Everyone around here observes the 29th of each month as a Katrina anniversary. Not with parties, of course, but only marking one more month since life changed forever.
We’ve been under tornado watches since Saturday evening. Sunday morning, weathercasters were urging people in St. Bernard Parish to get into secure housing. I suppose that means leave your FEMA trailer and go into the gutted out, empty house next door for security from high winds or even tornadoes. We’re thankful for the needed rain.
Saturday, residents of Kenner ousted their mayor. Muniz won over Capitano, by something like 52% to 48%. Veteran police officer Steve Caraway was elected chief over P.J.Hahn, who was seen as an administrator. Everyone agrees the voters in this New Orleans suburb are tired of the constant bickering between council and mayor, chief and mayor, and other groups.
Next Sunday, May 7 and then Monday the 8th, I’ll be accomplishing a personal first: preaching in a Methodist Church. After the Saturday night high school reunion at Double Springs, Alabama, the next morning I’ll preach at the local Methodist church for their 11 am service, their 6 pm service that night, and the next evening at 6 pm. And later in the month, I’ll be preaching in a United Methodist church in another part of Alabama. So, this is my year, I guess.
My mom says, “How did this happen?” I tell her that our high school class team leader Sally Moody recommended me to the Pastor Albert Rivera of the Double Springs church. And my college roommate, George Gravitte, who lives across the county at Haleyville, now retired from pastoring UMC churches, added his recommendation. Presumably, what they said is that “Joe’s safe.” (We’ll see.)
Pastor Joseph Blanchard of the (New Orleans) First Haitian Baptist Church came by our associational offices one day this week. He’s bivocational and drives a taxi in the week. Anyway, that church is having a week of revival services the week of June 4 with a different preacher each night, and he invited me to preach that Sunday night. He said, “Our theme is Ezra 10:13.” I could not remember what that verse was and even after looking it up, had no clue how that suggested a revival theme. The first half of the verse reads: “But there are many people, and it is the rainy season. We don’t have the stamina to stay out in the open.” Joseph said, “Our theme is: ‘It’s Time to Come Inside.'” He smiled and added, “It’s bad outside. Time to come in to Christ.” I love it.
The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention this June will be in Greensboro, North Carolina, a first for that medium-sized city. When attendance dropped back to manageable numbers a decade ago, our leaders decided it was time to gather in some places we haven’t been lately, if at all. Last year, Nashville. I was impressed to see that two of our local leaders will be on the program. Lonnie Wascom is the director of missions (my counterpart) on the Northshore, which includes everything from Slidell to Covington to Hammond. He will be speaking at the meeting of the SBC Associational Directors of Missions. Then, David Crosby of the FBC of New Orleans has been given a slot on the SBC program itself, to talk about the rebuilding of New Orleans with particular slant on the Cooperative Program, our denomination’s instrument for receiving and channeling offerings throughout the world. Both men are highly articulate and outstanding in every way and will represent us well. I’ve already begun praying for them.
In July, I’ll be speaking at the great Central Baptist Church-Bearden of Knoxville, down the street from the University of Tennessee, where my friend of nearly 4 decades Larry Fields has labored so faithfully for over 20 years. Larry and Sandy will be enjoying a sabbatical in Oxford (yes, England, not Mississippi. Or Alabama either, for that matter). I have to tell you what Larry did the other day.
April 8, Larry and Sandy’s son John married a lovely young lady named Allie in their church. They rave about their new daughter-in-law and are greatly impressed by their son’s choice of a life-mate. At the wedding, Larry told something that happened on their first date. As John and Allie drove down Deane Hill Parkway, he pointed out the imposing church structure on his right and said, “Have you ever been there?” Allie said, “I went once, but the pastor was boring.” John knew immediately he liked this girl. He smiled and said, “See the name on the sign?” Dr. Larry Fields, Senior Pastor. Something clicked in her and she got it. She said, “Oh, is he your grandfather?” And Larry told this in the middle of their wedding. The congregation is still laughing.
Today, April 30, I’m preaching in the 11 am service at the FBC of St. Rose, a residential community a few miles west of the New Orleans airport. My subject is prayer. I thought I would tell them about the four questions the Lord asked me once when I was doing my (then) nightly prayer walking. These came with such clarity, I wrote them down and have never doubted that they were directly from the Father. (One way you can be that certain is when they arrive with such relevancy to your particular situation.) The four questions were:
1. What would it take to stop you from praying? (Not much for many of us, apparently. But what if the government decreed–as they did in Daniel’s day–that no prayers toward the living God should be offered?)
2. If you’re not going to pray for your children, who do you think will? After all, I’m their father. Think of how many parents send their children out into the world each morning and just assume that they will be all right. If anyone should pray for them, it should be their parents.
3. If you’re not going to pray, how dare you call yourself a Christian? Nothing tells the story on whether we believe in the Lord as whether we pray. He is such an infinite Resource and we have such great needs. If we are not praying, it surely must be because we do not believe. If we believe, we will pray. Period.
4. What is it going to take for you to get down to business in praying? My text today is Luke 11 where the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray. They already prayed, but they recognized there was a deeper dimension to prayer than what they had found. It will be a good day when we admit that about our own prayer life.
“Evading blame again” is the title of an editorial in today’s Times-Picayune. Directed toward, guess what, the U.S.Corps of Engineers, planner and builder of our levee system. Without belaboring the point, I’ll give you the gist of it. Dan Hitchings is the civilian head of the corps’ Task Force Guardian, assigned to rebuild the flood walls and levees to their pre-Katrina condition. Hitchings says the city was flooded drastically before the levees breached. So don’t blame us.
The editor says, “Ivor van Heerden, assistant director of the LSU Hurricane Center, and J. David Rogers, an engineering professor at the University of Missouri-Rolla, pointed out what they say are falsehoods and fallacies in Hitchings’ statement.”
Last paragraph: “The corps should take responsibility and be accountable for its work. Its job is to protect, and it should be committed to that task. Instead, agency heads continue to deny their past mistakes and pre-deny the ones we may discover in the future.”
Finally, a short article affirms something those of us who believe in and teach financial stewardship and generosity have said. It turns out that with all the extra charitable giving over the last couple of years, first from the tsunami in Asia, and now with the hurricane in this part of the world, U.S. charities are reporting that their giving was NOT down last year. So called experts had predicted Katrina giving was siphoning off money for churches and other humanitarian groups. Hundreds of articles were written predicting “donor fatigue”. But it never happened.
When I was a young pastor, a veteran minister said to some of us, “Pastors protect their church members’ wallets and checkbooks too much. They’re so afraid of asking people to give. I’ve discovered people will protect their own billfolds; they don’t need me doing it.”
Those who give learn the joy of it and go on to give again and again.