Our Business

Fred Harvey was a name almost every American knew in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This son of Britain had come to America and made his mark in the food industry. Working with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, he built a chain of restaurants across the great Southwest which became legendary for their insistance on quality and their devotion to the customer.

In his book, “Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West,” Stephen Fried says Harvey originated the first national chain of restaurants, of hotels, of newsstands, and of bookstores–“in fact, the first national chain of anything–in America.”

You may be familiar with the Judy Garland movie on the Harvey Girls, another innovation of Fred Harvey’s. He recruited single young women in the East, then sent them to work in his restaurants from Kansas City to California. In doing so, he inadvertently provided wives for countless westerners and helped to populate a great segment of the USA.

All of this is just so we can relate one story from the book.

Once, in the short period before women took over the serving duties for his restaurants, Harvey was fielding a complaint from one of his “eating house stewards” about a particularly demanding customer.

“There’s no pleasing that man,” said the steward. “He’s nothing but an out and out crank!”

Harvey responded, “Well, of course he’s a crank! It’s our business to please cranks. Anyone can please a gentleman.”

Pleasing cranks.

Anyone can please a gentleman.

It’s our business.

Why did that line sound familiar to me, I wondered as I read past that little story. I know. It sounds so much like the Lord Jesus.

Think of it.

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They’re Sampling Me

The doctor’s office called last week. It’s time for my annual checkup. But before the visit with the physician, I was instructed to drop in on the lab in the hospital next Monday for a “blood workup.”

I’ve done it before and know the routine.

So, tomorrow morning, I’ll skip breakfast and the usual two cups of Community Coffee and head down to Ochsner’s Foundation Hospital first thing. It’s a short drive and a quick procedure. They’ll push up my sleeve, insert a needle into a vein, and drain off a few samples of my blood in vials. The lady will slap a band-aid on the wound and send me on my way. I will have been there for a total of 10 minutes, max.

Two weeks later, Dr. Robert Miles will tell me all about myself. What my cholesterol level is, both good and bad, and whether the thyroid stuff I take needs to be adjusted in strength, and numerous other details which escape me now. (Hey, I’m a preacher, not a medical person.)

Fascinating how they can take a sip of one’s blood and learn a hundred things about us.

Actually, it’s not so odd. You and I live by that principle, that we can learn a lot about a subject by a small sample.

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Making a Difference

I’ve just spent a weekend with a group of investors.

No, not that kind. These folks are not looking for a way to pull in 10 percent or more a year on their life savings. They’re not looking for tax shelters and not searching for the next Microsoft.

They’re taking a longer view than that.

These are people who open their checkbooks and make fairly large gifts to educate and train the next generation of preachers and missionaries and Christian workers of all kinds.

They contribute to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Their gifts build those new apartment buildings that are going up right now. Their gifts pay for the playground equipment and the renovated evangelism center and the new chairs in a classroom.

Their gifts help pay faculty salaries and reduce tuition costs to a bare minimum.

If ever anyone qualified for the term “person of faith,” these good folk do.

In fact, I’m going to make the most stunning statement to come from me in years….

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When a Child Dies: Hope

They called the other day and invited me to speak in chapel at a local Christian high school. I was delighted and told them what I usually do.

They said, “That’s fine. But another time. This time, we need something else.”

What I often do in high school assemblies, I told her, was to set my easel up on the gym floor and get two or three students out of the audience and caricature them. Then, for the piece de resistance, stand the principal before them and sketch him/her. After that, give them my 10 or 15 minute talk on lessons learned from a lifetime of drawing people on the subject of self-image, self-acceptance, and faith in the Lord who made us.

She said, “That sounds great. And we’d like to have you back to do that sometime. But we need something else from you this time.”

“One of our students is dying,” she said. “And it has shaken the entire student body. We need you to minister to us.”

The next day the student went to Heaven.

Today is Friday, the chapel service is Tuesday morning.

Get that? This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the next Sunday is Easter, and in between we’re going to have a service to talk about death and life.

And hope. That’s what this is all about. It’s certainly what Easter is all about.

“We have been born again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3).

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A Pastor’s Heart: Like a Mother, a Shepherd, the Savior

A young pastor who feels he might be out of place in leading a church sent me a note the other day. With the constant demands upon his time and the unending situations that call for wisdom and patience, he’s feeling like the fellow who was eaten alive by a school of minnows. He wonders if he’s cut out to be a pastor.

He said, “I hear people talking about those who have the heart of a pastor. What exactly is that?”

Great question. I’ve pastored seven churches over 42 years and preached in another two hundred, but have never been asked that until now.

Perhaps a pastor’s heart is like what someone said of art (and a lot of other things!): “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.”

My friend Chris was grieving over the reassignment of their church’s associate minister and his family to a new congregation several states away. Recently in the church hallway, she was passing one of the women on the church staff. The minister said, “Good morning, Chris. How are you today?”

Chris burst into tears.

With that, the minister pulled up a chair and gave Chris the next 30 minutes of her day. In telling me about it–and expressing her wonder at such sensitivity and kindness from the staff member–Chris said, “They must teach this in the seminary.”

No. They don’t. It’s what a pastor’s heart looks like.

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Friendship: Its Essence, Its Test

It’s come as a surprise to me that the 27th chapter of Proverbs has become a favorite in that vast book filled with maxims, truths, and adages. So much of that chapter is about friendship.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy….. Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend…. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away…. He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, it will be reckoned a curse to him…. Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another….”

As they said to George Bailey, “No man with many friends is poor.” Or something to that effect.

The person who can boast many friends is rich indeed. According to Facebook, my list of friends now approaches 1,800. Even if that were true–it refers to the sum total of people I’m connected to in that vast network–there’s no way anyone could have that many “good” friends.

That list–the special, “to die for,” friends–is tiny, for all of us.

For reasons I cannot fathom, lately I’ve found myself pondering those people, those men (and for me, they’re all men, mostly my contemporaries) who occupy a strategic spot in my mind, memory, and appreciation.

And I think I’ve identified a key element of that kind of close friendship. See what you think and consider whether it’s the case in your own intimate relationships. (I use the word “intimate” in its best and highest connotation.)

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Approaching Easter

As we approach the Easter event, many of us begin to reflect once again on the death of the finest, the purest One ever to walk this planet.

It’s quite the indictment of humanity that earth could not tolerate Him and so put him to death.

In Robert Bolt’s prize-winning play, “A Man For All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More is beheaded for opposing the ungodly doings of King Henry VIII. (Or, to be more exact, for not approving them.) As the play winds to a close, a spokesman comes center stage and addresses the audience:

“I’m breathing…. Are you breathing, too?…. It’s nice, isn’t it? It isn’t difficult to keep alive, friends–just don’t make trouble–or if you must make trouble, make the sort that’s expected…..”

At the trial of Jesus, they said of him, “He has stirred up the people from Galilee to Jerusalem.” They got that right.

Look at the world we live in. It could use another stirring up.

Following is my very brief four-point observation on the Church and Easter. You know that the whole point of Easter–the crucifixion, the burial, the resurrection–was the Church, don’t you?

“Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) And then, “Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

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Ugly Orthodoxy

Over the last weekend, Congress passed the President’s health care program and did it with three votes to spare.

This has been the most controversial piece of legislation in decades. I’m tempted to say the most in my lifetime, but that takes in all the debates of the 1940s, the Cold War of the 1950s, the Civil Rights acts of the 1960s, the Vietnamese War issues of the 1970s, and so on.

But this one has been so mean-spirited, I wonder if it’s not in a class by itself.

The disturbing thing to me is how ugly some people can be even when they are occupying the high ground morally.

As congressmen and congresswomen worked their way through the crowds surrounding the Capitol building last Sunday–their safety was not the primary concern; security and police were everywhere–they had to listen to epithets being spat in their direction by these champions of the unborn. (Okay, not by all of them, but some.)

The gay congressman heard, “Fag!” yelled at him. The N-word was hurled at Congressman John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement if one ever existed. And we’re told that in the House of Representative itself, a congressman yelled out, “Baby killers!” to those voting for the health-care legislation.

I was in Springfield, Illinois, watching this on television from my hotel room in between worship services at one of our Southern Baptist churches. The pastor and I were discussing the behavior of the demonstrators.

That’s when he told me of the time a deacon hit him in the face and “busted my tooth.”

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“The Best Pastor We Ever Had!”

Tommy Bowden, former football coach of Tulane and Clemson, is quoted as saying, “I don’t want to follow my father at Florida State. I want to follow the coach who follows him!”

His father, the one-of-a-kind Bobby Bowden, has just retired after several decades at that university where he racked up the second most victories ever for a college football coach.

Preachers advise one another not to follow a pastor who either died or went to the mission field. You will never live up to the image left in people’s minds, whether it’s accurate or not.

People are funny about preachers. They give them a hard time, expect far more from them than any human can ever deliver, and are not unhappy to see them move on. But let a new pastor come in and suddenly the old one looks mighty good. Pray for the new guy. He has to listen to a constant stream of “When Brother Henry was here….” and “how Dr. Henry did things” without it seeming to bother him or slow him down. He smiles and mutters something about, “We are blessed to have had such a wonderful pastor, aren’t we?”

If he is experienced in the Lord’s work, he knows two things: 1) the fellow who followed him back at his former church is having to hear the same junk and 2) give it a little time, and he can outlive the memory of Brother Henry.

No offense to anyone named Henry. The name just popped into my head. (How many Pastor Henrys do I know? Jim Henry, Henry Cox, Bill Henry…)

The business of preferring one preacher over another is not a new phenomenon. In fact, that little carnal activity was not only present from the beginning, it wormed its way into the New Testament.

Paul talks about the “liking one preacher better than another” syndrome in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. In case you wonder, he was “agin” it. No wonder, since he came out on the short end of the comparisons. You and I are amazed at that. How could any preacher begin to measure up to the great Apostle Paul, much less surpass him?

No one surpassed him, I venture to say, except in popular appeal. Paul did not fare too well there. Apparently, he lacked somewhat in looks and his stage presence was not strong. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians goes into that, particularly chapters 10 and 11. Readers will want to pay especial attention to Paul’s resume in chapter 11. Pressed to verify his right to be called an apostle, he does the opposite of what they might have expected. He gives them what I call a “reverse resume,” listing not his awards and achievements, but the scars and suffering he has endured for Jesus. Let them try to match that!

At the moment, for our purposes in this piece, we’re turning to I Corinthians 4, the first 5 verses.

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“Behavior Matters” — (I Peter 2:12)

“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (I Peter 2:12)

Be a fly on the wall. Sit in on religious discussions (okay, hostile debates and knock-down, drag-out arguments over doctrine) and you will come away burdened by one huge conclusion: for a large number of people who call themselves followers of Jesus, doctrine counts far more than behavior.

They didn’t get it from Jesus, I’ll tell you that. And they sure didn’t get it from Scripture.

Start at page one of the New Testament. You’re not out of the opening chapter before you see that the sexual activities of the Lord’s people is a matter of major concern. It shows up in the genealogy of Jesus, with a number of people listed having been guilty or accused of inappropriate activities of a sexual nature. Still in that chapter, Joseph hears that his beloved Mary is with child and decides to call off the engagement. It took heavenly intervention for him to change his mind.

And that’s just in the first chapter of Matthew.

Skip over to chapters 5-7, what we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” There’s doctrine there–Scripture never slights the subject–but behavior before the Gentile world by God’s people is a major consideration. Oath-taking, brotherly treatment, sexual purity, relations with one’s enemies–and we’re still in chapter 5.

Sprinkled throughout that fifth chapter of Matthew are reminders that God’s people are to live by a higher standard than the Gentiles in order to bear a faithful witness to them.

“You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven…. Except your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven…. If you greet your brothers only…do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

God expects a higher standard out of us. He gives two primary reasons:

1) We are God’s children and He expects us to act like it.

2) The outside world needs to see we are different. If they see the same selfish behavior–or even worse!–in us, we can forget about having any influence with them.

Christian, behave yourself. They’re watching.

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