New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and moi!

My wife and I arrived on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in late June of 1964.  A couple of days later, after we set up the apartment at 4412-C Seminary Place, Margaret’s mother arrived with our one-year-old son Neil and our little English Ford automobile. We were in our third year of marriage and I was moving my bride nearly 400 miles away from her mama and daddy.

Our  marriage got better immediately. (smiley-face here)

We had chosen this seminary from the other five SBC schools rather easily, and it had nothing to do with reputation.  New Orleans is a mission field.  A rather exotic one, I thought. Historic, too. So, that was it.  We would go where we could make a difference for the Lord’s sake.

We lived on campus the first year.  Margaret took a job at the campus Baptist Book Store and I worked afternoons for the Louisiana Coca-Cola Bottling Company.  A few times that fall, student pastors invited me to preach for their churches.  (I had pastored little Unity Baptist Church, Kimberly, Alabama, for 14 months, and served in an unpaid staff position at Central Baptist in Tarrant for 6 months before coming to seminary. That was the sum total of my pastoral experience.)

We joined Pontchartrain Baptist Church on Robert E. Lee Boulevard in New Orleans where classmate Vaughan Pruitt pastored.  Soon he had me teaching a young couples class and leading worship music.  (To this day, my heart goes out to small churches that have to put up with such inept leadership!)

That first summer, I took classes on missions with Dr. Malcolm Tolbert and Old Testament with Dr. George Harrison and loved both.  Because I’d not done my best in college, with grades hardly more than average, I threw myself into seminary studies to make the most of this. Dr. Harrison and I bonded and remain great friends to this day. (He’s in his 80s now, living in the Mobile, Alabama area. I had him guest-preach/teach in every church I pastored except one. I am eternally grateful to the Lord for giving me such a friend and mentor.)

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Periodic accountability calls: a necessary part of the church ministry

“And they came to Capernaum, and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33)

“Thanks for dropping by, Darren. Hope you’re having a good day.”

“Darren, I want to ask you a couple of things. When we get through, you can say anything to me you’d like and tell me what I can do to help you in your ministry.”

“First, Darren.  Tell me about the announcement you made from the pulpit Sunday morning.  When you told the church about the youth mission trip you’ll be leading this summer.  That was the first I’d heard of it.”

Uh oh.  Darren has committed a serious breach.  He has run ahead of his leadership and has put the pastor in a tough spot.  The youth are all excited over the upcoming trip Darren has told them about.  If the pastor stops it in its tracks, he’s the ogre. If he gives his okay to something not even discussed in staff meeting, he’s setting a terrible precedent for the rest of the ministers.

The pastor is calling Darren on the carpet, although in a gentle way.  But don’t be fooled by his graciousness. Darren is in trouble and he knows it if he’s smart.

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The mistake liberal churches make which God didn’t!

“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).

“Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5).

Well, maybe the title is a misnomer. The typical liberal church–as this Southern Baptist farm boy sees it, anyhow–makes a dozen serious errors, some of them monumental.  But this one is about as big as they come.

The typical liberal church overestimates people.

They think people are better than they are.

All you have to do in order to test this is visit the typical church of certain denominations and pay attention.  There will be no mention of man’s being in need of redemption, little or no reference to sin at all, and thus no need to offer the salvation of Christ which involves His death on the cross, His shed blood, and His resurrection.

Man just needs to do right, make the right choices, and he’s in.

They overlook one fundamental fact: we can’t do right. We are constitutionally unable to rise above our sinful natures by ourselves. We need help of a radical kind.

If one misses that, he misses everything.

A long time ago, Episcopal minister and noted Christian writer Samuel M. Shoemaker quoted an editor of The Reader’s Digest along these lines.  In his book “Revive Thy Church Beginning With Me” (1948), Shoemaker quotes Stanley High, whom he calls “a roving editor” of that magazine, as he challenges the church for not challenging him.

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The busy-body instinct: Scriptural precedents and scary incidents

“Lord, do you not care that Mary has left me to do all the serving alone?  Please speak to her” (Luke 10:40)

The busy-body virus has infected many a good person. Even preachers catch it from time to time.  Some thoughts on the subject….

Have you ever prayed, “Lord, speak to my sister. I’m tired of doing all this work alone.” Martha did.

What was Mary doing? That lazy, good for nothing was sitting at the feet of Jesus, worshiping.  A waste of time?  The pragmatists among us seem to think so. This is the little informal society of activist church members who claim Martha as their patron saint.  (Matron saint? Whatever.)  To them, worship is something we do when the work is completed and we can’t find anything else to occupy us. Only then do they allow themselves the privilege of pausing to read the Scriptures and enjoy a quiet time of prayer.

“Lord, straighten him out.”

“Lord, rebuke her.”

Simon Peter grew tired of Jesus talking about what was ahead for him and pointed toward an apostle standing nearby.  “Lord, what about this man?”

Jesus said, “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:21-22).

I love knowing that Simon Peter was not above wanting to rearrange the lives of others; but appreciate even more the Lord’s answer. “What’s it to you?  Do your job!”

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If you would bear His reproach, first lose your cool

“Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).

Ministers considered “cool” by the world should be wary.

It’s a trap.

Let those outside the faith–i.e., friends and admirers with no appreciation for Scripture, the call of God, the blood of Jesus, or the direness of their situation–compliment the preacher on his coolness, and he can be in danger quick.

Woe to the minister who loves such a compliment.

The moment he takes that to heart, he begins ordering his life by the coolness factor.  If he preaches a certain doctrine, his friends will not appreciate it, so he conveniently finds other topics, perhaps without even realizing what he is doing. If he speaks up for a particular value, they will find him suddenly uncool, so he mutes his radicalness. He wears his hair and arranges his clothing and selects his speech in accordance with what will make him appear cool.

It’s a seduction.

Such is the way of the insecure preacher, one loving the approval of the world rather than seeking to please the Lord Jesus Himself.

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You’re doing a funeral, pastor. Offer comfort.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

First, let’s make the point that nowhere does Scripture say preachers have to preach funerals.  In fact, there’s not a word in the Bible about the necessity to even have funerals.

But there is a great deal about comforting the grieving and hurting.

We who are called into the ministry must not claim this funeral prerogative as our divine right.  If we are invited to “preach a funeral,” someone wants the comfort we are able to give because of Jesus Christ.

Don’t miss that.

And try not to abuse the privilege.

Most preachers get this right. They know a funeral is the saddest time for a family and that they are there to do one thing: to bring the comfort of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Again, most pastors seem to get this right.


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Pastor, do not fall in love with the sound of your own voice

The preacher who loves the sound of his own voice is usually the last to know. Usually, he will explain his situation with something like this…..

–I love to preach.

–I don’t mind standing in front of groups and speaking extemperaneously. In fact, I get a charge out of it.

–If you ever need a last minute speaker, call on me.

–I’m a natural born leader, an outgoing person who loves everyone.

–Public speaking (or preaching) is my passion.

Maybe all of these things are true. Just maybe.  But once it becomes apparent that you have a romantic relationship with the sound of your own voice, you become a problem to everyone around you.  You get on your wife’s nerves, you push your staff members to the limit of their endurance, and your children make jokes about you behind your back.

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Ministry miseries: How to be sure you got ’em!

I don’t know anyone who wants to be miserable in anything, much less in serving the Lord, but some people give the appearance of working hard to achieve it.

Here are three self-destructive things (you’ll think of a hundred) we ministry-persons do which undermine our effectiveness in the work and fuel the angst of frustration which many people live with on a daily basis….

1) Expect to be paid what you think you’re worth.

Figure out what you are being paid, then total up the number of hours you put in, and divide the second into the first.  The result is your wages per hour.  Disgusting, ain’t it? (smiley-face here)

There is perhaps no more certain path to misery in the ministry than to estimate your own personal value based on such factors as years of training, the degrees you hold, and the tenure you have logged in the Lord’s work, and expect to be paid appropriately.  If this misery is not enough for you, then figure in the number of children you have, the hours your spouse invests in the ministry too (all of it unpaid), and the errands your children run for church members.  You will not, of course, ask to be recompensed for any of that, but dwelling on it makes you feel worse, and after all, that was the point in the first place.

In retirement, the math for certain misery gets easier.  You were invited for a specific event–a retreat for which you were the speaker, a banquet you did, a revival you preached for a church–and when it was over they handed you a check.  You have no trouble at all counting the miles you traveled, the hours you spent in your car, and the costs associated with your trip: meals, tips, dry cleaning bill, and other incidentals.  Then, you figure out the actual number of hours/days at that church, and compare to the numbers on the check you were paid.

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One “God” story–of which there are thousands like it

In the days of Communist Russia, when Christians were an oppressed minority, those who risked their lives for Jesus and the gospel often found God at work in amazing ways.

This is one of those stories.  It comes from my journal from January 5, 1992.  No one who believes in the living God will be surprised; all who believe in Him will be blessed.

Missionary Ralph Bethea was giving out Bibles in Russia. He went to one home where an old gentleman spoke of abandoning Communism and returning to the faith of his mother.  He had no Bible, so Ralph gave him one.

The old gentleman clutched it to his chest, then invited in his neighbors and read it to them for four hours.

One man in the audience was a former KGB agent.  Ralph led him to faith in Christ.

When Ralph ran out of Bibles and many people were disappointed, the ex-KGB man said, “I know where there are 40,000 Bibles.”

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The high cost of adultery and those who pay it

I get these sad notes from people who read something from this blog and tell me of some mess-up they’ve done and the unbearable pain they caused. My heart goes out to them and to their loved ones.

My role–from the Lord, I assure you!–is to remind them there is still time to get back up off the mat where life has sent them and to do something significant in the Lord’s work, that sometimes the work of a wounded warrior (even if self-inflicted) is of a higher quality than what it would have been otherwise.

However, from time to time, we get reminded of the high cost of unfaithfulness which those who love us are required to bear when we break our vows. This is one of those stories.

I  was 5 years old when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died and still remember family members bursting into tears. Recently when we were back at the old homeplace in Alabama, I showed my sons where I was standing when we got that news.  Some things leave a lasting impression.

That was April of 1945.  FDR’s wife Eleanor lived another 20 years or more. She was a fine lady in a hundred ways, evidently, although admittedly not much to look at.  People used to make jokes about her appearance, her protruding front teeth, etc.

Not long ago, a historian gave us a different take on Mrs. Roosevelt’s appearance.

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