Tornadoes and Other Goings-On Around Here

“The freight train woke me up at 3 o’clock,” Pastor Jay Adkins said. “I ran outside and saw the back end of that tornado plowing through Westwego. The path it left was narrow, but the destruction was total.”

Jay awakened his minister of youth Brian Sholle and they began searching through the dark neighborhood–the power was out although fires were springing up in the tornado’s wake–for anyone they could help.

“We ran into the police chief,” Jay said, “and he remembered me from Katrina when we were so involved in disaster relief work. He said, ‘I need your help, reverend.’ He had about 50 people, many of them women with babies, he had to take care of. He said, ‘I need diapers and formula.'”

Jay and Brian caught the manager of the local Winn-Dixie just as he was opening up. He emptied the shelves of those products and loaded them down, and they rushed back to help the victims.

Apparently there were three tornadoes in our immediate area last night, this one in Westwego which crossed the river into the Carrollton section of New Orleans, causing a lot of damage there, another in the Franklin Avenue/Pontchartrain Park section of Gentilly, and a third one somewhere. The Westwego twister took the top off a motel alongside the West Bank Expressway, which gave a hundred guests the surprise of their lives when rain started pouring in on their beds. Police shut down that section of the expressway all day, and closed much of the town of Westwego.

Only one person was killed. Stella Chambers was in her 80s and had survived Katrina. She was living in a FEMA trailer and excited that her flooded home had been restored and she was close to moving back in. The tornado picked up both her trailer and the two story house and spun them through the air. She died soon after the trailer dropped to the ground with her inside.

Jay Adkins had to get to his seminary classes this morning and was there when I caught him by cell phone. Later he called to say he was back in Westwego and doing what he could to help people. “The governor landed in her big helicopter,” he said. “It was sickening to see all the dignitaries rushing to squeeze into a photo with her when the Red Cross was over there knocking themselves out.”

When I arrived at our associational offices this (Tuesday) morning, Ninfa and Lynn announced that our power was out. To their great chagrin, they had to take the rest of the day off and go home. I know it broke their hearts.

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Three Bizarre Debates

Number one: Every time our people go to Washington on behalf of New Orleans, someone in Congress says, “We’ve given you $110 billion dollars. That ought to be enough!” Here’s why it isn’t.

That amount was for five states to cover the damage from 3 storms. Louisiana had the worst damage, so we got the lion’s share: $59 billion. That’s a lot of money. However….

According to the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the governor’s agency charged with handling the money congress sends this way, only $26.4 billion of that represented “genuine federal help.” Of that amount, $18 billion was for actual disaster relief–which includes money to rebuild levees, homes, schools, and community infrastructure–and $14.7 billion was for payouts from federal flood insurance, which is a contract the federal program has with policyholders who pay their premiums.

Representative Richard Baker of Baton Rouge says, “A lot has been said about the $110 billion. We just haven’t seen it.”

In response, Washington argues that it sent $12 billion to the governor’s Road Home program for assistance with rebuilding homes in our state, but as of Thursday only 590 people had received anything from it, for a total of $38.3 million.

Alabama Representative Spencer Bachus quotes our governor as saying last year that the president had done everything he promised and that the money was enough. “You’re quoting her out of context,” says LRA exec Walter Leger. He points out that of the $110 billion sent this way, barely more than half of it came to Louisiana–the other four states getting the other $51 billion–and yet Louisiana had four times the damage as the others states. “That’s what people ought to be looking at,” said Leger.

There’s a strong feeling among this state’s leadership that Mississippi fared better because of its political clout in Washington, having a Republican governor while our governor is a Democrat. In December of 2005, Mississippi received $5.2 billion for emergency housing recovery while Louisiana, with many times the damage, received $6.2 billion.

Number two: There’s a big front page article in Sunday’s paper about this city’s mayor. The headline reads: “Many New Orleanians say they are still waiting for Mayor C. Ray Nagin to do the job they elected him to do.” A local t-shirt reads: “C. Ray?” And underneath: “Not lately.”

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The Ultimate Phobia: Why Christians Fear to Witness

Why are good, normal, otherwise confident Christian people scared to death of knocking on a door?

I think I know, and it’s not just that we don’t know what to do or don’t love the Lord enough or lack holiness. Sorry, Henry Blackaby, my dear brother. I think it’s something else.

Recently in this blog and last week at our pastors meeting, we talked about fear in witnessing. I said that the fear is related to not knowing what to do, that I do many things frequently without a smidgen of fear because I’ve learned what to do, whether it’s driving in interstate traffic or sketching someone in front of a class or speaking before large crowds. And I might have left a wrong impression, that I no longer have to deal with the fear of approaching strangers with the gospel. Actually, I am a veteran of this kind of paralyzing fright.

Fear and I have walked down many a street together over my four decades of ministry, fighting and struggling all the way. Sometimes I won out, sometimes fear carried the day.

Here’s the rundown, as briefly as I can make it.

In college, I worked weekends near the railroad terminal in downtown Birmingham. I wanted so badly to share my faith and help people come to the Lord that at noontimes I would quickly scarf down my sandwich and get outside to walk the streets. In this seedy section of town one could expect to encounter drunks and vagrants on every block. Surely they would be the easiest people in the world to approach and begin a conversation with, right? You would think.

I did not have a clue how to begin or what to say. The lasting memory I carry from those painful lunch hours is the complete, total fear that engulfed me as I would walk up to a wino and stutter, “Uh, mister….are you saved?” That is as far as it ever got, because inevitably the bleary-eyed citizen would stare at this kid through his fog and say, “Yeah, buddy,” and stagger on his way.

It would have been comical had it not been so sad.

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“God Things”

I wish you could know Rudy and Rose French. They moved here from Canada just after Katrina, convinced the Lord wanted them to minister to our people and assist in the rebuilding of this city. At first, they served at Williams Boulevard Baptist Church, feeding highway patrolmen from all over the country, then with Delacroix Hope Baptist Church taking baskets of goodies door to door in FEMA trailer parks and ministering in any way that presented itself, and now they’re leading the First Baptist Church of Norco.

I’ll not repeat the account of their call to that church and Rudy’s insistence that they become a mission center and stop doing the same things they’d been doing for years, things no longer working. When they moved into the parsonage, change became the order of the day.

This morning–Thursday–Rudy gave me the grand tour of the church. Volunteer workers from French Camp, Mississippi were all over, gutting out the building in places and rebuilding in others. Tearing out the ancient, worn woodwork and the threadbare carpet, installing a new kitchen, filling two former classrooms with bunk beds, enough to sleep ten people in each. Painting, scrubbing, nailing.

“There used to be a wall here,” Rudy said. “But we needed to open up this space, so I told them to tear it out.” With a twinkle in his eye he said, “One of our seniors came in and said ‘What happened to our wall?’ I told her, ‘It wasn’t our wall. It was God’s. And I was talking to Him and He said He wanted that wall down. So we tore it down.'” He added, “I smiled real big and she did too.”

“You should have seen the library,” he said. “Old stuff that should have been thrown out ages ago. Why would anyone keep telephone directories for ten years? We cleaned it out.”

“In this room, there was junk. Clutter. We cleaned it out and threw it away. See that dumpster out back? We filled it up three times with stuff we threw away.” He said, “I do not understand why church members haven’t cleaned all this out ages ago.”

I said, “I do. Church members are afraid of offending someone. Throw it away and it will turn out that someone’s mama paid for that and now they’re all upset. So, it’s just easier to stick it in a closet and let the next generation deal with it.”

“They needed leadership, Rudy,” I said, “and you’re providing it.” He said, “I’m doing what we do in the business world. You see a problem and you tackle it.”

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Demolitions and Dedications

I used to drive down Elysian Fields toward town, through the deserted neighborhood and past the out-of-business Lowe’s and think, “If that store can ever get back up, it will be situated for more business than they ever dreamed.” Eventually they did, and now comes word that this store is number one in sales among the 1,395 Lowe’s in the USA.

Furthermore, this week crews started demolishing the once-glamorous Lake Forest Mall on Interstate 10 in East New Orleans where a new Lowe’s will soon go up. I recall bringing our children to that mall when we were visiting here in the early 1970s and the entire center section had been turned into an ice skating rink. It was so glorious in this tropical city. In recent years, the mall had fallen onto hard times along with much of New Orleans East and the anchor stores moved out long before Katrina put the mall out of its misery on August 29, 2005.

Speaking of demolitions, they’re tearing down the Frostop on Jefferson Highway a few blocks west of Ochsner’s. This drive-in was once the hot spot for teens and families enjoying an outing. A new highrise apartment building will go up where that strip mall stood for decades. Local historians say this was the first shopping center of its kind in Jefferson Parish and was all the rage in the 1950s.

Progress, I reckon. Most of the stores in that strip have been closed for ages. My favorite art supply place was there however, and I’ve been known to run by the Frostop for a frozen mug of root beer.

Liz Curtis Higgs is coming to New Orleans. This has to be the funniest female on the planet, and she’s a terrific Christian writer/speaker to boot. She’s written bestselling books (like “Bad Girls of the Bible” for one) and goes everywhere speaking. “Embrace Grace” they’re calling her two day visit to the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, March 9 and 10 (7 to 9 pm Friday night and all day Saturday). To register or for more information, e-mail Judi Jackson: Sorry, guys–women only.

More building dedications coming up, I’m glad to announce. The “new” New Covenant Baptist Mission, now occupying the facility that was formerly Woodmere Baptist Church, will be holding its service on Sunday afternoon, February 25, at 3 pm. They’re located at 3145 Alex Korman in Harvey, and Pastor Thomas Glover says you’re invited.

Then, a few days later, the “renewed and redirected” FBC of Norco will hold its dedication on Saturday, March 3, at 11 am. Pastor Rudy French wants you there to rejoice with this congregation.

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Evangelism in New Orleans

Scott Dawson is a Birmingham evangelist who has found a niche. He takes over the stadium of a minor league baseball team for one game during their regular season and involves churches to get people to the game and a program immediately following. On May 20, 2007, Dawson brings his “Safe at Home” event to Zephyrs Stadium in Metairie, the home of our New Orleans Triple-A baseball team.

The plan is simple. Dawson’s advance team comes to our city and helps us select a handful of key leaders who will enlist the support of churches. The churches hand out vouchers to their members, who in turn distribute them to their friends, focusing on those who need the Lord. The vouchers may be exchanged at the gate for tickets. Everything is free. The leadership lines up local business leaders to help fund the event. Volunteers are trained as workers and counselors.

Immediately following the baseball game, workers trot out onto the field and in 10 minutes flat, erect a platform and install the speaker system. A hot band plays, some great singer performs, and Scott Dawson speaks. An invitation similar to the kind Billy Graham is noted for is extended.

The date is Sunday, May 20. The game will be at 2 pm. The Scott Dawson folks have signed the contract with the Zephyrs to give away 9,000 tickets.

Dawson’s representatives will be in town next week, speaking to the Pastors Coalition at Celebration Church on Tuesday, February 13, at noon, and the next day, Wednesday, at our weekly pastors meeting at the Baptist Center.

Sometime this Spring, DiscipleNow Weekend will hit the bigtime in our area.

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Beating the Rap

It’s a nice feeling being exonerated.

The notice from the library warned that my book was overdue by several weeks. The next note some days later announced that if the book was not returned, the fine would be $5 and I would have to pay to replace it, something like $21. I searched high and low, and even went on line to find out if the book in question was one I had actually read. It was. Margaret called the office Friday and said, “The library just phoned about that book.” I said, “I don’t know where it is. I went through the trunk of the car today and I just don’t have it.” I went to my favorite internet source and ordered a copy of the book for eight bucks, brand new, and then wondered if the library would let me replace it.

Monday afternoon on my way home from the office, I drove by the library. The man was extremely nice and I was not upset, I’m happy to report. I paid the fine, but was still flustered. Where was that book? The librarian was patient and agreed to help me run this down. He said, “We only have one copy of that book and we’re showing it out, of course.” I said, “Do you mind if I check.” Two minutes later I brought him the book. It was on their shelves all the time. Someone replaced it in the stacks without checking it back in through the computer.

“Is my record clear now?” I asked, as he returned the five dollar bill. “All clear,” he said, and proved it by turning the monitor around for me to read.

To satisfy my curiosity, I asked if they would have let me donate a brand new copy of that book to replace the missing one so I would not have to shell out 21 dollars. “No,” he said, “we used to allow that. But they changed the policy.”

I honestly cannot recall the last time I was ever accused of something I didn’t actually do. It’s such a nice feeling beating the rap, I might try that again.

One of our co-workers got a speeding ticket today. Doing 50 in a 35 mph zone. “I just wasn’t paying attention,” he said.

Wonder if that would work, for me to be accused of speeding and then to prove I wasn’t. Probably not. The evidence is all on the side of the guy with the radar gun.

Did I ever tell you about the time Thom Brett and I beat such a rap? In court, even.

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A Muted Super Bowl Sunday in New Orleans

This morning at 9:30 am Edgewater Baptist Church on Paris Avenue in the Gentilly section of New Orleans held its post-Katrina dedication. Since I was preaching at First Baptist of Belle Chasse, 45 minutes downriver, I ran by a few minutes early to greet Pastor Kevin Lee and to congratulate the congregation. This was the first time I’ve been inside their renovated facility since Katrina. It was stunning.

If you were to backtrack to my blog for September 30, 2005, and find the record of our first visit to Edgewater after the evacuation, you’d understand my elation. At that time, the condition of this neighborhood and the church was heartbreaking. I stood outside the buildings and wept, and then called Gary Richardson, one of its former pastors. I had to tell someone I knew would care.

Today, the educational portion of Edgewater has been restored to pristine beauty. The sanctuary section is still torn out to the studs and bone-like empty and dark, but the fellowship hall area is bright and exciting. And the people. It would appear to me at least a hundred friends were entering the buildings, most of them young adults. I was easily the oldest one on the premises.

Kevin Lee introduced me to the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Thomasville, Georgia, who would be the preacher today. I spotted Jim Shaddix, former NOBTS preaching professor/dean of the chapel and former pastor of this church and now pastor of Riverside Church of Denver. His church has sent a constant stream of volunteers to work on this building and in homes throughout the neighborhood. Jim said, “Would you believe–I’ve only urged people to get involved from the pulpit one time. They’re just a fantastic people.”

George Archer and his wife were present from Texas. He coordinated volunteer work for Edgewater for a couple of months early on. Other churches and volunteer groups were present, as were a large group of seminarians. Freddie Arnold represented our associational office. I scooted out at 9:35, headed to Belle Chasse.

At FBC-BC this morning, I preached the sermon found just before this article, “The Hardest Teaching in the Bible.” I called it “The Hardest Command You Will Ever Obey,” about the responsibility of church members to submit to one another and their leaders. Not exactly a popular subject, I grant you, but I believe with all my heart every church in our denomination needs to be reminded of the Bible’s teaching on this subject.

I hope the Father gives me the opportunity to preach this message in more of our churches.

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The Hardest Teaching in the Bible

What started this for me was a “Dear Marilyn” column in the Sunday “Parade” magazine a couple of years ago. Columnist Marilyn Vos Savant was answering some character who wanted to know what the big deal was about compromising and giving in, in order for parties to reach an agreement. “I never give in,” he wrote, “when I think I’m right.” Marilyn wrote back, “So when do you give in–when you think you’re wrong?”

When something lodges in my mind–a story or quote or event–even something as inconsequential as that little exchange, I know the Holy Spirit is handing me a spiritual lesson on a platter and that I’m to pull aside and listen.

What the Parade writer called “compromising” or “giving in to others,” the Bible calls “submission.” And it makes a great deal of that subject.

We’re told that the young child Jesus submitted to his parents (Luke 2:51). We’re instructed to submit to the laws of man (Romans 13:1). The church is to submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:24). Wives to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). The younger to the older (I Peter 5:5). And servants to their masters (Titus 2:9 and I Peter 2:18).

The Parade writer is not alone is disliking the concept. The great mass of humanity lines up with him, each person feeling his point of view is right, his rights take precedence over all other considerations, and that if he does not look out for “number one,” no one else will.

Bible historians tell us that meekness and submission were looked upon with scorn by every society until the Christian faith turned values on their heads and made these into virtues. That did not, however, change how people feel. We have an innate resistance to bowing before anyone or anything. “I am the captain of my soul” is article one in the spiritual credo of untold millions.

Many would call this resistance to submission one of our greatest strengths. If so, sometimes our strength can be our weakness.

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