Rhetoric Escalators

Barack Obama’s former pastor has been in the news. Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr., is said to have been the chief spiritual influence in the senator’s life. He performed Obama’s marriage to Michelle, and was the inspiration for his book. Now Wright has become a dead weight on the campaign and the senator has removed his name from his advisors.

All week I’d been hearing bits and pieces of this tale and was wondering what the preacher could have said that was so inflammatory. Tonight, on my way home from downtown New Orleans, a local radio station played a 3-4 minute excerpt of the sermon.

The pastor seemed to be preaching to a congregation of his own people along the theme of: “Jesus was a black man who lived in a white man’s world (i.e., the Roman Empire) and knew what it’s like to be the victim of hatred, slander, innuendo, and needless suspicion.” It was pretty much “the white man is the oppressor” and “he’s the cause of all our problems,” followed by “Jesus taught us to love our enemies.”

He got personal and crossed the line when he told how “Hillary never was the victim of prejudice because of the color of her skin,” and “Hillary never had a taxicab pass her up because of the color of her skin.” “Hillary never had anyone accuse her of being too white and no one ever called her the N-word.” That sort of thing.

Which is right, I assume.

A lot of half-truths, I’d say. Right much of the time, pointless part of the time, inflammatory half the time, and ill-advised almost all the time. I mean, what does he want Hillary to do, apologize for the color of her skin?

My main conclusion on this is: “Ignore him. He’s just preaching.”

Continue reading

A City in Crisis

The chamber of commerce won’t appreciate this, but take a look at this morning’s newspaper headlines, scattered throughout the first two sections….

Front page: “Landrieu cousin kills his wife, himself.” “Algiers man guilty of shooting officer.”

Section B, page 1: “Mother claims insanity in baby’s killing.” “Man indicted on drug, gun charges.” “Suspect admits to string of break-ins, Kenner cops say.”

Page 2: “Womans says she was held hostage in Slidell.” “St. Tammany’s schools will tighten security.” “No charges filed in fatal stabbing.”

Page 3: “Man booked in motorist’s death.” “Charge upgraded to murder.” “Suspect indicted in 2 murder cases.” “3 charged following teenager’s drug death.” “Feds accuse pastor of diverting aid.”

Page 4: “Man dealt drugs at SUNO, feds say.” “Fatal shooting victim is Metairie man, 46”

Don’t let anyone tell you we’re not a city in crisis. We’re in deep trouble. Granted, some of these events occurred in suburban communities, not in New Orleans proper, but if that’s any consolation, I don’t see how.

When my wonderful mom reads these things–or similar news items from that area of Alabama (they have tragedies and crime, too)–she will sometimes remark, “Don’t you think things are worse than they have ever been before?”

I reply, “Yes, and better, too.” That doesn’t make sense at first, but it seems to be the reality of the world we’re living in.

Continue reading

My Schedule….And an Apology

Where I’ll be preaching (and, of course, you’re invited)….

Easter Sunday night (March 23), 6 pm, at Emmanuel Baptist Church (on Highway 82 west), Gordo, Alabama. Our longtime friends Tommy and Diane Winders will be singing. I can’t wait.

That week—Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings (March 24-26), 10:30 to noon–I’ll be speaking at the annual senior adult revival for that area, the Pickens Baptist Association, held at Stansel Baptist Church, on state route 17, above Carrollton, Alabama. The service calls for special music and a testimony from senior adults before my sermon, followed by a pot luck lunch.

Saturday morning, March 29, at 9:30 am, I’m doing a leadership training session for a group of African-American pastors at Lower Light Baptist Church in New Orleans East. If interested, call Jeffery Friend at Suburban Baptist Church (504/242-0955) or Kenneth Davis at the host church (504/421-1802).

April 20, 9:30 am, preaching on missions at Calvary Baptist Church, 2401 General DeGaulle, New Orleans.

In between, during, and throughout, my days are comprised of a ton of meetings, boards, retreats, conferences, training sessions, and the like, but I’ll not bore you with those.

And now, the apology….

Continue reading

Like Drinking from a Fire Hydrant

Attending the semi-annual meeting of the board of New Orleans Baptist Missions is always an experience. It’s a four-hour-long experience, but there’s not a boring moment in the day.

Okay, stay with me here, gang. We’ll do this in question and answer form.


A group of people charged with the oversight of the four SBC inner city missions–the Brantley Center (for the homeless), the Baptist Friendship House (for troubled women and their children), and the two centers–Rachel Sims and Carver–which minister to neighborhood children. The chairman is David Crosby, pastor of New Orleans’ First Baptist Church, and board members are mostly local folks like Freddie Arnold and me, but we also have Dr. Wanda Lee, the executive director of the SBC Woman’s Missionary Union–she flies in from Birmingham–and Kay Cassibry, leader for the Baptist women of Mississippi. All our local missionaries are present, plus a group of our leaders from the North American Mission Board in Atlanta, people like Dr. Richard Leach, Dr. Jean White, and Dr. Mickey Caison. Fred Luter of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church serves, along with Gwen “Miss Chocolate” Williams. Dr. Guy Williams serves, as does Dr. Loretta Rivers from the seminary, and attorney John Occhipinti. Today we elected five new members of the board: Gary Mack, Skider Chatham, Mike Hammer, Denise Shannon, and Mardel Earley. (Hope I got their names right.)


We’re told this city has twice the number of homeless now as before Katrina.

The North American Mission Board is putting the Brantley Center up for sale. The building is old and unusable since Katrina. Volunteers have moved most of the equipment and supplies to other mission centers, and given some to Camp Living Waters, but there’s still a lot of material in the building to be moved out. “What kind of material?” I asked. “Stuff,” was the answer. Nothing of any value. It has to be out by the end of April. The power company is shutting off the D.C. power on May 15 which means the elevator will no longer function.

We have an ad hoc committee working on finding some kind of long range program to help the homeless, not simply by providing a shelter, but something deeper, more helpful, and more permanent. We are full participants with the New Orleans Mission, a downtown shelter which recently erected a tent-like facility to quickly get large numbers of homeless off the street.


Continue reading

Men and Women are Different; Sorry to Have to be the One to Tell You

She: “Men! What is it about men!”

He: “The governor of New York gets caught hobnobbing with call girls and you blame it on all men?”

She: “You know what I mean. How men are.”

He: “I do not know what you mean. And just how ARE men?”

She: “If they could get by with it, every man would do what the governor did.”

He: “Wow. You are really down on men today. Do you really believe that?”

She: “Well, think of the pornography problem. Women don’t buy those magazines and videos to look at men. It’s a male thing. Men are like animals.”

He: “We are all animals, I don’t know if you have noticed. Not plants and not rocks.”

She: “Don’t try to change the subject. I mean men are naturally unfaithful and not very discriminating about who they have sex with.”

He: “You’ve heard me say that the lower nature of man is naturally polygamous.”

She: “I’ve heard you say it, but I’m not sure what you mean by it.”

He: “That the base nature–the Bible calls it the ‘old man’–is unfaithful and promiscuous. But the higher nature, the ‘new man’ he becomes in Jesus Christ–has higher standards and wars against that nature.”

She: “Meaning what?”

He: “Meaning that every man is vulnerable, that every man you will ever meet has it in him to be the worst rat and most unfaithful person on the planet.”

She: “That’s what I’ve been saying.”

He: “That is not what you’ve been saying. You’ve been saying all men are dirty rats and not worthy of their wives’ trust. And I’m saying they are capable of being that way, but their better nature knows a higher way of life. And that to one degree or the other, it’s a constant battle inside every man.”

She: “That’s why I hate to see our little boy grow up. He’s the cutest guy right now, and so full of innocence and sweetness. But he’s going to grow up to be a man, and something in me hates that.”

He: “You might as well try to hold back the sunrise, Honey. That’s the natural order of things.”

She: “I know. I just dread him becoming a teenager and the hormones raging and finding dirty magazines under his bed.”

He: “Listen a minute. Men and women are different. A man is turned on by the visual. He sees a great looking woman and his heart skips a beat. He stands near Miss America and the blood rushes to his head and he becomes a babbling idiot. We did not make ourselves this way; it’s part of our nature.”

She: “Original sin, if you ask me.”

Continue reading

Going On Even As We Speak

The “Extreme Makeover” television people are in town, rebuilding a couple of homes and one of our Southern Baptist churches, Pastor Willie Walker’s Noah’s Ark Baptist Church. A call has gone out for volunteers of all types to come and help.

Willie told me the plan is to work around the clock rebuilding his church until they finish. I said, “What about the neighbors?” He said, “They bought them off.”

Karen Willoughby of our Baptist Message (state paper for Louisiana Baptists) arrived in town today to cover this event.

I’ll not belabor this, but the headline in Tuesday’s paper, upper center of the front page, reads: “New corps maps show that when the levee system is completed in 2011 the area should stay largely dry in a major hurricane–if drainage pumps work.” Underneath a huge headline reads: “The best news yet.”

The talk shows all Tuesday afternoon (on my drive back from Laurel) focused on New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, in bad trouble for consorting with prostitutes and creating a contorted money laundering scheme to camouflage where the cash was going. As I get it, Spitzer’s “crimes” were not the actual adulterous acts, but violating the Mann Act (transporting a woman across a state line for immoral purposes; the government gets this authority from the part of the constitution giving it control over interstate commerce; really, no joke) and using fake companies to launder the money (which violates something with the IRS I think).

Clearly, his problems are vastly different and much more involved than those of our Senator David Vitter who was revealed last year to have been a client of brothels here and in Washington, D.C. As far as is known at the moment, Vitter’s main problems involved the moral aspect. Spitzer’s, on the other hand, involved violations of federal law.

Two comments on that. One, as the N.Y. attorney-general, Spitzer has been one hard-nosed dude in prosecuting criminals and harassing those he suspected of criminal acts. From all reports, this man had no mercy on anyone. He was ruthless in the way he treated lawbreakers. And now, guess what? He wants mercy. We’re told he’s trying to cut a deal: I’ll resign from the governor’s office if you won’t prosecute me. Don’t expect that to happen. He has made so many enemies along the way, they’ll be lining up to throw dirt on his political grave.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” That’s from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6, and it’s true, thank the Lord. However, so is its opposite: the merciless shall not receive mercy. Sorry, Eliot. Am I the only one who is reminded of our Lord’s parable of the forgiven man turning hard-hearted toward one who owes him a pittance (Matthew 18)?

Two, a columnist in New York State urging Spitzer to resign was asked why Louisiana did not demand that Vitter resign? He said something to the effect that New York had higher standards than Louisiana. That remark–and this is not an exact quote, but definitely was the point–was played and replayed on the local news throughout the day. Ugly. Also missing the point entirely.

Governor Bobby Jindal is something else. Hot off the successful special session of the state legislature to reform the state’s ethics laws, he has turned right around and called the lawmakers back to Baton Rouge. This time, they are being asked to rewrite a number of tax laws and give the citizens some relief. Among other things, he’s proposing tax credits for people who send their kids to private schools and for everyone who has to buy school uniforms for their children. He’s also got a bill exempting from state taxation the money the federal government is sending to everyone this Spring to jump-start the economy.

Continue reading

LEADERSHIP LESSON NO. 51–“Deal With Rebellion Quickly.”

(I promised to end at 50 lessons, but these ideas just keep insisting on horning their way onto the list.)

One of the worst policies ever to afflict our judicial system is the one that grants leniency to first-offenders. This was his first time to beat his wife, so he gets sent home with only a warning. Pity the poor wife! The kid who broke into the candy store gets assigned to his parents’ care and threatened with jail in the future because, after all, he’s never been in trouble before. He congratulates himself on a successful prank.

What are we doing! We might as well hand out “get out of jail free” cards. Everyone gets one free pass, no matter what we do (almost), because, “This is his first time in trouble.”

I want to scream when I read that line buried in the newspaper account of some law-breaker, “Hey! Now is the time to get across to him the enormity of what he has done.”

No wonder we have such a problem with crime in America today. We’re practically encouraging young law-breakers.

If we hope to teach them the error of their ways, it’s far better to deal swiftly and strongly with first-offenders.

Now, take that same principle and apply it at work, whether “work” for you means the church or a business office or a crew at the plant. If you are the person in charge and a member of your team breaks a “law”–he or she goes against an accepted practice put there for the welfare of the group–if you intend to maintain your leadership role, you must deal with it quickly.

First, get the facts.

Continue reading

So–What Did You Do at Church Today?

I saw two widows, both lovely ladies whose husbands I helped to bury just a year ago. Neither has any children or a lot of family, and both are just now putting their houses on the market. One is still deep in her grief and we talked about where she could find a good counselor.

The other has a full-time job at a local hospital. As we talked, a lady in the church handed her a grocery bag filled with outdated Sunday School literature. She saw me taking that in and said, “I put this out in the nurses’ lounge at our hospital. And would you believe–they read it and take it. Before long, it all disappears.” What a great ministry, and so simple.

“I’m 85 years old,” a friend said. She’s the wife of a deacon and for many years served the church as wedding coordinator. “And guess what–for the second year in a row, I won first place in the Special Olympics. My area was table tennis.” I was stunned. I mean, think of the dexterity, the quick reactions, and the keen focus that game demands. And at her age.

She continued, “Of the people I beat, the oldest was 72.” She smiled and said, “My goal is to win the gold when I’m 90. Would you pray for me about that?” I promised her I would.

Interim Pastor Mark brought up to the pulpit Mary, who is serving on the church’s pastor search committee. He paid tribute to this terrific woman and her family, then led us all in prayer for her and for the work of the committee. There is no more important assignment anywhere than being charged with the responsibility of finding the next pastor of a church.

Is it possible to take a well-known Scripture and find new insights in it? Mark Tolbert answered that in a clear affirmative Sunday. The text was Acts chapter 10, the story of the Italian centurion Cornelius and how God broke through the Apostle Peter’s preconceptions to be able to minister to Gentiles.

The three points of his message were: 1) Salvation is needed by all. Cornelius is a poster-boy for a good man–militarily he was the best of the best, personally, he was devout, God-fearing, generous, and prayerful–whose goodness was inadequate for salvation. He still needed to be saved, so the chapter tells what God did to bring him into the kingdom.

2) Salvation should be offered to all. And 3) Salvation is available to all.

Mark had a number of wonderful insights in his message. I marked up the margins of my Bible with a fine-point pen. Here are three of them….

Continue reading

Stronger in the Broken Places

“Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, ‘The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue….'” (II Samuel 23:1-2 KJV)

That’s an interesting three-fold description of this greatest of all Israeli kings. All three are fascinating, but none moreso than “the sweet psalmist of Israel.” The “sweet” song-writer who gave us so many wonderful psalms, many of the 150 in our Old Testament book of Psalms. There is no doubt that some of the songs penned by this man are still being sung every day somewhere on this planet, and have been for most of the 3,000 years since he walked this land.

It’s worth noting that the writer of this line from II Samuel did not refer to David as the writer of the sweet songs, but the sweet songwriter for the nation. (Modern translations say “favorite.”) There was a sweetness in his soul, and had to have been, in order for him to have said some of the blessed things he did.

For a long time I carried an image in my mind of the teenage David keeping his father’s sheep on a green hillside, strumming his lyre, and composing, say, what would become the 23rd Psalm. But I don’t think that’s how it happened. The young David could not have composed such songs as this, as well as the 40th, 46th, and 91st psalms. And I’ll tell you why.

He had not lived enough, sinned enough, suffered enough, and been forgiven enough to know the incredible depths of God’s love, the infinite extent of His mercy, the healing balm of His tenderness, and the satisfying comfort of His faithfulness.

The Apostle Paul put it like this: “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:20) That set off a howling among his detractors. The very idea of implying that the more one sins, the more of God’s favor he receives. No wonder they bitterly retaliated, “Well, let us continue in sin that grace may really, really be showered upon us!” (Romans 6:1) They weren’t serious, but were simply taking his argument to what they saw as its logical conclusion.

You’re missing the point, Paul responded. In order to fully appreciate the forgiving, merciful side of our Lord, one has to have deserved His censure, earned His judgment, and justified His wrath, and then instead of receiving these, to have been shown only His kindness.

Only penitent sinners see this side of His nature.

And only “big” penitent sinners see the greatness of His grace, the scope of His mercy, and the bottomless supply of His lovingkindness.

Never fear, friend. You have sinned quite enough to qualify. No need to return to what Scripture calls “the flesh-pots of Egypt” (Exodus 16:3).

Continue reading

Why New Orleanians Run Red Lights

The letters column on the editorial page of our newspaper regularly features gripes and complaints from redlight runners who got caught on candid camera.

What happened was that our leaders have contracted with a company that installs these high speed cameras at selected intersections around town, and they’ve been nabbing quite a few impatient drivers speeding through intersections after the light had turned crimson. Some of them are real unhappy about it, too.

What gets me is they complain about their constitutional rights being violated. Invasion of privacy, they call it, which is rather ridiculous. Hey friend, you’re on the street; nothing is private here. You are driving under the control of traffic laws with a state-issued license; your rights do not apply here. You gave them up when you pulled out of the driveway.

You have to wonder why some people think they have a right to run a traffic light.

Ron Mehl is a pastor in Portland, Oregon. In his outstanding book “The Ten(der) Commandments,” he tells a story you will enjoy.

Golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez was traveling with a friend who noticed that he was driving much too fast. As they approached an intersection, Chi Chi sped right through the red light.

The friend said, “Chi Chi! Man, what are you doing? You ran that red light!”

Rodriguez said, “My brother taught me to drive, and my brother never stops at red lights, so I don’t stop at red lights.”

A couple of blocks later, the light was red and again, they drove through the intersection at a high rate of speed. The rider said, “Chi Chi! You’re going to get us killed! What are you doing!”

Chi Chi said, “My brother taught me to drive and my brother doesn’t stop for red lights, so I don’t stop for red lights.”

A few blocks down the street, they came to an intersection where the light was green. This time, Chi Chi put on the brakes and came to a stop. “Now what are you doing?” said the friend. “The light is green.”

Chi Chi said, “I know it. But my brother might be coming.”

Your brother is always coming, friend. Slow down and let him go on living.

Continue reading