Postive Strokes

I haven’t read Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, “My Stroke of Insight,” which chronicles her “personal journey” as a result of a massive stroke. The fact that it occurred to a brain surgeon who knew precisely what was happening to her at every stage makes it a fascinating subject. The publicity folks for her publisher talk about the positive things she learned and can teach the rest of us. The NPR announcer referred to her experience as “a stroke of luck.”

Two friends have e-mailed me this week with their accounts of hosting our citizens who had evacuated to their towns as a result of Hurricane Gustav. So many reports from newspapers told of ungrateful evacuees with their constant demands, bellyaching, and even fighting. So, this is welcome news.

Dwight Munn is a senior staff member at West Monroe’s First Baptist Church, one of the great churches in our state. He writes, “We hosted around 70 members of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church for about a week. We also hosted a group of Hispanic brothers and sisters from Great Commission Baptist Church in Marrero. They numbered about 60.”

“It was a phenomenal time of community. Everyone was respectful as well as helpful. We wanted them to participate in the physical aspects because we felt it was better for them to do that than just sit around. They agreed and pitched in every time the need arose.”

“One Hispanic mechanic (nice rhyme) offered his services free of charge to anyone needing car repair at the shelter. It truly was an experience of the bond of love and the unity of peace which God’s children enjoy.”

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Tornadoes and Other Crises in Our Lives

“We think it may have been a tornado that hit Memorial Baptist Church,” a member told me Tuesday morning. We reported here a couple of days ago that when Gustav blew through our area of the world, the storm did only minor damage to the city and our churches with the exception of roof damage at Williams Boulevard and Memorial Baptist churches, two congregations no more than a mile apart.

Some of my pastor friends report they’ve visited with Memorial pastor Jackie Gestes and they are amazed at how upbeat he is. He had just transported his ministry library of 2,000 books to his church office–and then the storm drenched the offices and sanctuary. We stand in amazement at the fortitude of this brother—and so many others further west, who are picking up the pieces of their own storm-battered lives.

All this reminds me of two friends—Pastor Jose Mathews and my grandchildren’s cat Lizzie, and what they endured from Katrina.

In Jose’s case, his church–Discipleship Baptist in east New Orleans–was drowned and ruined and the congregation scattered from one end of the USA to the other. He lost his home due to the flooding, and he and his wife relocated to the Baton Rouge area. Inside the next year, Jose had a stroke, his mother died, and his only son, age 22, was shot down on the streets of Houston, Texas.

The hits just kept on coming.

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Think of Prayer as Reminding God

In high school, J. L. Rice and I were the two first boys to ever take shorthand. We took it for two full years, thinking we would need it in college. We didn’t, but for me, it was a wise choice since it paid my way through school and supported my family the first two years of marriage. (I worked as a secretary for a railroad company during college and for a cast iron pipe company for two years afterward.)

In Old Testament days, in the courts of kings like David and Solomon, among the officials serving the rulers was one called a “recorder.” The Hebrew word is MAZKIR. It’s a fascinating word.

Bear in mind that the consonants in Hebrew carry the freight. The ZKR–pronounced zah-kar–is the word for “remember.” You will recall what a popular theme that was for prophets who brought sermons to God’s people. “Remember, O Israel,” they would begin. A friend of mine did his doctoral thesis on the use of “zakar” in the Old Testament. He had plenty of material to work with.

The word MZKR or MAZKIR adds a new dimension to “remember,” and makes it “to cause to remember.” That is, to remind.

A MAZKIR or court recorder was a person with an interesting assignment: he took notes (shorthand?) on what the king did in negotiations with other rulers or while issuing verdicts in court and he kept that information on file. The next time the king met with the other rulers or held court again, he called in his “mazkir” and asked him to bring him up to date, to remind him of what they did the last time. Kings need people to help them remember.

Okay, still with me here? This is where it gets good.

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Nurturing the “Maverick” in Us

Politics aside, each of us needs to have a “little John McCain” inside us, that maverick quality that refuses to go along with something just because everyone else is doing it, that looks for what may have been overlooked when consensus arrived too swiftly, that speaks up when others around are too timid or intimidated to express themselves.

Senator Ted Kennedy used this line at the funeral of his brother Bobby in 1968, and consequently, everyone thinks Bobby said it, but it’s a line from a George Bernard Shaw play: “Some see things as they are and ask why; I see things that never were and ask ‘why not?'”

That’s a maverick, one who sees what isn’t there but ought to be.

Nurture the maverick in your church. Every leader needs several–but at least one–in his group of closest advisors who can put the brakes on his enthusiasm, who can ask the hard questions, and who refuses to go along with the easy answers.

Mavericks put grey hairs in the heads of leaders. There are times when we want the earth to open up and swallow them and give us some peace, but those moments of despair pass and we realize how desperately we need them.

They keep us honest and make us stronger.

A maverick is what Kenneth Lay needed at Enron and did not have until it was too late.

A maverick is what Jim Bakker needed at PTL and for want of one, lost his entire ministry.

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Saturday’s Latest

Yesterday–Friday–I had three contacts from our people in the offices of the Louisiana Baptist Convention in Alexandria asking if any of our churches suffered and if any pastor/staffer needs their assistance. Pretty great of them to do that.

We’ve not checked with all the churches and pastors, but so far the news is mixed. The churches we anticipated being hit the hardest–Port Sulphur Baptist Church way downriver in Plaquemines Parish, for instance–came through just fine, as did Poydras Baptist Church and FBC Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish. So, I was starting to feel great, and then….

I’m on my way out of the city, driving to the Tupelo, Mississippi, area for the revival at FBC Fulton. Since my home computer is down, I ran by the associational offices to check my email. A friend at FBC Kenner wrote, “I’m sure you already know this, but Memorial Baptist Church in Metairie lost their roof again.”

Oh no. Not that.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

We received word early Thursday morning that electrical power had been restored on our block in River Ridge, so I drove home. As soon as the word also came that the sewers were malfunctioning due to massive power outages that could not easily be restored, Margaret decided to stay behind with my sister Carolyn in Jasper, Alabama. I’ll pick her up on my way South after the revival at Fulton, MS, this Sunday-Wednesday.

I dreaded the drive back to New Orleans, anticipating that the clogged highways for evacuating would be repeated for returning. Traffic was heavy but not congested, and moved along at 70 mph. The New Orleans radio station reported that the city was still getting rain, the last remnants of Hurricane Gustav.

To the friends who have called, asking if we need help with our churches, etc., we have answered that thus far, it appears Baton Rouge was hit much worse than us and that the heaviest damage seems to have been in the parishes of Terrebone and Lafourche (that would be Houma and down-below Raceland areas). I’m certain many of those churches will be needing our help. Joe Arnold is the director of missions there (Bayou Baptist Assn, Houma). To contact him, send an email to Mike Canady, the director of missions and ministries for the Louisiana Baptist Convention (; the phone is 800-622-6549). His secretary can put you in touch with Joe in Houma, or with the director of missions for Baton Rouge, Roddy Conerly (Baptist Assn of Greater Baton Rouge).

Returning to New Orleans, I took the Causeway across Lake Pontchartrain, just as we had done returning from Katrina’s evacuation. I bought a few groceries on the Northshore since all reports were that long lines at grocers here made shopping difficult. Even in Covington and Slidell, the stores were crowded and many shelves were bare. In Metairie, some of our favorite shopping places were still boarded up. So reminiscent of Katrina.

No damage in my neighborhood, other than the occasional downed tree. Limbs everywhere, but we can clean that up.

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Update As Of Wednesday, September 3

We’re grateful to be alive and well and reporting that God has taken care of New Orleans, our people, our homes, and our churches.

Talked to John Faull, pastor of Kenner’s Williams Boulevard Baptist Chrurch, this morning. He’s back in town. He discovered their buildings have taken some roof damage, especially over the office area and somewhat over the sanctuary. After Katrina, their church served as a hospitality center for law enforcement people all over the country since Troop B of the Highway Patrol is across the street. That was the plan this time, but John says Baton Rouge took far more damage than New Orleans, so the law enforcers are gravitating to that area and working out of it this time.

No power, John reports. They will have a 10 am service this Sunday, and nothing else. No power in LaPlace where the Faulls live either, although his home had no damage (in contrast to the neighbors’ homes which all lost shingles).

John says as people think of coming home, the absence of electrical power is only one consideration. Only one service station is open in that part of the world, he said. The one in St. Rose has lines extending a mile. Mayor Nagin rushed the invitation for people to re-enter the city, John believes, and residents should bide their time.

Jim Caldwell, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in River Ridge–a mile from where I live–drove back into town on Monday after depositing Susan and the kids in Atlanta. “How were you allowed to enter?” I asked. He laughed. “The storm was so bad, no one was on the highways to stop me.” Jim has a passion for ministry and “had” to be back at the church to help people.

He drove around my home and reported no damage anywhere, for which we give thanks.

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