Weekend New Orleans Things

For a long time, we were beginning to think the First Baptist Church of Chalmette, just below New Orleans, would never finish with their rebuilding. Hurricane Katrina had ruined their facilities and they were razed. New plans were made and volunteers came in by the thousands to help construct the plant. Finally, this weekend, this church is having an open house and a dedication.

Today, Saturday, I spent several hours at their open house sketching people and listening to the oohs and ahhs from those taking the tours. It’s a lovely building and I am beyond excited for Pastor John Jeffries and his people.

I said to one member, “I know you’re tired of meeting in Chalmette High School.” She hesitated. “They are the sweetest people in the world to us. But we’re ready to be here and I know they’re ready to see us go.”

Almost every Facebook friend I have has been commenting today on various football games this weekend. I’m a fan, but these days have a hard time sitting down to watch a complete game. I thought of a great line from Scripture, however, in the pyschological give-and-take that has been going on between the teams and fans of the Universities of Tennessee and Florida.

First year coach Lane Kiffin of Tennessee had commented that he was looking forward to singing “Rocky Top” (the Volunteers’ song) all night long “after we beat the Florida Gators this year.” Well sir, that didn’t sit too well with Florida Coach Urban Meyer and his people. They are, after all, the defending national champions and presently number one in the nation. According to the Sportscenter people–I’m unsure how reliable they are–that comment really pumped up the Florida fans and inspired its team to rub Tennessee’s nose in it.

One ESPN guy said he’d not be surprised if Florida tried to score as many as 100 points on Tennessee, they were so infuriated by Kiffin’s comments.

Sooner or later, young coaches have to learn the hard way not to say anything which will inspire his opponents. Kiffin will learn.

In the meantime, I thought of the line from an Israeli king to a bragging Syrian ruler found in I Kings 20:11. “Let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off.” (I love the subtlety of that little comment.)

When all was said and done, Tennessee held their own for the most part, and even though they lost, returned home with their heads held high. They’re going to beat some good teams this year, I expect.

Would it surprise you to learn there is political infighting occurring in New Orleans?

I’ve reported here (but not in a while) how Mayor C. Ray Nagin–thankfully, in his final year in office–has had no appreciation for the office of Inspector General. A couple of years ago, the IG chosen by the City Council, Robert Cerasoli, set the office up and hired a staff. They did a few things and made some headlines, and then a few months back, Cerasoli resigned for health reasons and moved back to Boston.

That’s when everything began to unravel.

First, the interim Inspector General–I forget his name–wanted the job, got angry when he was passed over, and left in a huff. Before vacating the office, however, he made some charges against Cerasoli. Mr C, he said, had too cozy a relationship with the Ethics Board which oversees the IG. Furthermore, he spent far too much money, something like $800,000, on computers which are sitting in boxes and are unneeded.

Cerasoli himself, speaking from Yankeeland, answered the charges and then went one better. The IG’s office should be involved at the front end of contracts the city negotiates, and not have to come in after the fact and study what was done and criticize. Best it operate alongside the mayor’s office.

Oh, the mayor loved that. Never a fan of the IG’s office in the first place, we’d not have one if it had been left to him. (And this is a man who was elected to the office on a platform of “transparency.”)

Friday’s Times-Picayune announced that “The NAACP and the SCLC will investigate the Inspector General’s office.” Someone please tell me how the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, both civil rights organizations, can go about investigating anyone. We’ll see.

Saturday, driving along Interstate 610 heading east toward Chalmette, at the exit for St. Bernard Avenue in New Orleans (not to be confused with St. Bernard Parish where I was destined), I noticed the new multi-housing units already up and in place where the old St. Bernard Housing Development was torn down. They were beautiful.

I’m excited for Pastor Lionel Roberts and the members of St. Bernard Baptist Mission, located across the street from all this new housing. They’re about to get hundreds of new neighbors, many of whom, we trust, they will be able to reach for Christ.

I don’t have any plans at the moment to preach this, but discovered a page of old notes (as soon as you read it, you’ll know how old!) that has possibilities. It might spark something in some pastor who reads this….

Rosalynn Carter said of Ronald Reagan, “He makes us comfortable with our prejudices.” (I did not say I agree; only that she said it.)

Marta Limbaugh, the ex-wife of Rush, said of Bill Clinton, “He makes us comfortable with our weaknesses.”

My notes observed that this is one of the fascinations with Princess Diana, who was killed Labor Day weekend of 1997, that she made people comfortable with their weaknesses.

On the other hand, Mother Teresa made people uncomfortable with their greed and materialism.

And that–making people uncomfortable with their sins–is a needed role in our world today. It’s also a function of a good sermon.

In I Kings 18:17 and 21:20, King Ahab says to the Prophet Elijah, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” and “Have you found me, O my enemy?”

The king did not appreciate one bit the Inspector General–excuse me, the prophet–because he was calling the ruler, his court, and the nation back to God. In fact, he saw him as his enemy.

That king had surrounded himself with “preacher lackeys,” so-called prophets who prophesied what he wanted to hear. When the negativism of Elijah appeared on his radar, it infuriated him.

Too many times, preachers in our world cozy up to the political rulers. They get swimmy-headed at being invited to the governor’s mansion or to a prayer breakfast where the high and the mighty come down from Olympus to hob-nob once a year with the preachers. In many cases, what the men and women of God do not realize until it’s too late is that the pols have just purchased their silence, even their acquiescience.

I’ve seen it happen in my own ministry to a small degree (I was never an intimate friend of anyone in a high position, so it’s not like this posed much of a temptation). It surely must pose a real threat to someone who pastors in centers of governments or has congressmen, mayors, governors, and their advisors in their congregation.

The pastor must work hard to “remain his own man,” a figure of speech which you will understand, although “God’s man”is the point.

How does the old line go—“A pastor has two jobs, to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” That’s not entirely true, but it totes enough truth to be needed once in a while.

Let us beware lest we get too comfortable with the shenanigans of people whose esteem we desire to the point that we shave the edge from our preaching.

That said, I am not advocating interrupting the speech of a president or other leader with a loud, “You lie!” The congressman who did that–and apologized for it later–lost at that moment whatever influence he might have had with those who work with President Obama.

There is a middle ground, a path with ridges and chasms on each side to be sure, that the person of integrity must walk in dealing with people in power.

Someone told me about a pastor we both knew, of how the wealthy businessmen in his congregation would take him to the golf course and compromise him with gifts and money to the point that the pastor would never address some of their questionable doings from the pulpit.

Sometimes, there’s something to be said for those in power accusing you of being “the troubler of Israel.” At times, that’s the best compliment a man of God could ask for.

7 thoughts on “Weekend New Orleans Things

  1. Bro. Joe…thanks again for driving down to Chalmette to be part of our Grand Opening Celebration. We really enjoyed having you.

  2. Last fall, before the election, a man called me from a certain political candidate’s office informing me that said politician would like to worship with us on a coming Sunday when he would be in town. I replied that anyone is willing to worship with us and that his call was unnecessary. He then said that he would like for me to recognize the politician from the pulpit and tell folks they could hang around after the service to talk to him. I explained that he was more than welcome to worship with us but that we would not recognize anyone since our focus was on God and since we cannot be perceived to be endorsing any candidate (I should note that were it not an election time, I might take time to pray for one of our leaders in the service). The man called me back on Sunday morning to inform me that the politician and his entourage had found a different place to “worship.”

  3. You said: “I’m a fan, but these days have a hard time sitting down to watch a complete game.”

    Hah! THESE DAYS??? You’re retired now, but as restless as my 7 year old son! (How awesome is that?!)

  4. I love this! I’m glad I get your sermons on-line now. Marty I’m glad he knows how to use the computer, otherwise he’d already be in heaven singing praises.

  5. “Sometimes, there’s something to be said for those in power accusing you of being “the troubler of Israel.” At times, that’s the best compliment a man of God could ask for.”

    There is a reason “true” and “fun” are far apart in “Mr. Webster.”

    Thanks for your insight, Bro. Joe.

  6. Joe: The teacher in Chalmette that had been teaching school in a church and was glad to get to the new school reminded me of the following.

    After graduating from college with a teaching certificate I got a job teaching seventh grade. The old school had burned and was being rebuilt. In the meantime we had to meet in at least two different churches that hosed different grades. We had good facilities and could do our teaching. The students were respectful of the buildings and listened attentatively in class.

    However, when we went to the new school that changed. The children, not all of them, were less respectful of the building and did not pay attention as well in the class.

    Not sure what this means but might be a sermon in there somewhere. Just thought I would share the story with you and the other readers.

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