New Day for Louisiana?

Bobby Jindal is the first governor of any state in the union of Indian descent. His parents came to America, settled in Baton Rouge, and Bobby was born there. He converted from Hinduism as a teenager and became a Catholic. He lives in Kenner and is the brainiest person on the planet. Monday, he was sworn in as Louisiana’s new governor, replacing Kathleen Babineaux Blanco who carries her Katrina-related scars with her into retirement. Jindal is 36 years old, making him the youngest sitting governor in the land.

What does “sitting governor” mean? And why do they express it like that? Is there any other kind of governor.

Tuesday, Jindal confirmed our faith in him. In his first full day in office, he spoke to the legislature and announced that everyone in his administration will file annual financial reports and that he will be asking the legislature to do that too. He said, “We are going to be transparent!”

Uh, Bobby, some of them aren’t going to like that. But good for you. Now, make it stick.

One of the ways our state is unique is that the governor has substantial power over the legislature. I’ve lived in states where the chief executive had zero authority over the state senate and house of representatives and the citizens paid dearly for the weakness of the office. In Louisiana, if you get the right governor, things can happen quickly.

One thing our governor does is to select the speaker of the house and the leader of the senate. It still has to be confirmed by the actual vote of the members, but the governor has such power in other ways they don’t dare cross him. That’s how Jim Tucker of Algiers became our new speaker.

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LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 41–“Slough Off the Petty Stuff”

I would have said “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but someone has already said it–and made a truckload of money from a best-selling book by that title. But, the point is the same.

Someone offended you. I’m not talking about an attack on your person on the one hand or an imaginary slight on the other, but a real one nevertheless. They overstepped their bounds and shot down a project you had been working on. When they did, it not only frustrated your efforts but saddled you with the work of cleaning up everything you had done.

Sound familiar?

I took a phone call from the assistant to a distinguished church leader, asking if I could set up a breakfast meeting the following Monday. This would be his first visit to our city and an opportunity for our pastors and other key leaders to meet him. I made some phone calls and e-mails, asked my helpers to assist in getting certain ones to the meeting, and worked with the marketing manager of a local hotel to set up the breakfast. She and I swapped e-mails, sending credit card information and contracts back and forth. Finally, everything was set.

Late the night before the event, a phone call informed me that the event had been moved to another location across town. One of my colleagues had inquired at the hotel about the breakfast with a desk clerk who had no information about it, but who told him there must have been a mistake, that they did not do such things. My friend panicked, lined up another site for the breakfast, and informed our distinguished guest and his party about the new location.

Apparently, it never occurred to him to check with anyone.

After recovering from this late-night phone call, I had some work to do. Since my files were at the office across town, I made a list from memory of everyone who had been invited to the breakfast. Early the next morning, I began calling each one to inform them of the change in plans. Then, I drove to the hotel just in case I had missed anyone. There in the lobby sat one of our pastors, waiting for the others. I sent him on his way, then stayed longer to make sure no one else came.

Since I had to be at a church across the river in mid-morning, I missed the breakfast and meeting the out-of-town guest.

Later, I learned heard that we had a good turnout, the breakfast was excellent, the meeting went well, and the guest made a positive impression.

The only one who was inconvenienced was me.

At this point, I had a choice to make. I could sulk and stroke my wounded pride, or get on with the day since nothing was lost. Everyone had had a great meeting, the guest had accomplished his purpose, and all was well.

I sloughed it off. No harm, no foul. No offense.

An hour later, I was teaching Paul’s “Epistle to the Romans” at Oak Park Baptist Church and thoroughly enjoying myself.

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“We Have a Healthy Church.”

A student as well as staffer at our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Don Pike serves the Ames Boulevard Baptist Church in Marrero as a part of the Unlimited Partnership program. He leads the congregation in education, discipleship, and evangelism. Recently, when our U.P. students reported on their ministries at their monthly gathering, Don announced, “I have the privilege of serving on the staff of a healthy church.”

Today, I dropped in on the morning worship service at the Ames Boulevard Baptist Church. Tommy Plaisance, another seminary student and–easily betrayed by his accent–a native of Cajunland, serves as the pastor. Don did the welcome in the service, then played the guitar while his wife Donna led the worship from the keyboard. It was a warm-hearted service with upbeat praise choruses and strong biblical preaching.

Tommy preached the famous passage from Philippians 3 where Paul lists his credentials, then tosses them in the trash. “I count all things but loss for Christ.” Tommy’s sermon dealt with decisions we make “with the end in view.” Paul’s purpose was to know Christ better, experience His fellowship in sufferings, and know the power of His resurrection. In light of that end, he made some tough decisions.

I sat there in the service reflecting on Don’s statement that it was a healthy congregation. Rick Warren says in one of his books that the next issue facing the church is not church growth but church health. Working with nearly a hundred of our Baptist churches throughout metro New Orleans, all in various stages of health, some strong and vigorous and some on life support, I completely agree.

What exactly is a healthy church?

Someone has observed that all unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways, but happy families all seem to have certain things in common. That surely must hold true for church health. Sick churches are a dime a dozen and each has its own kind of malady, but healthy churches seem to be alike in a lot of ways.

Here is my brief take on this.

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The Only Thing I’ll Say About Politics (Probably)

According to a news program this week, most people are still neutral about the field of Democratic and Republican candidates sparring in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, and soon Michigan and South Carolina. We’re sitting back watching, waiting to see who’s standing at the end of the marathon, and then we’ll decide.

I’m one of the many who thought it was presumptuous of this fellow Baptist preacher–from Hope, Arkansas yet–to declare for the presidency. I mean, a preacher? Lo and behold, the more I hear from Mike Huckabee, the more I like him.

I’m leading up to sharing something from a Newsweek article, but first, in the interests of full disclosure, here is my take on the main candidates….

Hillary? I’d like to have a woman for president. This nation is long overdue. And I think she would make a good one in a hundred areas. But for me, these are the negatives: she’s too liberal, she has all this baggage (think: Bill and his cohorts) left over from the 1990s, and she is being supported by all the far left (scary) groups.

Mitt? He sounds so good. But, I’m afraid of his religion. I told you this is full disclosure. I am not objective toward his religion. It’s a truly bizarre twist on Christianity and a faulty interpretation of God’s revelation in the Scriptures. It’s based on a con pulled by Joe Smith and furthermore, many of its leaders know that and cover it up. I have trouble trusting anyone gullible enough to believe in that religion.

McCain? Pretty good. Solid citizen. I like a lot about him, but he’s 72 now, which is 5 years older than me and man, I can feel my “powers” diminishing. Not sure we ought to be electing someone at that age.

Obama? Untested. He’s just not been around long enough at the center of power, if you want to call the U.S. Senate that, for my taste. We have a way in America of electing novices (present occupant of the White House included) and letting them get on-the-job training. I do think this country is overdue for an African-American president, and if it happens, it would be good for us. I’m puzzled at John Kerry and others jumping on his bandwagon just because he can make a good speech.

Rudy? Nah. Fred? Nah. Edwards? Hah.

Mike Huckabee? Yep.

Now, here’s what made me decide to post something on this blog about it.

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An Open Letter to our Pastors

Everyone has his hand out for money.

When I turn off the interstate onto Elysian Fields Avenue headed to the office, there’s a guy with a “Hungry” sign standing there in the weeds giving drivers that stare guaranteed to ruin the rest of their day if they don’t hand him their loose change.

When I joined the National World War II museum in our city, I quickly discovered the most immediate benefit was monthly letters asking for more money than the measly annual fees. Same with the public radio station here in town. And now the LSU athletic program needs our help.

Arguably, the most successful collegiate athletic program in the country–not only in football, with the LSU Tigers winning the national championship last Monday night, but in baseball and other sports where they are regular contenders for top honors–LSU has announced they need a little more money from season ticket holders.

Interestingly, the university is not raising ticket prices; they’re increasing the “surcharge” which season ticket holders pay in order to qualify them to purchase season tickets. Got that? A fascinating bit of reasoning here. According to the news release Thursday, surcharges will range from $50 to $400 per person. And why would they be doing this after a year when the stadium is regularly sold out and where you have to know someone to get on the list for a season ticket? Athletic Director Skip Bertman says they need to raise $14 million more each year to pay for the higher costs of the program and to build a new dorm for the band.

The band needs a dorm?

Here’s a paragraph from the Times-Picayune story in Friday’s paper: “Membership (dues) in the Tiger Athletic Foundation, the school’s athletic fund-raising arm (are) expected to increase. It all goes to feed an increasingly insatiable need to keep up with the Joneses, or, in this case, the Floridas and the Alabamas.”

That brings back a small memory from 20 years ago.

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Dumb Crooks and Solid Citizens

We have a candidate for the densest criminal of the year. He was caught yesterday going 125 mph in a school zone two blocks from my house. But wait, it gets worse.

When the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputy ran a check on his car, it came back as stolen–but belonging to this man, the driver who had just been pulled over. “Nope, not stolen,” he said. “That was all a mistake.”

Just to be safe, the deputy called for a policeman from nearby Harahan to come over, since it was that town’s complaint about the car’s being stolen.

The car was stolen all right–from the police compound. The Harahan Police Department had confiscated the car recently when the owner–our speeder–was caught with drugs. So what he did was break into the police compound and steal his car back. The cops weren’t real happy with our boy.

What I can’t figure out is, if you are in possession of a stolen car, why would you drive 125 miles an hour anywhere, let alone through a school zone?

Unless he was whacked out on drugs. That would account for the bizarre behavior and would surely make him the dumbest crook of any year, for my money.

Monday night, prior to the BCS championship game at the Superdome, plainclothed cops circulated among the fans on the streets in search of crooks selling fake tickets for big money. The newspaper did not say if they arrested anyone or how many, but Wednesday’s paper tells the story of some disappointed fans who traveled half a continent to get to our city, then blew $500 each for several tickets that turned out to be fakes. They ended up watching the ball game from a bar near the dome.

In this case, it wasn’t only the scammers who were dumb. The reason this kind of con works at all is that people are too trusting and unwilling to double check before handing over their money.

It would have been so simple to say to the seller, “Come with me over here to the turn stile. If they take this ticket, you get the money.”

Monday morning in Baton Rouge, they’re inaugurating Bobby Jindal as Louisiana’s newest governor. The boy wonder, this brainy young man who has impressed people all his life with his smarts has gone from success to success in his career. From all reports, he is assembling an all-star team of advisors and colleagues. We’ll be watching eagerly to see what he proposes and is able to pull off in the way of rebuilding New Orleans.

Bobby Jindal is from Kenner, our New Orleans suburb just to the west (the airport sits inside the city limits of Kenner), and has been our congressman for a couple of terms. He’s an active Catholic with a born-again testimony, and has the outspoken support of most of the politically active evangelicals I know.

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The Bible and the Times-Picayune

1) All day Tuesday in New Orleans, the talk was of Monday night’s championship football game. I had calls and emails from all across the country, mostly expatriate LSU-ers who watched the contest on television and wish they could be here to share the excitement.

Alas, most of the excitement I saw was limited to two kinds: party-ers in the French Quarter (which I saw only on television) and people calling in to talk shows. The rest of us read the paper (4 inch headline: CHAMPS and underneath: Tigers First to Win Second BCS Title) and caught people talking about it on the TV or radio. We just felt good and went on about our business, the same way Greg did in Alexandria, Virginia, Justin did in Acworth, Georgia, and Jerry did in Paris, Tennessee.

Interestingly, Ohio State people were calling in to register their appreciation for the city. Caller after caller said things like, “Great city. Wonderful people. We had a lovely time.” One fellow said people downtown would see his Ohio State shirt and call out, “Tiger bait!” and that would be followed by a smile and “Welcome to New Orleans! Thanks for coming!”

I was thinking this, then the radio host voiced it: “Not like when our Saints fans go to Chicago and are treated like the scum of the earth.”

Someone then said, “Well, we have some bad apples down here, too. Let’s not forget that and get too self-righteous.”

The people who study such things are saying the financial impact of last night’s game–with all the tourists in town, hotel and restaurant expenditures, etc.–was a greater boon to the local economy than the last Super Bowl that met here. “The greatest thing for New Orleans since Katrina,” one economist said.

2) The Corps of Engineers is looking for clay to line the levees. They only need a hundred million cubic yards of the stuff, a kind of clay also known as “borrow.”

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10 Ways to Tell You’re Slipping

It’s surprising how God’s people awaken one day and suddenly realize they have fallen away from the closeness they used to enjoy with the Lord. The signs have been there all along, but they were not paying attention.

Here are some tests I have discovered for spotting signs of slippage in my own walk with the Lord, evidence that I’m losing the intimacy with Him that always meant so much in my personal life.

10. You know you’re slipping when the big thing you look forward to on a Sunday is a football game.

9. You know you’re slipping when reading the Bible no longer excites you, angers you, or challenges you.

8. You know you’re slipping when you finally get up off the couch and get involved in some ministry the Lord has been laying on your heart and the first thing you do is start criticizing all the other couch potatoes who are only doing the same thing you have been doing all this time.

7. You know you’re slipping when, after slacking off in your tithing over the past year, instead of feeling guilty, you find yourself criticizing the regular tithers for their self-righteous and legalistic attitudes.

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Progress Report

Faith Baptist Church gets their own building!

This wonderful small congregation was formed five or six years ago by a group of members of First Baptist-New Orleans when the mother congregation voted to move from St. Charles Avenue out to the Lakeview section. The “Faith” group felt someone should maintain a ministry in the uptown section of New Orleans.

The church has not had a permanent location or a permanent pastor all this time. For a long time, they shared space with the First Presbyterian of New Orleans, and since Katrina, they’ve met at Rayne United Methodist Church on St. Charles. They’ve had excellent interim pastors, including Roger Sullivan, Argile Smith, and for the past 3 years or so, Tim Searcy.

Friday, Faith’s leaders met at the lawyer’s office in downtown New Orleans to sign the papers and make official the purchase of the property at South Claiborne Street and Fern which was formerly the Second Church of Christ, Scientist. That congregation, which had dwindled to 25 prior to Katrina, never reassembled afterwards due to the damage on their buildings and the resettlement of their members.

I was present for the signing, just to share their joy.

Faith will be renovating the sanctuary and educational building before moving in, but they are elated and we are for them. That neighborhood would be jumping for joy, too, if they knew how the Lord has just blessed them with these new neighbors.

The Baptist Crossroads Foundation Board held its annual meeting Saturday morning.

No matter what part of the U.S. you live in, you’ve probably seen on television or in print the homes that are being built by the Baptist Crossroads. The houses all have the same architecture and are multi-colored in some vividly bright hues. Pastor David Crosby heard a volunteer say he was working “down at Skittles-Land!”

Pastor Fred Luter and I were the only two non-First Baptist Church boardmembers present. Looking around the church’s youth room where we were meeting, I noticed two lawyers, a banker, an educator, and several businessmen. One businesswoman. I told them I wanted to make an observation.

“I’ve been in a lot of churches and have pastored seven congregations. But I have never seen a group of church members get behind the vision of the pastor–and that’s what you have done–and bring it to reality the way you folks have done. It is most impressive and I’d just like to say to you, ‘Well done.’ The Lord is honored by what you are doing. Each one of you brings certain gifts and expertise to this ministry.”

A couple of people said, “You should have been in church the day David presented the vision to the congregation. You knew immediately that this was of God. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It has been a privilege.”

The church group (we can call it the Baptist Crossroads “Board”, but let’s face it–it’s a ministry of the First Baptist Church of New Orleans) has taken into their hearts not only the charge to build new homes in this 70 block area, but to do all in its power to help in the rebuilding of other homes and the rebirth of the people who live there. We’re glad to know that Pastor Fred Luter’s Franklin Avenue Baptist Church is also helping minister to the residents.

Board members were presented with maps–aerial photos actually–of the assigned area, with symbols to indicate which homes are gutted, which have had no activity of rebuilding of any kind since Katrina, and which are in good shape. With slightly more than 2,000 homes on the map, nearly one-fourth have had no rebuilding/renovation activity at all since Katrina.

Without the work of the Baptist Crossroads in the Ninth Ward, it would still be a most depressed section of New Orleans. As it is, there is hope and excitement.

One of the most impressive things I heard today had to do with the financial aspect of the Baptist Crossroads. Not that I understood it all. Just listening to our financial people outlining the details brought back why I made a ‘C’ on Economics 201 as a sophomore at Birmingham-Southern College over 45 years ago! This subject is most definitely not for us right-brained people!

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What ‘Works Salvation’ Looks Like

Studying Paul’s Epistle to the Romans over the last few weeks and spending the holidays posting insights from the book on this website, I’ve become extra aware of the Scripture’s teachings on salvation-by-grace-through-faith and not of works. Today, I saw a great picture of what a “works salvation” would look like.

On this Friday prior to the Monday night, January 7, BCS championship game at the Superdome between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the LSU Tigers, our Times-Picayune ran a front page article to feature the two marching bands. LSU’s elite group is called “The Golden Band from Tigerland,” while Ohio State’s is called “The Best Damn Band in the Land.” (Excuse me, mom.) They’re said to be the two best marching bands in the country.

The LSU band will be 325 players strong, if you can believe it. Ohio State has 224 who will be suited up and strutting Monday night. Those numbers are a little inflated for the championship game, but still, those are huge musical groups.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. During the football season, the LSU band practices 90 minutes each afternoon Tuesday through Friday. On Saturday nights prior to home games, they practice for up to 2 hours during a dress rehearsal open to the public.

The Ohio State band members practice from 4 to 6 pm each weekday, one hour inside and one hour outside, regardless of the weather.

With both bands, there are no “returning starters” among the musicians. That is, each band member must earn his own spot anew each fall and maintain it through weekly competitions.

More than 450 people tried out for the 192 regular spots on the Ohio State squad, and–get this–anyone can challenge a band member each Monday. If one is challenged for his position, the two musicians have a “play off” and the winner is chosen by band squad leaders and directors.

All music is played from memory, and musicians must pass a test each Friday. Those who fail 3 times during the year will be cut permanently.

Ohio State director Jon Woods said, “It’s possible a veteran may not make the band. It happens several times a year.”

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