Since they’re my only congregation now, I sometimes enjoy pointing out a sermon to our pastors, either something they might consider preaching or something that preaches to them. Case in point: our Sheriff of Jefferson Parish, the one and only Harry Lee.
How to describe him. He’s Chinese, but thoroughly, completely, 100 percent American and pure Southern, used to weigh over 300 lbs but had stomach stapling surgery and now weighs considerably less, and has been our sheriff for 27 years. He’s 75 years old, I believe. And he’s up for re-election this fall. And he has leukemia. The really, really bad kind, we’re told. The kind that will be aggressively treated with chemotherapy and who knows what else, treatments that will take a great toll on his strength. But he is adamantly declaring not only that he will run for re-election, and that he will win, but he will whip the backside of anyone who dares oppose him.
He has sounded confident about every election in the past, but there is a strident tone to his pronouncements this time that sounds unhealthy.
The police chief of one of our suburbs, Chief Dale, has been a longtime friend of the sheriff’s. But someone informed Sheriff Lee that Chief Dale plans to run against him this fall. That was all it took for Harry to uninvite the chief to his annual picnic, an affair attended by all the sheriff’s longtime supporters. Not only did the chief get uninvited, but Harry lambasted him up one side and down the other, throwing in some juicy profanity. “It’s a surprise to me,” said the chief. “I’m not running against Harry. I’m his friend and a supporter.”
So, what’s happening here? A little paranoia? Bad politics? Not being an insider, I have no clue about Harry Lee, but I do know about pastors and see it happening from time to time. The pastor stays in a church for decades and eventually forgets that it isn’t his church but the Lord’s. He brooks no interference, sees dissent as rebellion, and is quick to read anyone with a contrary opinion out of the church. Healthy-minded church members–the kind you need to build a winning program–have no patience for this kind of mental illness and do not hang around long. Meanwhile, the pastor gets angrier and angrier that people are leaving and that upstart of a church down the highway is drawing them in.
“Give the church back to Jesus, pastor. It’s His. He died for it; you didn’t. He wants it back.” Acts 20:28, if you need a text.
Amazing how liberating that can be, to take one’s hands off the controls and let the Lord Jesus be Head of His Body.
I brought a little of Washington, D.C., home with me. I brought a lungful of pollen. Twenty-four hours after arriving there, my allergies were kicking in and my voice was weakening. And now, 48 hours after arriving home, I’m still clearing my throat and trying to clear my lungs.
I’ve been to the Holy Land only once. On arriving back at home, in Mississippi at the time, I was surprised to find that I had brought much of it back with me, primarily in my emotions. Never one to cry much, I found that my tears were hovering a half-inch beneath the surface and just by looking at a photo of Jerusalem or Galilee, they would overflow.
When the astronauts walked on the moon, they were able to accomplish this remarkable feat by carrying with them a tiny portion of the earth: our atmosphere. It’s the only way they could survive.
When Moses came down off Sinai, his face was shining with the lingering effects of the reflection of the face of the Almightly. Scripture says he wore a veil thereafter, primarily to prevent anyone from learning when the effects had worn off.
When a person believes on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in them. The Apostle Paul says the Spirit is God’s down payment (“earnest”) on our future inheritance. The Holy Spirit within believers is a little touch of Heaven.
When the critics beheld the early apostles, they “took note of them that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine; O what a foretaste of glory divine….”
Moments when God sends a vision are life-changing and to be savored in memory forever. We heard of one Wednesday at the weekly pastors meeting.
Our pastors were invited to meet today with Global Maritime Ministries, the work founded by John Vandercook in the early 1960s and now being administered by his son Philip. We toured the new Port Ministry Center at 3635 Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans (www.PortMinistry.com) and learned of the incredible “foreign missions” Philip’s team is accomplishing every day of their lives as they reach out to the crews of the hundreds of international ships arriving at the Port of New Orleans each year.
“How did this work get started?” I asked the now-retired Rev. John Vandercook. “Was there a moment you look to as ‘the’ time God started this work?”
Brother John was pastoring the Third Street Baptist Church in those days, a small church not far from the docks. One Sunday afternoon he had walked down to the docks–it was all open then; anyone could walk down to the river, as opposed to the high security now–and was watching a huge ship dock. As the vessel maneuvered into place, John became aware of a man onboard who was watching him. When the gangway was lowered, the man was the first one off. He approached Pastor Vandercook and speaking with a strong Dutch accent called out, “Sir, my friends and I are Christians. Can you tell me where we can go to church this evening?”
They attended Third Street Church that Sunday and many Sundays afterwards. The ship was hauling in bananas and arrived on schedule each week. That was the start.
Veteran pastor Dick Randels said, “It’s worth noting that at that time, no Southern Baptists had any port ministries anywhere. This was was the first; it’s the original.” “How many are there now?” I asked. Philip said, “Twenty or more.”
That reminded me of something Mayor Nagin once said. This was back in the pre-Katrina days when his pronouncements could be counted on as positive and healthy and helpful.
We were attending some kind of mayor’s meeting and he was telling the ministers of a program he was trying to get started, hoping to generate community support for it. “I grew up in the Treme section of the city,” he said, “where parades used to form. Someone would stand in the middle of a street and start blowing a horn. Soon someone else would come out with another musical instrument. Eventually, others would come, one with a tambourine, someone dancing, others singing. When they got enough people, they started winding their way down the street toward the Quarter. They had a parade.” He paused and said, “I’m trying to start a parade.”
I told the pastors, “John Vandercook started a parade that day when he invited those Dutch seamen to his church. He’s retired now and others are leading it, but the parade marches on, all across this world. The Lord alone knows how many lives have been touched for Christ.”
I thought of Harlan, a teenager in the First Baptist Church of Charlotte in the late 1980s. The youth minister had taken the kids to Atlanta for a Braves baseball game. The next Sunday at church, the youth were talking, not about the game, but about what Harlan had done. He had spent the entire ball game trying to get the “wave” going around the stadium. It would start and cover a few sections, then die. Harlan would start again. Finally, when the game was almost over, it caught on and circled the entire stadium–people rising to their feet, raising their arms and yelling, all in sequence. Harlan was as proud as if he had won the World Series.
Start the wave. Start a parade. Initiate a movement that will make a lasting difference in this world and go on and on, long after you have stepped aside.
About the Jasmine story. (See previous day’s blog.)
I told the pastors Jasmine’s story and asked, “Would it fit a sermon? It’s too good a story not to use, but it has to be connected with the right point to work.”
“It illustrates mistaken identity,” someone said. “But the Lord knows His flock. John 10.”
“To me, it illustrates the line in Isaiah 43 where the Lord says, ‘I called you by name and you are mine.'”
Someone else said, “Perhaps it’s a good illustration of fear. Jasmine began to be afraid of the man calling her name. Yet it was unfounded. Remember what F-E-A-R stands for: false evidence appearing real.”
We refer everyone wanting to read the minutes of our wonderful, blessed Wednesday pastors meeting at the Global Maritime building to go to www.bagnola.org and read Lynn Gehrmann’s notes. I didn’t count, but estimate 45 to 50 attended today.
Next week, May 2, we’ll be meeting back at the Baptist Center, 2222 Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans. 10 am to 11:30 am, with lunch. We’ll begin with the monthly Associational Executive Committee meeting and transact some business, then segue into the weekly pastors time. I’ll be arriving in Nashville for the meeting of the National Association of Southern Baptist Secretaries (Wed-Thu-Fri at Lifeway)and so will miss the gathering. Freddie Arnold will keep us on track.
We’re urging our people to get their church leaders to the Monday night, April 30, Spring meeting of BAGNO, at the FBC of Luling on the West Bank, 7 pm. We’ll hear reports from some of our leaders, including Keith Maddox of Camp Living Waters, Dr. Bill Taylor of Unlimited Partnerships, and especially (and mostly) Dr. Charles Wade, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Everyone is invited, but we particularly believe church leaders need to be present.