Your Own Personal Miracle

The phone call this week ended my five-plus years as the director of missions with the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Officially retired as of April 27, the administrative committee had asked me to stay on a while in anticipation of the arrival of my successor–who is Dr. C. Duane McDaniel, presently the pastor of Hawaii Kai Baptist Church in Honolulu–as he will arrive on July 1.

The chairman said, “We’re going to cut you free as of the 31st, this Sunday.”

My mother says, “How does it feel being retired?” I said, “A lot like being unemployed.”

But thankfully the invitations to speak and teach are coming in, and it appears I’ll be staying busy.

I’ve written here that the plan is to leave untouched my Guidestone (denominational annuity agency) account for a couple of years to see if it will recover from the devastating hit the economy gave it over the last year. In the meantime, I’m taking every speaking/preaching opportunity that comes along, and–I’m so grateful!–Guidestone is doing its part.

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New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, thankfully in the last year of his second term, delivered his final “state of the city” report on Wednesday, May 20. His main thrust was to gloss over his time in office, dressing up the failures, spinning the goofs, and issuing more promises.

No one is better at promise-making than our mayor. Time and again, he has called news conferences to unveil a grand scheme for this section of the city or that development, only to have it all disappear like morning fog in the noontime heat. The media finally learned to quit running these announcements as though the millennium had arrived.

“Nagin asserted that under his leadership, city government has begun to regain solid financial footing and is poised to usher in an era of an unprecedented building boom.” (My hunch is he’s right, and that era will begin just as soon as a new administration walks in next year.)

“The naked truth,” he said, “is that we are positioned for full recovery.” (He reminds me of something Jerry Merriman once said about a campus ministry leader at Mississippi State when Jerry led the Baptist student ministry there. When I inquired about the president of the group, Jerry said, ‘We had to terminate him. He never did anything. Everytime we spoke, he was always getting ready to act. ‘We’re going to do this in a big way,’ he always said. But he never did anything, and I finally got enough of it.”)

When the mayor “claimed to be moving forward with streetcar extensions along Convention Center Boulevard and Loyola Avenue near the Union Passenger Terminal,” a spokesperson for the transit office commented that “those projects remain in the conceptual stage.” (No matter. It fits the mayor’s pattern of presenting concepts and ideas as fait accompli.)

Referring to various legal investigations going on concerning people in his administration, Nagin said he had done nothing wrong. I expect that he’s right. He’s done nothing wrong and little right.

When one of my neighbors in River Ridge got married recently, he had no idea he would spend his wedding night in jail. Friday evening, May 15, John had just entered the Crystal Plantation reception hall with his bride. A cop on duty approached his nephew Samuel and told him his pants were too low. There is actually a parish (state?) law about this, something involving obscenity, no doubt. The teenager protested, although he admitted his belt was loose. His cousins all agreed that his pants were fine.

But his cousins were not the cop. The policeman insisted.

That’s when the groom and his father got involved. A pushing and shoving and cursing match followed, and all three were hauled off to jail.

A family member groaned, “They spent $1500 on dance lessons and didn’t even get to dance!”

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A New World for Missions

A generation ago, a leader of our Foreign Mission Board said to me, “Eventually, Southern Baptists are going to have to come to terms with our changing world. We know what we mean by the word ‘missionary,’ but in much of the world that is an inflammatory word and simply saying it brings up hostile reactions. We need to find other terms to describe our people.”

That time is now with us.

I am confident some Southern Baptists view the changing nomenclature of our missions effort with a certain amount of alarm, as though this were all about political correctness. But it has nothing to do with that.

In my last pastorate, Shelley finished college and went to central Asia for two years to work with what is now called “a people group.” That nebulous term refers to a subset of a nation in which the people are somewhat isolated, have a different culture, and speak their own language. Shelley was not allowed to tell us which country she worked in or the name of the people group. She sent e-mails home in code. For ‘pray’ she would write ‘yarp,’ which is ‘pray’ spelled backward.

A missionary executive told me this week, “There are people all over the planet who type into their internet search engines the name of their country and ‘prayer.’ They’re looking for just this very thing, for religious groups heading their way for proselyting. And when they find them, that person or that group is barred from entering.”

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Star-Trekking in the Ministry

I haven’t seen the latest “Star Trek” movie. It’s on my agenda, but I’ve not had the time and don’t see when I will for the next couple of weeks. Friends say it’s a good one, however.

The newspaper this Friday morning says that movie has been beamed to the astronauts circling the globe in the International Space Station. Previously — a year or more ago, I think — all the Star Trek movies had been teleported (sorry, couldn’t resist) up to these global-circuit-riders in the stratosphere.

Most of the current crop of astronauts say their interest in space exploration was whetted by the television show “Star Trek,” either the original with William Shatner (Captain Kirk) or the “next generation” bunch.

A writer for a more recent televised version of these explorers who “go where no one has ever gone before” has let us in on inside information which I find fascinating.

Over forty years, the six TV series of Star Trek comprise 726 episodes. For the 198 episodes in the series this writer was part of, 155 writers — a staggering number — were employed. So much for continuity, uniformity, theme development, character consistency.

The fact that trekkies soak up episode after episode and live and die by this stuff I find amazing. And more than a little depressing.

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Buying a Car and Other Miserable Experiences

We’re Camry people, ever since the first one we purchased used for Margaret in 1998. I went around to neighbors with a Camry in their driveway, asking, “Do you ‘like’ your Camry or are you crazy about it?” Without exception, everyone was crazy about theirs. Eventually, we bought new Camrys in 2001 and 2005. This being 2009 and the ’05 carrying 140,000 miles, it is clearly time to upgrade.

I dread the process of studying prices and choices and making the rounds of the dealerships. Car dealers know this, of course, and count on it to discourage shoppers from in-depth comparisons and induce them into “let’s get it over with” purchasing decisions.

Anyway, here’s what happened.

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Ten Good Reasons, Five Great Insights, Stuff Like That

A friend who publishes an internet magazine for preachers and frequently picks up something from this blog to share with his subscription list wrote with suggestions on future articles we might want to write. See what you think about these subjects….

–the most difficult passage I ever preached. (Do I dare admit to him — and to myself — that if a text is really difficult, I don’t preach it? I usually stay with it until I get a handle on it and thus it’s not the most difficult any more. The most difficult ones are the least-studied ones.)

–the 17 best lessons I’ve learned in the pastorate. (So far, I’ve only come up with the first two: keep growing and keep praying.)

–the 12 funniest jokes I’ve ever told in the pulpit. (Well, the three funniest I told my first Sunday at one church and almost got voted out before I ever moved in. I’m still giving this one a lot of thought. Like most pastors, I tell them and forget them.)

–the 10 biggest mistakes I’ve made in the pastorate. (Is it possible to do this? The pastors who read this will understand that there are some mistakes we make that are so embarrassing or shameful or secret that one does not dare admit them, regardless how long ago they happened. In fact, one pastor I know when asked to compile such a list of career mistakes in his ministry answered, “My biggest was five years ago when I honestly answered a question like this. The deacons read it and soon I was out of a job.”)

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Why I Enjoy Leading Deacon Conference

I am not, nor have I ever been, a deacon. I’m a veteran pastor (42 years) and retired director of missions (5 years), and a lot of other things (father, grandfather, cartoonist, blogster, banquet-speaker, etc.), but never a deacon. I am the father of a deacon, but that doesn’t count.

So what do I know about deacons and how did I come to know it?

Every church I ever pastored — and there are 7 of them — had deacons. The first, Unity Baptist Church of Kimberly, Alabama, had only one, Mr. Guthrie, but he was elderly and left everything to me. The last three pastorates — the First Baptist churches of Columbus, MS, Charlotte, NC, and Kenner, LA — had large deacon boards (fellowships, groups, however you want to refer to them), with all of them were very involved in the day-to-day affairs of the church.

In a couple of churches, I received scars from deacons meetings. In only one church, I’m happy to say, I came to dread the monthly deacons meeting more than surgery or an IRS audit.

With one church’s deacons, I became the topic du jour in a session that lasted until midnight, when a group tried to have me fired. The other deacons stood up and kept that from happening, I’m glad to report.

Some of the dearest friends I have on earth are deacons. Some of the wisest counsel I ever received as a pastor came from deacons. Some of the finest contributions in these seven churches, leadership that made a lasting difference, came from deacons.

I believe in deacons.

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What the President Seems to be Missing re: the Abortion Debate

The news clips and Monday morning newspapers report on President Obama’s Sunday visit to the Notre Dame campus to speak and receive an honorary doctorate. They all have him appealing to both sides of the abortion issue for calmness and reason. Okay, I’m for that.

Obama told how in his presidential campaign his website mentioned the right-wing extremists (ideologues?) who oppose “a woman’s right to choose.” A medical doctor called him to task for the language, saying he’s not a right-winger, but believes that abortion is wrong. He wanted the president to use more temperate language and to recognize there are good, reasonable people on that side of the fence. Obama told how he had his staff clean up the tone of the website. In his Sunday speech, he called for good will from pro-lifers as well as pro-choice people. “We ought to be able to respect one another’s position and have a thoughtful conversation about it,” he said (not the precise words, but that was the thrust).

No problem here. I’m all for that. But it seems to me the president is missing one big thing, the “elephant in the living room,” as the saying goes.

When a pro-lifer has his way, a child lives. When a pro-choice person has his, a child dies.

It’s very difficult to keep cool about that.

There’s too much at stake here.

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What Was I Thinking?!

You and I are forever reading of the antics of dumb crooks and caught-in-the-act celebrities or politicians and scratching our heads while wondering, “What were they thinking?”

Would it interest you to know the Lord felt the same way, not about dumb crooks and self-seeking bureaucrats, but about His own disciples.

It’s in Luke 9, and it’s enough to disgust you with them…and by inference, with yourself. Myself.

First, the background situation. The Lord and three of His disciples — James, John, and Peter — are atop the Mount of Transfiguration and overwhelmed by what they are seeing. The Lord suddenly becomes transformed in front of their eyes as though a light deep within Him began emitting rays. Then, a cloud enveloped them all and the Lord was seen to have a conversation with two ghostly figures whom they either recognize or later learn to be Moses and Elijah. Of the first three gospels, only Luke tells what they were discussing: Jesus’ coming death in Jerusalem. How we wish we knew what they were saying about it!

Okay, we have here a tense, strange, wonderful, scary situation, one unlike anything that has gone before or would follow. Now, you’re one of the three disciples. What do you do? Not a thing. You take it all in and feel privileged to have been a spectator of this vision.

But, then, Simon Peter is not like you. Always looking for a way to improve on any situation, Peter felt he had to say something.

“Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Now, let us make three tabernacles — one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ Because he did not know what to say.” (Luke 9:33)

As one known to break a holy silence with the intrusion of fleshly speech, I know how it feels to be Simon Peter, I’m afraid. But that’s not good. This is a terrible affliction and handicap, one that must be tamed and brought under the control of the Holy Spirit if God is to use such a person.

What were you thinking, Peter?

The answer of course is, “Uh, nothing.”

And that’s the problem.

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I could go back and look it up. But, too lazy to do the responsible thing, I’ll tell you the story from Rick Lance and take the chance of repeating myself.

Rick was quoting Robert Smith, a writer with the Minneapolis Tribune, whose daughter was approaching her third birthday. The parents were planning a birthday party for her, but she began to rebel. “I’m not through being two yet!” she insisted.

Dad went through the calendar with her, explaining how life works. “When we get to that day,” he said, “you will be three.”

She stood there with arms crossed looking like a midget Patton and said, “I don’t care what that calendar says. I’m not through being two yet.”

So, the Smith family canceled the party and went on treating their daughter as a two-year-old.

Dr. Lance commented, “Some people refuse to go into the future.” The Israelites under Moses (Numbers 14) recoiled from the future because they were fearful, forgetful, and unfaithful. (You may thank Alabama Baptists’ Rick Lance for that good outline.)


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