Why they don’t trust us

Our governor is in the nation’s capitol today, asking lawmakers to come up with another $5 billion for the Road Home Program. The headline in Wednesday’s paper announces this is going to be a “hard sell.”

Congress doesn’t trust our leaders. No wonder, when you consider the shenanigans of many of them.

Across the top of today’s front page, we read that an ex-school board member has admitted to taking bribes from the brother of embattled Congressman William Jefferson to influence board policy. Mose Jefferson himself has been prominent in the news as the partner of his little brother William in all kinds of business deals, some of which now appear to have the potential of sending them both up the river.

Ellenese Brooks-Simms had presented herself as a foe of corruption in running for the Orleans Parish School Board in 2000. She was outspoken in her criticism of Superintendent Al Davis, particularly when it came out that Davis’ elderly father, a custodian at Carver High School, had racked up enough overtime to bring his annual income to $70,000. Brooks-Simms was relentless in her outcries against cronyism and corruption, so Davis was terminated and Anthony Amato was hired. Within a year, Brooks-Simms and some of her pals on the school board were trying to oust Amato when the citizenry decided they had had enough of such shenanigans. In the 2004 election, she was voted out along with a number of other board members, and a council of responsible, more proven leaders was chosen.

Now, this prophet of righteousness, this thorn in the side of all who would try to cheat the public, this voice for goodness, Ellenese Brooks-Simms will be going to jail. She admits that she took $100,000 from Mose Jefferson in order to support a program for the schools called “I CAN Learn.” The newspaper makes it clear the educational program as such is highly respectable and popular. The owner of the company says he hired Mose Jefferson as a consultant in order to introduce him to movers and shakers in the local educational community. “You can’t just cold-call a superintendent,” he said. The contract gave Jefferson $500,000 and stipulated that the agreement was immediately canceled by any “untoward activity.”

“Untoward”–an adverb meaning adverse or vexatious. Yes, I’d say we have had–and perhaps still have–plenty of vexatious political leaders down here. Not all, thank the Lord. But we keep getting these revelations about the wheeling and dealing that has gone on behind the curtain, and pretty soon you decide not to trust any of them.

That’s what congressional leaders in Washington are no doubt concluding.

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Leadership Principle No. 4–Appreciate your support team.

I dropped by the governor’s office before leaving town. He was a member of the church I’d been serving, and now that I had been called to another pastorate several hours away, I wanted to thank him for his encouragement and ask for an autographed picture. He was more than accommodating and effusive in his praise of my work.

Pulling out a poster-sized photo, the governor picked up a magic marker and wrote across the bottom, “To Joe McKeever–the greatest preacher in the world!” I thanked him and slipped out.

In the hallway, I bumped into an old friend who worked for the governor. I showed him the poster and said, “I can’t hang that in my office! It’s too ‘over the top.'” He smiled and said, “Joe, he does that for every person who walks in the office. But the people who work for him are dying for a word of appreciation from him.”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson.

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Tampering with the mail?

Two pieces of mail arrived Monday afternoon that stood out from the advertisements and circulars.

The first was an oversize envelope from Congressman Bobby Jindal who has announced his candidacy for governor of Louisiana, hoping to succeed Kathleen Blanco who wisely decided not to try for a return engagement. The outside of the envelope shouts in bold red letters: “Photograph enclosed. Do not bend.” My natural impulse was to toss it in the trash, but it’s hard to do that with a photograph. Let’s see what we’ve got here.

Inside was a nice 4 x 6″ color photo of our congressman and his lovely Supriya, smiling up at me like I’ve just pronounced them husband and wife. Accompanying the photo is a letter back to Bobby which they’ve gone to the trouble of writing for me. Aren’t they accommodating?

“Dear Bobby, Thank you for sending my personalized photograph of you and Supriya. I will display it proudly as a part of your campaign leadership team. I agree our state needs a fresh start. Enclosed is my gift of:” and then I have my choice of marking $1,000 or $500 or even several lesser amounts.

Underneath all that, I can check one of the following: “My photograph arrived in good condition” or “My photograph is damaged. Please send a replacement.” And below that is a long list of jobs which I can volunteer for.

I mean, what nice folks, making it so easy for me to give away my money and commit my time and energy. And did you notice how smoothly they transitioned from talking about the photo to volunteering me for his campaign team?

The other piece of mail was not even that up front with its identity and purpose. In fact, the only thing found on the face of the envelope other than my name and address was this: “Warning: $2,000 fine, 5 years imprisonment, or both for any person interfering or obstructing with delivery of this letter. U.S. Mail TTT.18 SEC. 1702 U.S. Code.”

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One Baptist Church in Ten?

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I preached last Sunday at West St. Charles Baptist Church in Boutte and tried to prepare them for the changes they could expect under a new pastor they will soon be getting. A couple of weeks earlier, I did the same for FBC Belle Chasse as they welcome a new pastor any day now.

This morning, I preached at FBC of Norco and tried to help them appreciate the changes they are already experiencing under the new pastor God sent them some 6 months ago.

I’ve chronicled here the complete revamping that occurred at this small church a few miles west of the New Orleans airport after Rudy French came as pastor. I told them, “Everywhere I go, I tell the Norco story–how you were willing to redo your building and your programs in order to host visiting church teams that would come and help you reach people for the Lord.” I explained, “Now, we have a number of churches set up for hosting teams of volunteers to go into the city and help rebuild homes, but you are the only church geared up to take those teams from door to door and tell people about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Worship leader Ben Blackwell announced that in vacation Bible school this week, FBC Norco enrolled 89 children and perhaps 20 adult workers, and had 24 children saved. That’s an incredible ratio. Minister of Education Kenneth Tew announced that tonight he will be meeting a team of 7 volunteers at the airport, a group of Coloradans coming to minister in the area while staying in their facilities.

This church is slowly but surely making a difference in the community.

I suppose they would not be a typical Southern Baptist church if this transition had not been difficult for some of them. That’s what I tried to address this morning.

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Growing Up and Getting Married

Jason and Brina were married Saturday behind a Slidell plantation house that backs up to Bayou Liberty with all the swamps and cypress and thick undergrowth–and probably a few alligators and other critters–one would expect in South Louisiana. It was a gorgeous setting for a June wedding.

The ceremony took place in front of the swimming pool. At the rehearsal I cautioned the groomsmen and bridesmaids to be careful. “We don’t want anyone appearing on America’s Favorite Videos by falling into the pool in your wedding clothes.” A few minutes before the wedding, when I sought out the bride and her maids to make sure they’re clear on the proceedings, Brina smiled, “You don’t think Jason is going to throw me into the pool, do you?” I said, “Surely not.” Not Jason. Her sister Dina said, “If he tries, I’ll stop him.” Oh yeah.

I’ve done a few weddings in outdoor settings over the years–including one at a plantation house a few miles upriver from New Orleans that was held on February 2, 2002 at 2:02 pm–but never without remembering something I heard on the radio. A soft rock station was playing America’s favorites and the host invited listeners to phone in stories about their requests. A woman called. “We were getting married in a public park. It was a beautiful setting, and even though people were jogging and sunbathing near us, we had that little corner of the park to ourselves. Suddenly, at a quiet moment in the ceremony some kid walks through the park carrying a boom box on his shoulder. It’s blaring out the David Cassidy song, ‘I Think I Love You! (So what am I so afraid of?)'” The caller said, “Everyone broke up. It was so perfect. Ever since, that has been our song.”

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Leadership Principle No. 3–Earn the Right to Lead

I’m thinking about two deacons, both warm-hearted effective men of God. It wasn’t always that way.

“I don’t want him on the deacons,” I told the committee assigned to recommend the next group to be elected by the church. “Trust me on this. He has no business bearing this responsibility.”

I hoped they would drop the matter there. The man in question, I’ll call him Malachi, had been a deacon for several terms, was inactive at the moment and was being considered for re-election.

Pastors know things about church members few others do, as a rule, and yet we don’t want to talk about these things in open forums. Or anywhere else, for that matter. (I once asked in a personnel committee meeting, “Can we speak in confidence here?” The chairman said, “Pastor, I wouldn’t say anything in this room you don’t want repeated.” That was good advice.)

After the committee adjourned, one of the men followed me into my office. “I have to know,”he said. “What is this secret about Malachi that disqualifies him from serving as a deacon.” When I hesitated, he said, “He’s meant a lot to this church through the years. There may be something we can do for him.”

I said, “He’s being seen regularly at the casino, gambling. It appears he’s going there every day and staying for hours.”

The leader said, “You know this for a fact?” I told him of a certain church-member-in-name-only whom I bump into occasionally, who had told me this. “And you believe him?” I said, “Oh yes. He has his faults, but dishonesty is not one of them.”

“Then, let’s talk to him,” he said. Talk to Malachi.

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They’re Talking About New Orleans

The Southern Baptist Convention voted in San Antonio today to meet in New Orleans in June of 2012. The last time they gathered here was the year 2000, and before that it was 1996. I have vivid memories of both times, since I chaired the Local Arrangements Committee, charged with hosting the event.

Jay Adkins, the young pastor of FBC Westwego went to the microphone in San Antonio and urged them to come earlier. “We need you now,” he said. A young pastor from Oxford, Mississippi, echoed his point and emphasized repeatedly, “Let’s take this city for Christ.”

Vice-President for Convention Affairs (or some such imposing title) Jack Wilkerson addressed the convention and made the following points. 1) Normally, we meet in the Super Dome, but since the Hyatt next door has not reopened, that’s out. 2) We want to meet in the Morial Convention Center and the Hilton next door is operating. 3) It takes a good 5 years to secure accommodations for this meeting in order to reserve the second week of June. (Jack said we always try to hold it prior to Father’s Day.) 4) We have financial commitments with the cities where we are now scheduled to go, and if we cancel one to move to New Orleans, we will a) lose a lot of money and b) lose faith with those cities.

So, the messengers voted to come here five years from now. I’ll be long off the scene, and a rusty age 72. I told Jack Wilkerson recently that he would, too. He said, “Maybe so.” Ha. I guarantee it. He and I will sit in the senior citizens section. If they have one.

Immediately after that vote, SBC President Frank Page told the thousands of messengers in the arena, “You don’t have to wait until 2012 to go to New Orleans. My church (FBC Taylors, SC) has been down there 9 times, working to rebuild the city and bear a witness for Christ. Hear the call of the Lord, friends. They need our help in New Orleans and all across the Gulf Coast, areas still coming back after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Hear the Lord’s call!”

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Getting Serious About Your Bible

Bobby has been holding down his part of that pew for the last several years now, hearing nearly a hundred sermons and several times that many hymns and choruses, and he has come to a decision. He is tired of being lost when the minister asks everyone, “Turn in your Bibles to Luke 5,” or John 3, or Psalm 119.

Bobby patiently turns until he finds the passage in question, then follows along with the reading and sits back and listens to the minister open it up. And Bobby feels lost. Without a proper understanding of the Scripture–what it is, what it means, what God intends–he might as well be dropping in on a meeting of scientists and him the custodian. He’s in way over his head.

And that’s how Bobby came to his decision: he’s going to get serious about reading his Bible.

Two rows behind him sits Margie, and she’s made a similar decision. Margie has been a member of First Church for thirty years. She and Thomas joined back when the children were small and they were looking for a church with a good program for the little ones. The children are grown now, with families of their own, but First Church is home to Margie and Thomas and as familiar as their living room. But lately Margie has become dissatisfied with her spiritual life.

That’s why she has decided to get serious about studying her Bible. She figures rightly that it’s a shame she has been a believer all these many years and is still so ignorant about God’s Word. She has made a decision to remedy that situation.

Bobby and Margie have not actually done anything about their decisions to get to know God’s Word; they’ve just made the decision. And they’re at a vulnerable time.

This is the moment when the enemy presents his two greatest lies about God’s Word. Now, he has plenty of misrepresentations in his armory of weapons, slanders, and tricks and some are pretty dastardly, even outright evil. But the two lies he selects to use on Bobby and Margie are rather subtle.

To Bobby, the baby-believer who is ready to dip his toes into the ocean of God’s Word and get acquainted, the enemy uses this one: “It’s too deep. You will never be able to grasp it. No one does. Even the pastors and professors can’t agree on what the Bible says. It contradicts itself. This is beyond you, Bobby. Leave this to the scholars. Go back to sleep.”

He’s lying, Bobby. Seriously and big-time lying.

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Potent Stuff

Sunday night, when I arrived at West St. Charles Baptist Church in the west bank community of Boutte, a huge bus was pulling into the parking lot. Some 30 or so teens and maybe 6 or 8 adults all wearing green t-shirts got off and headed into the church. This lively bunch of vivacious folks were from Second Baptist Church, Odessa, Texas, here to assist the church in its Vacation Bible School this week.

“Where are y’all staying?” I asked, thinking they could be boarding in the Volunteer Village downtown or in one of several churches set up to host volunteer teams. “The Ramada Inn in Luling,” they said.

Since it was their first time in New Orleans since the events of August/September 2005, I adapted my sermon to give them information on the city, its ordeal, and some of the blessings of the Lord we’ve enjoyed in these many intervening months.

Monday morning, David Rhymes stepped into my office to see if I could come have prayer with representatives of several church groups he was briefing about the work they would be doing this week. A dozen people, mostly teens, were in our conference room. “Where are you from?” Benton, Louisiana. Jasper, Alabama. (Since that is right up the road from my home in north Alabama, we had lots to talk about.)

I gave the visitors a brief rundown on our situation and we prayed for them, thanking God for the encouragement of their presence. I asked David how many volunteers are in town right now just from our Baptist churches. “Anywhere from 500 to 1,000,” he said, “and it’s that way every week right on through the summer.”

We feel so blessed.

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Leadership Principle No. 1–Delegation

I was the minister of evangelism at the FBC of Jackson, Mississippi, in my early 30s. That would be the early 1970s. My pastor, Larry Rohrman, was frequently invited to speak out of town and sometimes he would invite me along. I think he wanted a driver more than company. On one of those occasions, he said something that has stayed with me ever since.

“See that little church,” he said as we traveled down a country highway. “In many cases the pastor of that little church can preach just as well as or better than the pastor of the big, growing church. But the difference is that he can’t turn loose of jobs. He has to do everything himself. The other guy, however, puts people to work. He matches the right person to the right job and everyone wins. They get satisfaction from doing their job in the church, the work gets done, the pastor is freed up for other things, the church grows, and the Lord is honored.”

Some pastors can delegate; some cannot. One pastor sees a task that needs doing and starts thinking of who has a gift or the aptitude or at least the willingness for this and he enlists them. The other pastor sees a job and does it. Both are godly, dedicated men of the Lord, but only the first is being fair to his people.

Along about the same time as that conversation with my pastor, I attended a national conference on church management in Atlanta. There were 700 of us packed into the auditorium of that downtown hotel. In the middle of the opening session, as our host was presenting the schedule of the week, a hotel employee approached the platform pushing a vacuum cleaner and proceeded to clean all around the speaker.

At first, the speaker ignored him. Then the employee said, “Sir, can you move over here and let me clean under your feet?”

Our leader was visibly perturbed. He said, “Buddy, could you do that some other time? We’re trying to have a meeting here.”

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