New Orleans Notes and a Personal Word

Friday through Tuesday, I’m in North Alabama visiting with my mother at Nauvoo. Saturday afternoon, members of our 1958 graduating class from Winston County High School are meeting at Jack’s Hamburgers in Double Springs for some fellowship. Sunday morning, I’m preaching in classmate Lynn Pope’s church at 8:30 am. (I’m depending on him to tell me Saturday afternoon where it is and how to get there.) Then at 10:30, I’ll worship with Mom and the family at New Oak Grove Free Will Baptist. At 6 pm (I’m pretty sure), our favorite Nashville gospel trio, No Other Name, does a concert at New Prospect Baptist Church in Jasper, and our family absolutely has to be there! We’ll be bringing them a dozen or so of Mom’s turnovers–apple and blueberry–to eat on their late-night drive back to Music City.

(“No Other Name” is the group in which Laura is the “girl singer.” Laura works at the Baptist Press in Nashville and posts our cartoons on each day. They are an incredible group. Type No Other Name into your search mechanism and go to their website and listen to a sample of their inspiring harmonies. And if you’re in the Jasper area Sunday night, come down Highway 5 to New Prospect and meet them. Laura’s brother Sam sings in the group, as does their friend Chad. Laura’s husband Chris is the manager. Keep your eyes on them. They are really something.)

Anyway, look for no regular postings on this website until Wednesday.

Now, from New Orleans….

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Ten Things to Know About Romans

1. Romans is the Gospel According to Paul.

Granted, it doesn’t look like Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, in the way their Gospels told the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry and interspersed it with His teachings. Paul does it in his own way.

Why is that important to know? Ah, we have the answer to that!

Right now, there are people promoting their religion in your neighborhood who want to give a new interpretation to Holy Scripture. One such group tells of an angel appearing to their founder with golden tablets on which had been written an ancient story. The angel provided special glasses for the man to look through and decipher the writings. The result was their new book, their new doctrine, and their new twist on the biblical message of Christ.

Now, in Galatians chapter 1, we find this from the Apostle Paul: “Even though we OR AN ANGEL FROM HEAVEN preach any other gospel to you that what we preached, let him be accursed.”

And then, as though underscoring what he had just said, Paul repeated it. (Gal. 1:8-9)

The point of that is this: we hold in our hands the very message Paul preached up and down the Roman Empire. It’s called “The Epistle to the Romans.” And Paul says anyone preaching anything other than that is declaring a lie and headed for judgment. Slice it any way you please and it comes up that way!

That’s why it’s crucial we help our people to get a solid understanding of Romans.

Someone asked a bank teller, “How did you learn to recognize all the different kinds of counterfeit money people try to slip past you?” She answered, “There’s no way we could learn all the fakes. They just teach us to recognize the real thing. Once we know that, it’s a simple matter to catch the counterfeits.”

In teaching Romans, we are helping our people to know and recognize the real gospel of Jesus Christ. There could be no better preparation for dealing with the shams and fakes combing the streets of your neighborhood looking for the naive and unsuspecting.

2. Romans is deep.

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A “Heads Up” About Romans

The Epistle to the Romans is the mid-winter Bible study book for Southern Baptists. It could possibly be the best Bible study pastors will ever do for their people.

I want to make our readers aware of a couple of things here, particularly for those who will be studying this incredible book or even teaching it.

1. For many years, I have prepared a series of cartoons to accompany the annual Bible study book. I’m working on the ones for Romans right now, and hope to have them ready to post on our website within a week. I’ll be visiting with my Mom in North Alabama Friday-Tuesday and plan to take along my study/drawing materials and see if I can put together 20 or more cartoons. Then, we’ll send them to Marty in North Carolina and as he can, he’ll enlist the help of 10-year-old Darilyn and post them on the blog for your use.

My old friend Dr. John “Bud” Traylor, now living in Baton Rouge and teaching “Romans” everywhere it seems, has already been after me to get these cartoons done!

2. Having pastored for over four decades and having studied/taught “Romans” through the years, I have some insights to share on the epistle which should be of help to anyone planning to teach it. So, we’ll be posting “Joe’s notes on Romans” alongside the cartoons.

3. If you plan to teach Romans sometime this winter, whether in a three or four session setting or to preach a series of sermons through it, I have one huge suggestion to make. Right now, while your “pupils” still have time to prepare, get them to reading through Romans. And while you’re at it, you need to do it yourself.

Somewhere I read that the great Bible teaching pastor G. Campbell Morgan said he never began to teach a book of the Bible until he had read it through forty-two times. I’m fairly sure that was the number he mentioned.

I have a suggestion on how to read through Romans: do it at one sitting. Don’t stop to get out and see the sights or walk around in the neighborhood, just keep reading. At this point, don’t get hung up on verses you find difficult or the parts you find yourself savoring. Just read the entire book.

There! That wasn’t so bad, was it. Now that you’ve shown yourself you can read all 16 chapters at one setting without straining your brain, do it again within two or three days.

And then, after at least two full readings at a time, now go back and read it slowly. You might want to take a segment at the time. What segment?

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Tuesday’s Funeral in Mississippi

Francis and Dorothy Green lived in Metairie for all their married lives, the last 39 years. In the early 90s, someone recommended they attend the First Baptist Church of Kenner, and that’s how I became their pastor. They were a wonderful and faithful couple and a joy to have as friends. Today we held her funeral in McComb, Mississippi.

I used to ask Dot, “Do you ever think of moving to Vicksburg, to be closer to your daughter Debbie?” Her only child. “Oh no,” she would say. “This is my home.” Then Katrina hit. They sold their flooded house in Metairie and bought another in Vicksburg and joined the First Baptist Church there. Today, their pastor, Dr. Matt Buckles, and I shared the honors at her service.

Dot was a painter. The first time she mentioned this to me, I thought, “Oh yeah. Sure you are.” The way people are who take a 6 weeks class at a community college, then try to sell their amateurish doings for big money at an art sale. Then I saw her work, and believe me, she was an artist. In fact, she once served as president of the New Orleans Art Guild and belonged to several other guilds.

One day she said to me, “Take your pick of all my paintings.” I was like a kid in a candy store. The one I chose she had painted in June of 2002 and titled “Misty Bayou.” It has hung above our bed ever since. Monday, I took it down and carried it to our office. Freddie and Ninfa removed it from the frame and laid it across the color copier and made a reduced copy of the picture, then ran off a number of copies. I carried it with me to McComb and gave to daughter Debbie to share with their family and friends. Margaret had given me notice that I was not to carry the original; she was afraid someone would try to talk me out of it. “You’re such a softie, if someone asked for it, you’d give it away.”

I was pleased to meet Dot’s sister Kathryn. I said, “I have told a story about you for years. Now, I want it from your mouth so I can get it right.” Dot had told me the funny story, and I had told and retold it so many times, the details were hazy.

Here’s the story. Waylon Bailey–lover of great sermon illustrations–take note. This one is for you.

Kathryn said, “I was talking to my family about smoking. I said, ‘I hope none of you will ever take up that filthy habit.’ Megan, my 11-year-old granddaughter, moved over and put her arm around my neck and said, ‘Grandma, that’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about with me. No cigarette will ever touch these lips.'”

“Megan was quiet a moment, then she said in all seriousness, ‘Unless I’m drunk.'”

True story. I told it at the funeral, and added, “Dot loved a good story. And she got a special joy out of seeing people enjoy the stories she told.”

That’s why I told the other story in her service.

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THE HOLY SPIRIT: Your Own Personal Private Tutor

From my earliest memory, I have known of and loved the Lord Jesus Christ. At the age of 11, I became one of His disciples. Ten years later, He decided I would serve Him in the ministry and called me out. As I write, I am 67 years old. You can do the math.

Through these years of reading Scripture, of praying, studying, obeying, trying to grow and striving to honor Jesus by serving His people, I have learned some things about the ways of the Lord. Few of these insights came in advance, but only after the events, when I looked back and gave thought to what the Holy Spirit had done, to how He had led and taught me.

Jesus promised His people that the Holy Spirit would be our Teacher. “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26) “He will guide you into all truth…He will take of mine and will disclose it to you.” (John 16:13-14)

The best I can figure, there are 984 ways the Holy Spirit uses to teach any of us. So far, looking back over all these years of serving the Lord, here are the top ten ways the Holy Spirit has taught me.

1. The Holy Spirit teaches us in our failures.

As a college student, I struggled in my attempts to witness for Christ. Before attempting to share with friends or strangers, I literally sweat bullets, the inner agony was so horrific. Then, after three or four years of this–by now I was a student in seminary–I picked up a booklet in a Christian bookstore that might as well have had my name on it: “Here’s How to Win Souls.” A Texas minister had put in print and even in photographs the method he used to present the gospel. I bought the booklet, studied it, learned it, and went across town and led someone to Christ using the principles Gene Edwards and the Holy Spirit had cooperated to send my way.

2. The Holy Spirit teaches us in our everyday experiences.

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Tell Us Your Christmas Story… Please!

My Atlanta friend Jim Graham has a granddaughter–her first name is Graham; wonder why–who is so bright at the age of 9, she could qualify to be a McKeever! The ultimate accolade. Anyway….

This week, Jim told me something Graham did when she was 3 years old. “Darlene and I had gone overboard materialistically,” he said, “and bought her a ton of Christmas presents. On Christmas morning, she was opening her gifts. After unwrapping the third one, she looked at me and said, ‘That’s enough. Give the others to Baby Jesus.'”

Out of the mouths of babes.

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The clipping that dropped from my files is undated and evidently came from the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. The thrust of the article was that the relatives of a victim killed in a bank holdup are suing the bank for failure to provide security. But that’s not what caught my attention.

The four robbers who invaded Peoples Bank that day, taking more than $18,000 and the life of 79-year-old bank customer Willie Pearl Carter, did something truly bizarre. According to the shooter–he’s identified as Ramon Laroi Shorter and a minister’s son, now serving a long sentence in the penitentiary–they wore ski masks and carried .40-caliber Glock pistols. And they prayed.

Just before they entered the bank, the little group of bandits bowed their heads and prayed for success in their venture. Shorter says, “I know it’s kind of awful to say we prayed before we do something illegal, but after we prayed, that’s when we went in and did the job.”

The bank bandits were not the first and won’t be the last to seek the approval of God and the blessings of Heaven upon their wrong doings.

The wife who left her minister husband was certain she was in the will of God, and prayed for the Lord’s blessings upon her new life with another woman’s husband. She was so enthralled with her new circumstances, it just “had” to be the will of God.

The deacon who was embezzling money from the church offerings, often stood at the pulpit in the worship service and called down God’s blessings upon both the gift and the giver.

I have no doubt whatsoever that there are abortionist doctors who bow their heads and pray for success in their procedures.

The evidence just keeps accummulating proving that man is lost.

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LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 34–“Be Careful About Preaching Your Convictions.”

As a young minister, I would preach the value of people having the courage of their convictions. Nothing was more important, I would proclaim, than standing by the values you hold dear. I said that and believed it.

In time I met some church members with convictions that needed to be abandoned. Out of their steadfastness–some would say stubbornness–to their convictions, they were running their church into the ground and destroying its witness to the community.

That was the day I quit preaching about convictions as a positive trait.

Joanie’s husband suggested I call her at home. She was upset about some fundraising thing the young people were doing for their summer mission trip. She felt it was out of place in the church.

Over the phone, I explained to Joanie my deep sensitivity to this very issue, and how the youth minister and I had gone over every aspect of their fundraiser to make sure it was done right. But nothing satisfied Joanie. She was dead-set against the program.

Finally, I pointed her to some biblical principles on the subject. “These are very important, Joanie,” I said, and explained how we were in line with them. I thought I made a good case and was surely winning her over.

When I paused, Joanie said, “I don’t know what the Bible says, but I know what I believe.”

I said, “My friend, you have just ended the conversation. I thought the issue was about what the Bible teaches. If it’s only about what you believe, then there’s not a thing in the world I can do with that.”

I can still hear the echo from many years ago of a couple in my church who were taking issue with me over something I was doing or preaching. Again, I tried to move the discussion to biblical principles. The wife stunned me by insisting, “But we have our convictions!”

I tried as gently as I knew how to remind her that God did not send us to preach our convictions, but the Word of Christ.

A man I know has a conviction that the length of a person’s hair will determine his eternal destiny. He believes it as surely as I believe in the authority of the Scriptures.

I met a woman who believes that smoking one cigarette would send her soul to hell.

I met a man who believes he can live any way he chooses and never darken the door of a church and still go to Heaven because he belongs to a church of a particular denomination.

Convictions are not the same as truth. They may be, of course, and ideally should be. But we should never make the mistake of giving our convictions an equal place with God’s Word. I think it’s safe to say that Hitler and Stalin had their convictions. The Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my door this morning have theirs. The Mormons have theirs, the Catholics theirs, and yes, I have mine.

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Going Into the Unknown

On Christmas Day, 1939, Britain’s King George VI, the father of Elizabeth II, decided to do something he detested and speak publicly on the radio. He had a speech defect known as a stammer, but determined he would revive a custom his late father had started and bring an annual message to the British people. This being the first Christmas of the war with Germany, he rightly thought they could use the encouragement.

While the king and his staff were working on his broadcast message, someone sent a clipping from the Times of London to Buckingham Palace. The little article contained a prayer of sorts that had been found on a postcard in the desk of a deceased Bristol doctor. That man’s daughter had used it on greeting cards, one of which was received by a Mrs. J. C. M. Allen of Clifton, who had kept it. Realizing the words were appropriate for her country at the outbreak of the war, she passed the postcard on to the newspaper.

Just after 3 pm on Christmas Day, King George began with these words to his people: “A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted. In the meantime I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you.”

Then, he delivered the lines which had come their circuitous route, from the doctor’s office to his daughter, to Mrs. Allen who sent it to the Times, and thence to the palace. Now, those words were being given to the world.

“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.'”

In his book “1940,” Laurence Thompson tells what happened next.

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LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 33–“Expect Hardship.”

You do yourself no favor when you go up against a great challenge and expect nothing but smooth sailing all the way.

The football team that prevails on a Saturday afternoon is the one with coaches and players who anticipate difficulties. Obviously, that includes preparing for the game strategy of the opposing team, but it also involves key players getting injured, the weather turning bad, and the ball taking the wrong bounce. “What will we do if this happens?”

What actually separates the average coach from his superior colleague, I’ll leave to those more knowledgeable than me. But surely one key element is that the winning coach consistently out-plans–and this means he “out-expects”–his opponent.

Paul and Barnabas were at a crucial point. They had set out months ago on this, the first-of-its-kind missionary trek, to take the gospel to villages and cultures that had never heard of Jesus Christ. They journeyed to Cyprus out in the middle of the Mediterranean (that was Barnabas’ familiar territory), then north to Asia Minor–Paul’s stomping grounds–where they went from city to city spreading the word. Now, everything inside them said it was time to stop and return home.

“Let’s do this,” one said to the other. “Let’s retrace our steps and revisit the disciples we’ve made on our journey. Let’s offer them some encouragement and assist them in their organization.”

I can hear the other saying, “And we need to prepare them for the hardships ahead. We have to tell them the unvarnished fact, that only through much tribulation do we enter the Kingdom.” (My version of Acts 14:22)

Between here and Heaven expect a lot of obstacles.

No rose-colored glasses allowed in this Kingdom, friend. When you chose to follow Jesus Christ, you set yourself against the culture around you, the standards of the world, and the way of life of almost everyone you know. You had been floating downstream; now you are swimming upstream. Expect it to be hard.

That’s important counsel for new believers, true, but it’s a necessary reminder to veteran Christian workers who set out to do anything important in this world for God.

The winning strategy for a pastor, the spiritual coach if you will, has a familiar look to it: going into a stewardship campaign or a building program or an outreach emphasis or any of a hundred other new directions for his church, he sits down with his leadership to plan for every eventuality. Who will do what? What will our approach be? When will each segment be added? What kind of report system and accountability structure will we have? What will it cost and where will the money come from? What have we left out?

And then this one: What trouble can we expect and how can we prepare for it?

There’s a certain naivete’ that afflicts servants of the Lord, that goes like this: “If the Lord is in it, it cannot fail.”

The only problem with that is that it assumes God gets everything He wants. And this would mean the present state of affairs in the world and in the church is exactly what God wants.

Who in his right mind believes that?

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