Reporting In: News From the Front

Observations on the home front and the front line (which, as it turns out, happen to be the same place: my front porch)–

1) Fourth year into retirement and all is well.

In the final year or two of employment, the prospect of being unemployed and thus without income or steady ministry was a matter of concern to me.  I didn’t obsess over it, did not lie awake at night, and did not bug my friends about it. But I talked to the Lord on numerous occasions. And he answered.

He gave me the same word He had given to the Tribe of Levi in Old Testament days: “I am your portion.”

In the first instance, Numbers 18:20, the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel.” Later, in Joshua 13:33, we read: “But to the tribe of Levi, Moses did not give an inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as He had promised to them.”

David picked up on this theme in the Psalms. “The Lord is my portion” (Psa. 119:57 and 142:5). He clearly liked the idea that the Lord alone is His hope for anything, the guarantor for all that matters most in this lifetime (see Philippians 1:21).

Well, from my porch, the news is all good. The Lord has provided for me wonderfully during retirement. Invitations to preach and minister, to write for publication and to teach seminary students, to hold deacons retreats and church banquets, to draw cartoons and to sketch people–these all multiply and soon clamor for space on the calendar.  Margaret and I have had more than one conversation about spacing these events out, about remembering I am now in my 70s and not a kid anymore, and that I do have some responsibilities around the house. (smiley-face goes here) (We both know that the frailties of aging will gradually shut down many of these opportunities, and I’d like to do what I can for as long as I can.)

I’m wonderfully blessed, more than anyone I know. Thank you, Father.

2) The political campaign is almost over and aren’t we glad!

I’m so tired of the ugliness of the attacks back and forth.  Being a conservative Southern Baptist (I know that’s redundant), probably 90 percent of my Facebook friends share the same values. So, my page gets bombarded with messages in support of the candidate espousing what are called Christian values and often slamming his opponent. And some of these put-downs can be brutal.

Yesterday morning early, I posted a note on Facebook saying how disgusted I am with the antics of those who violate all borders of good sense and Christianity in attacking the President of the United States. One had compared him with Hitler and Stalin. When I had left a comment underneath saying “Come on, guys. This is unfair,” several of his buddies attacked me as uninformed and uncaring. Later, after my “I am disgusted” post, I turned on the computer and was stunned to see the comments were arriving in droves. Later in the day, there were nearly 200 comments.

Once again, I had stirred up a hornet’s nest. Even some otherwise clear-thinking friends slammed me for posting such instead of dealing with the transgressors personally. When one dropped the F-bomb, that did it.

I deleted the entire thing–my post and all the comments. And I turned off the computer and went on to other things.

By then I was then disgusted with being disgusted.

I said to one of my (sort of) friends, “The gospel message is being buried underneath all your attacks on the president for what you perceive as his socialism.”  I reminded him there is not a word in the New Testament promoting a particular kind of government or economic system, not democracy and free enterprise or a monarchy or republic, nothing.

In fact, when Paul told us to honor the government, Nero was the man in charge. Had he wanted to, Paul could have devoted his life to attacking evil rulers. But he had bigger fish to fry.

Some of my friends have lost their way, I fear.

3) One of my friends said in defense of what he was doing, “I have to preach against sin.”

I responded that “When scripture tells us to rebuke sin (I Timothy 5:20), it is referring to the sin within the congregation. Nowhere does the Lord send His people into the world to point out sins. We’d have time for nothing else. We are sent as evangelists, bearers of good news.”

He responded that, “Well, Obama says he is a Christian, so it’s right to call him down on his sin.” I said, “If he is indeed a believer, it’s the responsibility of his pastor and his congregation to call him to accountability. You and I have our hands full with our own flock.”

This is so basic that one wonders why it has to be said. We are not sent to point out the sins of the world but to declare Heaven’s good news.

Nothing makes this point so strongly as a word from the city clerk of Ephesus. When Paul and his friends were in danger of a lynch mob, the official tried to quieten the crowd. He called out, “Ephesian citizens! Everyone knows that Ephesus is the protector of the goddess Diana.  No one is questioning that, so be settle down! Don’t do anything you will regret.  Now, you have brought here some men who are not guilty of robbing temples nor have they spoken a word of blasphemy against your goddess…..” (Acts 19:35ff. My paraphrase)

Don’t miss this, friend. Paul had labored in Ephesus with great effect for two full years (Acts 19:10) and yet even the people who despised him most and wanted him gone could not produce a single word he had spoken against the local goddess, whose image dominated the temple and whose worship defined the city. What was wrong with Paul? Why didn’t he preach against sin??? (I speak as a fool, as Paul would say.)

I know enough of my own rebellious heart to know why some preachers persist in devoting their sermons to cataloging the sins of outsiders: it’s safer, it’s more fun, and it feeds the sinful nature inside us. It caters to the gossip instinct inside us, that predatory nature that loves to feed on carrion.

“O Lord, forgive us preachers for the cowardice that energizes our sermons-on-the-sins-of-outsiders while giving a free pass to the hypocrisies within ourselves and our own people. Call us to repentance, humility, and obedience, please.”

4) Strange weather, killer hurricanes, etc.

Early this Wednesday morning, the reporters from various northern cities reporting on the damage from Hurricane Sandy sounded so familiar. We in the Gulf South have heard it again and again: reports on this community flooded, these houses burned, people rescued off rooftops, the governors’ helicopter flights over the devastation, the despair of the displaced, the president’s concern, FEMA’s promises.

There is no new way to describe the devastation of a hurricane.

These “hundred year storms” are now arriving on average at a rate of two per decade.

It would appear that the target for most of the extreme weather on the globe these days is our little ol’ United States of America.  Outbreaks of tornadoes seem to afflict no other nation the way they do ours. But that’s probably a function of our myopia: it just seems that we suffer most. But other countries have their floods (a flood and mudslide in Pakistan can take out hundreds of thousands of people in a single day), earthquakes (ask Japan), tsunamis (ditto), and heat waves (ask those nations just south of Egypt).

Someone on Facebook commented yesterday that all these things are fulfilling Bible prophecy. Maybe so, but I doubt it.

The Lord pointed out in Matthew 24:6-8 that we’re going to have these things and they are not the end, but merely the beginning of our troubles. Wars and earthquakes are not signs of anything.  We will not be allowed to sit back and expect the rapture to remove us from these troubles. We have to deal with them.

I am amazed that in the current campaign people have made a political football of “taking care of the planet.” Many conservatives are ready to brand anyone speaking of clean water, unpolluted streams, and pure air as a communist. What is wrong with us!

God’s clear-thinking people must speak up and be heard on matters of protecting this fragile little planet.

“The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but the earth He has given to the sons of men” (Psalm 115:16).

Tell me if that’s not a frightening thought.

5) Ten things I am loving this wonderful Wednesday, the last day of October, 2012….

–The cool air. It’s such a pleasure to do my early morning walking on the Mississippi River levee when the air does not feel like I’ve stepped into a sauna.

–My church and my pastor. For 22 years, I have been a part of the First Baptist Church of Kenner, LA, across the street from the New Orleans airport. The membership has turned over some 90 percent since I came as pastor in 1990 (and that’s not all bad!). After my nearly 14 years, Tony Merida followed as pastor and stayed two years. He was succeeded by Mike Miller, now in his 4th year.  The fellowship of the congregation is sweet, the deacons are harmonious and supportive of their leadership, and our pastor is as good as they come.

–My seminary class is sharp and responsive. About once a year, NOBTS invites me to teach something (worship leadership, interpersonal relationship skills, etc) to a class of masters level students. Teaching these days is vastly different from the 1960s when I arrived on campus. All this semester’s class reports, tests, etc are online, with no paper involved at all. This semester, my class is connected by video with classrooms at the seminary’s locations in Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Orlando. Truly amazing.

–Even though our New Orleans newspaper has cut back to three days a week, the Baton Rouge “Advocate” is picking up the slack by adding a N.O. bureau. So my morning routine goes forward as before. 🙂

–Our granddaughter Jessica, hit on her bike by a motorist in New Hampshire some 2 months ago, is doing great. We’re so thankful for the prayers of a great many friends.

–Yesterday, I received a copy of Ken Hemphill and Mike James’ new book, “The Velcro Church.”  It’s so lovely.  I particularly like the cover.  Guess who drew it?

–Next week, I’m spending a couple of days at our family farmhouse in rural Alabama. On Thursday, my four siblings (Ronnie, Glenn, Patricia, and Carolyn) will gather there and we’ll have lunch together. Since Mom went to Heaven in June, no one lives there. But it’s still home. After a great lunch of veggies raised just outside the door, we will sit around this table–the same table we gathered around as teens in the 1950s–telling stories, laughing, and probably playing a hand or two of rummy.  We’re all in our 70s now, and no one has to tell us we will not be doing this indefinitely.

–I’m loving the internet, Facebook, our blog, computers, and the iPhone.  As a child of 1940, I still am awed at the way we can post a statement, click “send,” and a few moments later receive comments from friends all over the world.  What a great day to be alive!!  I wouldn’t have missed this for anything. Yesterday morning early, I typed an article for my blog on Halloween and posted it. A few hours later, Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press, asked if he could condense it and post it on their site.  How efficient is this!

–Margaret and I have been visiting medical/dental people for various reasons. Recently, she joked to someone that “Joe and I have new eyes, new teeth, and he’s working on getting new ears.”  (I’m about to break down and get a hearing aid!  Did you hear the groan that went up from here?) My dad used to have a little sign that was stuck on the front door: “Growing Old Is Not For Sissies.”  Tell me about it.

–The Lord loves me, I’m saved, I feel great, and the news from here on in is all good.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow….”

5 thoughts on “Reporting In: News From the Front

  1. I do often wonder if people have any idea how it looks to those who do not know Christ when Christians go beyond stating what they believe into scarcasm, exaggeration, snide remarks and outright vileness to drive home a point. The dead horse has been beaten beyond all recognition, with the expectation that he will somehow get up. In my short life I have never seen panicked vemomous speach change a life or a mind for the better.

  2. It is utterly amazing how we constantly seek to bring this world to a close on our time, with our understanding. As far as, I remember, Jesus said to keep busy with Kingdom work until He returned. I for one do not look for the end times. There may have been a time when you could draw me into that conversation, but if it goes much beyond, “He is coming back, and He is taking me home”, I am not really interested. May we be about the work that has been given, and look toward the great reward for remaining steadfast and true.

    Thanks for another great blog, Bro. Joe!

  3. I sometimes think, David, that the mentality that fixates on prophecy is akin to the one that loves conspiracy theories. The problem, as you point out, is that they draw us away from our tasks of being salt and light in the world today. Thanks, friend.

  4. Again, Joe — thanks for reminding us where our focus needs to be! I join you in my disgust for all the slam-banging in the politial forum. At Canaan, we’ve been focusing on prayer for the nation: seeking revival and God’s hand upon the election process. Tomorrow, here in Columbus, we’ll have a community prayer time during the Noon hour being hosted by the downtown YMCA. We will implore God’s blessings & presence for the elections.

    If you have time on your way to or from Walker County, give me a shout and we’ll compare notes and share a glass to tea/cup of coffee!

    Yours in HIS Service,

  5. Thanks, Danny. Love the prayer emphasis. Normally, however, my route to the farmhouse takes me to Meridian to Tuscaloosa, and then north on smaller highways, bypassing The Friendly City altogether. 🙂 Next time, though.

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