Hamburger, Steak, and Safeguarding Your Marriage

When Paul Newman died last weekend, every media outlet in the land ran a feature on him. More than one quoted his line about how his marriage had survived the temptations of Hollywood: “Why go out for hamburger when you have steak at home?”

We all smiled at that. But there’s a massive fallacy running through that kind of thinking.

What if I have hamburger at home and find steak outside? Some have done exactly that. Is adultery all right if it’s an improvement over what you have at home?

What if I have, not hamburger, but baloney at home?

What if I’m starving at home?

The strongest brand of marital fidelity is when the person has little or nothing at home and still is faithful to his/her spouse. On the surface, they have every excuse and the perfect reason to “find comfort” outside, yet they remain true to their marriage vows.

A pastor I know has admitted to cheating on his wife. When the news came, it hurt so bad, it felt like I had let him down some way. I have intensely lifted him and his wife to the Father in prayer ever since.

In a situation like that, what I’d like to say to the couple is that the news is not all bad. The “innocent” spouse has a reason to leave, if he/she chooses, but there are so many more reasons to stay. First and foremost is the children. But high on that list, too, is the assurance that God can heal a fractured marriage and make it stronger in the broken places.

That will not happen without counseling, however. By that I mean your marriage needs a strong friend, someone wiser than you, someone willing to walk with you and your spouse over the next year or so while you rebuild trust and the relationship.

That counselor needs to be a Christian if you are and if you value spiritual things. Adultery is almost always a spiritual problem, and the remedy is spiritual. But not just any Christian is qualified to help you put a marriage together again. Ask around. Pray for guidance.

Recently, sitting with a group of young pastors over coffee, I asked how they were protecting themselves against the possibility of committing adultery.

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Dr. Landrum Leavell II, One of a Kind

He left us far too early. Landrum Leavell II died last Friday in Wichita Falls, Texas, at the age of 81. We needed another 15 years from this good man.

The easiest way to describe this former pastor and longtime president of our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is that he was larger than life. Everything he did, he did in a big way. He laughed big, believed big, loved big, and dreamed big.

In one way, it makes little sense to say he was “one of a kind,” as he hailed from a large family of Leavells who all made deep impressions and had lasting impacts upon the Lord’s work, particularly the Southern Baptist portion. Landrum’s uncle, Dr. Roland Q. Leavell, served as president of the seminary and led in its relocation from the Washington Street campus (near Commander’s Palace restaurant) to the Gentilly Boulevard site. He was succeeded by Leo Eddleman and Grady Cothen, who were in office the two times I graduated from NOBTS. Then, in 1975, the “modern era” of NOBTS arrived when Landrum Leavell II assumed leadership of the seminary.

I had known Dr. Leavell slightly prior to that time. His oldest son, Lan (aka, Landrum Leavell III), was a student at Mississippi College in the early ’70s and sat in the college Sunday School class I taught at the FBC of Jackson. I still recall the moment Lan introduced me to his father. That was 35 years ago, but he left that kind of powerful impression.

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Pastors Loving One Another

1) Two of our churches are deep into discussions about merging. “Sojourn has a congregation and needs a building,” said Lakeview’s veteran pastor Dick Randels last Wednesday morning. “We have a building and need a congregation.”

“We have some old people and need young folks,” he continued. “Sojourn has lots of young people and no seniors.”

It appears to be a perfect match. Sojourn’s pastor James Welch introduced Dick Randels as “my new best friend.”

Wisely, these two very different congregations are going about this merger slowly and deliberately. The memberships have met for dinner and they have worshiped together at least twice.

2) Two churches that shall remain nameless at the moment are in talks about one buying the property of the other. One of our fastest growing Hispanic congregations is hemmed in by a middle-class residential neighborhood. Down the street three blocks one of our churches sits with excellent buildings and plenty of land. That church has a second campus which they’re still rebuilding since the floodwaters of Katrina did a great deal of damage. May be a win-win situation for everyone.

3) A pastor called me. “My church is going to help such-and-such church that took so much additional devastation from the recent hurricanes.” I’ll report later what he has in mind, but I was thrilled to learn of one local church ministering to another in such a fashion.

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Things Beyond Our Understanding

I can understand why a candidate for elective office can “mis-speak” once in a while. You’re tired, you’ve talked all day, you’re still “on stage,” and the audience expects you to say something profound. But, Senator Joe Biden—I just don’t know about this man.

This is from this morning’s Times-Picayune and it has left me gasping for air, wondering what planet this man lives on….

“Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden says today’s leaders should take a lesson from the history books and follow fellow Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to a financial crisis. ‘When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, “Look, here’s what happened.”‘

That’s what he said. Said it to the “CBS Evening News” even.

Two big problems with that, Senator. The stock market crashed in 1929 when Herbert Hoover was president, over three years before FDR was elected. And they did not have television. In fact, they hardly had radio.

When confronted with this inane comment from the senator, Biden’s spokesman, David Wade, responded, “I’m proud to say that we Democrats aren’t experts at Herbert Hoover Depression economics like John McCain and his pals. From Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, we just get elected to clean up the economic mess these Republicans leave behind.” Say what?

I can understand a political leader in his/her 30s or 40s getting their history wrong. But Biden is in his 60s and has worked the Washington scene all his adult life. The economic realities and historical lessons of the Great Depression and the presidencies of Hoover and FDR should be part of his DNA.

One more word about campaign propaganda and I’ll move on.

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Helpless? That’s Great!

Anyone can recommend a new book; I love to point out an old one you would enjoy reading.

These days, with the internet and the abundance of on-line sources for used books ( www.alibris.com is my favorite), a book published a half-century ago is as easy to purchase as one just off the press, and at a fraction of the cost.

Thirty years ago, while browsing the Lifeway Christian Store (then called “Baptist Book Store”) in Jackson, Mississippi, I came across a stack of books on prayer written AND AUTOGRAPHED by Catherine Marshall. “Adventures in Prayer” listed for $2.95, if you can believe that. I bought the entire stack of a dozen or so.

My plan was to use them in pastoral counseling, and that’s what I did, for a while. The problem is, once people saw how wonderful were Mrs. Marshall’s insights–and then realized they held in their hands an autographed copy of her book–they conveniently forgot to return it. So, my plan to keep circulating those books to many readers gradually fell prey to human frailties.

The book is hardbound and short, less than 100 pages. Chapters have headings like: “The prayer that helps your dreams come true,” “The waiting prayer,” and “The prayer of relinquishment.”

My favorite, however–the section which has pulled me back to this book again and again over the years, the insights that drove me to the internet to purchase a used copy last week–is the second chapter, which Catherine Marshall calls “The prayer of helplessness.”

Reading about the numerous suicides on a certain bridge in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Marshall writes, “Each person must have felt helpless. And I have thought, ‘If I could speak with such persons at the zero hour, I would try to stop them with the thought that helplessness is one of the greatest assets a human being can have.’”

She continues, “For I believe the old cliche’, ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ is not only misleading but often dead wrong. My most spectacular answers to prayer have come when I was so helpless, so out of control as to be able to do nothing at all for myself.”

“The Psalmist says: ‘When I was hemmed in, thou has freed me often.’ Gradually I have learned to recognize this hemming-in as one of God’s most loving devices for teaching us that He is real and gloriously adequate for our problems.”

After sharing a couple of illustrations from her personal experience, Mrs. Marshall asks, “Why would God insist on helplessness as a prerequisite to answered prayer? One obvious reason is because our human helplessness is bedrock fact. God is a realist and insists that we be realists too. So long as we are deluding ourselves that human resources can supply our heart’s desires, we are believing a lie. And it is impossible for prayers to be answered out of a foundation of self-deception and untruth.”

Here’s a story on “the prayer of helplessness” from early in my pastoral ministry…

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Ah, Reconnected!

When both your home computer and the one in the office are found to be suffering from the same malady, it’s a good bet you have a virus. That’s what happened and it explains why I’ve been computerless for the last three weeks. In fact, on two of my three e-mail accounts, I show the last mail received was August 28. Today is September 24.

Our computer wizard is a preacher from St. Bernard Parish who relocated to Houston after Katrina, and still takes care of us. Louis James logs on to my computer from his place and, using the telephone, we enjoy the kind of personal consultation as would take place if we were sitting side by side. But for this problem, our administrative assistant Lynn bundled up the computer and fed-exed it off to Louis so he could personally look at it. When it returned, it was “clean” and even improved.

So, I’m back in business. Don’t have to ask a secretary to lend me her desk and computer any more.

A few catch-up things….

We have reinstated our weekly pastors gatherings, starting Wednesday September 17. (From 10 to 11:30 am) Today, the 24th, we had ten to come. Too few? Not if you are one of the ten. We shared and prayed for one another and knocked off a box of Krispy Kremes.

We’re working on several upcoming meetings scheduled for our place. 1) The weekend of October 4-6, we will host the leadership of the North American Mission Board in New Orleans. That Sunday, missionaries will be speaking in some of our churches, and Monday night, the 6th, NAMB’s missionary appointment service is scheduled for FBC-NO at 7 pm. On Saturday the 4th, we’ll be showing NAMB folks and some DOMs the mission work going on in our city.

2) November 8-11 is the annual meeting of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. The Monday night/all-day Tuesday sessions will be held at FBC-NO. On Saturday/Sunday, “Crossover New Orleans” will be held in locations all over the city, with our people and guests doing evangelistic work in parks.

3) The first weekend of December, we’re hosting state directors of evangelism from around the country, and giving them tours of the city.

Speaking of tours, I had a most depressing one Tuesday.

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A Weekend of Friends

I’m a devout believer in friends, although I have friends who doubt my faith.

As a rule over the years, the burden of staying in contact has fallen to my friends. Part of that is the natural inclination of a pastor to not keep meddling with members of the previous congregation after moving to another church. However, if they want to meddle with me, well, that’s another story.

Shawn Parker called last week. The last weekend of October will be the 100th anniversary of the sanctuary at the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, where I served from 1974 to 1986. Would I come back and be their speaker for that observance? I would indeed.

I said to Shawn, “What’s the matter–couldn’t you get General Lee?” Stephen D. Lee of Civil War fame was chair of the building committee that erected that sanctuary in 1908, if you can believe it. That was 43 years after the conclusion of the War Between the States. General Lee was the founding president of nearby Mississippi State University and had married into a prominent Columbus family. He made his home in the next block from the sanctuary.

Lee, incidentally, was involved in the Fort Sumter incident that served as the spark setting off the conflagration which was the Civil War. He is buried in Columbus’ wonderful Friendship Cemetery.

So, I’ll be filling in for General Lee, I reckon.

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What God Has Promised

Now we know how our Alabama friends felt when Katrina hit them a glancing blow and our Texas friends felt a few days later when Rita touched the corner of their state: it was more than a near miss, but nothing like “in the bulls-eye.”

With back-to-back hurricanes–Gustav and Ike–over the last two weeks, and with them hitting near here but not exactly here, we had some damage but nothing what like our friends went through.

Since so many friends of New Orleans living elsewhere read this blog, here is the report on local church damage as fully as I have it.

Down in Plaquemines Parish, the Port Sulphur Baptist Church came through fine. This surprised us since–check your atlas–this whole area is a tiny strip of land between the Mississippi River on the east and the wetlands on the west. Port Sulphur became something of an island, with high water covering the roads above and below. Pastor Lynn Rodriguez had one request: as soon as you can get in here, send us supplies (toilet tissue, cleaning supplies, etc) which we can distribute to our neighbors.

This church served as a lifeline for thousands of people following Katrina, and God gave them an incredible ministry.

In Jefferson Parish, down in the little town of Jean Lafitte, our Barataria Baptist Church became an island, but because it’s built up, did not take water inside the buildings. Pastor Eddie Painter said, “Four more inches would have done it.” Next door, the parsonage did not come through so well. “We took 8 inches inside the house,” Eddie said. Everything inside is a loss.

A mile downriver, the youth minister’s home took 2 to 3 feet of water inside.

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Hospitality: Loving the Stranger

Our mayor is doing it again.

One day last week, Mayor C. Ray Nagin was talking to the Texas folks who had hosted thousands of our people who evacuated during the Gustav hurricane week. He praised the Texans, told them how indebted we are to them, then got himself in trouble.

“When this is over,” he said, “we want you to come to visit us in New Orleans. We have 15,000 hotel rooms there waiting for you. Tell them you want the Ray Nagin special rate.”

Problem is, some people took him up on it. He says he never intended that.

As Hurricane Ike took dead aim at the Texas coast, a number of Houstonians decided to evacuate to New Orleans and take advantage of the special “Ray Nagin” rate.

“You want what?” the desk clerks responded to requests for that special rate. “We don’t know of such a thing.”

Phone calls to various hotels all produced the same befuddlements. Mr. Nagin was once again “shooting from the lip,” as they say around here. When the word got to the newspaper, they ran stories about our disappointed guests and our over-promising mayor. The mayor’s people said, “He was just joking. He didn’t mean to be taken seriously.”

I saw the clip on this morning’s news in which Mr. Nagin made this promise last week. In no way did he seem to be joking. He was just talking. Rattling on to hear himself.

We understand that once word got out about what was happening, some people stepped up and paid the hotel bills for the Texas guests. I surely hope so.

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Mixing Metaphors? We Do That So Well!

The River/the Church.

The greatest river in North America flows through the heart of our city, and drains a basin, we’re told, which extends from western New York to eastern Montana. The waterway’s flow is neverending, massive, deep, strong, and so muddy a cupful looks like something from Starbuck’s.

Sunday, Edgewater Baptist Church (5900 Paris Avenue, in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans) dedicated its rebuilt facilities. Pastor Chad Gilbert welcomed back former pastor Kevin Lee and several former staffers who led in the service. Various church leaders gave testimonies and reports on what the church had been through. A video presentation paid tribute to the many churches and organizations to whom the church is indebted, including FBC Thomasville, Georgia, Riverside in Denver, the Arkansas Baptist Convention, our state convention, this association, and many others.

I told the congregation of 200-300 that in many respects this church is like the Mississippi River–the result of the input and contributions of many states, all coming together to produce one mighty entity.

“The Lord can dip His finger into the Mississippi’s waters and tell you where one tiny drop fell, on a farmland in Wisconsin or a city street in Peoria. Likewise, He looks at this building and knows which child’s offering or which family’s sacrificial gift paid for the chair you’re sitting on or the bit of carpet where you stand.”

Edgewater is committed to bringing Christ’s witness to this community, Chad said, and told of the many ways their church is serving Christ throughout New Orleans. Their facilities are being used by community groups almost every night of the week.

This is just my opinion, and I have no way of knowing, but my strong hunch is this church is far more involved in being salt and light to the city since Katrina than they ever were before that fateful event.

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