I wish you could have heard Lynn Rodrigue today. This pastor of Port Sulphur Baptist Church–get your map; it’s way down the Mississippi River!–told of the rebuilding work God is doing in his area through church volunteer teams coming to help.
A team from Oklahoma arrived and went to work on the new church building. “The average age of those folks was 72,” Lynn said. “You should have seen those women climbing around on the scaffolding! They were amazing.”
A group from Virginia–the primary sponsors of this work–was down, and while they were there, they shot a video of the area and the work they were accomplishing. When they showed it back at home, an older gentleman who rarely came to church got under conviction and wrote a check for $10,000 to help Plaquemines Parish residents. Lynn said, “I had more fun going down the highway looking for people to help with that money.”
“The strain between Catholics and Baptists is probably pronounced everywhere in South Louisiana,” he said, “but nowhere more than where we live. The Catholic priest will not even look me in the eye, he has disliked us so much.” Then something happened.
The Catholic church down there needed to be wired for electricity and they couldn’t find anyone. A woman from the church asked Pastor Lynn. “We just happened to have a group in that day helping us, and they had an eletrician with them. He spent two full days wiring the church. When he finished, the priest was crying. He told the worker, ‘Tell the Baptists anything they need, just ask and it’s theirs.'”
Lynn said, “The people where we live do not want to hear the gospel. They want to see it.”
That’s precisely what is happening. No one in lower Plaquemines Parish is doing more than this little Baptist church on the side of the highway, as God’s people from Oklahoma and Virginia send rivers of blessings and vanloads of workers their way.
Steve Gahagan of Operation NOAH Rebuild said, “We have completed our list of houses to be gutted!” (Applause) “I think we have gutted out over 800 homes in all with the volunteers who came to help us. We have 120 people working in the city right now, about 8 different church groups.” Steve has been eagerly anticipating the day when they could quit gutting out and start rebuilding the houses, which involves electrical wiring, sheetrock, everything.
Steve said he keeps getting encouragement from the most unusual places. Some schoolchildren in a distant city were challenged to give money for each book they read. “We received a check for $2,000 from them,” he said. “I wrote back that with that we can reroof a house and put in a new set of cabinets in a home.”
This June, NOAH has 1,000 volunteers slated to be here at the same time. That’s going to be a challenge.
I’m going to stop here and talk about something we got off on today.
Steve Gahagan is one of God’s great souls. His wife Dianne manages the NOAH office with tremendous skill and efficiency. They do this out of love for the Lord Jesus Christ. The burdens on the two of them are enormous, the demands on their time incredible, and the expectations are unbelievably high. They are giving their all to this work for Jesus’ sake. And yet….
From time to time, Steve gets e-mails and notes from people who have not lifted one finger to help in this rebuilding work, telling him what he’s doing wrong and how he’s failing. He seems to take it in stride–how I admire that!–but I don’t. It really angers me, and did some of our pastors as he shared it today.
“I know they mean well,” Steve said. Someone called out, “No they don’t! They’re doing the devil’s work. Trying to discourage the faithful.”
One of our leaders mentioned the passage in Nehemiah. The man of God and his faithful people are working night and day to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. All the while, their enemies kept taunting them. “If a fox were to climb on it, that wall would fall!” They threatened, frightened, counseled against them, and then tried to sweet-talk them into quitting.
“Nothing doing,” said Nehemiah. He refused to lower himself to their level. “We’re doing a great work and cannot come down,” he said.
You must not get distracted by the critics, the group advised our modern day warrior Steve.
We began to discuss the way New Orleanians were treated in Chicago this weekend. Honestly, if I were a resident of that city, I would be ashamed of the behavior of my neighbors at the NFC playoff between the Chicago Bears and our Saints. People returned home talking about being spat on, cursed with the worst kinds of obsenities, and taunted, “Why didn’t you stay home!”
Our ABC affiliate reported from Chicago an incident involving a local man who made the time-consuming and costly trip to the game. The fan said, “These people kept taunting us about Katrina the entire time. Somebody said, ‘Oh, did you live down there?’ I said, ‘I had 11 feet of water in my house.’ The guy said, ‘Well, too bad you didn’t drown.’ And that guy was not the exception. This was going on before the game, during the game.”
The news anchor saw a sign in the stadium: “What Katrina didn’t finish, we will tonight.”
I heard a caller into WWL-radio Tuesday evening telling of his experience. After the game, he stood outside an exit wearing his Saints jacket and congratulating Bears fans as they walked out. To his shock, they responded with obsenities and spittal.
I told our pastors Wednesday that there were two letters to the editor side by side that they should notice. The first was from Greg Palmer of River Ridge, my neighborhood. He had taken his 10-year-old to the game in Chicago. What the child learned in that city no one should ever have to. “He learned that Chicago Bears fans could make rhymes with words like suck….He learned that it is appropriate to throw beer on opposing fans whether they are men, women, or children. He learned it’s all right to throw food at them, verbally assault them, and he witnessed a stadium of bullies who because they outnumbered us felt they could do what they wanted.”
Palmer ends his letter: “I cannot imagine anyone acting that way in the Superdome in New Orleans. If they did they would be escorted out of the game. Period.”
Amen. And the Superdome would not allow the hostile, ugly signs inside either.
The other letter came from a Chicagoan, Patrick Ryan: “While Chicagoans congratulate the Chicago Bears on winning the NFC Championship, we also congratulate t he New Orleans Saints on a great season, which has replenished hope and brought inspiration and happiness to many. Shame on the few persons at the game who ridiculed New Orleans fans for the hardships they face as they rebuild their lives, their city and the area in the aftermath of Katrina.”
“Persons with such disdain are unappreciative of all they have, and are a disgrace to all that our great city stands for. These folks are not true Chicagoans. We continue to stand behind the people of New Orleans and surrounding areas that were devastated by Katrina, and know that you will prevail.”
I said to our pastors: “There you have two letters. Two ways of looking at the shameful behavior of Chicago. You and I have to make a choice. We can stew over it, get angry at Chicago, and look forward to getting revenge. I suggest we walk away, let it slide off our back, and stay on target. Stay focused. We’re doing a great work here in this city and cannot come down.”
A couple of weeks ago, Craig Ratliff and I spent two hours in my office working on a sermon. The other members of our mentoring group did not show, so we had the time for anything he wanted. We opened our Bibles and began studying and made an interesting discovery.
We knew that when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they were not alone. A good number of non-Jews came along. There’s no way of knowing how many, but they appear in tiny cameos all through the wilderness wanderings. We spent an hour tracing through Exodus and Numbers finding those partial sentences that refer to the presence of these strangers among the Chosen People. Then I called my professor.
Dr. George Harrison is retired from teaching Old Testament and Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and living now in Spanish Fort, Alabama. I had seen him just the week before and felt he would probably actually enjoy being consulted. And besides, it would be setting a good example for Craig to pick up the phone and call an authority on this subject. No pastor should ever hesitate to get expert advice on a subject he’s planning to preach.
“You’re exactly right,” said my 80-year-old mentor. “They followed Moses and accompanied the Israelites everywhere they went.” Then he said something else. “I think if you will check this closely in Exodus and Numbers, you will see that all those crises of faith–all the murmuring against Moses and the doubting and crying–was instigated by these strangers in their midst.”
What a revelation. The griping was being done by the outsiders, not the faithful.
We checked and sure enough, he was right.
That’s an epiphany any modern preacher needs, to discover that they had idiots in their midst back then, too. The kind who write critical e-mails on what the faithful are doing wrong. The ones who gather in the foyer to criticize the ministers and slam the front-line workers.
They’ve always been with us and until the Lord blows the final whistle, ending this game, they’ll be around, taunting the workers and discouraging the faint-hearted.
What the faithful have to decide is whether to let them discourage you or motivate you to work even harder.
I’d like to say to every brother and sister serving Christ in the place God put you, give it your best, friend. You’re doing a great work. Don’t come down.