Choosing Your Disposition

We can always count on our Norco friends Rudy and Rose French for a thought-provoking contribution to the Wednesday pastors meeting. Since they have just returned from visiting family members living in Bangkok, Thailand, we invited them to report. The highlight for Rose was sitting “on the nose” of an elephant, which picked her up and deposited her on top just like you see in the movies. The down point, they reported, was discovering some family members are planning a divorce. That’s always bad news. Rudy continued….

“I realized that I have been unhappy lately. For a lot of reasons that I thought were important. But in Thailand, everyone was so happy, even the poorest of people, some of whom had no legs or were blind. I was really struck by that. So I decided to make a list of the reasons for my unhappiness. I filled up a couple of pages, and then looked at it and thought, ‘Everything here is stupid.’ So I tore it up and threw it away. And I decided I would be happy. I certainly have plenty of reasons to rejoice.”

Rudy continued, “I used to own an English bulldog. That was the most wonderful dog. As he got older, he developed cataracts on his eyes, and when he went in for surgery to have them removed, he had a heart attack and died. Ten years later, I still miss him. But I’ve thought, ‘I’d like to have another English bulldog.’ Now, they are expensive, so I told my family, ‘Count this as my birthdays and Christmases for the next five years, but that’s what I want.'”

Rudy now has his English bulldog puppy. “The cutest little thing you have ever seen,” he said. “And now, I look around and count all the reasons I have to be happy: I have a wonderful wife and a terrific little puppy.” Everyone laughed. Rudy admitted that people who own those bulldogs usually look just like them; we’ll be keeping an eye on him.

Later, when Joe Williams was sharing about the “coping with life’s challenges” conferences he holds for churches still coping with post-Katrina existence, he said, “I can do these with any size group–even down to one person.” Two people called out, “Rudy!”


Early in our meeting, we spent considerable time talking about the Virginia Tech tragedy of this past Monday. These pastors will be standing in the pulpits this Sunday declaring God’s Word and we wanted to encourage them to speak to their people about such events. I recalled for them somethng that happened 12 years ago when the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. That was a Wednesday, and it was “the news” across the nation the rest of that week. On Sunday, I was out of town, and one of our staff members preached in my place. On my return, we received a letter from a visitor who had been in our services that Sunday. She said, “There was not one word spoken from the pulpit about that tragedy, and I felt it was a shame.” I did too, and we held a staff meeting to talk about that, and to make certain this kind of omission never happened again.

Often the message preached from our pulpits seems irrelevant to people’s lives, and when we fail to even connect with what they’ve been thinking about and grieving over all week, we miss a great opportunity.

Joe Williams was assigned to the Murrah site just after the bombing in his role as an FBI chaplain. The father of his daughter-in-law was killed in that building, so it was personal with him. Joe said, “As you pray for the people affected, don’t forget the custodial people who have to go into the college buildings at Virginia Tech and clean up the place where those bodies lay a long time during the investigation. They will not ever forget what they see.” In fact, he said, some people at such events who are only involved in the periphery–the cleanup, the burial details, etc.–end up getting so depressed they take their lives. The collateral damage inflicted by such disasters are far-ranging, as we have seen with the affects of Katrina.

I reported to our pastors what Jeff Box said Sunday in the introduction to his message, how extraordinary days in history began in ordinary ways. He had no way of knowing that the next morning–April 16, 2007–would become one of those life-changing days for a huge segment of society as a result of a gunman in Virginia.

No one knows when an extraordinary day is about to come down. So, we can help our people to be prepared by getting up every morning and spending time with the Lord in the Word and prayer in order to be ready to face whatever the day holds.

I shared with our pastors the fascinating testimony of Roy Robertson. On Saturday evening, December 6, 1941, Roy was aboard the U.S. battleship West Virginia as it pulled into Pearl Harbor. They had been on maneuvers–practicing warfare–in the Pacific and were taking the weekend off. Sailors were given shore leave, and most went into town to drink or party. Roy Robertson joined a small group that walked to a nearby church for a Bible study.

“We were sitting around in a circle in the church hall,” he reported later. “The leader said, ‘Let’s all share our favorite Bible verse. We’ll start with Bill here and go around the circle.’ That’s when I panicked. I didn’t know a single Bible verse. Now, I’d been in church all my life and considered myself a good Christian. But I couldn’t think of one verse. Finally, I thought of John 3:16, and while the others were quoting theirs, I was putting the pieces of that verse together. And wouldn’t you know it, about the time I had it ready, the guy to my left quoted it. I was humiliated.”

Roy said, “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Robertson, you are a fake. You’ve been in church all your life and you don’t know one verse of the Bible.'”

The next morning early, battle stations sounded and Roy ran to his assigned spot on the deck. Overhead he saw hundreds of planes from the Japanese Imperial Fleet bombing the harbor. Roy jerked the cover off his machine gun and pointed it at the skies and commenced to firing. That’s when he realized he had no live ammunition. He’d been firing blanks on maneuvers and that was all he had. He yelled for someone to bring some live ammo, but for the first 15 minutes of the battle of Pearl Harbor, Roy Robertson was firing blanks at the Japanese planes.”

All the while, Roy was thinking, “Robertson, this is how your life has been: firing blanks. You’re not doing your side any good and you’re not doing the enemy any harm.” That day, he made a commitment: if he survived the war, his life would count for God for the rest of his days. When the war ended, Roy joined Dawson Trotman in the early years of the Navigators and spent his life bringing the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus to the world.

The best way to be prepared for extraordinary days is to get ready every morning. Some will recall that when Jesus stood at the graveside of Lazarus, he prayed the most unusual prayer: “Father, I thank you that you heard me when I prayed.” And when was that? Obviously, back down the road somewhere while he was walking in this direction. (John 11) Once you get to the critical moment is no time to stop for a prayer meeting. Prepare.

As usual on Wednesdays, we refer anyone wishing to read the full report of our weekly pastors meeting to our website www.bagnola.org.

The April 9, 2007 issue of Time magazine deals with global warming, and in a related article covers the situation of New Orleans’ vulnerability to future hurricanes. The article beginning on page 104 has a huge satellite photo of this part of our world, along with three remedies for our scary situation. (1) The barrier islands need to be enhanced. Everyone knows about the barrier islands off the North Carolina coast because they are so large and inhabitable. But Louisiana’s barrier islands are thin strips of land being further depleted by every storm. If they disappear, waves reach farther and farther inland.

(2) Restore the wetlands. Driving in or out of New Orleans, you encounter swampy wetlands in almost every direction. These areas are great for sponging up floodwaters, but with the channels built throughout them (to get to oil wells and fishing sites) allowing for swifter movement of water, the silt does not replenish the land masses and they gradually disappear.

(3) Build floodgates and levees. This one, of course, is the remedy you hear most about. When you read the article you’ll notice the massive line of inner gates being proposed to protect this city. It’s a big, big deal and the cost would be astronomical.

Which raises the question once again: why rebuild this city? Last week, I noticed a blistering letter to the editor in USA Today calling for the city to be abandoned and accusing anyone who chooses to live here of complete idiocy. I want to respond to such outcries, but usually don’t because where would you start and how would you end. It’s like teaching manners to bad highway drivers, an inexhaustible task and a complete waste of time.

How does that old joke go? “It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing: it can’t be done and it irritates the pig.”

My guess is that very few people living in this metropolitan area “chose” to live here. Jobs brought people here, or family considerations, or something. Many were born here. God brought my family here. Really. He did. And we’ll stay until He tells us to leave.

It is true that some moved here for the culture of music, history, heritage, or self-indulgence. But no one said, “I think I will go now and build me a house below sea level.” People do what we have to in order to live.

On the street where our Baptist Center is located–Lakeshore Drive, across Elysian Fields Avenue from the University of New Orleans–and right beside us, sits the state headquarters for the Lutheran denomination. This week, they’ve erected a ‘for sale’ sign out front. So they’re moving, too. Perhaps to the center of the state to be more centrally located.

Some days, it feels great here. And some days it feels lonely.

I’m thinking of buying me an English bulldog puppy.

4 thoughts on “Choosing Your Disposition

  1. Well Bro Joe You did it again!

    You really make my time at the computer worth while. Every time I read your blog I feel that I have been fed a little more desert. You gift for the details are what make it so good. When I was a pastor I often found myself searching for good illustrative material that my people could relate to. Your Blog is refreshing. Thanks for taking the time to keep me up to date on what is happening in the crazy crecent city.

    I was born in NO LA and worked there, even went to school there, but I never realized how important a city can mean to people who have never known anything else. The reason we minister in NO LA is because when we try to answer WWJD we find ourselves engrossed in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, building homes for the homeless, and rebuilding the churches so that people will have a place to worship God.

    It sometimes seems the New Orleans situation is quite like what Nehemiah found at his home town.

    If God cared for them, why would anyone think that He would not care for New Orleans.

    Keep your hand on the plow!

    GMC

  2. Thank you for addressing the “Why rebuild?” question. Our volunteer rebuilding teams are frequently asked that question. And this comes from our fellow Midwesterners who live with us here in “Tornado Alley.”

    On our March trip to New Orleans, a couple of us ladies had to go find a bathroom. That can be an expedition, but we are grateful that more places are now back in business.

    On the way back to the job site we stopped to visit with some fine young people who were gutting a house. They turned out to be Presbyterians from Minnesota who were on spring break.

    As we were talking to these young folks, a vehicle pulled up. A young woman jumped out, run over to us, the ladies in the yellow shirts. She gave us a hug and said, “Thank you so much for coming down here to help us.” We tried to explain that we weren’t the heroes in this situation and that the young Presybterians were doing the hard work.

    Was it a coincidence when our electrical team came back about an hour later and marked the home of this grateful young woman for rewiring? That week a group from Garden City, Kan., out on the dry High Plains, installed the new wiring for her.

    At the end of the week I took a picture of the team with the homeowner. As I look at this picture I am touched by the bright smiles on everyone’s faces. This was just one of many incidents that help answer the question, “Why rebuild?”

  3. I think we need a story like Rudy’s every so often, Brother Joe — so keep telling them. It’s amazing how easy it is to slip into a funk — and not even realize it …. until suddenly we realize we’re snapping at our family members, or have sat on the couch watching endless consecutive hours of CSI, or played 10 consecutive games of Scrabble on our computer….

    At least once a week, it seems I have a conversation with someone about just this sort of thing going on in their lives — so, please, keep up the encouraging words.

    I always love your perspective on the latest news, what’s going on with our churches, and reminscences as well — so don’t stop that either.

    By the way, we don’t have a bulldog — but we do have cats. One of them is insistent that she must go outside every morning at 5:00 and come back in at 5:30. She is a very effective snooze alarm! Some days, I’d love to just pull the covers over my head and stay in bed all day. She won’t let me. My time with the Lord in the mornings has become much more consistent since she has developed this habit! I highly recommend having a pet these days. It’s one living being in your life who needs you — but isn’t frustrated by bad roads, mold, and having to drive so far to get to a WalMart!

  4. Hello!

    This is not to take ANYTHING away from Rudy’s decision to count all the reasons he has to be happy. We recently visited with a couple on the mission field in Thailand. If I understood correctly, they said it is a cultural norm, even requirement, for the Thai people to “put on a happy face”. While seemingly pleasant, it is very difficult to minister people at their point of need, if their needs are disguised behind an obligitory grin. Sounds like an exaggeration of our “How are you? Fine, how are you?” society. So maybe the goal is to count our blessings and live in the knowledge of God’s goodness, without covering up or denying the struggles we are living with… I do think a puppy would help!