bartimaeus would ever have to meet Him. He had no way of knowing that. All he knew was that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of his hopes and dreams, and that given the opportunity to meet him, nothing and no one would stand in his way.

Bartimaeus, the smartest man in Jericho.

Anyone could have told Zaccheus he was wasting his time trying to get near Jesus that same day in Jericho. This little shrimp of a man–tax collector, dishonest businessman, traitor to his nation, and thus despised by one and all–lost what dignity he had that morning, running around trying to find a good spot to see the Savior. He ended up climbing a tree and roosting on its branches, just for a glimpse of the Man of Galilee.

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Headline News

The newspapers piled up while I was away in Nashville and Kentucky. So, this afternoon–Friday–I stacked them up on the kitchen table and went through them. Briefly, I hope, here is the news….

1) The population of New Orleans is up 14 percent. According to GCR and Associates–if you need a name for that organization, it’s Mike Flores, deacon in FBC of New Orleans–the present population of New Orleans proper is 255,137. That compares to 223,001 a year ago. And bear in mind, it’s just within the city limits, and has nothing to do with the 400,000 to 500,000 who live next door in Jefferson Parish.

2) The Times-Picayune of May 4 produced a map of the city subdivided into the various neighborhoods, showing how the population has grown in that area. Lakeview, for instance, counts 8,216 residents, which is up 36 percent from a year ago and about 35 percent of its pre-Katrina population. Gentilly counts 17,275 residents, up 42 percent from last year and about 37 percent of its pre-K population.

3) The city of Kenner has closed its tourist center, a longtime fixture at the intersection of Loyola and Interstate 10. Originally erected for the 1984 World’s Fair, it continued to serve the public until this week when Mayor Ed Muniz decided the $135,000 annual budget could be better spent. Marilyn Woodward, longtime member of FBC-Kenner, has done great work for the city there.

4) More letters to the editor, beating dead horses. “What are all those thousands of unused FEMA trailers doing sitting in the open fields up toward Hattiesburg?” someone wanted to know. (Answer: FEMA ordered them. Duh.) “I’m 86 years old, living in Dallas with my son, and can’t get any information out of the Road Home Program.” After letters and repeated e-mails. Answer: your guess is as good as mine.

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About Your Mothers Day Sermon, Pastor

Two weeks ago, I asked six young pastors, “What text have you chosen for your Mothers Day sermon?” No one had an answer. The common response was, “That’s a hard sermon for me to preach; I’ve not found my sermon yet.”

Two nights ago, while in revival in Kentucky, I asked two veteran pastors the same question. We were having dinner together, and–bear in mind–it was Wednesday night before Mothers Day. Both of them shook their heads and said, “I don’t have my sermon for Mothers Day. That’s a hard one for me to do.”

Why is it so difficult for pastors of all ages to preach Mothers Day sermons? My hunch is it has nothing to do with faulty relationships with their mothers. It has more to do with two realities: a) they do not want to go all-sentimental and just preach a “how wonderful is motherhood” sermon, and yet are not clear what to do; and b) they are men. Let us admit the obvious here, we men are out of our league trying to assess what mothers go through and the challenges they face.

So, we will cut the pastors some slack and pray for them, that the Father will give them the sermons He wants them to preach.

That said, I have some stories/ideas/suggestions.

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My Son the Web-Master

I clipped the neatest cartoon out of our newspaper the other morning and sent it to Neil and Marty.

Two elderly ladies were sitting in rocking chairs on the porch of the old folks’ home. One says, “My son never visits my website.” The other is saying, “Mine does, but he never buys anything.”

That’s too hilarious.

Both my boys visit my website. In fact, Marty keeps it up when he’s not doing computer stuff for the Bank of America in downtown Charlotte, NC. (And no, they don’t buy anything.)

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