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….

In my first church — Unity Baptist of Kimberly, Alabama, 1962-63 — I thank Mr. Carter. He was not a deacon (told me he couldn’t be one for personal reasons) but if ever a church had a deacon in spirit and service, he was one. He took this kid preacher aside and cautioned me about the use of slang from the pulpit. It was a courageous thing for him to do and I’m eternally grateful. I’ve heard a few preachers over the years I thought ought to have a personal visit from Mr. Carter. I thank Mr. Guthrie and Monte Sue and the others.

In my second church — Central Baptist of Tarrant, AL, where I was a staffer for six months in 1964 before heading to seminary — I thank Pastor Morris Freeman who made me think I had great potential in the ministry. He let me preach in his absence, do a funeral, and handle visitation. The congregation was so loving that when we left for New Orleans, they took up a generous love offering. I thank Ron Adema and Henry Hallmark for their friendship.

In my third church — Paradis Baptist Church, Paradis, Louisiana, 1965-67 — I thank Mo Sims, a manager of a local plant who joined while I was pastor and with his wife Joyce devoted himself to encouraging me. When we were loading the truck to move to Mississippi, he took a gander at the humble apartment in the rear of the church where we had been living and apologized. Then he made sure the church bought a piece of land in a nice subdivision and built a great home for the next pastor. Every pastor would die for such a deacon. I thank Jessie Rodriguez for building the bookcases that still sit beside my bed, and Betty Lacy for her faithfulness. I thank Marie Porter for always considering herself “your other mom” and Earl Strahan for believing in me.

In my fourth church — Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, Mississippi, 1967-70 — I thank Ethel Keeling. This wonderful lady saw her young pastor shivering at a mid-winter funeral one day. By the time I returned to the church office, she had purchased an all-weather London Fog topcoat for me and it was laying on my desk. I thank Lawrence Bryant for praying with me and Jack and Marian Smith for their absolute dedication to following their pastor’s lead. I thank Joe and Sharon Joslin for coming to help us.

In my fifth church — the First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS, where I was minister of evangelism, 1971-73 — I thank Joe Odle, the longtime editor of our state paper, the Baptist Record. He would sit me down in his office and tell me what a good preacher I was, and then he invited me to draw some things for the editorial page of his paper. I thank Alex McKeigney for knocking on doors with me and Marguerite Briscoe for praying for me. I thank Larry Black, the veteran worship leader, for teaching me scads about administration and leadership by his example.

In my sixth church — the First Baptist Church of Columbus, MS, 1974-86 — I thank John Dowdle, a deacon who felt the pastor was the God-sent leader of the church and the rest of the congregation ought to follow his leadership. When we moved into the huge parsonage from our tiny Jackson apartment, he and his wonderful wife Bettye Jean furnished our living room. We still have much of that furniture and think of them often. I thank Rudy Hough for the church landscape and Jimmy Sams for sending me to Cooper Aerobics Clinic for an exam. I thank Bill Hardy for his integrity, Wilson Henderson for his perfectionism, and Bryan Harris for his enthusiasm. I thank James and Ann Allen for magnifying my ministry beyond what it would have been otherwise. I thank James Gatewood for getting the church to send us to the Holy Land, still the greatest blessing of all these years.

In my seventh church — the First Baptist Church of Charlotte, North Carolina, 1986-89 — I thank Clyde Teague, the humblest man on the planet who printed our church bulletin and always made me feel that my service there was a gift from God. He and I are still in touch, and I’m grateful for him. I thank Stella for her fudge and Steve Wilber for the pulpit and stained glass window. I thank Milton LeDoux for believing in me, Howard and Charlotte Arthur for respecting me, and a few people (who will go unnamed) for opposing me so that I ended up in New Orleans for the crowning assignment with which the Lord topped off my ministry.

In my last church — the First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana, 1990-2004 — I thank Mike Skiles for being the pastor’s best friend. I thank Josie Lanzetta for her faithful witness — and the boxes of handkerchiefs she gives just when they seem to need replenishing. I thank Ken Gabrielse for being the most loyal and faithful staffer (and great friend) I ever worked with. I thank Cleo Schero for the banana puddings, and Nick Carrone for his outstanding leadership of the prayer ministry. I thank Mitch Mares for the Dixieland trailer park ministry, and Janie Moskau for teaching the world what being the pastor’s right arm means. I thank Jim Lancaster for installing a computer in my office one day, even when I had never asked for one (see what he started?).

In the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans where I’ve been Director of Missions since the Spring of 2004, I thank Freddie Arnold for doing the actual work but making it seem I was helping, I thank Lynn and Ninfa and Meredith for their servant hearts, and a strong group of pastors who never cease to bless me.

I thank David Hankins and Mike Canady of the Louisiana Baptist Convention for devoting a great portion of their ministries to helping us in New Orleans. I thank editors Kelly Boggs and Karen Willoughby of the (Louisiana) Baptist Message for practically turning over most of the issues to our needs; you’ve been incredible.

I thank Joel Davis. I thank Don Davidson. I thank David Crosby. I thank Dixon Free. I thank Jim Graham. I thank Chet Griffin. I thank Fred Brockway.

Okay. I know now why no one ever does this. You keep coming up with more and more people to whom you’re indebted. And you know you’re leaving out some significant people.

Why anyone in his right mind thinks he can live this life without other people assisting him is beyond me. Had I not had other people in my life at every strategic moment, this would be a tragic story. In high school, teachers J. H. and Loyce Whitson planted the idea in my mind that I would go to college, no question about it. In college, Larry and Joyce Andrews put me in the choir and taught me to sing good stuff. Bill Burkett ordained me and married us. In seminary, George Harrison was the finest teacher and eventually, personal friend and mentor, one could ever need.

James Richardson was a neighboring pastor when I went to Greenville, Mississippi. In time we became best friends. At several points along this life, he did something that turned the corner for me, opening up new worlds of opportunity and service. I gladly have called him my mentor, as I do Dr. Harrison. If one is known by the quality of mentors he chooses, then I must be some kind of a terrific person!!

There! I’ve left out hundreds, some of whom are so special that later today I will want to go back and insert their names. How dare I forget to include them.

And yet, the possibility of omitting someone should not stop us from saying thank you to those special people who have blessed us along the way. So many of those listed above are in Heaven now, so it’s not like I’m expecting them to read this.

In Catholic New Orleans, people purchase ads on the obit page to send messages to deceased loved ones. I suppose they think putting it in print makes it more realistic or genuine. I hope so, because here it is. Or maybe they take the Times-Picayune in Heaven?

Anyway, I just wanted to say this while there’s still time….

Thank you, friend.

19 thoughts on “Thank You, Friend.

  1. The summer of 1991, I traveled with Deaf Opportunity OutReach (DOOR) and it was one of those experiences I will never forget, and I never would have been able to go, if you had not asked the members of FBC Kenner to give a love offering, to fund my mission trip. Thank you so much for doing that and for encouraging me to share God’s love with the talent that God gave me in the first place.

  2. I can assure you that you will be on my Thank You list! Thanks for all that you do for those that know you well and those of us that know you as a Brother In Christ only. Your words have meant much to me over the last few years but never more than in the last six months or so.

    Thanks for all that you do for those that know you well and those of us that know you as a Brother In Christ only.

    Brad Walker

  3. Before we don’t have a chance to say “THANKS” to you for being a great role model, adopted dad, mentor and friend hre it is! THANKS FOR BEING YOU!

  4. Thank you, Joe, for your friendship through the years, for your great sense of humor, humility, and honesty. Thank you for telling me what I needed to hear, even when I didn’t want to hear it, but NEVER failing to let me know that it was because you loved me that you were honest with me. Thank you for setting a wonderful example as a parent, husband, and church leader. Thank you for sharing painful things because you knew I would pray for you and always lift you up to our Father. Thank you for your willingness to share your gift of writing so that thousands (maybe even millions) will feel as if they know you; and those of us who DO know you are blessed.

  5. In the brief time I have had the opportunity to receive your messages I think I should thank you. In a world where retirement is only five months away (and I have no idea how I got this old) and many of the morals we hold near and dear are being challenged on every front, it is comforting to know that there are people like you that are living God’s Word and sharing it with others. And for that, I THANK YOU.

  6. Joe,

    Only those who’ve never learned just how insignificant they really are could ever blame you for leaving them off your list. Thanks for setting the good example taught to us in God’s Word–“Outdo one another in showing honor.”

    Rom 12:10-11

    Joyfully Serving Christ,


  7. Joe,

    Only those who’ve never learned just how insignificant they really are could ever blame you for leaving them off your list. Thanks for setting the good example taught to us in God’s Word–“Outdo one another in showing honor.”

    Rom 12:10-11

    Joyfully Serving Christ,


  8. Joe: We “met” each other first through correspondence and you have been a valued friend and mentor ever since. Your weekly articles continue to encourage and equip me for ministry. I hope you will keep up writing and cartooning for years to come! By the way… the reason your thank you list is so long is because you are a great friend to others and they know it! In fact, you are a “millionaire in friendships!” I count it a privilege to say, “Thank you, my friend.” — Mike K.

  9. Joe, the only reference to retirement in the Bible is for a Levite Priest and last time I checked you were not one. So you can’t retire, it’s not in the Bible.

  10. We just want to thank you for the wonderful help you have been in our spiritual lives. I remember when I was first saved–you led me to the Lord in our living room–you asked me to give my testimony at Emmanuel. I took your whole sermon time, and since then I have tried not to be too wordy when sharing. We remember our days at Emmanuel to be the highlight of our spiritual lives. I shudder to think what our lives would have been like if you had not been there and created such a special spiritual atmosphere that God was able to reach me and gloriously save me. I remember most of the scripture you used, especially Revelation 3:20 and the illustration you used with it. Jack said it best when he said that for every one of the people you included on your thank-you list there are at least 100 who appreciate you in the same way. You were more than our pastor. You were and still are a dear friend.

    Recently you posted a blog about a song that Rudon Laney and Dot Thrash sang many years ago at Emmanual. I sent that along to Rudon. He and his wife Margaret couldn’t believe you could remember that from so long ago. You amaze us all with your memory. This is just another way that God has blessed you and used you as an encourager.

    May God tremendously bless you and Margaret and your family during the years you all have remaining and we all look forward to that wonderful life we will have in heaven one day!

    We love and appreciate you more than words can say.

    Marian and Jack

  11. Joe,

    Thanking people is not only good manners, it is good spirituality.

    I am a little younger than you, but not much. I am trying to be grateful to a lot of people who have meant a lot to me over the years.

    I write a lot of letters, apparently something that has gone out of style.

    My wife says when I die, she is going to bury me with all my pens and paper. I told her Batesville Casket Company does not make a casket that large.

    Jim Comer, NOBTS, 1972

  12. Thank you Brother Joe for being our family’s pastor for twelve plus years(and continuing to even now)and encouraging our children as they grew up. Our family loves and appreciates you more than you will ever know. God bless you as you begin your next “ministry” whatever He calls you to. God bless you and Mrs. Margaret for many, many, many more years to come. Gail S.

  13. Joe,

    thank you for leading me to Christ and a double thankyou for leading my dad to Christ when you were at Paradis Baptist. For that I am eternally grateful.

  14. My wife reminded me the other day, that thanking God is just another way that we worship Him. As Paul thanked God for those he wrote in the New Testament, he was also worshipping God through the act of being thankful. I long to continually have the “attitude of gratitude” as I heard one of the FBC Jackson staff members pray in Sunday service one time. Though he has passed on to heaven, his words have been forever etched in my spirit. He probably was not the originator of that phrase, but I see his face whenever those words flash across my heart.

  15. Joe, I truly believe that God places ministers in places where their talents can best be used. HE certainly placed you in the unique position as Director of Missions for the New Orleans Area at the most appropriate time after Hurricane Katrina. You did a tremendous job of keeping the ministers and churchs encouraged during those difficult months/years. May God richly bless you and your family in your retirement. We will miss you.

  16. and you can add me to the list of those who say

    Thanks to you Joe. You are officially on my list from FBC Jackson, FBC Columbus and since then as a somewhat distant but important friend.

    God Bless you, Margaret and all the family.

    Si Brantley

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