A Case of the Simples

Watching our nation’s politicians as they propose, dispose, impose, expose, compose and, of course, suppose regarding the economic crisis this country is facing, I find myself wondering how many actually know what they are talking about.

I hate to be skeptical, but common sense — forged by a half-century of dealing with churches, finance people, and my own situations — informs me that most people do not relate to budgets, debts, and deals in the millions of dollars, much less billions and even trillions. The present meltdown of America’s financial institutions has complexities and ramifications and intricacies that baffle even the greatest minds.

That, however, does not prevent the lowliest politician from sounding forth on the matter, usually to tell the world all that is wrong with whatever the nation’s leaders are proposing at the moment. And what is his own solution to the quandary we face? He never says.

A long time ago, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton said, “The worst disease afflicting my constituents is a thing called ‘the simples.’ The folks back home want me to come up with simple solutions to their complex problems, answers that resolve all their difficulties without it costing them anything.”

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.

Just outside Asheboro, North Carolina, is a tiny community named “Complex.” As motorists approach, they encounter a roadside sign, “Complex,” underneath which is printed in small letters: “Unincorporated.”

Evidently, Complex is simple. And yet, looking at it from another angle, Complex is complicated because it’s made up of people.

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Creative Minds, Great Quotes

“Tragically, in most churches the pain of change is greater than the pain of ineffectiveness.” — Thom Rainer in “Simple Church.”

My longtime friend, Max Youngblood of Bessemer, Alabama, sent us a delightful thing from the Birmingham area. The Jefferson County Commission is proposing a “non-user fee” for residents who do not use the county sewer system. Well, sir, that gave restaurant owner Tasos Touloupis an idea. The owner of Ted’s Restaurants — one at 328 12th St. South and the other at 1801 4th Avenue South — has proposed a “non-diner’s fee.”

The way it works is this: Ted’s will maintain a record of customers. At the end of each month, his bookkeeper will send a $12 NDF invoice to all residents of Jefferson County who did not eat at Ted’s during the month.

Sounds like a deal, doesn’t it.

In these times of economic uncertainty, our churches will need to become more creative in generating income. How does a “non-member’s tithing” system sound?

Up in Alexandria, Louisiana, my friend Devona Able was at her computer the other evening. Her wonderful eight-year-old Grace Anne, looking over her shoulder, noticed an e-mail from “Dr. Joe McKeever.” She asked, “Is he a doctor?” Mom answered, “Yes, but not like Dr. Marzullo (her pediatrician).”

Grace Anne said, “Oh, so he must be a doctor like Dr. Brooks (Calvary, Alexandria). They’re like doctors of love because they teach people what love really means and that it comes from Jesus.”

“Yeah, baby,” mom said. “Something like that.”

Out of the mouths of babes. (So, just call me “Doctor Love.” Wait, on second thought, that sounds like a rap artist.)

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If I Were Looking For A Church Home….

1. I would not tell God what I require. We may assume He knows what I need.

2. I would not judge a church by the externals — location, beauty, convenience, denomination, ample parking, landscaping, reputation.

3. I would ask: “Is God in this place?” “Do they teach His Word?” “Do they seem to care for people?” “Is this a ‘safe place’ in which to worship, serve, and grow?” “Is this home?” I would want the answer to those questions, but I would not make my decision on the basis of any of them. After all, it could be the church is not what it ought to be and God is sending me to help it grow and heal.

4. I would ask the Holy Spirit to lead me to the church he has chosen. After all, I don’t have the time or energy to visit every possible congregation in this city. “He leadeth me in the path of righteousness.”

5. And once I knew in my heart that ‘this is the church,’ I would join it. I would give my tithes and offerings and begin praying for the church leaders and looking for ways to encourage them. I would begin learning the names of church members, and not wait on them to reach out to me.

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What Even My Barber Knows

I opened my email this morning to find an urgent plea from one of our Metairie pastors. Immediately, all the bells went off. Something was not right.

The message began: “Hi, how are you doing today? I went on trip to London to attend a program for the support of those living with HIV/AIDS. I am very sorry I didn’t tell you about it til now. I really need your assistance because I’m stranded in London. You won’t believe I forgot my little bag in the taxi where my money, passport, documents, and other valuable things were kept….”

He needed $2500 to “settle my outstanding hotel bills, feed myself, and transport myself to the embassy to recover a temporary traveling paper back home.”

A temporary traveling paper? Was this written by someone unable to express himself? Certainly not by this pastor, the sharpest guy in the city.

I phoned Freddie Arnold and said, “You’re not going to believe this e-mail. Listen to this.” I’d not read two sentences when he said, “Ninfa (one of the secretaries in our office) got one just like it.”

It was a scam. Someone had stolen the internet address and mailing list from one of our finest and best-loved pastors in our association, and was emailing everyone, asking for money. Send the cash by Western Union, of course.

I heard the other day that with all the trillions of dollars flowing out of Washington into our troubled economy, Congress accepts the fact that a certain percentage will be lost to fraud. Billions of dollars of it, if you can believe that.

I find it so difficult to believe that right now people are sitting in their homes and offices scheming to lay their hands on portions of that cash.

But they are.

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Misha Runs

The most courageous person I know is Misha McKeever, my wonderful daughter-in-law, wife to Marty and mother of Darilyn and Jack. This Charlotte, NC, child is training to run a marathon in Seattle this summer, to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I am stunned, impressed, and possibly a little envious. Check out her page and send her some encouragement at: http://www.tinyurl.com/misha-runs

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Red Flag, Anyone?

Once in a blue moon, a blogster (like yours truly) ought to take a chance and unload. I suppose that’s what I did in the recent “Rush Limbaugh” article, although at the time I thought of it as just a typical expression of where my mind was that day. Judging by some of the reactions I’ve gotten, though, you would have thought I had a death wish to have done something so risky and insane.

I really do not mind that the blog was controversial. In fact, I completely expected that. It’s absolutely fine for people to disagree with it. I do not feel like I have to defend it or argue. But one of the surprises I’ve had in several of the responses that came to me and some arriving at the editorial offices of our state paper (The Baptist Message in Alexandria, LA) is to learn that many conservatives absolutely hate (despise, abhor, cannot stand) Newsweek.

Now, anyone who read the article noticed that I did not actually quote Newsweek (which would have been all right if I had; I happen to like the magazine). I quoted a CONSERVATIVE leader who was asked by that magazine to write his own assessment of Rush Limbaugh’s role in the country and in the conservative movement. That’s important. I was not quoting Newsweek. I was quoting the conservative leader whose article happened to have been published in that newsweekly.

But some people either do not read or do not care, one or the other. In making a passing reference to Newsweek, I happened to press their button and they spilled out their hatred for that magazine, in the process coupling me with the object of their disgust.

It was a ‘red flag’ moment.

Webster gives as one of many definitions of “red flag” something that provokes an angry or hostile reaction.

Jesus had His red flag moments. So did the Apostle Paul. This little Limbaugh episode gives me an opportunity to point them out.

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Change at the Cutting Edge

The only constant, they say, is change.

I sometimes tell pastors, “There are only three Baptists in the entire world who enjoy change — and none of them are members of your church!”

And yet, change we must. Everything around us is morphing at a pace we can hardly track.

Churches would do well to note what is happening on the international missionary front.

An article from the president of one of our denomination’s mission boards just arrived. International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin is informing Southern Baptists, his constituents, of impending changes in the way the missionaries who serve with and under him will be doing missions.

I was a member of the board of trustees of the IMB (when it was called the Foreign Mission Board) thirty years ago. The board itself was birthed in 1845 when Baptists in this country divided for a multitude of reasons. Over the decades, the leaders had changed their methodology numerous times. During my four year tenure from 1976 to 1980, I saw them go through another radical change.

During the quarter-century the board was led by former China missionary Baker James Cauthen — that would be 1954-1979 — the emphasis was on career missionaries going oversees to devote their lives to one mission field. But the times were a-changing in the 1970s. People in our churches wanted to be involved in hands-on missions and not just pay others to travel across the world and do it for them.

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Twelve Things — One of Them With Your Name On It

Number 12–Rick Warren is determined to help New Orleans.

The first installment on the several-year commitment his Saddleback Church is making toward the churches and pastors of this city is a “New Orleans Purpose-Driven Church Conference,” scheduled for Saturday, May 2 (from 8 am to 4:30 pm) at Celebration Church, 2701 Transcontinental Drive, Metairie, LA. All pastors and every church leader (lay or staff) is invited, of all denominations. To register, go to http://www.purposedrivenchurch.com/NewOrleans or call 800-723-3532.

Speakers and teachers for that day-long event will be Bryan Crute of Destiny Metropolitan Church in Atlanta, Gerald Sharon, the North American Director of the Purpose Driven Network, Gonzalo Rodriguez, pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Hispanic Church of Metairie, and Dennis Watson, pastor of Celebration.

Gerald Sharon emphasizes that while the name says “New Orleans,” everyone from anywhere may attend by registering in advance.

Number 11 — Jesus promised His disciples only three things:

They would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in trouble.

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Blessed Be “The Name”

“And David arose and went…to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by The Name, the very Name of the Lord of Hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim.” (II Samuel 6:2)

You don’t have to read far in the Bible, particularly the portion we call the Old Testament, to observe that the writers seem to be bending over backward not to actually speak the Name of God.

In Psalm 20, for example, we read this blessing: “May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high.”

That reads like they have left a blank for God’s actual name, under which they penned in tiny letters: “You know, the Name of the God of Jacob.”

We could use some of that. We desperately need more reverence for the name of God today.

I read the other day that the Catholic Church has announced it will no longer be referring to God by the name “Yahweh.” That, to the best of our knowledge, is the proper way of spelling and pronouncing the YHVH or YHWH which is found in the Hebrew Bible everywhere the name of God is given. Not to belabor a point you probably know from having read it countless times, but the Jews would not pronounce that name, and so gradually lost the vowels that accompanied those four consonants. Instead of pronouncing the proper name (YHVH), Jewish worshipers would say “Adonai,” meaning “The Lord.”

The Hebrew for “The Name” is “Ha-Shem.” A common expression was “Baruch Ha-Shem.” Blessed be the Name.

When the King James translators came along in the early 1600s they took the vowels from Adonai and stuck them under YHVH and gave us Jehovah (or something close to it). But that name was just an invention on their part.

In the 1960s when I would try to dialogue with members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they would insist how absolutely necessary it is that a church carry the proper name for God (that being “Jehovah,” of course). A dozen years later, by the time their leaders had learned their mistake, they changed their tune. Then, when we would “dialogue,” they would say, “It doesn’t really matter; it’s the spirit of the thing that counts.” Uh huh.

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