Easter Grinning

Occasionally in my reading, I come across something that trips all the wires and pushes all my buttons. Rings all my bells.

An inner alert goes off to notify me a special message from the Holy Spirit is now arriving in control central.

That happened this morning.

The novel I’m reading is “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” by Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows. The “Guernsey” in the title refers to the Channel Island off the coast of France. For a thousand years–ever since William the Conqueror brought them with him from France–these islands have been the possession of Britain. During the entire six years of the Second World War, they were occupied by the Nazis, the only area of Britain so “honored.”

The novel is a series of letters to and from Juliet Ashton, a writer, in the early months of 1946, just after the end of the war. She is considering making the Nazi occupation of the islands the subject of her next book.

At one point, she writes to her editor this paragraph:

“For example–yesterday I was reading an article on the liberation. A reporter asked a Guernsey Islander, ‘What was the most difficult experience you had during the Germans’ rule?’ He made fun of the man’s answer, but it made perfect sense to me. The Islander told him, ‘You know they took away all of our wireless sets? If you were caught having a hidden radio, you’d get sent off to prison on the continent. Well, those of us who had secret radios, we heard about the Allies landing in Normandy. Trouble was, we weren’t supposed to know it had happened! Hardest thing I ever did was walk around St. Peter Port on June 7, not grinning, not smiling, not doing anything to let those Germans know that I KNEW their end was coming. If they’d caught on, someone would be in for it–so we had to pretend. It was very hard to pretend not to know D-Day had happened.”

Any minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ–any disciple at all, for that matter–who reads that immediately sees the parallel.

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What Even the Best Preachers Do

Sit in a preaching class in any seminary or divinity school in the land and you’ll hear professors stress the importance of context.

Basically, the “context” of a Scripture means “what is the setting for this text?” What was the occasion of the event, who was speaking, who was listening, and what was meant?

A preacher can and will want to apply that text to the world he lives in and the people who sit before him. But before he can do that, he will want to explain the meaning of that Scripture and the setting in which it was presented.

It’s about integrity in scripture interpretation and there is no more serious subject for the would-be preacher.

“A text without the context is a pretext.” That’s one of those cliches we preachers toss around to one another. It’s pretty much the case. But maybe there are exceptions…

To “take a Scripture out of context” means making a verse say something that was not intended. The most famous example is placing Matthew 27:5 (“Judas went out and hanged himself”) alongside Luke 10:37 (“Go thou and do likewise”).

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My August (2009) Preaching Schedule

JACKSON, MS — Wednesday, August 5 — speaking to the adult choir of First Baptist Jackson at the kickoff of their fall schedule, then spending the rest of the evening sketching them.(Lavon Gray, min/music; Stan Buckley, pastor)

PINEVILLE, LA — Tuesday, August 18 — quarterly meeting of the Directors of Missions from Louisiana. I’m speaking on leadership.

COLUMBUS, MS — Saturday, August 22 — Deacons retreat for First Baptist Columbus. (Shawn Parker is pastor.)

WAGGAMAN, LA — Sunday, August 23 — morning worship service at First Baptist Waggaman. (Bobby Malbrough, pastor)

ALEXANDRIA, LA — Tueday, August 25 — “Conflict Training Conference” at the Baptist Building. Bill Robertson, director.

(A quiet August before the schedule heats up in the fall. Our three New Hampshire granddaughters are flying down to visit for a week early in August. This will be the first time the two younger ones have met their three New Orleans cousins. I’m as excited as they are. Then I have jury duty one day. That’ll be fun.)

As always, I’m open to whatever the Lord leads–whether pulpit supply, revivals, deacon training, prayer conferences, leadership banquets, whatever. My phone is 504-615-2190.

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Reasons Not To Give? They’re All Around.

When we say that when people bring their offerings to God, they’re doing so by faith, we mean two important things.

One: It means there are great reasons to give–such as God’s honor and His commands, God’s people and their needs, our gratitude for His blessing, and the personal benefit we derive from giving.

Two: It also means there are good reasons not to give. (That’s the nature of faith–there are reasons pro and con.)

We pastors are always telling people the first ones–why to give–without telling them the second, that they can find good reasons not to give and what they are.

I know, I know. They don’t need our help to find reasons not to give. They can find plenty on their own.

But still, we may want to offer a few biblical insights on reasons not to give to the Lord’s work.

Take the widow who gave her two mites, for example–a story found in several places in the Gospels, notably Mark 12.

The Lord and His disciples were standing to one side in the Temple watching as a line of contributors snaked through the worship center. One by one, the people dropped their offerings into the huge urns put there for collections.

“Watch this,” said the Lord, nudging the disciples just as a little widow woman dropped her two small coins–the smallest available–into the urn.

“All the rest gave out of their surplus,” Jesus said. “But she has given all she had. Therefore, she gave the most.”

I venture to say there’s not a preacher worth his salt who hasn’t preached that story a number of times. It’s an inspiring and positive lesson on giving.

But there is a negative lesson here, also.

If ever a person had a good reason not to give, that woman did. I’ve thought of four, you may come up with others:

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Not To Be Presumptuous

When Maria Bousada of Madrid, Spain, contacted the California fertility clinic, she lied about her age since 55 was the maximum age for their clients.

When she gave birth at the age of 66, she assured the world she was a good choice for being the oldest woman on record to give birth. After all, her mother had lived to the ripe old age of 101. Twin sons, Paul and Christian, were born to this single mother who had experienced menopause two decades ago. The boys are now three years old.

Maria died this week at the age of 69.

You never know.

I said to a deacon in my church, “Your father is in his 90s. I suppose we’ll be having you with us for a long time to come.”

He died at the age of 66.

People say to me, “Your dad lived to be 95-plus and your mom has just celebrated her 93rd birthday. You’ll live to a ripe old age, too.”

Maybe so. Hope so. No way to tell. If it’s up to me, I’ll do all the things I know to do in order to assure it.

But there is a great unknown in this equation. “Thou art my God; my times are in thy hands.” (Psalm 31:14-15)

What does the Lord want?

When my cousin, Dr. Bill Chadwick of Clanton, Alabama, went to Heaven on Wednesday of last week–in his office in the middle of a work day–it caught us all by surprise. At his funeral, his pastor said, “Bill had planned to live to 100.”

God had other plans.

Which brings me to this personal note.

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Thanks for the Birthday Cards!

A couple of days ago, my Mom–Lois McKeever of Nauvoo, Alabama–celebrated birthday number 93. You helped to make it special. So far, she has opened nearly 100 cards and notes and they’re still arriving, a few each day. Thanks so much. She enjoys every one, and I take your doing this as a personal favor. (Of course, she received cards from friends outside the circle of this website. But still…)

Mom jokes that “they all say you must be a wonderful person to have raised such a special son.” She adds, “Don’t they know I raised four special sons? and two special daughters?”

No favoritism with this lady. Even though she’s proud of her two preacher boys (Ron and Joe), the other four (Glenn, Patricia, Carolyn, and Charlie) are just as precious.

These days she looks outside her large front window onto fields that are lovely in every way. With her two sons-in-law James and Van plowing and planting the fields (in their spare time; James works for the telephone company and Van for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office) and Ron growing his own garden up there, one would think we were back in the 1950s when all the kids were at home, everyone had an assignment in the fields, and every tillable acre was blooming with productivity.

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Come Now and Let Us Criticize Prayers

The first prayer I criticized, I was in college. Eventually, I became quite good at it.

It’s not a skill to be desired.

A church across Birmingham had invited me to speak to their young people that morning. I was the guest of a leading church family for the service and lunch to follow. Their pastor was out that day, so the minister was a college professor who taught the Bible.

At the sermon time, the guest preacher strode to the pulpit, looked out at the congregation and led us in prayer. I was struck by the way the last sentence of his prayer and the opening sentence of his sermon lay back to back, separated only by the “amen” of the prayer.

Here is what he said:

“Bless us, O God, as we come to worship Thee—for we are here for no other reason. Amen.”

He took a breath, looked out at the congregation, and began:

“People come to church for many different reasons!”

Instantly I reacted. Wait a minute. You just told the Lord we were here to worship Him and nothing else, and told us we had come for a variety of reasons.

He was not being honest to someone, either the Lord or us, I reasoned. And I think I know who it was. He was telling the Lord what He felt the Lord wanted to hear, it seemed, but knew he could not get by with that with us. So he had to tell us the plain fact of the matter.

It occurred to me his view of God was severely lacking.

My criticism was valid, I believe, but unfortunately that little event started me on my life of crime.

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This Week in History (Sort of)

On Tuesday, July 14, my wonderful Mom, Lois J. McKeever, reaches age number 93. Far from keeping it a secret, she’s justly pleased to have attained this pinnacle. I think this makes her the oldest member of her (Kilgore) family in memory. Also, probably the oldest living member of her church (New Oak Grove Free Will Baptist). She still lives on the home place, across the hill from the house where she was born. Each day, she reads the newspaper, reads her mail and her Bible, watches the TV news and “The Price is Right” and “Wheel.”

Thanks to all who have sent (or are sending) birthday cards or notes to her. At last check, she has received 70 or so. However, anyone who would still like to send one, Mom loves getting mail, so go right ahead. The address is 191 County Road 101, Nauvoo, Alabama 35578. Thanks!

Mom says so many of the cards she is receiving are from my friends (from this blog and Facebook) who all say things like, “You must be a wonderful person to have raised such a fine son.” She laughs and says, “I have three fine sons–which one are they talking about?”

You can see why I like her to get these notes!

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Idolatry Comes In All Varieties

(This concludes with a short Bible study from Luke 6; don’t miss it.)

A good question to ask ourselves: what subject or issue could my pastor speak on–and disagree with me concerning–that would send me over the edge?

What trips my cord? What provokes my wrath? Invites my hostility, stirs up my rage, arouses my ire?

Nothing tells the tale about us like the answer to this.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a rather uncomplimentary piece concerning Rush Limbaugh. The editor of our state Baptist paper asked if he could reprint it. I agreed, but came to question that decision. All the mail the editor received (and forwarded to me) was not just negative, but hostile. I was a raving liberal, a satan, unworthy to call myself a preacher or even a Christian.

I had touched a nerve. Stepped on some toes.

Ann Landers or Dear Abby–one of the advice-giving twins–used to say, “Throw a rock among a bunch of dogs; the one that hollers is the one that got hit.”

This week, it was the Michael Jackson thing.

On this website–and nowhere else, not in any newspaper anywhere, but in the blog which I personally pay for–I wrote about the memorial service which was going on at the time. I started by pointing out that the expected crowd of a million did not materialize, quoted Sean Hannity and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert on the MJ phenomenon, and then commented on Rev. Al Sharpton’s glossing over of the MJ child abuse in his sermon. He assured the Jackson children (and said to the world), “There was nothing strange about your father. What was strange was the way he was treated,” or something to that effect.

The fascinating thing about cyberspace is you put something on a website and it’s gone. The world has it now. It gets passed around and people find it by googling and your thoughts are in the public domain.

It’s great and it’s terrible.

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