I wish you could have heard Rudy French preach at FBC Norco Sunday morning. This Canadian brother is quiet and unassuming in person, but strong and forceful in the pulpit. I took notes from his message on Numbers 13, the “Kadesh-Barnea incident” where Moses sends 12 spies into Canaan to check out the conditions. Of the 12, only two believed God could win the victory over such an impressive enemy. Following are some of my notes.
“What do you see here?” Rudy asked two young people he brought up to the front. It appeared to be nothing but a sheet of white poster paper. The youth stared at it and noticed the small sticker on the back. “I see a bar code,” the girl said. The boy read the numbers under it. Then they sat down.
Rudy French said, “This piece of poster paper contains 1232 square inches of space on the front and the back. Yet, the young people saw only a one inch bar code. They did not notice the other 1231 square inches. That’s us today. We are missing the other 1231 square inches.” I wondered where he was going with this.
“When Katrina devastated New Orleans, I was working in Canada with a new church start. I saw on television what was happening here, and the Lord spoke to me: ‘This is a great opportunity for evangelism.’ The people in New Orleans had been praying for revival, and here was the opportunity.”
“I told my wife God wants us to go to New Orleans. She had many questions. What will we do there? Where will we stay? How can we support ourselves? I did not know. I only knew God was leading. Rose had just taken a new job in a pharmacy that paid well, and now we would be leaving.”
“We came in October of last year, and I started telling people the good news of Christ. People were interested in hearing of the love of God. They responded. I did not need to use any of the techniques I had learned over the years to convince people. They were ready.”
Rudy explained the story of Numbers 13. God had given Israel the land of Canaan. It was theirs. All they had to do was go in and take it. Yet, they put their eyes on the obstacles–the giants and walled cities and standing armies–and did not believe God.
“God gave them the land, yet they were afraid to take it. I am fearful that God may have given us New Orleans and we have not taken it. Like Israel, we’re afraid to go in and claim what God has given.”
“Little did I know what God was up to, in leading us this way. I have a friend who pastors a small church in Mississippi. They run about 40 on Sunday mornings. But he has been leading groups to New Orleans to minister and help rebuild. They’ve come here to minister again and again, and now his church is running 100.”
“In the Wednesday BAGNO meetings, I’ve met a pastor named Boogie. Before the storm, his little church was running 25. Now, they have no building and they meet in Boogie’s house and they’re running in the 70’s. People are responding. But none of us knows what God is up to.”
“Too many churches are like this white poster board: we see only the one inch which is our own territory and never see the larger picture, the Kingdom of God.”
“I’ve known pastors who presented great plans for evangelism and outreach and ministry to their church leaders, only to have them say, ‘What good does this do our church?’ Friend, if we will build the Kingdom of God, God will take care of the church.”
“Far too many congregations all over the USA are taking care of their church and don’t care a thing about the Kingdom of God. And they wonder why God is not blessing them.”
“I could have told God ‘no.’ That’s what Israel’s leaders did. They did not take the land because they had the wrong attitude. They saw the obstacles instead of the opportunities.”
“You can live life one way or the other. It’s a choice you make. Focus on the obstacles or the opportunities.”
“Yes, there are problems. There always will be. But if God calls you to go to work for Him, don’t worry about the obstacles.”
“Caleb tried to convince the people: ‘Enough excuses! We are well able to overcome!’ In the same way, we are able to take New Orleans for God. We need to get out of our mentality of complaining about all the problems–the crime, the drugs, the government. Let’s take this place!”
“I listen to people who seem to say there’s no hope for America. If I believed that, I’d go back to Canada.”
“The modern church is focused on that stupid little bar code–our square inch of space. ‘How will this benefit our church?’ ‘We’re housing people here and feeding them and reaching people in St. Bernard Parish. How will that benefit us?’ It benefits the Kingdom of Heaven and that ought to be enough for us.”
“I know a pastor who brought his young people to New Orleans. They went house to house knocking on doors and talking to people and ministering to them. When they got back home, they said, ‘Pastor, why don’t we do that here?’ And he didn’t have an answer for them. So they started a door-to-door ministry in their own city and are covering their town for Jesus.”
“It was the ‘nays’ that decided not to go into Canaan. God destroyed those 10 leaders and the rest of the people wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. Our unbelief has dire consequences.”
“What are you and I going to do? Reach out and touch our world? Or fall back into our old habits, saying ‘We’ve never done it that way before’? Those have been called the 7 last words of the church.”
Rudy ended his sermon with a prolonged prayer time and no public invitation. I was so blessed by his message, I asked him to preach it next Wednesday at our pastors’ meeting at Good Shepherd Church, 5033 Wabash, Metairie. (He will begin at 11 am if you can come. You’re certainly invited.)
The lead story on the front page of Sunday’s Times-Picayune dealt with the influx of Mexicans to our area and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is estimated that 100,000 have arrived and are settling down. One observer said this is happening all over the United States, and it’s a cultural phenomenon that is only now reaching New Orleans. Interesting, the editors ran part of the paper in Spanish to make the point.
I’m so glad we have several dynamic Hispanic SBC churches–like El Buen Pastor, Emmanuel, El Calvario, Horeb, Getsemani, and others–ready to meet this challenge.
Couple of things from the letters to the editor. “I was the very first patient to return to Ochsner Baptist Hospital,” writes Sheri Brewer of River Ridge. “As I stepped off the elevator for my pre-op on Tuesday, September 26, I was overwhelmed by a group of clapping nurses…. I want to let everyone know that Baptist is back.”
Jane Wolfe of New Orleans commends St. Bernard officials for their recovery work, but believes they overstepped their boundaries with the recent ordinance which restricted renting houses to no one but blood relatives. Donna Kathmann of Chalmette applauds the same group for fighting to “keep our way of life.”
Jonathan Weiss of New Orleans writes to comment on Mayor Nagin endorsing Congressman William Jefferson for re-election. “Well, what else is there to say but that not biting the hand that feeds you is a time-honored position everywhere”.
Columnist Stephanie Grace picks up on that subject. “To hear (Nagin) tell it, his decision to endorse (Jefferson) was easy. ‘I’ve told the congrssman that since he supported me during the mayor’s race, that I would reciprocate.’ “Just like that,” Stephanie writes. “Tit for tat, quid pro quo, you scratch my back and I scratch yours. It’s just the way things are done in politics and it would be naive to think otherwise.”
“It would certainly be naive, it turns out, to think that a self-professed reformer like Nagin would worry that his support for Jefferson might reflect badly on his storm-torn city, still in dire need of outside aid, yet saddled with an ancient reputation for skullduggery.”
“Or that Nagin would be concerned that people might think he doesn’t take allegations of wrongdoing all that seriously. Or that the endorsement, the latest of many of his headscratching actions, would reinforce his national image as a flake.”
“Or that his promised vocal support for the embattled congressman could alienate New Orleanians who find Jefferson’s behavior deeply embarrassing. Or could it be that Nagin’s the one who’s naive?”
Nagin said he did not think his endorsement of Jefferson would generate a story “with legs.” Stephanie Grace writes, “But the Jefferson saga has already proven it has ‘legs,’ as the mayor put it. The congressman was filmed accepting $100,000 in marked bills from a cooperating witness, allegedly to be passed on as bribes to Nigeria’s vice president. Most of the money was found stashed away in Jefferson’s Washington, DC freezer. The scandal prompted Jefferson’s Democratic colleagues to boot him from the influential Ways and Means Committee and led to the unprecedented search of his official office. All of the above has been covered, in depth, around the country.”
She continues, “Nagin has given us exactly the type of dealmaking that many would consider part of the politics of the past. If the phrase sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what the mayor predicted his opponent Mitch Landrieu would bring to the office. Nagin, on the other hand, promised something different. So why does this sound like the same old same old?”
Rabbi Harold Kushner was in town this week, speaking at a local synagogue and giving us all the benefit of his knowledge. He knows for a certainty that Katrina was not God’s doing, that it was a phenomenon of nature, and that our only question is what to do in its wake.
Kushner is a clever man, widely known, and the author of many books. I’ve not written any, am largely unknown, although I have tried to be clever a few times–with mixed results–so I’ll not attempt to take him on. However, since this is my blog and I’m playing on my home field here, I will repeat something I long for intensely and have voiced previously.
When these religious celebrities appear before us, why don’t they have the intellectual honesty to say, “I don’t know whether God did it or not. He certainly could have. The Old Testament (Kushner’s Bible) has plenty of instances where God used the weather to make a statement to people. He could have. Maybe He did. Or maybe He didn’t. Perhaps this was just a force of nature, of low pressures and wind force and water surges. In either case, our task is to see what God wishes to bring out of this devastation. That is after all His specialty–bringing good out of evil.”
LSU played the absolutely sorriest game of many years Saturday afternoon against Florida. The Saints pulled one out against Tampa Bay Sunday afternoon and evened the score against the Panhandle State. Amazingly, the Saints under new coach Sean Payton are now 4-1 on the year and atop their division. So, our collective mood will be all right, at least for another week.