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.