Honor the Church, You Honor The Lord

“He who touches you, touches the apple of His eye.” (Zechariah 2:8)

Whether you honor the church or dishonor her, the Lord takes it personally. He is so bound up with the welfare of this group that in Scripture He calls the church “the Body of Christ”. When the Lord caught the church-assassinator Saul of Tarsus headed for Damascus to arrest more Christians, He said to him, “Why do you persecute me?” Saul blinked into that blinding light trying to make out that voice. “Who are you, Lord?” he muttered. “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,” the Voice said. And Saul said, “Well, I’ve been planning to quit and now seems like a good time.”

I just made that last line up. But he must have thought it.

Pastor Jerry Smith published a long list of friends from all over the country who have aided Pontchartrain Baptist Church in its slow hard climb from the despair of Katrina. As I read over the list, the thought occurred that Jesus Christ has these folks on His list, too. They honor Him when they honor His church.

Pastor Thomas Winn and Grace Baptist Church of Jackson, MS. First Baptist Church of Clinton, LA. Calvary Baptist Church of Mt. Airy, NC. The Baptist campus ministry of Delta State University. Truett-McConnell College of Cleveland, GA. Colony Park Baptist Church of Madison, MS. Muller Paint Co. Sterling Electric. Donnie’s Plumbing. Terry’s All-Around Construction. Kayla Lyles. John Dambold. Bob and Linda Jackson and the NOBTS MissionLab. Mike Brady’s Red Beans and Rice. J & R Equipment Rental. Garden Specialities. Jeffery Raymond. Platts Supermarket of Creola, AL. Lynda Murrah. Des Allemands Baptist Church.

“In June of 2005, I resigned from this church,” Pastor Jerry Smith said today at the rededication of the Pontchartrain Church. “My health had gotten so bad, I couldn’t stand in the pulpit. I told them I’d stay on until they found someone. I’m still here.”

“When Katrina came, my wife and I had a disagreement. She wanted to stay and I wanted to leave. I had never left before. We went to Jackson, Mississippi, to be with our children. We watched the tragedy of this city on television. The hurricane came and went, then they said the levees broke. I’m hard of hearing. I asked my wife, ‘The levees did what?'”

“I knew I had lost my church and our home and my wife had lost her job at the seminary. We were grieving and the Lord said to me, ‘I’m going to bring you back.’ I said, ‘Back to what?'”

They were finally able to get into the city and see the massive destruction all around the church. The 17th Street Canal had burst just one block south of the church and torrents of water had blown through miles of neighborhoods, including the little church building, destroying everything in its path.

“See those two blue tapes on the wall?” Jerry said. “The top one is the high water mark and the other one is where the water settled for days. Everything in this building was destroyed, a total loss, except for two things: this pulpit and this sign.” He held up the front panel taken from the Lord’s Supper table, just like you will find in most Protestant churches of America, that reads “In Remembrance of Me.”

“Everything else in this building is completely new,” he said.

“We received a check from the insurance company for a whopping $5,823. And we had $20,000 in the bank account. That’s all. But I want you to know today that we are debt free. People all over this country were faithful and obedient. They held us up when we needed it.”

The sanctuary building is the only thing left of Pontchartrain Church. The two story educational building was torn down last year. Workers re-arranged the plan of the sanctuary so that the worship portion now sits crossways instead of lengthwise, leaving room for three small rooms down each side–rooms for nursery, classrooms, and a pastor’s office. “We aren’t through yet,” the pastor said. “My office is presently the storage room.”

I took copious notes on the entire nearly three-hour service, then realized the article that covered this dedication service would take as long to read as the event itself.

A few excerpts from my notes.

An entire page of the program honored this one and that one for their faithfulness. The pastor wrote: “Conrad, you kept telling me that you only knew how to paint, but when I needed something done you always found the right person to do the job.” “Debbie, reminding us that if we had had flood insurance we would have missed God’s glory.” “Alice, always ready to clean and keep us safe from all the harmful germs that surrounded us. I believe that your prayers alone guaranteed us restrooms for this important day.” “Dan and Sue, even though you have fled to Egypt, I have felt your prayers.” “Melanie, a PINK youth room. I know as you said the boys will come because of our beautiful young ladies and they will forget the color of the walls.”

A lengthy period of personal testimonies followed the sermon by Pastor Thomas Winn of Grace Church. Marcia told how her family fled to Maryland. “I was saved 6 years before Katrina, and over those years I thought I had gone through everything–unemployment, health problems. Now I’m in Florida, four hours from my husband; we’re driving back and forth. We’re sharing in some of Christ’s suffering. We have a rule in my house: you’re not allowed to wake up in a bad mood. God brought you through the night; you owe Him everything. I choose not to dwell on Katrina. My gift is encouragement. People come to me with their problems and confidences. They don’t know that as soon as they tell me, I forget. That’s why I don’t tell their secrets; I don’t remember them.”

The pastor’s son Gabriel: “In some respects, Katrina was the greatest day in my life. It got our family out of a rut. We realized how much we love each other. Dad used to serve Carrollton Avenue Baptist Church. I thought it couldn’t get any worse than that. Then, he pastored the Baptist Church at Pass Christian, Mississippi–and I thought it couldn’t get any worse than that. Finally, he moved here to Pontchartrain, a normal church–and then this happened. The storm was devastating. People called them crazy for rebuilding and moving back here. Well, today is April 1st, April Fool’s Day. We were ‘foolish’ to think of rebuilding and to think of packing out this church, but here we are doing both: God’s fools.”

Jill: “I live in a FEMA trailer in front of the pastor’s house. This church family has pulled me through, but I still cry several times a day. The pastor has teased me about being able to scrounge up anything the church needs. But I work for a non-profit firm and have for 15 years. We learn to ask people for what we need. They’ll help if you ask. The pastor accuses me of conning people. (laughter) Rhonda is like my mother and Pastor Jerry like my father.”

Bizzie Bene’ told of coming back into the city to help on recovery crews when there was no power. Being a city boy, he saw something he had never seen before: the night sky from New Orleans. Stars. Meteorites. He called Pastor Jerry in Mississippi and said, “Do you know what Spam is?” Yes. “We’re eating Spam three meals a day. They put it in everything, but when they put it in jambalaya, that’s it, brother.”

“You’re sitting in a miracle,” Rhonda Smith, the pastor’s wife, said. “We could not have done this without you.”

A pastor sitting near me said, “This has been life-changing for Jerry.” He explained, “It has been good for him to see the Body of Christ reach out and take care of him and this church.”

I knew what he meant. Readers of this blog will recall my own testimony that prior to Katrina, the Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans were characterized by their separateness, their isolation. Each pastor and staff were out here doing their own thing, with a minimum of contact with the other churches of like faith. Few pastors knew the others. The leaders of this church did not know the leaders of the other Baptist churches in their own neighborhood. I would say to anyone who listened, “If Satan’s goal is to divide us, he can check this off his list because we’ve done it to ourselves.” The result was a weakened presence in the city and an ineffectual witness.

Katrina changed all that. Suddenly churches across this nation took our scattered people in, then those same churches sent their members back this way with chain saws and cooking units. Next they sent in rebuilding and ministry teams. They funneled millions of dollars this way, and many invited their local adopted church pastors and spouses to their city for rest and recuperation and to inform the sponsoring church of our situation. Partnerships were established that are still going on; lifetime friendships were formed.

Whatever else our pastors and staff-members–and the lay members too, I’ll wager–learned from all this, they learned how dependent and interdependent we all are on one another. We cannot do this without outside help. I need you, and you need me.

“My church was blessed by helping you,” said Pastor Thomas Winn in his sermon. “We thank you for the privilege of coming down to work with you.”

Isn’t the Lord brilliant? Let’s a storm through His protective defenses, let’s it do its devastating work, then rouses His people all over the country to band together for the task of rebuilding and recovery and revitalization. In so doing, His name is honored, His churches are blessed whether they are on the giving or receiving end, and His work goes forward.

The atheists are calling for a meeting. The announcement on the religion page–of all places! I thought they hated religion–told how the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association (that’s so much nicer sounding than ‘atheists,’ isn’t it?) is sponsoring a documentary called “Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Debate.” This film will be shown Wednesday and Thursday in the Zeitgeist Theater of Tulane University’s School of Architecture.

Wonder if anyone will show up. If ever a group has been shown to be irrelevant to this city in these days, it’s the atheists. Whatever they’re offering, no one wants it.

As one of the speakers at Pontchartrain Baptist Church said today, “No matter what the government and its agencies are going to do, this city is being rebuilt by the people of God!”

Psalm 2 comes to mind. “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and His Anointed (Messiah), saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’ He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.”

I will admit that it doesn’t always feel this way, but I predict that the day will come when we will look back on this experience and say something similar to what the new prime minister of Great Britain said in the early days of that nation’s lonely struggle against the forces of darkness embodied in Nazi Germany. Winston Churchill said, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour!'”

4 thoughts on “Honor the Church, You Honor The Lord

  1. Praise the Lord; Pontchartrain Baptist Chruch is back in business. Our building re-dedication was well attended. So much thanks goes out to all who have given tirelessly to our cause, both monetarily and physically to bring back God’s house in Lakeview, (suburban New Orleans).

    Thank you Brother Mckeever for attending and offering your kind and thoughtful words.

  2. Praise the Lord you are back, Jerry Smith was the pastor of Carrollton Ave. Baptist Church, now it’s back, praise the Lord. Sunday was the second service at 2528 South Carrollton,Thanks Bro Joe,God is up to something in this City.

  3. Joe, I am sorry I wasnt able to stick around and chat. We had to get back to jackson for previous plans but what a great day. look forward to speaking with you

  4. Thanks for sharing this Joe. My brother and sister in law attend this church, Conrad and Debbie Muller. And I need to mention, Melanie, is my niece who wanted to paint the youth room pink!

    God is so faithful! May the Lord’s great work continue on through the beautiful people at Ponchartrain Church.

    Take care. Who knows when we might see each other again on a plane flight? Please tell your lovely wife hello.

    Because of Him,

    Windie and Glen Muller

Comments are closed.