One Thanksgiving Holiday

I’m sporting a red bruise high in the middle of my forehead that Mikhail Gorbachev would envy. Friday, after throwing a log on a fire in the middle of the field, I raised up and whacked my head on a low-hanging limb. More about that below.

Wednesday, at Alpha Cottingham’s funeral, evangelistic singer (and her husband W.O’s cousin) Ronnie Cottingham provided special music and told a story about this wonderful pastor’s wife. “Miss Alpha called to ask if I could come and do a full one-hour concert. I told her I could if the preacher invited me. He did and we worked it out. The night of the concert, I came in and got set up and started singing — but Alpha wasn’t in the crowd. I checked and discovered she was keeping the nursery. No one else was available, so she took care of the little ones so others could attend the concert.”

A servant heart.

Early in the week, Margaret suggested I ought to go see my Mom for Thanksgiviing. I’d thought about it. I’ve not been home in several months and it’s a 7 hour drive, but at Mom’s age (nearing 93), I need to get there when I can. So, Thursday morning, I left the city early and drove to north Alabama. I’d asked the family to save some leftovers for my supper. Leftovers where my Mom and sisters are concerned would be a feast anywhere.

After supper, we did something we’ve not done in a couple of years: played rummy. (This has been our family’s pastime since Dad taught us to play when we were children.) My brother Ron and I played sister Patricia and her husband James. How the game turned out is never the point; the fellowship and camaraderie is. And that’s how it came about that we received the best laugh of the week from our Mom.

I forget what we were talking about. James happened to mention that one of his co-workers for the phone company, many years ago, was a part-time preacher. They were working out of town and one night, James walked into the man’s hotel room and found two Playboy magazines laying on the bed. The man recovered quickly and said, “James, look what was laying on the floor when I checked into this room today!” Um hummm. Sure.

I had my own contribution to the story. “When our younger son Marty was four years old, we were living in an apartment complex in Jackson, Mississippi. One day, he found a Playboy out behind the building. When Margaret tried to take it from him, he wouldn’t let her have it. ‘It’s my magazine,’ he kept insisting.”

They all smiled. Then from the kitchen, Mom said, “Why? He was only four. He couldn’t read.”

A pure heart.

(Everyone around the table agreed that Mom has probably never even seen that magazine.)

Now, about that tree burning.

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Making Jesus Proud

“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

What Jesus is looking for — was when He walked the dusty roads of Galilee and is today — is faith. Nothing touches His heart like encountering someone who believes in Him and accepts that He is the living Son of God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” we read in Hebrews 11:6. That’s the point.

Four men heard Jesus was in the little house down the road and sprang into action. For days, they had been waiting on this moment. They hurried down to their friend’s house and loaded him onto a pallet. (A pallet could have been something as simple as a quilt.) Each grabbed a corner and they hoisted up their paralyzed colleague and proceeded out the door and down the road. Today, their friend would meet Jesus the Healer.

At the house, they ran into a problem. The place was packed out. People were stuffed into the doorways and hanging out the windows. No one made any move toward opening a way into the house for them.

No problem.

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A Word for Shy Church Members

“Pastor, I’m sorry, but I can’t just walk up to strangers at church and introduce myself and welcome them the way you’re asking us to. That’s just not my nature. I’m sorry.”

We all know the feeling. You walk into your church on Sunday morning, thinking about your Sunday School lesson or a hundred unrelated things. You greet a couple of friends on the way in, see some elderly member who needs a hug, get stopped by someone with a question about tonight’s fellowship, and you rush along. You did happen to notice that unfamiliar family looking lost in the entranceway, but you were in a hurry. Hopefully, someone will step up and assist them.

You hope someone will. You hope.

Now to be honest here, not every visitor to church looks as though they would welcome a greeting. Some wear frowns that signal their distaste for any social contact. Some may as well wear signs around their necks shouting, “Stand back!”

And, being respectful people, we don’t want to intrude. If they don’t want to be greeted, we can accommodate them. So, we look away and walk on.

Not all unfriendly churches are made up of cold people. Most are composed of salt-of-the-earth church members who want to do the right thing, but are a little shy and do not want to come across as pushy. They don’t want to intrude.

I have a word — two, actually — to shy Christians.

First: Get over it.

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Two Deaths; God is Faithful

Pastor Lawrence Armour of Epiphany Baptist Mission went to Heaven on Thursday of this week after a lengthy hospitalization at Ochsners and Tulane Hospitals. Over the years, Lawrence had had to deal with a series of on-going strokes which limited his life in important ways. We’ll post the funeral details here when we learn them.I don’t know Lawrence’s age, but estimate that he was around 50. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family.

Lawrence’s sister, Winniefred, is married to another of our fine pastors, Johnny Jones of Free Mission Church.

Alpha Cottingham, wife of Pastor W. O. Cottingham, of St. Rose went to Heaven last night (Friday). This incredible lady was in her early 80’s, I imagine, and was a constant fixture at associational meetings, right beside her husband. She and W. O. started the First Baptist Church of St. Rose in 1959 and they stayed with that ministry until his retirement in 2005.

I dropped by the FBC of St. Rose one weekday just after becoming director of missions. W. O. and I had known one another since my seminary days (mid-60s) when we pastored in the same parish (I was just across the river in Paradis). He and I had a nice visit that day as he filled me in on his ministry (he was police chaplain and associational hospital visitor among other things). Then he asked me to go home with him and see Miss Alpha. This was a church running perhaps 30 on Sunday morning, but that weekday morning Alpha had a dozen women and girls in her living room for a WMU meeting. She was something. A charming and classy lady.

Josh Carter pastors FBC St. Rose now. The services are expected to be at the church on Wednesday afternoon. Muhleisen Funeral Home of Kenner is in charge.

Please pray for these two families. We claim for them the assurance of Hebrews 6:10. “God is not unjust so as to forget your work of faith and the love which you have shown toward His name in having ministered to the saints and in still ministering.”

Now, other things….

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Ordination and The Young Pastor

We’re making Adam Gillespie “bonafide” tomorrow, Saturday. The ordination council comes at 4 pm, followed by the ordination service 90 minutes later. Obviously, we’re fairly confident he’ll pass the first easily to have scheduled the second on its heels.

“Bonafide” comes from the Latin meaning “good faith.” Fans of the wonderful movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” will recall the term being bandied about regarding George Clooney’s character. “Mama says you’re not bonafide!”

I use the term here tongue-in-cheek to mean that Adam is officially becoming a minister of the gospel with all the rights and privileges and even legal standings pertaining thereto.

Every denomination has its own procedures and qualifications to be ordained. Southern Baptists, easily the most loosely organized religious family on the planet, have our own also.

Even though every one of our thousands of churches is independent, we have a commonly recognized tradition as to who can be ordained. Either you have finished seminary or you are called to a ministerial position with a church, one or the other.

Usually, the church you will be serving sends a request back to your home church saying, “We’ve called this person to our staff and would like to request that you ordain him to the ministry.”

The home church does two things: One, schedules an ordination council in which the candidate (i.e., the minister-to-be) goes before a group of veteran ministers for a time of testimony and questions, and if everything is in order after that, two, arranges for a service of ordination, the official “setting aside” ceremony.

The ordination council has no official standing in the church and is formed by whoever shows up, of all the ones invited by the host pastor, in this case, Pastor Sam Gentry. All the council can do is recommend to the church that the minister be ordained. The congregation actually votes in the service to proceed with the event.

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A Good Story or Two

Here’s one from Lincoln on humility. The source is Brian Lamb’s book, “Abraham Lincoln,” in which a chapter from David Herbert Donald contains the story.

Toward the end of the Civil War, Lincoln decided to visit Richmond to see what it had been like. A tugboat was found to carry him and his small party — including son Tad — up the river. Soon, they ran into barriers and obstructions placed to impede traffic, so they transferred to a smaller boat. Before long, a message arrived saying the army needed that boat. This time, the presidential party transferred to a rowboat. Lincoln uncomplainingly got into the rowboat and they slowly made their way toward Richmond.

“You know,” Lincoln said, “this reminds me of a little story.” Everything reminded him of a story; one more reason we adore him. “When I first came into office, there was a man who came to me applying for office from Illinois, I believe it was. He said, ‘I want to be secretary of state; won’t you appoint me?’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that, I’ve already appointed Secretary Seward.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘well, can’t you appoint me consul general to Paris?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘that post is already filled.’ ‘Well, could you appoint me collector of customs in Austin?’ ‘No, that post is already filled.’ ‘Well,’ said the man, ‘at least, at least could you give me an old pair of pants?'” Lincoln added, “It pays to be humble, and I’m not upset by coming to Richmond in a rowboat.”

President Lincoln must have known our Lord’s teaching in Luke 14.

Here’s a story that is making the internet circuit, arriving at my desk this morning from longtime friend Ann Allen in Columbus, Mississippi.

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Go Ahead. Give Thanks. It Won’t Hurt.

“Thank you” may not be the most profound thing you will hear or speak today. The person you direct those words to–let’s be honest–will not find them the most rewarding of utterances they receive throughout the day. In our society, they’re rather routine.

However, and this is what keeps us coming back to reminding ourselves to give thanks, the absence of those two words creates a deafening silence that may wound good people who have served well.

Thanksgiving can be trite or it can be a treasure. How we give it, the way we speak it, the smile on our countenance, and the sincerity in our voice, these infuse it with authenticity or diminish its worth.

Though I have the gift of eloquence and can move great audiences with the force of my words and have not thanks, I am become a self-righteous prig and an insufferable elitist.

Though I give the gift of great sacrifice and cause institutions to erect buildings in my honor and have not thanks for what others gave to me, I am become a royal pain and a Pharisee of the first order.

Thanks becometh the wearer, charms the receiver, softens the character, and eases the burdens of life. A grateful spirit is better adornment than jewels, a finer treasure than gold, and a greater attainment than all honors.

Thanks is not just words, but is imperfect until put into words. Thanks is more than an attitude, yet it is the best attitude.

Thanks is not godlike, for the God of the universe is beholden to no one and owes gratitude to none. And yet, we become most like our Heavenly Father when we acknowledge our debt to others and confess their contributions to our lives.

Thanks frees others up to do more, encourages them to do better, liberates our spirits to give more, and inspires everyone to his highest ideals.

Thanksgiving builds bridges between the estranged, maintains highways between friends, and erects barriers against pride.

So, go ahead. Give thanks today. It can’t hurt, and it might make a lasting difference in someone’s day.

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Churches are Different. You’ve Noticed?

I worshiped with two wonderful but vastly different churches Sunday morning and found myself reflecting on the nature of congregations.

Vaughn Forest Baptist Church in South Montgomery, Alabama, is constructing a new sanctuary to accommodate their exploding congregation. I believe they’re running three morning services each Sunday. The one I attended was the 9:20 am service with the associate pastor preaching. During the final minutes, I excused myself and slipped out to the parking lot and drove downtown to the First Baptist Church of Montgomery. That church is enjoying a huge new sanctuary and they need two morning services to take care of their congregation.

I had never attended either church. I knew no one in either congregation except my cousin Mike Kilgore and his family in Vaughn Forest, and Pastor Jay Wolf and his family at FBC-M.

These are Southern Baptist churches, so obviously they are alike in a hundred ways. But, frankly, they are different in 75 ways.

Both churches were alive and fresh. The people were involved and friendly. The staffs were sharp and prepared. The messages were outstanding and biblical.

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Minister Of God, You Can’t Do This Alone!

Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. So one woman sharpens another. So one Christian young person sharpens another.

As iron sharpens iron, so one campus minister sharpens another. So one worship leader sharpens another. So one deacon sharpens another. So one missionary sharpens another. And pre-eminently, as iron sharpens iron, so one pastor sharpens another.

I tell you on the authority of Heaven that no matter what level of ministry you are serving in, you need two or three great, close personal friends to keep one another sharp and faithful and working at the highest level.

Over 46 years of ministry, I’ve known only two pastors who did not like preachers. The first one, it turned out, was a fake. When his last church forced him out of the pulpit, it came to light that he had been spending time at the gambling tables in the casinos, was ordering alcoholic drinks with his meals, and was given to telling dirty stories and sprinkling profanity in his conversation. I believe we would all agree here was a man who had no business in the ministry. His dislike and criticism of other preachers, no doubt, was a diversion to draw attention away from his own misbehavior.

The other pastor, however, seems to have been genuine in his dislike for preachers. I knew him well and saw close up the effects of the isolation he imposed on himself as a result of his contempt for preachers. I’m not a psychiatrist, but only a pastor. However, my opinion is that any preacher in isolation has to contend with two great problems: ego and temptations of the flesh. Now, everyone fights these battles, but the isolated minister does so with one arm behind his back. He has no colleague to confide in or draw strength from.

Ego problems vary from feelings of worthlessness to extreme pride and egotism. The fleshly temptations may involve impure thoughts, unhealthy reading material, and smutty stories, and in time may lead to pornography and adulterous affairs.

Both kinds of temptation ended the ministry of my friend.

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