Catching Up

Tuesday morning I was telling my 92-year-old mom in our daily phone call about my flight to Virginia the day before. I said, “Mom, the flight from New Orleans to Atlanta took one hour and 5 minutes. The flight from Atlanta to Newport News took one hour and 10 minutes.” She said, “Goodness. Why do they go so fast?”

I laughed, “That’s the whole point of airplanes–to get us where we’re going as quickly as they can.” She said, “It sounds scary.” I said, “You try not to think about it.”

Sunday, my son Neil and I logged 625 miles round trip for a quick visit to Columbus, Mississippi, for the funeral of our dear friend Paul Cockrell. The church was packed for the celebration of this dear brother’s life. One man said, “If ever there was a saint in this church, it was Paul.”

“I never saw Paul Cockrell without a smile on his face,” someone said. I thought, “But it would be a serious error to think of that as untested faith or shallow optimism.” This man had walked through the fires of suffering. Over 30 years ago, I preached the funeral for his wife Helen. Then, some 15 years ago, preached the funeral for their daughter, also named Helen, who died after a long illness. The family had known as much difficulty and grief as any I know.

Paul knew about broken hearts and shattered lives, yet he chose to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who said, “Let not your hearts be troubled…..Believe in me.”

The fellow at the funeral home told me Paul had planned his funeral service himself. He wanted the present pastor Shawn Parker, previous pastor Bobby Douglas, former staff member Ed Nix, and me (pastor before Dr. Douglas). I said, “I’m confident that if Dr. Woodson and Dr. Franks were still alive (the pastors before me, going back to 1921), he’d have put them in the service too.”

What that reveals is that this was a man who always loved his pastors. And, frankly, to me that says more about him than it does us preachers.

I need to interject something here my pastor/deacon friends may be able to use. In a previous pastorate, a senior adult lady named Stella stopped me in the hallway to show me an old letter from a previous pastor to whom she had given some fudge. I teased, “Stella! I thought I was your favorite pastor!” She smiled, “I’ve always loved all my pastors.”

On the drive home an hour later, I was reflecting on that statement. Stella always loved all her pastors. I thought of a deacon in that church who had always disliked every pastor he had. And something occurred to me….

Stella loved her pastors not because of what was present in them, but what was present in her. The deacon disliked all his pastors not because of what was lacking in them, but what was lacking in him.

Thank God for people who love their pastors.

I’ve heard it said that the new pastor should rejoice when people loved the previous pastor, because, “if they liked him, they’ll like you also.” The only problem is “it ain’t necessarily so.” It ought to be, and in a perfect world, is.

Peninsula Baptist Association is located in one of the prettiest areas of Virginia—and the entire USA. This family of Baptist churches encompasses congregations from Newport News, Yorktown, Williamsburg, and surrounding communities. And frankly, they are gluttons for punishment.

They met all Monday evening, all Tuesday afternoon, and until late Tuesday night. Now, here in New Orleans, we meet for an evening in April and one in October (Oct 27 at Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans East; you’re invited) and get it over. These folks heard the usual reports of ministries, discussed budgets, sang a lot, and had a great time together over two days. And they heard me preach three full-length sermons. (See? gluttons for punishment!)

Monday night, I preached basically the same message we printed here last week titled “What I tell seniors,” adapting it to their situation. Tuesday afternoon, the sermon was on leadership and specifically, what George Bush the First called “that vision thing.” Text was Judges 5:2. Tuesday night, I preached on the weakest link in the church today: fellowship. (Skip back a day or two on this website for more on fellowship.)

I have some idea how to measure the health of a Baptist association, and by my standard, the PBA is alive and well. Here are the tests, in no particular order: a) did the people attend the meeting? b) did they know one another? c) did the preachers call each other by their first names? d) was there laughter and prayer and joyful singing? e)is the association involved in significant ministries?

PBA is looking for a new director of missions. (No, I’m not in the running!) If you know someone who would fit there, write to Pastor Tommy Davidson at Riverside Baptist Church in Newport News with your recommendation.

A word about Tommy. Our readers will recall that I have periodically referenced Tommy’s “little brother” Don, who pastors the FBC of Alexandria, Virginia. Don is, for my money, as fine a preacher and as excellent a pastor as the Lord has today. But I had never spent any time with Tommy, who was responsible for my coming to Newport News and was my host.

As soon as Tommy began speaking at the pulpit, I could have shut my eyes and thought it was Don. That night–in the middle of the night, literally–I got out of bed and drew him a cartoon in which I was saying “how disappointed I am in your brother Don.” He asks, “Why’s that?”

In the cartoon, I answer, “Well, all this time I thought the freshness and graciousness and warmth I saw in Don was the effect of the Holy Spirit and Miss Audrey and his increasing maturity. But now I realize it’s just good genes!”

We all should have such genes.

“I don’t go to church,” the young woman on the front desk at my hotel said. “Oh?” She replied, “I have my own religion.” I said, “You’ve really got my curiosity up.” She said, “I’m a wiccan.” (Note to Mom: that means she’s a witch. Really.)

I said, “How fascinating.” (It was either that or exclaim, “You’re what??? Are you out of your everlovin’ mind!!”) She said, “I was always interested in witchcraft from the time I was a little girl.” She added that her sister is a wiccan also. Mom is Methodist and Dad is a Baptist.

I said, “How do they feel about their daughters being wiccans?” “Oh, they’re supportive of us in whatever we want to do.”

Okay. I was on my way out the door to the next meeting, but quickly sketched her and as always, left the tag line at the bottom: “Joe” In drawing people, I always hope they will check out the website and find the feature titled “How to know Jesus Christ and live forever.”

Would you join me in praying for Kim? Thank you.

Several of you prayed for my visit and messages in Virginia, and I thank you sincerely for that.

7 thoughts on “Catching Up

  1. Your comments on loving pastors speaking of the person loving more than the pastor’s qualities reminds me of a definition of Christian love I heard somewhere. God loves us because of who He is, not because of who we are. And he likewise calls us to love others because of who we are (or who we are becoming) and not because of who they are. Thus: love your enemies, etc.

  2. my late nepkew was a wican, he got saved, went back to witness to them and was murdered in Laredo Texas 3 years ago.

  3. Note from Joe—

    The above note from Pastor Foltz may leave the impression that the wiccans were responsible for his nephew’s murder. Obviously, I have no idea whether they were or not, being unfamiliar with this situation.

    A friend has suggested we go on record here as not implying that wiccans are the type who do such evil things. We may disagree with them on numerous issues–as we do–but I know of no instance where they have been blamed for the deaths of anyone who tried to reach out to them in the name of the Lord Jesus.

  4. Joe, Six and a half wonderful and formative years of my life were spent in PBA. Right out of NOBTS in December of 1976, we headed to the Ivy Memorial Baptist Church in Hampton as Min of Ed. Great folk there. I, too, remember some great Association meetings! Lots of great times!

  5. I’m so excited to hear about your interaction with the young lady at the hotel desk. As Christians, we often miss opportunities to share our Lord with a lost world because we can tend to write off groups or individuals as being beyond reach. As a young adult, I was a lost soul searching everywhere for something that mattered; in the process, I made more bad choices than I care to remember. I was not a wiccan, but a lost Baptist is no more or less lost than a wiccan. I am so thankful for people along the way who reached out to me when I was just another lost soul in need of a savior. Thanks for giving us such a nice reminder of the need to keep reaching out to the people God places in our paths.

  6. Joe,

    Sorry I didn’t know that you were in the VB area. I would have driven down to at least hear you preach. I lived in VB when I moved here three years ago and then relocated to Richmond. Beautiful area down there.


  7. Thank you so much Dr. Joe for being such a wonderful pastor to us, the Sams girls, throughout all these years. Paw Paw (Paul) would have loved the service and we are so thankful to you and Neil for driving such a long way to help us celebrate his wonderful life.

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