We go to church. I had no specific place I had to be Sunday morning, so I dropped in on four churches on the West Bank. West St. Charles in Boutte, Chuck Lowman, pastor, was first. Rudy French, an independent missionary from Canada, was there, waiting to preach for Chuck who was out of town. Rudy and his lovely wife Rose have moved to Baton Rouge temporarily to make themselves available to serve the Lord anyway He leads in this part of the world. They are an inspiration to all of us.
Next, I dropped in on the First Baptist Church of Avondale where Marc Daniels serves. Marc is a fascinating man. He used to be Jewish, and was led to Christ by his wife and the ministry of this very church, as I recall. And now he’s the pastor. Marc owns a Ph.D. in biology and serves as a professor at the William Carey School of Nursing, New Orleans campus. He was standing outside on the church parking lot, greeting people arriving for Sunday School. When Lisa drove up with her young daughter Monique, Marc said, “She was saved last Sunday night. Just walked into the service for the first time. None of us knew her. I preached to the saints on having a servant heart. Afterwards, Lisa introduced herself and said, ‘You were talking to me.’ We prayed and she gave her life to Jesus. She’s going to be baptized soon.” Lisa told me she works at a Best Western motel, and was now living temporarily in New Iberia.
My third church Sunday morning was the First Baptist Church of Westwego. (All these communities are on U.S.90. west of New Orleans.) Pastor Jay Adkins was also standing in front of his church, welcoming worshipers. He greeted me warmly and I asked for a couple of minutes to address his people. Inside, perhaps 50 people sat on folding chairs in a sanctuary stripped bare of water-damaged sheetrock and ceiling materials. The carpet had been discarded and blue plastic covered the roof, including two holes opening to the sky above. One side of the auditorium was lined with “Dole” banana boxes, filled with foodstuffs they’ve been giving to the community. “I heard about your new redecorating,” I told the congregation, “and wanted to see for myself. I love the skylights!” They laughed. This is one happy, relaxed congregation. You would love to be a part of this loving fellowship. I thanked them for the ministry they have performed in this part of the city, almost from the first day following the storm.
Then I drove back out Highway 90 to the First Baptist Church of Luling in time to hear Pastor Todd Hallman preach on Romans 8. He’s a good communicator and sure seems comfortable leading the church. Under the previous pastor, Dwight Munn, Todd was the minister of music. When Dwight left for West Monroe, everyone said, “Todd, how about you?” It was a great choice. He gave me a couple of minutes at the end so I could thank the members and staff for their wonderful ministry. I mentioned Judges 5:2 where Deborah sings, “That the leaders led in Israel and that the people volunteered, O praise the Lord.” Sometimes leaders try to lead and no one follows, so nothing gets done. And at other times, people volunteer but no one leads; again, nothing happens. The ideal situation is for leaders to lead and the people to step up and volunteer, which is what we have been seeing all over greater New Orleans.
I am well aware that once you start singling out churches for praise, you run the risk of omitting others that also served faithfully. But it’s a risk worth taking, to give honor where it is due. I invite readers to drop down to the end of this article on our website and leave your own tributes to churches doing a great job.
At three o’clock, some 60 or 70 members of Faith Baptist Church gathered for the second week in the auditorium of Riverside Baptist Church in River Ridge, a mile from my house. They asked me to be their preacher again, and I was glad to do so. This is a happy, positive, sweet fellowship, and they’re a joy to be around. “I’m going to call your attention to a Scripture some of you will never forget for the rest of your lives.” Most of us have had that happen, and it’s always a special time. I felt this text would surely be such a Scripture. Deuteronomy 28:12-13, God tells Israel that if they will listen to the Word and obey His Spirit, three conditions shall prevail in their lives.
1) You will lend but not borrow. 2) YOu will be the head, and not the tail. 3) You will be on top and not underneath.
The lender is in the power position. The head is the decision-maker. The one on top is free. The borrower is a slave to the lender, according to Proverbs 22:7. The tail is the reactor, the follower, going where others lead. The one underneath is burdened and cramped, unable to move. And haven’t we all been there–powerless, dragged around, burdened down.
Notice that God said He would make us these things. This is not a do-it-yourself project. It is the result of listening to God’s Word and obeying His Spirit.
Recently, in New Orleans, a group of ministers complained to the newspaper that the mayor had not chosen any of them as community decision-makers. However, Deuteronomy 28:12-13 says God will make us leaders; we do not have to ask anyone for permission or authority, and certainly not a politician. I was pleased when Pastor Dennis Watson of Celebration Church placed an invitation in Saturday’s paper, inviting pastors of all denominations to come to lunch on Tuesday. No one elected Dennis; God prompted him to do this, and He did it. That’s how the process works.
I’M PERFECTING MY TOUR GUIDE SKILLS
John Brittain spent the weekend with us. This director of missions for the Arundel Association, Baltimore, Maryland, brought along his camcorder and photographed much of New Orleans, now lying in ruins. Monday morning, while several of us sat leisurely around the breakfast table, John pulled the camera out again and began interviewing us about the New Orleans situation. That ought to make for some fascinating viewing back in Maryland. I can hear someone saying, “Don’t they ever shave down there or wear anything but t-shirts?” John loves New Orleans and you could sense his broken heart over what he had seen.
Chris Davis of Hendersonville, Tennessee’s First Baptist Church, spent Sunday night with us, and I showed him the city on Monday. Chris is the minister of missions in this church just outside of Nashville. We spent long visits with Keith Cating and Aaron Arledge in the Baptist student center at Tulane, and at Calvary Baptist Church in Algiers with Pastor Keith Manuel and his staff. The Tennessee church is partnering with Calvary, and will be sending teams of workers our way. Glenn Weekley, a friend from many years ago, leads this dynamic church. I learned that he’s having a kidney transplant on Tuesday and he has occupied a large part of my prayers ever since.
BUT ABOUT MY PRIMARY JOB ASSIGNMENT…
I mentioned recently that the task the Father has given me is that of a conduit, bringing people with needs together with the people with resources, channeling one to the other. The good news is there’s a lot of that going on.
Yesterday, Freddie Arnold took two calls from churches wanting to give large sums of money to local congregations. In each case, he put them on to churches that had suffered some loss and are now gearing up to do significant ministry in their neighborhoods. “They’ve lost members in the dispersal,” he said, “and are incurring great expenses with their new ministries.” I saw a gleam in his eye when he was telling me this. It gave him real pleasure to be able to do that.
I know the feeling. For instance….
I handed envelopes to several pastors today, each one containing money given us recently from the Arkansas Baptist Convention to assist our ministers. I took a phone call from a pastor in another part of our state wanting the name of a hurting minister to whom his church could send a large sum of money; I told him of someone whose circumstances they can change radically. I made a phone call to a minister who lost his house and two automobiles. “Need a car?” “Yes,” he said, “most emphatically. You have one?” I said, “I know who does. Call this number this afternoon.” A pastor on the Northshore had told me last week he and his wife decided rather than trade in their car, they would give it to one of our ministers who lost his. And I made another phone call….
This one was of a different nature. The young pastor and his expectant wife had to evacuate when their seminary housing was flooded. Their church was damaged, they’re living 70 miles away, and now the wife has been invited to resume her old job. The educational building of his church has been gutted to the studs, and a lot of work will have to be done. And he has personal needs. “We need to quit living in the one bedroom,” he said, referring to a friend’s home where they’ve been sheltered. “But the cost of housing down here is out of sight.” I said, “Let me place a phone call.” He had no idea whom I was calling.
I called his home church. “I know you folks know him.” Oh yes, he’s one of our finest; we’re proud of him. “Well, he really needs you. His church needs adopting by a great church like yours, and he’s hurting financially.” And because I knew the person I was speaking with, I added, “And get on it. He needs you now.”
I’m having fun, in some ways. Like the phone call I took 5 minutes ago. A church in our state has purchased luggage, the kind with wheels, and filled each one with goodies to be given to our pastors and wives. (I have no idea what “goodies” refers to. Cotton candy? Pens and erasers? Hershey bars? Bibles?) They’re shipping them to First Baptist of LaPlace where we have our every-Wednesday pastors’ meeting to be distributed next week. If I were a pastor, I’d not miss this gathering.
ME? I DON’T HAVE PROBLEMS LIKE FLAT TIRES.
I’m putting lots of miles on my car these days and just bought four new Michelins. Would I like to purchase the road-hazard policy? It’s only an additional seven dollars per tire? “No, I don’t think so. I haven’t had a flat tire in, what, fifteen years.” The salesman said, “Look around, friend. There is debris everywhere. You’re taking a chance.” “I’ll take it,” I said.
In driving a friend through the seminary campus the very next day, I saw planks with nails sticking out everywhere. No, I didn’t have a flat, but I’ve just realized how foolish it is to think you’re immune to the same troubles everyone else has.
Like that time, 18 months ago, when I was just coming into the associational office as Director of Missions. The administrative assistant said, “We have a cancer policy that insures us all. Want to be on it?” Being one of the stupidest people on the planet, I flippantly said, “No. I don’t think so.” Six months later, my dentist found something suspicious, the oral surgeon did a biopsy, and the report said “carcinoma.” Cancer. And I could have had that insurance policy.
Tuesday morning, we drove into the infamous Lower Ninth Ward, the last place in New Orleans to allow residents to return. We found out why. Devastation like you’ve never seen. The water level was so high, you couldn’t see where it had stopped rising. Churches ruined, windows blown out, homes collapsed, cars piled atop cars, debris in massive piles which when you looked closer, you recognized as a former home. Over here the remains of a burned out grocery store, over there a gutted hospital.
We came to Grace Baptist Church in the Bywater section of New Orleans, just next to the Lower 9th. Six months ago, we helped them celebrate 100 years on that corner of Rampart Street. Bill Rogers, age 75, has been their pastor for years, following his father in law. Young Charlie Dale is the associate pastor now, in place to take over when Bill hangs it up. I noticed the airconditioner was protected by a strong metal screen which was bolted to the building. Next door, the pastorium sits inside a high metal, locked fence. I looked at the neighborhood around–concrete everywhere, the only greenery from plants in huge pots on the sidewalks and some trees–and thought, “Who would want to live here?” I thought of the most idyllic church site I know, Arbor Springs Baptist Church above Tuscaloosa. It sits on a high hill overlooking miles of verdant pastureland. Norman Rockwell would feel at home here. But Grace Baptist in Bywater? Who would choose to plant their lives here in this lower middle class neighborhood (maybe upper lower class), where crime is all around, and the educational system is a joke and the economy is in the basement? The answer has to be: whomever God calls. God has to call you to this. Otherwise, you’d be out of here.
You will be interested to know that Charlie Dale, who will someday be moving with his young wife and two small daughters into that pastorium inside the locked gate, is from Coker, Alabama, not five miles from Arbor Springs. And he’s thrilled at the privilege.
Which is one way you know God has called him. He gets great pleasure out of being where God put him, doing the work God assigned him.
Will you pray for Charlie and Shannon and for Grace Church?
Tuesday at noon, Dennis Watson’s gathering of interdenominational pastors brought together a hundred or more of our ministers for fellowship and inspiration. Stay tuned.
WEDNESDAY’S PASTORS MEETING WAS ANOTHER GOOD ONE
Every meeting we hold on Wednesday is a happening. We do not plan it; we just look around to see who’s present and what God has planned today. Sometimes it’s denominational leaders here to tell of churches or states wanting to help us; sometimes it’s an evangelist or counselor wanting to comfort or inspire; occasionally, it’s a pastor wanting to see for himself what’s going on. Today, it was an author/pastor from Kansas who wanted to give everyone a copy of his new book.
Steve Reed is a church planter, now on his fifth church, Daybreak Community Church in Shawnee, Kansas. Over the last year, he wrote a book titled “The Suffering Clause,” which is just now coming off the press. After Katrina hit, he was saying to the Lord how perfect it would be to print 500 extra copies and give to the church leaders in the affected area, if he only had the money. Just then, someone called with the money. When the publisher heard, she said, “We can print 1500 more copies for that amount.” Steve brought a pickup truckload.
When God struck murderous Saul blind outside Damascus, they led him into the city where he languished for 3 days. Then a disciple named Ananias showed up. “Saul,” he said, “God has sent me to lay hands on you and tell you He has ordained you as a messenger to the Gentiles. And to tell you that you must suffer many things for His name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16) That’s where Steve got the title for his book.
Suffering and hardships are not an interruption to God’s plan; often they are the plan. God uses these dark elements in far more strategic ways than He ever uses sunshine and springtime. “It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom,” Paul told his early converts (Acts 14:22). I’m not sure why God’s people seems to have missed that.
Suffering comes along and we say, “Why am I being punished?” or even worse, “God is punishing you!” (Heard that lately? We on the Gulf Coast have heard it. One pastor said this kind of bad theology drives more people from God than the atheists ever could.)
Lots of ministry takes place in these pastors’ meetings, but the best thing that happens occurs after we finish. For the next 30 minutes, no one leaves. They are in groups all over the sanctuary of the LaPlace church, talking, conferring, planning, praying, counseling. Great stuff. Makes me proud to be a part of it.
Well, I told the pastors about the church that’s sending the “goody-stuffed” baggage next Wednesday. When I said I did not know what “goodies” they contained, someone suggested “goody headache powders.” In truth, we could probably use some. Traffic woes, stress headaches, noise migraines, and the like. You praying for us? Please don’t stop.
A friend wrote today, “Is the city getting back to normal yet?” You know, I wonder if they said that to the Hiroshima survivors in the fall of ’45. Because we won’t ever be back to what New Orleans was before Katrina and we’re a long way from finding out what the new city will be.
You praying for us?