The River/the Church.
The greatest river in North America flows through the heart of our city, and drains a basin, we’re told, which extends from western New York to eastern Montana. The waterway’s flow is neverending, massive, deep, strong, and so muddy a cupful looks like something from Starbuck’s.
Sunday, Edgewater Baptist Church (5900 Paris Avenue, in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans) dedicated its rebuilt facilities. Pastor Chad Gilbert welcomed back former pastor Kevin Lee and several former staffers who led in the service. Various church leaders gave testimonies and reports on what the church had been through. A video presentation paid tribute to the many churches and organizations to whom the church is indebted, including FBC Thomasville, Georgia, Riverside in Denver, the Arkansas Baptist Convention, our state convention, this association, and many others.
I told the congregation of 200-300 that in many respects this church is like the Mississippi River–the result of the input and contributions of many states, all coming together to produce one mighty entity.
“The Lord can dip His finger into the Mississippi’s waters and tell you where one tiny drop fell, on a farmland in Wisconsin or a city street in Peoria. Likewise, He looks at this building and knows which child’s offering or which family’s sacrificial gift paid for the chair you’re sitting on or the bit of carpet where you stand.”
Edgewater is committed to bringing Christ’s witness to this community, Chad said, and told of the many ways their church is serving Christ throughout New Orleans. Their facilities are being used by community groups almost every night of the week.
This is just my opinion, and I have no way of knowing, but my strong hunch is this church is far more involved in being salt and light to the city since Katrina than they ever were before that fateful event.
Years ago, I read in the Florida Baptist Witness the testimony of a missionary medical doctor assigned to the Texas-Mexico border, as he wrote of a family reunion at the old homeplace in the Florida panhandle. On Saturday night, the extended family gathered inside little Antioch Baptist Church that had served their relatives for many generations, and due to everyone moving away, had closed its doors some years earlier. Now, the church only opened for an occasional singing or family reunion.
That night, while the small congregation sang the old familiar hymns, the doctor told how he took in all the rustic little building with his eyes. High above, he could see the rafters and undersides of the planking which covered the little building. Shadows from the kerosene lamps played around up there, but he found himself attracted by tiny dark spots all over the woodwork.
“Those are fingerprints,” said one of his elderly uncles. “The men building this church were sweating and the oils left stains on the wood. Over the years it darkened whatever it touched.”
The doctor said, “Do you mean to tell me we’re looking at the fingerprints of my great-grandfather and his brothers?”
“Absolutely,” the uncle said. “They built it a hundred years ago.”
This descendant of those ancient church-builders sat there transfixed, reflecting on this tiny contact of his generation with theirs.
“In a way,” the doctor wrote in the Florida paper, “I am Antioch Baptist Church. So many people have touched my life over the years and left their impression on me. I have been shaped and molded and blessed and affected by untold numbers. I owe so much to so many.”
The Hurricane’s Collateral Damage.
Gustav and Ike are names everyone in this part of the world will long remember, but not with much appreciation. Most of Gustav’s effect was felt west of here–in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes–and Ike, of course, spent his fury on Galveston and Houston and the Texas coastlands. However….
Towns and cities and farmlands for hundreds of miles in every direction were flooded by the “feeder bands” of these hurricanes. Tornadoes destroyed houses three hundred miles from the eye of the storm.
That damage may have been unreported by the national media, and the Weather Channel sent no one to cover that little town’s destruction, yet it was in every respect part of the hurricane’s effect.
A pastor fell into sin and resigned his church. “I don’t know why everyone is angry at me,” he said in self-defense. “This is a matter between the Lord and me and no one else.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. The collateral damage from his act reaches out and hurts everyone who knew him and all those who believed in him. If you made a list of all those affected, it would not only cover the members of his family and his church, but even people in the community he never met. People he could potentially have influened positively are affected, too, but will never know it since he left that church and ended his ministry there.
No wonder the devil loves to take down a pastor; he creates such widespread havoc.
My son Neil gave his daughters a cat-tail he had picked up alongside a Mississippi highway. These city-kids were fascinated to open it and watch a zillion spores fly into all directions. The family was heading out somewhere, so Neil said, “Dad, watch this.” He took the cat-tail and stuck the stem down into a hole in the back corner of the pickup truck’s bed and drove away. The wind whipping past the marsh plant created a cone-shaped stream of tiny seedlings, scattering them into the world.
I thought, “This is how influence works. Even when you’re not thinking about it, but just going about your business, you influence everything you touch.”
Last week, one of my son’s high school friends from 25 years ago e-mailed me. I had to admit that I do not remember her, but was stunned when she said, “I used to work at the Varsity Theater in Columbus. You were always so inspiring when you came in.”
That was a jaw-dropper. That would have been on an off-day when Margaret and I attended a movie, and I’m confident being “inspiring” was the fartherest thing from my mind. And yet, she noticed. (My first reaction was, “Whew! Thank you, Lord!” It could have been otherwise!)
Metaphors are great little handles for connecting everyday events with greater truths. If you work at it, you can mix them and drive English teachers batty.
“You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That sort of thing.