Reigning on our Parade

Jazzfest last weekend was not rained out, but anything else would have been. In the downpour, people stood in puddles to their ankles to soak up Billy Joel and other musical offerings. Joel looked heavenward and said to the Lord, “Is that all you’ve got? Bring it on!”

Seems like we heard our president say something similar just before Iraq became its own kind of quagmire.

The people who run our convention center–the official name for which is the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center–have decided that does not communicate and they want to tweak it to become the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. Not any shorter, but clearer, they say. That sounded great to almost everyone except the Morial family. Ernest “Dutch” Morial was our city’s first African-American mayor and the father of our most recent mayor, Marc Morial, who wrote the letter for the family protesting the change.

Officials insist they’re not formally changing the name, but will refer to the convention center in this “new” way for marketing purposes. That’s not good enough for the family and their supporters. Some are threatening that they will encourage Essence and other festivals/conventions of African-Americans to go elsewhere if this is not reversed.

A name is just a symbol? Symbols can be mighty important to some folks and to all of us at one time or another, we should never forget.

These are good days for the New Orleans Hornets, our NBA franchise. For the first time ever, the New Orleans teams advances to the second round in the playoffs, after beating the Dallas Mavericks 4 games to 1 in a best-of-seven series. Next, we will face the San Antonio Spurs, as I get it. Fans are ecstatic, packing out the New Orleans Arena. Last night–Tuesday–coach Byron Scott was named the NBA Coach of the Year.

Some fan said it’s just like Mardi Gras all over again, all the enthusiasm.

We’re having a “New Orleans Summit” at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Georgia, this Thursday and Friday, May 1 and 2. Last Monday night in our annual Spring meeting, our association voted to adopt a lengthy list of adjustments and changes being recommended by a strategy team which has been working for a year. Now, some of us will be sitting down with leadership of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and NAMB to work out a possible partnership for the next 10 years or more. Representing BAGNO will be pastors Fred Luter, David Crosby, John Faull, and Dennis Watson. Mike Flores and I will go along to carry their bags. David Hankins and Mike Canady from LBC will be at the table.

In asking for continuing help from LBC and NAMB, New Orleans is not unaware of our massive debt to Southern Baptists through these (and other) agencies. We have been the grateful recipient of many millions of dollars of the Lord’s money and untold thousands of man-hours from Baptists who have flowed our way to help rebuild the city and restore our churches. In the process, thousands of our residents have heard the message of God–after seeing it in action–and have prayed with their visitors and benefactors to receive Christ as Savior.

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The Taming of the Disciple

The question I ask about the preacher in the news–he shall remain nameless here; this is not about politics–but after watching him at the National Press Club and other forums this week, my question is: Where is the man’s humility? Where is the Christlikeness? The world saw plenty of the flesh, loads of meanspiritedness, an abundance of conviction and even eloquence and cleverness, together with a surplus of pandering to his audience. But where was the meekness and humility?

“Thy gentleness has made me great.” (Psalm 18:35)

The Lord God is The Awesome Force in this universe. In order to deal with puny humans like us, His power had to be gentled, otherwise we could not have withstood it.

The sun which lights our solar system radiates its mighty power with temperatures in the thousands of degrees. And yet, by the time its rays reach your back yard, they gently ripen grapes and warm picnickers and melt butter. For the sun’s light to bless this world, its strength has to be softened and slowed. The gentling elements include the 93 million miles of distance, our earth’s atmospherere, and the rotation of the globe.

Thousands of volts of electricity surge through the power lines up and down your street. Were those lines run straight into your house, the energy would burn up every appliance and probably set your house afire. Transformers are installed on light poles up and down the street to gentle the power. Consequently, only 110 volts enters your home, enough to run the appliances, light your home, and operate the computer.

So, how was our great God so gentled that we might be able to know Him? “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” God came to earth in human form, as a baby born in Bethlehem, laid in a manger. “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1) Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14)

Jesus Christ is God the Father gentled.

Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart.” (Matthew 11:29) Not bombastic, not belligerent, not meanspirited, but gentle. Not cruel, not harsh and unloving, not power-mad or unkind. Gracious. Loving. Humble.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness….” (Galatians 5:22) Whom the Holy Spirit controls, He tames, and He produces in that one such character as can only be described as like Jesus Christ of Nazareth Himself.

Christians get off course at times and want to argue that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s presence is this or that spiritual gift. Not so. The infallible manifestation of the Spirit and proof of His indwelling rule is the Christlikeness He produces in that individual.

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The Original Morning Sickness: Anxiety

The best time to get run over in interstate traffic, I have decided, is the morning rush hour. Five mornings a week, I’m crossing town between 7:45 and 8:45 am and risking my life in the process. This morning, I was headed out of town for a meeting in Alexandria and noticed the same phenomenon in traffic headed the opposite direction. People are dying to get where they are going. I’ve come to a conclusion as to the root cause.

It’s anxiety.

Some drivers are late to work or to class, some of afraid of being late, and the others are early and trying to stay that way. So they rush. They tailgate the motorist in front of them, they cut in front of the fellow to one side or the other who dares to leave a gap between him and the next car, and they dart in and out incessantly. A couple of miles up the road you notice they’re stuck in traffic in the lane to your right or left, all their frantic lane-jumping having done them absolutely no good.

The problem is not their car’s motor; it’s their own inner motor. Something inside them is racing, dying to get to their destination, and they either do not know how to control it or turn it off or, what’s just as probable, do not know that it’s even there. They rush out of habit.

Yesterday morning the car that was bullying everyone on the freeway pulled onto a side street in the direction I happened to be going, and one block later turned off into a driveway. They were just going home. I felt like stopping and asking, “What was all the rush about?”

I think I know the answer. Their answer to my question would be, “Huh? What rush?” They are not even aware what they’re doing. It’s a pattern, a really bad habit, they’ve fallen into. They get in their car and the anxiety kicks in and they have to beat everyone else on the highway.

It’s destructive, self-defeating, harmful to one’s health, even suicidal. It’s murder on their car, terrible on their tires, and a burden on their billfold. It endangers their families and the people in the other cars.

Let the city or parish install cameras at intersections to catch redlight-runners and they holler to high heaven, as though a sacred right of theirs has been taken away. They foolishly blame the rear end collisions on the officials who installed the cameras. Blame-placing, denial, anger—highway sports in America today.

Anxiety is a a problem we all deal with and a killer in a hundred ways. The highway is just one of locales.

Everyone deals with anxiety in its various manifestations. You start a new job and can’t sleep the night before. You have to leave town early tomorrow and afraid of oversleeping, you toss and turn tonight. You have an important painful confrontation tomorrow, so tonight’s rest is a total loss. Some would call it worry. It’s likewise a form of fear. One thing it is not is faith.

Anxiety is worry and fear on steroids. And whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

Meeting with a group of pastors, I threw this out to them: “Give me your best counsel. What do you do to fight anxiety?” Here are some of their answers.

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My Preaching Schedule (and other stuff)

April 27 — 10:30 am – Highland Baptist Church, Metairie

6:00 pm – Parkview, Metairie

May 1-2 “New Orleans Summit” at NAMB, Alpharetta, GA (planning the details of a partnership between NAMB, our state convention, and our association for the future)

May 3 — My high school class’ 50th reunion. Double Springs, Alabama. Lordy!

May 9 — 10:00 am – Senior Revival, First Baptist, Franklinton, LA

May 16-17 — DOM Retreat at Vidalia, LA

May 25 — 10:30 am New Prospect Baptist Church, Jasper, AL

June 7-11 Southern Baptist Convention, Indianapolis (and DOM annual meeting)

June 13-14 Deacons retreat, Five Points Bap Ch, Northport, AL

And then, after a quiet summer (I hope!), toward the fall of the year….

September 7-10, Revival, First Baptist Church, Fulton, MS

September 21-23 — “Senior Bible Study/Revival” FBC of Long Beach, MS (One of the Lord’s great post-Katrina churches)

November 17 — Alabama Directors of Missions, Montgomery, AL

November 18 — speak twice at the Alabama Baptist Convention, Montgomery

November 24 — “M Night,” Muskogee, Oklahoma (You didn’t know they were still doing M Night, did you?)

Only in N’Awlins

This weekend and next are Jazzfest, the annual blowout at the Fairgrounds Racetrack that brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city every year at this time. Almost any one of the headliners would fill the New Orleans Arena at big prices, but for 50 bucks you can see every one of them. It’s the bargain of the year—if you don’t mind wading through a hundred thousand of your closest friends. (Last year’s festival drew 350,000 paying customers over the two weekends.)

Today, Friday, for example, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss entertain from 3:30 until 4:50. At the same time, acts are taking place on ten other stages throughout the Fairgrounds area. Sheryl Crow will follow Plant and Krauss. Stevie Wonder will be in town. Billy Joel, Tim McGraw, Jimmy Buffett, Frankie Beverly, Al Green, Randy Newman, Widespread Panic, you name it. (I have no idea who that last group is, but you’ve gotta love their name.) Hundreds and hundreds of bands and acts and choirs and programs. Like drinking from a fire hydrant.

Go to www.nojazzfest.com for complete information. Next weekend, the program begins on Thursday and goes through Sunday. If you are coming, pay close attention to details on how to ride public transportation to the fairgrounds. You won’t find a parking place anywhere near there and police patrol it full-time writing tickets.

Church choirs get into the act, too. Franklin Avenue Baptist Church’s choir does that incredible thing they do from the AIG Gospel Tent today at 5:55 pm.

“We want to bring a whole year’s worth of music here in a week,” said organizer and promoter Quint Davis. “We have a great national lineup.” He says this festival is different from all the others, including Austin City Limits. “We’re a festival for grownups.”

Whatever that means.

Interestingly, most of the groups on the programs are from in-state.

The front page of Friday’s paper tells the story of Rosalie ‘Lady Tambourine’ Washington. “She’s one of those only-in-New Orleans institutions. To some, she’s a star; to others, a nuisance. Either way, she has been a constant presence for more than a decade to those crowded under the Gospel Tent at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell.”

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Anecdotes a Preacher Would Kill For

I think of an anecdote as a short, catchy story, the kind pastors love to insert in just-the-right-spot to pep up a sermon. The word comes from the Greek and literally means “things not given out,” or in other words, “unpublished.”

Winston Churchill called them “the gleaming toys of history.” They are hard to define, but we all know a good one when we find one. Here are some of my favorites, for what they are worth.

During the 1957 World Series between the Milwaukee Braves and the New York Yankees, slugger Hank Aaron came up to bat. Yogi Berra, the Yankee catcher, noticed he was holding the bat wrong. “Turn it around,” he told Aaron. “So you can read the trademark.” Hank never looked back, but said, “Didn’t come up here to read. Came up here to hit.”

And brother, did he hit.

A patient afflicted with chronic depression called on the famous British physician John Abernethy. After examining him, Dr. Abernethy said, “You need amusement. Go down to the playhouse and hear the comedian Grimaldi. He will make you laugh and that will be better for you than any drugs.” The patient said, “I am Grimaldi.”

Great comedy is said to emanate from great suffering.

Franklin Adams belonged to a poker club that counted among its members an actor by the name of Herbert Ransom. It was said that whenever Ransom was dealt a good hand, you could tell it in his face. In light of that, Adams proposed a new club rule: “Anyone who loks at Randsom’s face is cheating.”

What does your face reveal about you?

For the first half of the 20th century, George Ade was a popular humorist and playwright. Once, after delivering an after-dinner speech that went over well, a famous lawyer followed him on the program. He thrust his hands deep in the pockets and said, “Doesn’t it strike you as a little unusual that a professional humorist should actually be funny?” When the laughter subsided, George Ade said, “Doesn’t it strike you as a little unusual that a lawyer should actually have his hands in his own pockets?”

And what are your hands doing these days?

I’ve told this one to whatever doctor was examining me at the moment. Konrad Adenauer, chancellor of West Germany when he was in his 90s, was being examined by his doctor. “I’m not a magician,” the medical man said. “I cannot make you younger.” “I haven’t asked you to,” said the chancellor. “All I want is to go on getting older.”

The Greek general and politician Alcibiades was telling Pericles, who was 40 years older than he, how to govern Athens effectively. Pericles was not amused. “Alcibiades,” he said, “when I was your age, I talked just as you do now.” The younger man said, “How I should like to have known you when you were at your best.”

When are you at your best?

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Smilin’ with These Three

First, a gentleman from Raceland.

You know how you drive through sections of Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes and see house after house that appear to have been abandoned? There will be lovely homes newly rebuilt, some houses in the process of rebuilding, and then here and there a residence with high weeds and shuttered windows and you wonder about them, who owns them and what their plans are. But one thing you know–that’s someone’s house.

Jesse Bryant did not know that.

This resident of Raceland, a small town forty miles west of New Orleans on U.S.90, picked out two such seemingly abandoned properties on the east side of our city and drove home-made signs into the yard announcing: “I, Jesse Bryant, do take possession of this abandon (sic) property.” As though that were all it took.

Then, he broke into the houses and had the locks changed. A deputy sheriff noticed the sign in one yard and stopped to check on it. He was informed by Mr. Bryant that he had assumed ownership of the houses since they had been abandoned. The deputy called the owner who came out and was not real pleased.

They arrested Mr. Bryant for burglary and criminal trespassing. He admitted he had been planning to take possession of other abandoned properties in the area.

One of the houses is owned by the Road Home Corporation, and the other is being renovated by its present owner, a local resident.

Mr. Bryant has been reading too many western novels in which people stake out claims on available land, or possibly watching too many infomercials offering great riches by claiming repossessed houses and reselling them.

My guess is the judge will not throw the book at him, but give him probation. After all, he was not malicious. Just dumb. Really really dumb.

(Update a few days later. The Times-Picayune reports that the Lafourche Parish officials, after reading in the New Orleans paper about Bryant’s doings, decided to check him out locally, since he’s from Raceland. They discovered he had pulled the same shenanigans there, and in fact, had taken possession of a house across the street from his 87-year-old mother. His brother has been living in that house. When asked about her sons, the mother replied that she has enough troubles of her own without meddling in theirs.)

Second, Elizabeth Luter, the extreme opposite of the first fellow. One smart lady.

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Listen to the Holy Spirit

My friend Rudy sat in my office today and told me the definitive story that drives his witness.

“I was living in a northern state and driving an hour and a half each way to work inside Canada. On the way, I drove through this Indian reserve, a real poor place with lots of ramshackle houses. This particular morning, going past the reserve I noticed a fellow working on a car and lying half-way under it. At that moment, the Holy Spirit told me to stop and witness to him. I didn’t do it.”

“All the time I drove on to work, I kept thinking, ‘I should have done it.’ But I knew I would have been late for work if I had. All day, it ate at me. I should have stopped.”

“That evening on my way home, I decided I would stop by his house and find the man I’d seen under the car that morning. To my surprise, there were cars everywhere and a crowd had gathered. I got out of my car and said to them, ‘I want to see the man who was working on his car here this morning.’ Somebody said, ‘He’s dead. He got killed in a traffic accident today.’”

“That was one lesson I had to learn the hard way,” Rudy said, “and one I will never forget. When the Lord says to do something, do it.”

Rudy may be the most consistent soulwinner I know. He told me of the time he went fishing with a friend and some fellows he had never met. “My friend is a Christian,” he said, “but he sort of compartmentalizes his Christianity. He introduced me to these guys and said, ‘Watch yourself today. Rudy is a preacher.’”

“That did it. They clammed up and hardly said two words to me. I knew I was going to have to loosen them up or we’d never get to know one another. I have a favorite little joke that I decided to tell them. I said, ‘Say, do either of you know how to sell a duck to somebody who is hard of hearing?’ They looked at each other, and one said, ‘What was that?’ The other said, ‘Do we know how to sell a duck to somebody who is hard of hearing?’ They looked at me and said, ‘I reckon not.’”

Rudy said, “WANNA BUY A DUCK??!!” at the top of his lungs.

The men burst out laughing and kept laughing for the next five minutes. (Rudy’s wife Rose said, “That’s a guy joke. I think it’s stupid.”) Rudy said, “But that loosened them up and we had a great time that day, and yes, I did tell them about the Lord.”

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What They Didn’t Say About Long Life

Paul Harvey News this week reported that the four greatest factors for longevity are these: quit smoking, drink only moderately, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and exercise. In that case, I said to myself, I’m here for the duration.

But not so fast. There are more factors than these four, surely. I’m not a social scientist–or any other kind of scientist for that matter–but I can name several. Readers, drop your contributions to this list at the end.

Here are my additional top five ways for long life….

1) Obey and honor your parents.

I’ll bet that one doesn’t make any scientific list, but it made God’s. “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the earth.” (Exodus 20:12) In Ephesians 6:2, Paul called it “the first commandment with a promise” attached to it.

It’s tempting to be cute here and say that if I had not obeyed my dad, he would have killed me–thus fulfilling this promise. But, this was no joking matter to God’s people in Scriptures.

This is about quality of family life, a key aspect to the fullest enjoyment of life.

When God’s Word lists the most despicable sins the Lord can think of, “disobedience to parents” makes the list. (Romans 1:30)

2) Don’t take foolish chances.

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Dead Cows and Living Treasures

When they opened the floodgates to allow the overflow from the Mississippi River to cross the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway into Lake Pontchartrain, one thing no one figured on was what might come in alongwith the water. Now, we hear that people are finding dead cows floating in the lake. Logs and trees are always coasting down the river, and now they are posing a hazard for boaters on the lake. The water from the river is very muddy and contains who knows what, whereas the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation has been at work for a generation trying to clean up our lake. So, now, here we go again.

Some readers can recall when you would take the family out to Pontchartrain Beach amusement park and go for a swim. When the park was closed, swimming was forbidden due to the pollution. Lately, the water has been approved for swimming, although there’s no good place to go in. Now, the authorities are warning citizens to be careful even getting around those waters. We’ve mentioned here about the snakes and alligators flowing into the lake–and thus into the city.

Old-timers (that would be my age and better) frequently tell me they see no need to own a computer, that they have done very well all this time without it. I never argue the point, but sometimes wonder how they would feel if they knew what they were missing. For instance….

Friday, while driving north to Alexandria, I was going over the sermon to be preached Sunday morning and found myself missing a tiny bit of information. I phoned my son Marty and left a message for him. “I’d like to know who began the ‘adopt-a-highway’ program. Who started it and when? I need this for my sermon.”

The next evening, when I arrived home and checked e-mail, Marty had sent me a couple of links providing everything I needed to know on the subject. He said, “Wikipedia has the information, and they provide some links for details.” That’s how I found that the man behind this adopt-a-highway program is James R. “Bobby” Evans, an employee of the Texas Department of Transportation, Tyler District. One day as he drove through Tyler, he noticed trash blowing off the truck in front of him, and started wondering if there was not some way to mobilize citizens to clean up the highways. He thought of encouraging people to adopt-a-highway and tried to get people interested. No group or civic club caught the vision, but a public information officer for the DOT named Billy Black did. He took that ball and ran with it, lining up groups, churches, clubs, and individuals to take responsibility for sections of roads. He designed the safety training and even the neat little reflective vests they wear.

I went to the link for the Texas Department of Transportation to find the dates. Evans had the brainstorm in 1984; Black got organized in 1985. Think of that. A program that is now in countries all over the world and has changed the quality of life everywhere considerably—and it is less than a quarter-century old.

One man can make a difference.

To make a difference, he needs a clear vision of what needs to be done, some solid counsel on all aspects of the matter, and a strong conviction in order to stay with the program until he pulls it off.

And, as Bobby Evans clearly demonstrates, he may end up needing a helper, someone with skills he doesn’t have. Someone like Billy Black.

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