Heart Trouble

The Heart is a Rebel.

Miss that and nothing else makes sense, either about the human condition or what God did to heal its maladies and re-align its focus.

I’ve driven the interstate across our city for enough years to remember when it felt like a parking lot and required five minutes to go a city block. These days, since the highway has been widened and the lanes increased, we can breeze through what were formerly congested spots at fifty miles per hour. Some motorists, however, choose to go seventy. Where the limit is seventy, they go eighty.

I have not the slightest doubt that if the speed limit were increased to 90, some drivers would exceed it.

The heart is a rebel. It does not like to obey a law or keep a promise or restrain itself.

The tabloid staring at you from the supermarket checkout line names a husband of some Hollywood star known for her beauty. The headline announces that she has caught him in adultery and is suing for divorce.

What, you wonder, is that man doing committing adultery when he is already married to the most luscious dish on the planet? Answer: the heart wants what it wants and does not like to take

Officially Retired… And Answering Questions

“So when did you announce your retirement?” I keep getting asked. The answer is: “The day I took this job five years ago.”

Once we determined that this was of the Lord, I said to the search committee chairman, Dr. Gail DeBord, “I’ll give you three years.” He said, “Make it five.” And that became the plan.

So, I resigned the day I moved into this office. Gave a five-year notice, you might say. It was most definitely of the Lord. Had I left after three years, we were still in crisis mode here, recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and the timing would have been terrible.

Now, we’re ready. We’ve done a 12-month re-organizational study of the association under the leadership of seminary Professor Reggie Ogea, and are putting into place an entirely different plan of operation for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.

Ten years ago, Freddie Arnold left the Kingsville Baptist Church of Pineville, LA, where he had been minister of education for 17 years, to become Church Planting Strategist for the Baptist churches of metro New Orleans. That was another God-thing, if there has ever been one.

Monday night, at the Spring meeting of this association and the official retirement send-offs for both Freddie and me, I told the representatives of our churches, “No one could ever have had a finer colleague than Freddie. He has been everything we have needed for this critical time in the life of our churches.”

Freddie is multi-talented. I told them, “If you need a sermon, he can preach it. If you need a hymn, he can lead it. If you need a house, he can build it. If your car is in need of repair, he can fix it. And this morning, we found another of his skills. In his early morning walks alongside Lake Pontchartrain, he had picked dewberries, and today, he brought in a cobbler he made with the berries he had picked. Apparently, there is nothing this man cannot do.”

Unless it’s draw cartoons. (But there’s not a lot of call for that!)

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Lose The Naivete, Christians!

On a state or secular college campus, the atheistic professor has complete freedom to spout his religious views without protest from the students or interference from the dean. Let a Christian instructor relate his personal story to inform the students of his worldview so they can better understand where he’s coming from, and he’s harassed and soon out of a job.

At a convocation of students on the average campus, “freedom of speech” and the First Amendment are championed. Let a student stand and own up to being a follower of Jesus Christ who attempts to live by the Bible, and he/she is hooted down.

Ironic, isn’t it, the hostility that those of a secular bent have toward belief in Jesus Christ.

It’s more than just a prejudice, however. It’s a full-blown hatred.

That hatred is born of a fear of Jesus.

If you have ever read the gospels and wondered how in the world things in that remote day came to the point where right-thinking people moved to arrest and crucify the Lord Jesus Christ, He who never lifted a finger against a human on the planet, the Man of Peace, then take a look around you.

Human nature hasn’t changed in the last 2,000 years.

Look at the way militant gays feel threatened by a Baptist church where the people inside are seeking to live as Jesus did and by His teachings. The believers inside that congregation would never hurt a fly, yet they are vilified as the enemy by the protestors outside who hurl profanity and insults in their direction.

They hate the church for the same reason the religious leaders of the first century opposed Jesus: they fear righteousness.

That surprises a lot of Christians.

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Hellish Campaigns

I’ll write an article for the website on preachers who get hurt by thoughtless church leaders or are themselves the perpetrators of wrong against church members, and the comments arrive in droves. Everyone has a story. There is so much pain in the church today.

No one can hurt us like a family member can. Since a church is a family of believers, we become vulnerable to injury as a result of our close dealings with each other.

A friend wrote, “I just read (in your blog) about mistakes preachers make. May I share a story with you?”

She and her husband were members of a church in another state. A casual, impromptu conversation with the leader of the church’s Bible-drillers was misunderstood, then blown all out of proportion and may have resulted in a death. Here is her story, which I have edited for clarity and to cushion her from identification.

“We were chatting in the bathroom at church. I thanked the woman for her work in teaching the children the way to use their Bibles. She commented that she had only one child in her program at that moment. She had sent letters home with the Sunday School children encouraging the parents to get their kids in the program, but with pitiful results.

“The pastor’s wife happened to be in another part of the ladies’ room and overheard the conversation. Apparently, she read more into it than was intended. Later that week, my husband received a nasty letter from the preacher.

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A Time to Reach Out

An article in Saturday’s religion page of the Chattanooga Free Press–I read it over lunch driving home from a conference in Ridgecrest North Carolina–spoke of the decline in numbers our (Southern Baptist) denomination is experiencing. The statistics indicate we are baptizing fewer than last year, which continues a downward trend of the last decade or so. We count fewer members of our churches, although, again, the negative numbers are not drastic.

Not yet anyway.

Now is the time to act, our leaders are saying. Every elected and appointed executive of our denomination pulls his teams together and sends them searching for programs and methods to spur a new round of ministry and growth in our churches.

I have two thoughts on that subject. These are not the final answer on anything, I regret to say, but surely these two points must provide part of the answer.

One: times of decline in a church are periods when most churches do precisely the opposite of what they should be doing. They begin looking for ways to cut back on staff and lop off expenses. Training programs for staff are among the first to go and advertising in the community is quickly seen as unneeded.

Counterproductive. Most destructive.

The very opposite of what a church should do.

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Many Things, Mostly Half-Serious

I caught Pastor Mike on the drive back from Birmingham where he’d been performing a wedding. “Your dog is fine,” I said over the phone. “But there’s one thing.”

I’d been checking on his dog — a full member of the Miller family, if I’m any judge — while my pastor and his family were out of town for 36 hours. I’d looked in on her Friday evening on my way to a revival meeting where I was the preacher, and then let her in the house that night on my way home. Saturday morning, I’d let her outside for a bit — it looked like rain, so she would stay inside today — and put food in her bowl. I let her visit the back yard again at noon and one final time before leaving for the evening revival service. She’s a lovely dog (golden retriever, I think) and soaked up all the attention I gave her.

“The problem,” I told Pastor Mike, “is that the food I put out for her this morning is untouched.” He sighed, “I know. She’s depressed.” He added that she had been depressed the last few days while Mike’s wife Terri has been in another state with their oldest son who was having surgery. Mike said, “It’s really Terri’s dog and they’re missing each other.”

The dog is depressed and so doesn’t eat. How human is that?

I’ve never had a house-dog, so the subtleties of canine ownership eludes me. My sister Carolyn, however, knows all there is to know on the subject.

A number of years back, I was visiting senior adults with one of our deacons. As we approached one house in particular, he said, “Be careful of the dog, Pastor. He’s pretty ferocious.”

As we walked through the gate into the yard, I spotted a skinny little mutt cowering under a shrub. Surely that couldn’t be the monster he warned me about.

Inside, the lady of the house said, “Did you see my dog outside? The poor thing got all his hair cut off and he just hasn’t felt good about himself ever since.”

So humanlike.

Sometimes when I’m drawing children, in order to provoke a smile, I’ll ask, “Are you married?” and when they say, “No,” I ask, “Why not?” The conversations are often funny.

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The Willing Lord

Revelation 3:20 may well be the most-quoted Bible verse in today’s churches. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him and he with me.”

Some teachers/preachers make much of the fact that the passage in which it is found was addressed to a church (Laodicea in Asia Minor) and not to an unsaved individual. If context is everything — and I do not believe it is; it’s much but not everything — then, that alone should warn us off using Revelation 3:20 in an evangelistic situation.

The fact is evangelism was precisely what was needed in that Laodicean church. Undoubtedly, some of those church leaders needed saving! If that’s the case, then this fascinating verse was meant exactly for the purpose for which we use it today.

All that aside (I really do not intend or wish to debate that point), there are three wonderful surprises in this verse which I’d like to call to your attention:

One: There is a surprise about Jesus. Look how willing He is to bless us. He has done everything necessary for our eternal life and salvation and forgiveness and usefulness in the Kingdom, and has gone the extra mile in bringing it right to our doorstep! In fact, He does everything to get us into Heaven except one thing: He will not force it on us.

Remember the old saw about “where does the 600 pound gorilla go?” (the answer being, “Anywhere he wants to.”) Well, you would think that would also be the answer to the question “Where does the Lord of Heaven and Earth go?” But it isn’t. There is one place He will not go without an invitation: into the human heart.

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Stuff Growing Preachers Will Enjoy

One –

Charlie Dale, pastor at New Orleans’ Grace Baptist Church, has just sent a post-Easter message to everyone on his e-mailing list with the following:

“The church is full of hypocrites! It must be true because I’ve heard it all my life. Well, for those who decry the church being filled with hypocrites, I have good advice for you. Go to church on the Sunday after Easter. The Sunday after Easter is the lowest attended Sunday all year. The church won’t be full of hypocrites because the church won’t be full of anybody. If the past is any indication, our own church building will be one-quarter full. This is your opportunity to fill the church with genuine, authentic, pure-in-heart people like yourself; therefore, you’ll out-number the rest of us hypocrites! We’ll even read Christ’s own preaching against hypocrisy from Matthew 6:1-18 this Sunday.”

Charlie ends with this: “This opportunity only comes once a year. Don’t waste it.” He adds this post-script: “Note to hypocrites: Don’t worry. We know that we’re still in charge.”

Good stuff, Charlie. One thing you can be assured of: those who show up this Sunday will possess a good sense of humor!

Two –

Recently a friend said, “Tell me what to do, Joe. Sometimes in the introduction of my sermon, I get so carried away with what I’m going to preach, that I end up preaching the entire thing right then. Instead of reading my text and going about it in an orderly way, I dump the whole thing on them up front.”

I smiled and said, “Well, not to devastate you all in one blow, but the answer to your problem is called

Sermon Expectations

I’m not going to identify the preacher to spare him possible embarrassment, but knowing him, he’d probably enjoy the notoriety. He shared this with a group of us one day ago and I’ve smiled about it ever since.

A few of us preachers were confessing mistakes we’d made in the pulpit. During a pause, he said, “Well, I once told the congregation to turn to some scripture, something like Luke chapter 5, verse 31. And when I got there, I saw it was not the text I had in mind. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find my note with the correct text. So, I just read that verse to them and then preached it!”

The other pastors howled. I suppose we all could just see ourselves doing that. Or maybe we took pleasure in knowing that with all the dumb things we’ve done, we never did that!

The preacher said, “When it was over, the people said it was one of my most spirit-filled messages ever.”

That, I suggest, is not a very good testimonial for sermon preparation.

I thought of something Bill Nimmons said. At the time he was the associate pastor of Starkville, Mississippi’s First Baptist Church, serving under Pastor D. C. Applegate, a lovely man of God with multiple health problems. Bill had unfortunately learned to expect those last-minute phone calls informing he that he would need to fill in for the pastor. That’s what happened this particular Sunday.

The call had come during breakfast that Sunday morning, leaving Bill almost no time to prepare. However, God took over, everyone agreed, and the sermon was excellent, the service a blessing, and a number of people responded to the invitation. Just before the benediction, the chairman of deacons announced, “This afternoon, Bill will have time to prepare tonight’s sermon. So, this morning, we saw what God can do. Come back tonight, and we’ll see what Bill can do!!”

It helps to have a sense of humor about church work.

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“The Book” for Those Who Love New Orleans

During the Great Depression, in an attempt to put people to work and spur recovery, FDR and Congress formed the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Interestingly, the WPA did not just recruit laborers and skilled craftsmen, but assembled artists and writers and put them to work. (Students of politics will recall that FDR’s right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, served as the administrator of the WPA.)

Artists painted murals in post offices all over America, where they can still be seen and enjoyed. Writers collected the stories and histories of communities across the country, most being recorded for the first time. These remain invaluable treasures today. One of the best of these was written about our city.

“New Orleans City Guide: 1938″ is a fun read for anyone who knows and loves the Crescent City. First published, obviously, in 1938, it was reprinted in 1952 and 1983. The present reprint (2009) comes from Garrett County Press (http://www.gcpress.com). This book has been called the “masterpiece of the whole (WPA) series.” I bought it at Sams Club for $12.32, a bargain.

I’ve been trying to assemble a representative collection of books on New Orleans for our associational office. It occurs to me that new staffers coming to work here will enjoy reading them and learning the history and culture of the community where God has sent them. They do not have to approve it or even like it, but they need to know it.

A few things from the book you might find interesting….

Bear in mind the year 1718 is the official founding date for New Orleans. “The earliest direct reference to a house of worship in the city is in the account of Father Charlevoix, who, when visiting New Orleans in 1721, found only