People Are Breakable. Handle With Care.


Before rendering his verdict, the arbitrator in a church conflict case turned to the men sitting at both tables and said, “I remind myself that these are not sterile decisions I will be rendering. In making judgments about others, we are handling the fine china of human lives.”

Should Paul Hamm return the gold medal for men’s gymnastics, awarded him in error due to miscalculations of some judges? Some Olympic officials seem to think so. When asked why they could not simply award a second gold medal to the rightfully deserving Koreans, one authority replied, “We can’t do that.” Why not? The rules do not allow it. The Americans respond that, if it’s rules you like, Hamm followed the rules and received the medal. Stripping him of the gold might be a simple act to an Olympic judge, but it takes on epic proportions to a young person who has devoted years of his life to arrive at this moment.

Someone should remind the judges in every athletic event, Olympics to little league, that they are handling the fine china of human lives.

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Be Thou Faithful Unto Death. Sort Of.


We had this wedding at our church last weekend. Three hundred friends and family members sat in the pews watching eight groomsmen and and equal number of bridesmaids fill the front of the sanctuary. As the organ shook the rafters, the bride entered on the arm of her father and took her place beside the groom in front of me. Then it happened.

“Harry,” I began. “Do you take Bess to be your lawfully wedded wife? Do you promise to be faithful to her in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, so long as you both shall live?”

Harry took a deep breath, looked at Bess and then at me. “Preacher,” he said, “I sure do. Mostly. Bess is a wonderful woman. Any man would be lucky to have her. I will be proud to be her husband. And I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to be true to her. Much of the time. And lots of evenings, after work, I’m coming home to her and I’ll actually spend the night there. Of course, I’ll have my other girl friends, but that’s to be expected. I’m just human, you know. But Bess will be number one with me. Yes sir. And from time to time, I plan to give some money to pay her rent and help with the other expenses. Yes sir, preacher, I do. Sort of.”

We all stood there in shock. I had never heard such a mixed up response from a groom before. I turned to the bride to see how she was taking this. Bess was staring a hole through Harry, like he was the lowest thing on earth. Then she threw down the bouquet, hiked up her massive bridal gown, and strode out of the church, right up the aisle she had just walked down.

The bride’s parents rushed out the door behind her, and the congregation sat there stunned. Harry stood there silently for a long moment, then leaned over to the nearest bridesmaid and said, “Doing anything tonight, Honey?”

Okay, it didn’t happen. I made it up. But I see something like this going on all the time.

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Broken Pastor, Broken Church

(originally published in Leadership Journal )

My calendar for the summer and beyond was blank. I usually planned my preaching schedule for a full year, but beyond the second Sunday in June — nothing. I had no ideas. I sensed no leading from the Spirit. But it was only January, so I decided to try again in a couple of months. Again, nothing. By then, I suspected the Lord was up to something.

A member of my church had told me the year before, “Don’t die in this town.” I knew what she meant. She didn’t envision Columbus as the peak of my ministry. Columbus was a county-seat town with three universities nearby, and, for Mississippi, cosmopolitan. I felt Columbus, First Baptist, and I were a good match. The church grew. We were comfortable together. My family was settled. Our sons and daughter had completed most of their schooling, and after twelve years, they called Columbus home. My wife, Margaret, and I had weathered a few squalls, but life was good — a little quiet, perhaps even stagnant, but good.

And suddenly I could hear the clock ticking. Did God have something more for me?

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Living In The Past


A few days ago, I dropped in on 1943 and stayed two hours.

The venerable Saenger’s Theater in downtown New Orleans has been running vintage movies on Fridays and Saturdays–Gone With the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, Rear Window, and such. Recently, I attended the Saturday 3 pm showing of one of my favorites, “Casablanca.”

“Casablanca” was shot in 1941 and released in 1943. It presents Humphrey Bogart at his strongest and Ingrid Bergman at her loveliest, and deals with the plight of refugees fleeing before the Nazis. Its signature music, “As Time Goes By,” has been voted the number one movie song of all time.

That afternoon, I drove downtown, parked on Canal Street–after making certain that the meter maids had the afternoon off–paid six dollars for a ticket, and settled back into the lush red velvet seats to enjoy this movie the way people saw it over 60 years ago. For over two hours, I was transported back to 1943. Consider…

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A Long Obedience


“I’m quitting,” said my friend. He had held that job two whole days and now was walking away. “They want me to work in an office with unbelievers and I just can’t function in that kind of atmosphere.”

I suspect it’s not that at all. Jack’s problem is he cannot take a job and stay with it.

You and I live in a culture of quitting. People try marriage, find it hard, and quit. They try jobs and find them difficult and walk away. They take up diets and discover they were expected to exercise their body and their common sense, and they quit. They take up fitness programs for a few weeks, then quit. They start to church and they quit.

Half the members on the average church roll of our denomination rarely darken the doors of the church. What happened to them? They quit.

Eugene Peterson wrote a book on the Psalms with the intriguing title of “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” That line is a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche who wrote, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is…that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

What he calls “a long obedience in the same direction,” the Bible calls variously steadfastness, faithfulness, and perseverance. It means to get on the road and stay there. To hang in there. To keep on, keeping on, as the old folks used to say.

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What Pastors Need #2: You’ll Be Needing A Good Wife. Here’s How To Get One.

If you are already married, good. What is it the Bible says–He who finds a wife, finds a good thing. (Proverbs 18:22) I would suggest the following to you as a husband: (If you are unmarried, keep reading; the second part is for you.)

1. Accept that she is God’s will for you, period. Maybe as a bride she knew what being a minister’s wife meant and maybe not. In some cases, you were married before receiving the call and she came reluctantly into the ministry with you. Be patient with her, even as the Lord is with you. Do not play the game of saying, “I should have married someone else.” There is no percentage in that. All it does is add to your frustration and lock her into your low expectations. Accept that this woman is God’s plan for you. Take her as His gift to you and your ministry. Thank Him for her.

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Drawn from Experience

From the Times-Picayune:

Saturday, August 07, 2004

By Bruce Nolan

Staff writer

Give the Rev. Joe McKeever a few idle minutes, especially in a public place — ideally, a restaurant after he’s placed his order — and out come his black felt-tipped pen and a sheet of his glossy sketch paper. In a few strokes — voila! — the waiter. Or the two kids with Grandma in the next booth.

It’s usually an ice-breaker.

In Baton Rouge once, McKeever sketched a caricature of his waiter on a paper tablecloth that so engaged the young man he called over the rest of the staff to be done, one by one.

“When it was over, they bought me dinner,” McKeever said.

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Fantasy Is Fun. But Reality Is Where We Live.


I took my Alabama visitor to dinner in downtown New Orleans the other evening. On the way, I said, “Anyone can take you to Commander’s Palace or the Windsor Grill,” two of the most renowned eating spots in this city. “But I’m taking you somewhere no one else would think of.”

We ate at the Praline Connection.

Now, this city boasts two establishments of that name, one situated near the convention center and housed in a barn of a building with a stage where gospel choirs entertain for Sunday brunch. But I took my friend to the original Praline Connection, the one on Frenchmen Street, two blocks from the French Market. You park on the street in a crowded residential neighborhood, taking care that it’s an actual parking space, and hoping the car will still be there when you return.

In the intersection in front of the restaurant door, a crowd had gathered around a wrecked car. People were talking to the young woman at the wheel. I said to a bystander, “What’s going on?” He said, “Anne Heche. They’re making a movie.” Oh. That’s always fun to watch. You see it a lot in New Orleans. The driver was Miss Heche’s stunt double as it turned out.

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