“Show Me,” She Said

First a little background. I fell in love with Sarah Chamblee when she was four years old. I was preaching a revival in the church where her dad was the minister of activities and each night, sat on the front pew beside little Sarah until time for me to walk to the pulpit and preach. She was every bit the little lady, quiet, studious, lovely, and sweetness personified. I would draw pictures for her, naturally. That week was the only time I saw her until she was grown. When she started to school, she would write asking me to draw her with her “big red dog.” She would send school photos. I have more than one from her teen years. (She told me much later she never did have a big red dog; she just wanted one.)

About five years ago, I called that church (the FBC of Denton, Texas) to ask if Bill Chamblee was still on staff. He was; I think he spent his entire career at that church before retiring in 2008 to begin a sports ministry. Anyway, Bill’s wife Marcia called Sarah, by then married to Jeremy Armstrong and teaching school at Frisco or somewhere, and said, “You’re not going to guess who called today — someone out of your past.” Sarah thought of three or four names, mine being one.

She and Jeremy drove over to visit us four or five years ago. Then, two and a half years ago, Ella was born. This child is a blessed replica of her mama. These days, the photos are either of the entire family or just Ella. She’s a winner.

Now, here’s the story….

The other day Sarah was instructing Ella how it was important that she learn to obey her parents without complaining or stalling. She said, “God tells us in the Bible that children are to honor their parents by obeying them.” With that, the two-and-a-half-year-old hopped up and ran into her room. She picked up her little pink Bible and returned to the living room, plopped it in Sarah’s lap, and said, “Show me!”

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What the Interim Pastor Can Teach the Church

My friend Reggie often serves churches as interim pastor. Since he’s a seminary professor — not only teaching several classes of future preachers but handling a heavy administrative load outside class — he does not have enough time or energy to do much more than preach for the church that engages him.

A colleague told me yesterday that when Reggie begins his work at a church, he tells the pastor search committee, “I am not interested in becoming your pastor, so please don’t ask me. If you ask me once, I will say ‘no.’ If you ask me the second time, you will have my resignation.”

He adds, “Because that tells me your committee is not actively searching for a pastor for your church, but is looking inward.”

I’ve known a hundred interim pastors over the years but have never known of another one saying such a wise thing. In fact, the average interim pastor gets his head turned all too easily by the wooing of the pastor search committee or by members of the congregation. (I am all too aware that occasionally the Holy Spirit chooses this method of matching a preacher up with the right church, so this is not a blanket condemning of the process.)

Ernest is a retired director of missions and a longtime friend. Recently, I was speaking in the association where he put in many years and over supper was hearing about his post-DOM existence.

“I’ve been retired five years,” he said. “And there has not been one Sunday when I’ve not been interim pastor in some church somewhere.” He continued, “I might have missed a few Sundays preaching, but I was always the interim pastor at one church or another.”

I told him that a mutual friend, J. C. Mitchell of Columbus, Mississippi, once told me after he retired from being director of missions that serving as interim pastor of churches was so liberating and gave him such a podium for making a difference in the church, he thinks he might have been called by God to be an interim pastor!

Ernest laughed and said, “I know exactly what he’s talking about. A church is willing to receive counsel from the interim they would never take from the regular pastor.”

“That’s strange,” I said. “Why do you think that is?”

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The Church With Spunk

(Background Text: The first few chapters of Acts)

A Canadian pastor friend tells of a woman who stood in a testimonial service and announced, “I’m determined to do anything the Lord tells me to do — so long as it’s honorable!”

Most people would not express it quite that blatantly, but many of us erect conditions to be met before we will obey the Lord. This is particularly true when we make the decision to leave our comfortable buildings and impact our community with the gospel.

“Yes, sir, Lord — we’ll be going into our Jerusalem with the message of Christ! We plan to meet people and minister to them and share the gospel — and we intend to do this just as soon as all the conditions are right!”

Therein lies the barrier to obedience. We intend to obey the Lord’s command to evangelize our Jerusalem just as soon as the CONDITIONS are right, the COMMUNITY is receptive, and the CORE-GROUP is ready.

On the surface, that sounds like good, conservative, reasonable and solid thinking.

1) Ideal conditions within the church: the congregation is healthy, united and supportive of this plan. The offerings have been exceeding the budget lately, creating a nice surplus for missions. The timing is ideal.

2) Ideal conditions inside the community: as we move out into the city, the people welcome us with open arms. They’ve been eager for someone to bring the gospel their way. The gangs disperse, crime drops to nothing, and everyone rejoices that we loved them this much. The community is ready.

3) Ideal conditions within the core-group assigned to this task: they are all trained soulwinners, Spirit-filled, fully prepared for whatever circumstances they find, and eager to make a difference. The leadership is right.

That sure would be nice.

Too bad it hardly ever happens that way. It’s not how the real world works — not even in the original Jerusalem community where it was the disciples themselves infiltrating their community with Jesus’ message.

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The Focus of My Prayer

They’re complaining around here about a newspaper article written by some northern reporter who was featuring one of his city’s sports heroes, a fellow who grew up in the Bunche Village neighborhood of Metairie. Most of the article was about him, we’re told, but one paragraph got everyone’s goat locally. The reporter said something to the effect that Metairie is dirty, dingy, and dangerous.

The athlete had told the reporter that the railroad track runs through the village where he grew up and that frequently dead bodies were found alongside it. Sounds like a scary place, all right.

That same railroad track runs 200 yards from my house since I live just south of Bunche Village. We’ve not seen any dead bodies, but the world being in the shape it’s in, I don’t doubt that guy did across the tracks.

Aaron Broussard, President of the Jefferson Parish Council (we don’t have a mayor for Metairie; even though the population is over 300,000, it’s unincorporated and run by the parish) responded quickly to point out that Metairie is one of the safest places in Louisiana (which just raises the question of how safe Louisiana is) and far safer and cleaner than the city where said reporter lives and works.

My own observation to all this is: it all depends. Depends on what part of town you’re in, depends on where you look. Every city of any size I know anything about has its lovely sections and it’s eyesores, its “Norman Rockwell” neighborhoods and areas where you would not want to be caught after dark. Metairie is like all those other places.

Just depends on your perspective. On your focus.

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A Great Time to Be Alive

A half-century ago, a study commission was created to look into the matter of stress and its impact on the health of the American population. Its chairman was Paul Dudley White, who is widely recognized as the founder of preventive cardiology and was the personal physician for President Eisenhower. The commission announced what we take for granted today, that stress is a killer and must be dealt with in order to live a healthy well-functioning life.

When asked what people could do to get stress out of their lives, Dr. White said, “Stress is life.”

There is no getting around stress. Even if one stays home and locks all the doors and has his meals slipped under his door, the human spirit still finds matters to worry about, causes to stress over. If you are alive, you are dealing with stress.

Stress is not “par for the course;” it is the course.

“Economy is lousy, and so is our health.” So goes the headline in Tuesday’s Times-Picayune. The article by Stephen Smith is a reprint from the Boston Globe, and brings news that has to have been expected. The tanking economy with its burgeoning unemployment lines, foreclosed homes, and revelations of waste and scandals in high circles is affecting the health of Americans.

Smith writes, “At Massachusetts General Hospital, patients whose blood pressure was in check just weeks ago now find it rocketing out of control. They blame the economy.”

“At Boston Medical Center, obese patients who had been shedding weight are packing on pounds again as they resort to cheaper, high-calorie food and abandon gym memberships. They blame the economy.”

“At a Framingham doctor’s office, patients forgo screening tests such as colonoscopies because they don’t want to spend scarce dollars on copayments. They blame the economy.”

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Faith’s Substitutes

My nearly 93-year-old mother helped me with Sunday’s sermon. I was in the car headed to the First Baptist Church of Waggaman, a small New Orleans bedroom community located alongside the western shore of the Mississippi River, where I was filling in for Pastor Bobby Malbrough as he recuperated from knee surgery. Mom and I were having our daily morning chat covering the usual stuff.

Mom’s great-grandson Jon Cagle had spent the night with her. She said, “I asked if he was going to church this morning. He said he didn’t feel like it. I told him if I went only when I felt like it, I’d never go to church.” She paused and added, “He said he was going right home and getting dressed.”

I was primed to preach on Faith that morning, based on our Lord’s question to the panicky disciples in Mark 4:40. When the storm threatened to swamp the boat, they awakened the sleeping Jesus with an accusation: “Lord, don’t you care that we perish?” The Master awakened, calmed the seas and winds, then turned to the frightened twelve and said, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?”

Great question, isn’t it?

We could ask that question of all kinds of people. Someone is considering giving his life to Christ in salvation. He hesitates, wondering what kinds of changes this might involve, what Jesus could possibly require of him, and how his friends may react. We want to say, “Hey friend, why do you fear? Where is your faith?”

Someone who has already made that private inner commitment to the Lord is on the cusp of going public — confessing Him, joining a church and receiving believer’s baptism. She hesitates, not wanting to step out in front of all those people, not knowing all the workings of this church, wondering if the pastor will drown her during baptism. We say to her, “Why do you fear? Where is your faith?”

A believer thinks of going down the street and welcoming his new neighbors and perhaps inviting them to church. He hesitates, not knowing who they are or how he will be received. “Why do you fear? Where is your faith?”

Your co-worker is in big trouble. His marriage is failing, he is distraught, and you think of comforting him with prayer and encouragement to turn to the Lord. You hesitate, afraid of intruding, of being thought presumptuous, of being rejected. Why do you fear; where is your faith?

The offering plate will be passed shortly. You pull out your checkbook to write a check to the Lord’s work. You think of this bill that is due and some possible expenses you may be facing soon, and consider making the check for a smaller amount than you had planned. Why do you fear? Where is your faith?

Fear is frequently the opposite of faith.

But faith is such a grand and multi-faceted concept, it has numerous opposites.

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Thank You, Friend.

I drove 70 miles each way last night to attend the wake of the father of one of our pastors who had suffered a massive heart attack at the age of 72. Pastor Lynn Rodrigue said, “Dad was in great health. In fact, he’d just had a physical and they had to ask him to step off the treadmill because he could have done that all day.” He said, “I suppose it was just his time.”

One never knows. And that’s the reason for this.

I need to say ‘thank you’ to some people while I’m still able to do so. On the one hand, I’ll be retiring from this position with New Orleans Baptists at the end of April, and since so many churches across our land have sent their members and resources our way in the last 3 years and six months, I need to thank them for that. Likewise, since I’m only three years younger than Mr. Rodrigue when he exited this life and since we have no foreknowledge of when our moment will be, I need to thank a lot of people for their input and encouragement to me through all these years.

If that sounds like an impossible job — to thank everyone who ever helped our New Orleans churches and me personally — I’m confident it is. Where to start and when to end!

On a personal level, I thank my family. My devoted wife of nearly 47 years, Margaret, and our wonderful sons Neil and Marty and their incredible wives, Julie and Misha, and our daughter Carla. As the saying goes, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Of course, the eight grands have added a dimension to my life like nothing else. In order of their appearance, this would be Leah, Jessica, Grant, Abby, Erin, Darilyn, JoAnne, and Jack.

I thank my wonderful Mom and terrific Dad (he’s in Heaven) who brought me into this world and nurtured me and taught me to appreciate work and the good earth, my beloved brothers and sisters who made sure I did not reach adulthood without the requisite numbers of scars and great memories, and my cousins and aunts and uncles who invited me into their homes (I remember every detail of every visit!) and introduced me to their worlds and let me know they believed in me.

Is this getting boring? I was afraid of that.

This must be one of those exercises that is meaningful only to the one doing it. When you finish, you feel like you’ve done something significant, but it’s not anything anyone else would want to read.

Okay, let’s try this approach….

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How to raise a champion…

In the Florida Baptist Witness for January 15, 2009, the mother of Tim Tebow, all-star quarterback for the University of Florida’s national championship football team, tells how she and her husband raised their children, all of them winners. “We told them, ‘if you hang around with fools, you’re going to suffer harm. You need to hang around with wise people.”

How we wish we could get that point across to every kid on the planet.

My grandchildren have a hard time believing that their grandpa was in trouble as a seventh-grader. I was running with two or three fellows whose idea of a good time was to sit on the back row in class and goof off, then cut class in the afternoon and roam around town. We smoked cigarettes (when we could get them), we stood around the pool hall (we didn’t have the money to play), and once we actually stole a student’s billfold.

One day it hit me that absolutely no part of these activities were fun. I was miserable. And that day, all by myself, at the advanced age of 12, I made a life-altering decision: I moved to the front row in class. That means I left the guys I’d been goofing off with on the back row, there were no distractions between the teacher and me, and I began enjoying class once more. Two years later, when a local civic club awarded a trip to the state capitol to the best students in the ninth grade, I was the boy representing our class.

The first Psalm has something like this in mind: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”

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Before You Enter “Luke’s Gospel”

Remember the story in Luke 12 that Jesus told about the man who owned a magnificent farm that overproduced? He congratulated himself, tore down his barns and built bigger ones, and set himself up for a life of ease and luxury. God called him a fool and added, “This night your soul will be required of you. Then whose will these things be which you have provided?” The fellow died that night and his farm was left to his heirs.

Frank Pollard calls that story “The farm that owned a fool.”

A month ago, this wonderful preacher of the gospel went to Heaven, and many of us have been having Frank-Pollard-withdrawal ever since. A friend sent me a CD of some of his banquet talks which consist mostly of humorous poems and stories he told over the year. This morning, I ran across the small book Frank produced on the Gospel of Luke for the Southern Baptist annual Bible study a half-dozen years ago.

There are so many Pollardisms in it, I thought you would enjoy some of them. Then, if and when you decide to study this gospel more or if you plan to teach it or preach through it, I suggest you go to any of the on-line used-book-providers (my favorite is www.alibris.com) and order it.

Frank Pollard, I might ought to insert here for the few who are unfamiliar with him, was the longtime pastor of Jackson, Mississippi’s First Baptist Church. Time Magazine called him one of the 10 best preachers in America a generation ago. That was no fluke. Anyone who heard him preach regularly agrees. For fresh content, excellent application, and fascinating exegesis of Scripture, he had few peers.

Regarding the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, when the boy comes home to a grand reception by the father, Frank writes, “Hollywood certainly would let the credits roll here. The boy is back; there is a joyous homecoming; the best calf has been butchered. The smell of barbecued beef and the sound of happy music are everywhere. A huge party is in process. Turn the house lights on.” Then he adds, “Our Lord did not end His parable there. The plot was just heating up. Jesus was getting to His main point.” He moves on to considering the older brother, who Frank says, “left his father without ever stepping off the front porch.” (pp. 15-16)

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Potpourri on Inauguration Day

Today is Inauguration Day in America, one unlike any other in our long history.

If I were writing President Obama’s inaugural speech, I’d have him approach the podium and call out, “Americans, we have overcome!”

We still have a lot of overcoming to do, but thank the Lord, some things are behind us.

It’s good to see Americans of all political stripes uniting behind our new chief executive. He will need all the good will and prayers we can direct his way as he faces the tough decisions of his new office.

“God bless him and keep Him. The Lord make His face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him. The Lord lift up His countenance upon him and give him peace.”

Now, other matters….

My friend Devona Able, wife of one, mother of three, and lawyer for the Social Security Administration up in Alexandria, Louisiana, tells about her two-year-old tumbling down the stairs. Her family was visiting in the home of friends, and both families’ young’uns were having a grand time throughout the house. After the child thump-thump-thumped down the stairs — Devona assures us he’s fine — they noticed a change in the children.

Thereafter, the kids hung around close to the adults. Before, they had been whooping it up and freewheeling around the place. But now they seemed to want an adult in their space. Their host made the observation — one which the theologian in us agrees with heartily — “Everything changed after the fall.”

Did it ever. Devona’s website is http://devonaable.org. You can read the whole story and Devona’s interpretation of it. She’d be proud to have you among her readers.

Writing in Time magazine for January 19, 2009, Justin Fox suggests that just as Congress passed a law in 1980 to make producers of toxic waste pay for its cleanup (the Superfund law), it ought to do the same with the perpetrators of the financial mess the country is having to rectify now. He suggests we find “the financial polluters and force them to ante up some of the bank-bailout money.” When we hear about the multi-million-dollar salaries and bonuses the executives of failing companies took home, it makes perfect sense to require them to give a great deal of it back.

Fox says the word for this is called “clawback,” and he does not expect it to happen. But a fellow can dream. (Justin Fox’s daily take on the economy is http://curiouscapitalist.blogs.time.com/. )

It’s been a while since a local newspaper columnist got my dander up, but James Gill did it Sunday morning. This ancient curmudgeon was waxing-an-elephant (okay, waxing eloquent) on the 2008 Louisiana legislature’s bill which allows schoolteachers to bring in interpretations on the origins of the universe other than evolution. The bill specifically says that nothing in it shall be construed as promoting religious doctrine. What it does and what it was meant to do, I expect, is to allow a science teacher to talk about “intelligent design” if he or she wants to without bringing the wrath of the ACLU or the board of education down upon their heads.

Well, Gill is sure that this opens the door for nutty religious people like you and me to bring our pulpits into the classroom and turn the place into a tent meeting. He is so anti-religion it isn’t funny.

The statement that really set me off was this: “Religion takes everything on faith, and science nothing.”

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