First, love the congregation, every single one of them, particularly the hard-to-love. And second, never underestimate the power of your presence.
Two stories of two great ladies.
Cissa Richardson went to Heaven this week. She was the beloved widow of Pastor James Richardson who served two great churches in our state for some forty years. James died over 10 years ago. We were neighboring pastors for years and great friends since the first day we met.
James and Cissa left quite a legacy. Their three sons–twins Gary and Jay, and younger brother Ian–are all in the Lord’s work. The twins have been pastors for decades and Ian was first a worship leader and musician and for years has headed the audio-visual department for our state Baptist convention.
This week at Cissa’s funeral. Son Gary told something about his mother I’d never heard.
“See to it that no one misleads you….. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many” (24:4,11).
Our Lord knew His people. He knew that there was something about their makeup which would make them susceptible to being misled. By “being misled,” we mean being conned, scammed, hoodwinked, deceived, tricked, lied to, fooled, and abused.
In Old Testament days false prophets came through the land, preaching half-truths and whole lies and filling God’s people with false expectations and pagan ways. The New Testament church, just beginning to find its way and choose its methods, quickly became the target of these scammers and con-artists.
In Matthew 24, our Lord cautions His people to keep their guard up concerning prophecies about end times: His return, signs of the end, fulfilment of certain prophecies, apostasies, portents and omens.
“A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her the fruit of her own hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:30-31).
You can’t pay tribute to a lifelong pastor’s wife without talking about her husband also.
Mrs. James “Cissa” Richardson went to Heaven over the weekend. Her husband, Dr. James Richardson, longtime pastor and dear friend and mentor, had preceded her by 15 years or more. I miss him every day.
Cissa was 90 years old. I knew her wonderful mother. Mrs. Alexander, of Cleveland, MS, was as lovely and charming as her daughters Cissa and Toni (Antoinette Myers). In the late 1960s Mrs. Alexander would listen to my daily radio program from Greenville, MS, and was always gracious in her comments.
The Richardsons pastored the First Baptist Church of Leland, MS for some 25 years, followed by another 15 or so at FBC Madison MS. Wherever they went, they were wonderfully used of the Lord.
Margaret and I came to know the Richardsons in the late 1960s when we went to pastor in Greenville, MS, a few miles west of Leland. We quickly came to see James was made of different stuff from all the other pastor friends we knew. When we needed a marriage counselor–as we did several times in our 52 years of marital bliss (Margaret would roll her eyes at that)–James was willing to help us. That forever bonded us.
“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
Mary Todd Lincoln was gifted in the dark art of sarcasm. Her sister Elizabeth said of her, “She was also impulsive and made no attempt to conceal her feelings; indeed, it would have been an impossibility had she desired to do so, for her face was an index to every passing emotion. Without desiring to wound, she occasionally indulged in sarcastic, witty remarks, that cut like a Damascus blade, but there was no malice behind them.” Lincoln’s biographer notes, “A young woman who could wound by words without intending to was presumably even more dangerous when angry or aroused.” (Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L. Wilson).
Woe to the person bound in marriage to one gifted in sarcasm. Lincoln bore many a scar from the blade his wife wielded.
Pity the church member who sits under the teachings of a sarcastic pastor week after week. Such a pastor’s ministry will bear bitter fruit.
On the morning of Sunday 19 May, 1940, Clementine Churchill returned early from a church service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in central London, having walked out when the preacher delivered a pacifist sermon. Winston told her, ‘”You ought to have cried, ‘Shame!’, desecrating the House of God with lies!'” (Darkest Hour, by Anthony McCarten, p. 154)
It was Easter 1968. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, all of us–white and black alike–were hurting and confused, disturbed and concerned. That Sunday I preached a sermon that addressed racism in America. I was 28 years old and in the first year of pastoring Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, Mississippi in the heart of the Delta. I’ve long since forgotten the sermon, but will never forget a phone call I received that afternoon.
Mrs. Glenn Powell called. She owned a beauty shop in town which I had quickly learned was gossip central. Mrs. Powell had made no secret of her unhappiness with my sermons or with me personally.
“Brother McKeever, what will you be preaching tonight?” I told her.
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…. Purify me with hyssop and I shall be clean” (Psalm 51:1,7).
“The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:9).
David remembered being clean and he missed it so badly.
Know that feeling?
On the farm, we would bale hay. The baler was the type that ran off the belt driven by the tractor engine. We would park the tractor and baler by a pile of hay, unhitch it all, turn the tractor around and hook up the belt and turn it all on. Then, someone feeds the hay into the baler, then throws the block in to separate the bales, and I go to work. I’m on the ground underneath all of this, hay (and dust and debris) falling all over me. I feed two baling wires into the block as it moves through the system, then wait for the person on the other side to return those ends back to me through the next block. I pull the wires through and tie off the bale. The machine spits it out as we continue feeding hay into the baler and work with the next set of blocks coming our way. Eventually, we moved on to the next pile of hay.
It was a dirty business. At noon, we shut it all down and walked to the farmhouse for lunch. But not yet. No way is mom going to let this dirty bunch into the house. So we rigged up an outside shower. One at a time, we each get under it, dry off and put on clean clothes. Only then are we allowed to sit in the dining room and partake of the amazing array of country vegetables mom and our sisters have been working on all morning.
I’m completely aware that the title is presumputous! I don’t live or vote in Alabama–although it is my native state–and in some ways might as well be chiming in on the alderman’s race in Jasper, Alabama.
But a pastor friend in that state sent the question: “How would you vote if you lived here?”
The quandary–for those who live outside the western hemisphere or in some distant future–is that the two primary candidates are Judge Roy Moore, Republican, who has been accused by a number of women of sexual overtures of one kind or other years ago when they were minors and he was an adult of 30 or so, and Doug Jones, Democrat, who espouses the party line in support of abortion and the usual liberal politics. There are a thousand details, but these two matters cause the ethical dilemma of my friend and many others like him.
The charges and counter charges, accusations and denials, have been swift and many concerning Judge Moore. Proving something that was merely verbal and occurred forty years ago is next to impossible. This means–unless I’m missing something–Judge Moore can do what Supreme Court nominee (and later Justice) Clarence Thomas did: deny, deny, and deny. It was Thomas’ word against Anita Hill. In this case, it’s Moore’s word against a half-dozen women.
The voters become the jury.
For those who come across this piece in some distant future, it would be helpful to state what’s happening in the U.S.A. at this moment, November/December 2017. An outbreak of accusations against well-known men by women who accuse them of sexual offenses (harassments, manipulation, pressure, molestation, and such) is a daily occurrence. Prominent men are resigning their positions or being fired by their boards. No one thinks we’ve seen the worst of it, but everyone expects this to be the leading edge.
A woman friend tells me she’d love to see a movement of men stepping up to say, “Me, too,” in some kind of admission that they are partly at fault for the climate of sexual harassment in our culture. “Either they have done the things we’re talking about–the sexual innuendos, the flirtatiousness, the manipulation–or they have been complicit by their silence,” she says.
I’m still thinking about that one.
It’s a minefield walking out in front of the world to say, “I’m to blame.” Particularly if you feel you aren’t.
And that’s what prompted what follows.
When the dog bites, when the bee stings, I quickly remember a few of my favorite Proverbs…. (apologies to Luther Vandross who wrote “My Favorite Things”)
A blog is not a sermon, right? Not necessarily an essay, nor is it a theme written for a class. Theoretically, a blogger should be able to write about whatever he/she wishes. That being the case, I herewith submit this sampling from the riches of Proverbs which are among my favorites. Along with appropriate comments, of course.
I said to my Old Testament and Hebrew professor, “Solomon could not have written these. They champion monogamy and faithfulness to one’s wife, something he clearly knew nothing about.” Dr. George Harrison said, “When it says in the opening verse ‘the proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel,’ it could mean something as simple as that he collected these. It’s not necessarily saying he wrote them.”
Good. Maybe he did write some of them. After all, the Queen of the South was impressed by his wisdom (I Kings 10:7) and perhaps these are some of the reason.
Proverbs 3:5-6. Everyone’s favorite. My wife Bertha’s favorite. ” Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (some translations say: “He will make your paths smooth.” Or “straight.”)
That’s a promise. Not everything in Proverbs that looks like a promise should be considered one. But this is. And it’s been time-tested over the centuries.
“Now, team, this is a football!” (Said to have been an opening statement from legendary coach Vince Lombardi after his team’s devastating loss the previous day.)
Coach Dabo Sweeney sits in the catbird seat. As his team, the Clemson University Tigers, sits atop the latest football poll–making them number one in the nation–they are preparing to face the tough Miami Hurricanes this weekend. Survive that, as they probably will, and Clemson will be set for the championship playoff, two games to decide the final ranking of the 2017 season.
This morning on ESPN’s “Golic and Wingo,” Sweeney was asked how he gets players not long out of high school ready to face these tough challenges. He said two things worth our consideration:
“I start over every year.” “I try to get buy-in.”
A college coach trains his leadership just the way he wants them. Finally, about the time they are functioning at peak level, they graduate. A new group of freshmen comes in and the coach has to start over.