Do Not Assume Anything

The book centered around the year 1940 and all the war-related events of that year: Hitler’s invasion of the Low Countries, Churchill’s coming to power, Dunkirk, the Blitz, FDR’s election to the third term, and the isolationism in the USA.

I told the author (via email) of my appreciation for the book and added, “That year is also special because I made my appearance on March 28, 1940.”

After thinking about that a moment, I added, “But don’t think me old just because I was born in 1940.”

Later, reflecting on that, I wondered why I’d gone to the trouble to say that, seeing as how I do not know that author and don’t expect to meet him. Why was that important to me?

I decided it’s a personal thing.

None of us want to be pigeon-holed because of demographics or statistics, nor for preconceptions or ignorance. Just because you are a Southerner does not make you a redneck. Living in Mississippi does not mean you are barefooted. All Louisianians do not speak Cajun. All Yankees are not rude.

Here’s a short list of assumptions I do not want people making about me. Again, it’s just a personal thing. Readers will have your own list.

Do not assume…

1) that I’m humorless just because I’m a preacher.

2) that I’m idle just because I’m retired.

3) that I’m unquestioning just because I’m a Christian.

4) that I’m saintly just because I’ve been saved since 1951.

5) that I’m intolerant just because I’m evangelistic.

6) that I’m homophobic just because I’m a conservative Christian.

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What Billy Graham Learned About Leadership

I have no idea where this page in my handwriting originated, but at some point I either heard Billy Graham talking about this or read it.

“What Billy Graham learned from his contacts with world leaders in all fields….” is the heading.

There are five points:

1) Leadership has its own set of special burdens and pressures.

2) Leadership can be lonely.

3) People in positions of influence are often used by others for their own selfish ends.

4) People in the public eye are often looked upon as role models even though they may not choose it.

5) Many men and women who are leaders in secular fields have given relatively little thought to God.

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Who We Are in Christ (I Peter 2:1-10)

Everyone knows how the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, beggar human language telling us who God is. Synonyms pile up until we walk away with a list of “names of God” numbering in the hundreds.

“I love you, O Lord my strength. The Lord is rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-2)

Scripture is filled with similar texts.

But, what is not as commonly known or considered, is that the Bible does the same thing in announcing who the people of the Lord are. We come away awed at the realization that in Christ, we are far more than anyone ever expected.

Take the first 10 verses of I Peter chapter 2, for instance.

vs. 2 — newborn babes

vs. 5 — living stones, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood

vs. 9 — a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God

vs. 10 — the people of God

Let’s do two things here. Let’s comment on what each of these mean, then walk through the entire epistle of I Peter and identify every similar expression of who we are in Christ.

NEWBORN BABES. We’ve been born again, we have become as little children, and we are to have the kind of ravenous appetite for “the pure milk of the Word” as a baby has for its mother’s milk.

LIVING STONES. Each of us is a brick in the building of this house. Remove any one stone and it affects everything around it. Each is essential. In this case, Peter stresses that we are not inanimate objects without life or feeling. We are “living stones.” .

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The Pastor’s Second Biggest Job

Like a coach, the pastor’s biggest job is turning his team into winners. The second is keeping them winners.

I’ve sometimes thought the reason professional football is more satisfying to follow than college ball–and I confess to loving both–is that the makeup of the college teams keeps changing as players graduate. In the NFL, they can stay around as long as they’re able to play at a high level.

But it doesn’t happen quite that way.

Take the two teams everyone around here roots for, the LSU Tigers and the New Orleans Saints.

LSU will have to replace 13 starters who graduated after the 2009 season. That’s 13 out of 22 key players. It’s a huge task. Doubters should ask any college coach.

The Saints, who less than three weeks ago won their first-ever Super Bowl, making them champs of the NFL, should be in a better position, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

However–and this is the parallel I’m making with pastors and churches–no team stays static. People change. They age, they grow satisfied, they slack off on workouts, they want to enjoy the big money they’ve been making, they lose their hunger for great achievements. Their family demands grow stronger, they fall into bad habits. And, they become free agents.

A free agent in football is just what it sounds like: the player has completed his contract with his present team and is at liberty to sign on with a new team, hopefully for a lot more money.

Take Darren Sharper, for instance. He plays a defensive position for the Saints known as “safety.” His main assignment is to cover the opponents’ receivers, either breaking up passes thrown to them or intercepting the ball himself. Nine times this season he intercepted passes. Three of them he returned for touchdowns.

In football, an interception is a game-changer. The other team was moving the ball, gaining yards, heading toward your end zone. Suddenly, you step up and catch a pass meant for the other guy. Now, the other team leaves the field and your offense comes on, ready to move the ball toward the opponents’ end zone. Anyone who can deliver nine interceptions in a season of 16 games you want on your team.

Darren Sharper is a favorite among Saints fans. Now, after earning around $2 mil last year, he’s a free agent. The Saints will try to keep him. Some other teams will probably offer him big bucks. What will he do? No one knows right now, not even the man himself.

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Cleaning Up the Police Department

This is not the usual kind of article with a spiritual message.

This is a report on New Orleans. Specifically, it’s about the corruption in the police department and an FBI investigation that is busting this city wide open. Thank the Lord. It’s been a long time coming.

Today, retired NOPD Lt. Michael Lohman pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. He faces up to 5 years in prison and a fine of a quarter of a mil.

This is the Danziger Bridge shooting that took place on September 4, 2005, less than one week after Hurricane Katrina. The city was still in lockdown and a report came in to the police that there was a shooting on this bridge.

If you are familiar with the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on Gentilly Boulevard, then you know the Danziger Bridge. You may not know it by that name–I’d never heard it called that until this shooting happened–but it’s a few blocks east of the seminary on Gentilly. It spans the Industrial Canal, and is parallel to the High-Rise Bridge on I-10.

No one is questioning that when the police arrived–driving a rental truck of all things–they shot and killed two men and wounded 6 others. Witnesses say the men were unarmed and the police shot without any provocation.

Every investigation until now–and this has been in and out of the news for nearly 5 years–has exonerated the cops. Now we know why.

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What to Do When the Accelerator is Stuck

The Lion’s Club calls him the tail-twister. In the locker room, he’s referred to as a sparkplug.

In the church, he’s the accelerator.

He’s the guy–or she’s the one–who wants to “get this show on the road,” who builds a fire under everyone else, who pushes the leaders.

Every organization needs a few of those.

Nothing of what follows is meant to diminish the importance of those church members who are never satisfied with the status quo but want to make a lasting difference for Jesus’ sake. Every church should be blessed with a few.

However, as the Toyota Motor Company (or whatever it’s official name happens to be) has learned the hard way, an accelerator needs to be under strong controls.

An accelerator that “sticks” causes crashes. Crashes cause deaths.

I sat in the waiting room of my Toyota dealer for an hour last week while the service man made some small adjustment to the accelerator of my Camry. It was part of a several-million-car recall that is turning the automobile business upside down these days. Nearly 40 deaths have been attributed to gas pedals sticking, causing the car to speed ahead uncontrollably.

My wife and I had a disagreement that morning. She vows that she was riding with me once when the pedal stuck on this car. I reply that I would have remembered that, but I don’t. She refused to budge. So, I called the car dealer and they told me to bring it in. No waiting, no cost, a simple thing. My wife has peace of mind, and frankly, so do I. Sometimes a wife has to insist on something to get her husband to act.

My wife was my accelerator, you might say.

From time to time, I have seen the work of accelerators in churches. Sometimes, they do a great job. And sometimes, they are missing the controls that will safeguard the congregation and staff from their get-out-of-my-way attitude.

Not long ago, for instance….

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How to Lead A Parade

What I call my “New Orleans Sermon” goes like this: In order to start a parade (a movement of some kind that catches on and makes a lasting difference), four things should be kept in mind:

–someone has to be first. This is the person of vision.

–someone has to follow. Getting people to buy into your vision is not a simple thing.

–parades tend to fizzle. So they must be constantly renewed.

–the object is to finish strong. The leader must keep his eye on the prize, and not be sidetracked, deterred or detoured.

Let’s focus on the first of these: “In starting a parade, someone has to be first.”

I’m thinking of a number of movements (that is, parades) that make our point.

Global Maritime Ministries, a work with seafarers and port workers for the New Orleans riverfront, grew out of the vision of John Vandercook nearly 50 years ago.

Baptist Crossroads Ministries, building homes for the poor of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, grew out of a vision of David Crosby, pastor of the FBC of N.O. I was sitting beside him the very moment that happened.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s “Disaster Relief Ministry,” which is led and administered through our North American Mission Board, got its start through Bob somebody-or-other who directed the Baptist Men’s work for the BGCT (Baptist General Convention of Texas) in the 1960s. Today, the SBC DR work has 1,000 units all across the country, ready to respond to emergencies in a moment.

And another, which is not a religious work but which we all treasure and which makes the point very well, is the Adopt-a-Highway program. It got its start in Tyler, Texas, one day in 1984 when a DOT engineer named James Evans grew concerned over trash blowing out of the pickup in front of him. Today, that program is in 49 states and a number of foreign countries.

You want to start a parade? You have an idea for a movement that could make a real difference in people’s lives? Excellent. Good for you. Let’s talk about that.

But first, let me tell you about Harlan Proctor.

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In Praise of Small Churches

With a few exceptions, all churches were small at one time. They began with a handful of people and went forward from there. Some grew a great deal and are still expanding, some grew a little and leveled off, while some failed to grow at all.

If most of the churches in America of all denominations are small–and in my mind, that means 100 or less in attendance–then several things are true.

–In the words of Lincoln about common folk, “God must have loved them; He made so many of them.”

–Small churches must be doing something right or people would not keep attending them.

–The “bigness culture” that is so dominant in American life has dumped a burdensome load of guilt on these small congregations. “If you’re so good, why aren’t you big?” seems to be the mantra.

–For every book celebrating the small church, there are a hundred telling them how to leave smallness behind and become “great.”

Someone should put in a good word for small churches. Think I’ll give it a try.

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How to Spot a Sick Church

The late great evangelist Vance Havner, who never weighed more than 120 pounds in his life would be my guess, used to quip, “I’m the healthiest sick-looking person you’ve ever seen in your life!”

It’s not easy to tell the state of a person’s health by looking. That’s why doctors put us through a whole battery of tests. Some abnormal conditions are harder to diagnose than others.

Some churches are so clearly sick that a visitor does not even have to get out of his car to tell. The run-down condition of the facilities, the two-month-old message on the outside sign, and the sparcity of vehicles in the parking lot tell you all you want to know about that church. Unless you are the invited speaker for the day, you drive on down the highway to another more inviting looking church.

Other churches give signs of being healthy but have fault lines running through the interior of their relationships and operations.

A friend who read our earlier posting on “building a healthy church,” and who himself has been wounded by an unhealthy congregation or two in his 20 years in the ministry, suggested we try our hand at identifying characteristics of unhealthy churches.

Nothing that follows is the result of any scientific polling or in-depth studies. As with almost everything on this blog, this is my observation from nearly a half century in the ministry.

What does a sick church look like? How can we recognize one when we spot one?

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The Bible Speaks on the Bible (I Peter 1:22-2:3)

It’s not that we think the Apostle Peter sat down one day and said, “I believe I will write something for the Bible.”

He most definitely did not say, “I believe I will write the Word of God.”

In fact, most likely he did not even decide, “I shall now write something of lasting benefit for the church.”

All the epistles seem to have addressed particular situations being faced by certain Christians at the time of the writing. The apostles were telling how to deal with opposition, temptation, inner conflict, false teachers, and such. The counsel they ended up delivering was so solid that over the years God’s people elevated them to the status of scripture.

How they came to be part of the Bible itself is a subject for another day. Today, the issue is what the Apostle Peter said about God’s Word in the portion of Scripture which we also call “God’s Word.”

One more word about that.

To call something “God’s Word” does not mean we believe God dropped it out of Heaven full-grown with no human instrumentation any more than calling a preacher “God’s Man” means we think he was immaculately conceived in some celestial vacuum somewhere.

God uses people to get His message to others.

In the passage before us are four great uses of the Word of God, as revealed in that Word.

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