One of those weekends. The funeral on Saturday, two blogs early Sunday morning, Sunday morning worship at First Baptist Church, New Orleans, Sunday afternoon parked in front of the television cheering the Saints on, Sunday night moderating a church business meeting, trying to help them over a particularly bumpy time, and late that night, picking up one of our guests flying in to speak at the Louisiana Baptist evangelism conference going on Monday and Tuesday at FBC-NO.
Missed my Sunday afternoon nap. My team lost. Two good excuses for being a little grouchy.
Margaret used to laugh at me when my team would lose. Years ago, it would be Alabama in one of their rare losses, and in recent years, it’s LSU. This year, the Saints–it’s always been the Saints except this year they decided to start a winning tradition after the biblical 40 years in the wilderness.
What she would laugh at is how I became philosophical after a loss. “Well, it was good for the other team to win this one. Our guys were getting too full of themselves. A loss can teach you more than a win. In the long run, this loss may be meaningless.”
But I will confess flat out that the game Sunday for the NFC championship in Chicago meant more to me personally than all the other times I’ve cheered on “my” teams. I wanted this one so bad. What the Saints would have done in Miami for the Super Bowl really would not have mattered. Just getting there would have been the achievement we’ve all hoped for, for so long.
Monday morning’s front page headline: “Thank you, boys.” That’s a play on “Bless you, boys,” a sign on thousands of posters you see on game day. Probably originated from a nun who roots for this team. We have plenty of them. I won’t bore you with it here, but Sunday morning’s paper chronicled stories of priests and nuns who make no apology for their complete absorption in this team and who pray in church for it to win, wear Saints logos on their vestments, etc. I’ve not gone that far. Yesterday morning, walking on the levee and praying, the most I could do was pray for the well-being for everyone and for the Lord to be glorified by the outcome.
Forgive the repetition, but Yogi Berra said it for me. When a batter stepped up to the plate and squared off toward the pitcher and made the sign of the cross, Yogi, squatting in the catcher’s position, said, “Hey buddy–why don’t we just let the Almighty enjoy the game.”
Sunday morning at FBC-NO, David Crosby preached as fine a message as you will ever hear on ministering to the poor. He and this church can address this issue with complete confidence, since this church has long been active in the Ninth Ward, serving and blessing. In 1991, they began a Saturday morning ministry next to a housing project. They served food, gave clothing, visited in the apartments, brought the gospel, held services. And these days, this church–under David’s leadership of course–is the instigator and force behind the Baptist Crossroads Project, building hundreds of new homes in the Ninth Ward.
Proverbs 31:1-8 contains motherly advice to a son. King Lemuel–whoever he was–which relays to us what his mother told him. It culminates with this: “Open your mouth for the mute. For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.”
David said to the congregation: 1) You are the object of God’s favor (31:2). You are not self-made. But you are the “object,” not the subject. This was done to you.
2) You are the subject of God’s judgment. The judgment of God will be based not on your relations with other kings or politicians, but by how you treat the poor. See Psalms 72:4.
3) You are the master of your response. It’s your choice. “Speak up” for the poor. We have enough of God’s Spirit, power, love, and guidance to change the future for this city. Depending on how we respond.
A friend who was with us in that service said on the way home that she still remembers the time a former pastor preached on helping the poor. “I almost dropped my teeth,” she said, it being so out of character for him. I said, “If that pastor was like many, his sermon was a one-time thing and he walked away from it thinking he had done something for the poor when all he had done was talk about it.” A ministerial trap so easily fallen into.
David Crosby does one other thing I wish every preacher in America would imitate. When he speaks to the congregation early in the service to welcome everyone, he has thoroughly planned what he wants to say and he sets the tone for the entire service. Without saying as much, he introduces the sermon at this point. When he stands at the pulpit (okay, he doesn’t use one, but you get the point) 20 minutes later, we’re all well along thinking on his subject for the day. My hunch is to the average pastor, the welcome time is a throwaway moment, something he thinks about some 15 seconds before he leaves his seat.
My wife said this morning, “So is everyone crying about the Saints?” I said, “I have no idea. I’m not watching that stuff.” One of the reasons I would not want to be a sportswriter or commentator is that after a really heart-breaking loss, they have to stand around and do post-mortems. They interview the players in the locker rooms, ride the plane home with the team (in some cases), and talk about the loss for the next week.
Not me. I need to move on.
Last night, when the Saints flew in from Chicago, the temperature was dropping and a steady drizzle was falling. And yet, hundreds of fans drove out to Kenner and lined the roadside to welcome them home. A newscaster–okay, I watched a little this morning–said they stood there in the rain for hours. The team appreciated it, I’m sure. “Best fans in the world,” they’re saying.
And just in case anyone wonders, this city is rooting for Indianapolis in the Super Bowl on February 4. Peyton Manning will finally bring his Colts to the big show. He’s Archie’s son, as you know, and he will not achieve something that eluded his dad all those years ago when he quarterbacked the hapless New Orleans Saints.
I picked up Dr. Ken Hemphill at the airport last night and ferried him to his hotel. I’m his host today and tomorrow while he speaks at our evangelism conference which gets under way this afternoon (Monday) at 1 pm at First Baptist-New Orleans, 5290 Canal Boulevard, and at 6:30 tonight. Tuesday 8 am. You’re invited.
On Sunday night’s plane from Charlotte, Dr. Hemphill was seated beside a young woman who had been to visit her fiance’ who is in the military and headed to Iraq. She was having a tough time of it. In the hour and a half flight, he led her to faith in Christ and saw the peace of God transform her countenance. This week, he will be sharing some new witnessing materials he has developed. The idea is to enable all of us to introduce our friends and yes, our strangers, to the Lord Jesus Christ.