Humor and grief in ministry…hand in hand

“There is….a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

The doctors at Houston’s M. D. Anderson Medical Center confirmed to Ted that the lung cancer had indeed metasticized to his brain.  “Perhaps six months, more or less,” said the doctor when Ted asked how long he had.  The worst news imaginable.

However, that night the doctor called his room.

“I’ve been studying the brain scans,” he said. “And I believe yours is Primary Lung Cancer which has moved to the brain.”  He went on to say that Primary Brain Cancer is not treatable, but a metasticized Primary Lung Cancer behaves differently in the brain and is often treatable.

There was hope, after all.

When he got off the phone, Ted explained this to his family. He was quiet a minute, then said, “Well, you know it’s your basic bad situation when you’re praying for lung cancer!”

And they laughed.

Can you weep and laugh at the same time?

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When we backslide, a dozen things happen, all of them bad

“The way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15)  

What started this was a note from a fellow who took issue with something I said about the church.  He had no use for the church, he said. Every church he’d ever attended preached a shallow message, the sermons were mind-numbingly boring, and the people were dull and listless.  After venting, he wondered if I’d be interested in some essays he’d written about the church.  I declined.

In our exchange, I said, “Could I tell you something that happened to me?  IEven though ‘ve been preaching for over half a century, at least twice during that time, I have gotten out of fellowship with the Lord.  What we call “backsliding.”

And when that happened, I noticed something surprising.  I became negative about my fellow church members and critical of the other ministers.  Then, when I humbled myself and repented, I saw them in a new light and found myself loving them. That was a fascinating thing to learn.

This was as gentle a way as I could find to tell the man that my money is on his being in rebellion against God. In his backslidden state, he is down on the Lord’s people.

Backsliding.  Interesting term, isn’t it?  It says what it is, and needs little explanation.

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Preaching about America in the worst way

Preacher Driftwater told me, “I want to preach about America in the worst way.”

I told him it’s been done.

What he said is not what he meant, of course.

The worst way to preach about America is negatively.

“The world is going to hell.” “America is decaying from within.”  “The country is becoming socialist.”  “The president is our worst enemy.”  “The Supreme Court is ruining America.”  “The home is breaking down. Marriage is a thing of the past. You can’t get a good two-dollar steak any more.”

Okay, strike that last one.

The U. S. Supreme Court has just ruled that homosexuals can marry in any state in the union, forever changing the character of this country.

We are justifiably concerned. And we are stuck with their decision.

Does this mean the United States is through? Will God write ‘Ichabod’ over what used to be a great country?  Should we preachers deliver its eulogy from our pulpits?

Not so fast.

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The most amazing thing we do when reading Scripture

Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

Whosoever surely meaneth me.”  — Gospel song by James E. McConnell, 1910.   

“He included me.”  — Gospel song by Johnson Oatman. 1909.

Every Christian I know does this and I do it too.  And yet there seems to be no easy explanation for it.

In Scripture, we will be reading where God is telling Israel how much He loves them, how He has loved them from the first, how His love is endless and that He has big plans for them, and what do we do?  We copy off those words and plaster them around the house, memorize them, and write them into songs of inspiration. We put them on bumper stickers and coffee mugs and t-shirts, and we build sermons around them.

We revel in those words.

We do this not because we are so impressed by God’s love of Israel nor touched by their closeness.  We do it for another overwhelming reason.

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Back into the pastorate: What I would do differently

“Keep a clear head about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The editor’s last question was “What would you do differently if you were going back into the pastorate today?”

After responding to his other seven questions at length (see the previous article on our website), I felt this one needed more reflection and its own space.  So, this is my attempt to answer that good question….

Well, first,  I’m highly tempted to say….

–I would wonder about that church.  Why in the world does it want a 75-year-old has-been as its shepherd?  They must be really hard up.

–I would have my head examined.  (If Margaret were still living, she might say, “And you’d have to find yourself another wife!” lol)

But seriously.

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“Looking Back” — Joe is interviewed by an editor

“…that the generation to come might know….” (Psalm 78:6)

It was baseball great Satchel Paige who said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

At the age of 75, it’s probably safe for me to look back, at least for a few moments. I’m not racing anyone any more, if I ever was. And the only thing gaining on me is Father Time. (He can afford to pace himself, not having lost a race yet.)

Perhaps now is a good time to pull over into a rest area for a brief retrospective.

The editor of a Christian magazine posed eight questions to jog my thinking.  He mostly wondered if I see the pastoral ministry any differently now from “way back when.”

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The most misused text in the Bible?

“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God will come, He answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable;  no one will say, ‘Look here!’ or ‘There!’ For you see, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20-21).

You’d be surprised who all loves to quote our Lord Jesus.

A lot of people who believe almost nothing Jesus said about Himself–about salvation or heaven or hell or marriage or a faith or a thousand other subjects–will quote Him when it suits their purpose.

Google Luke 17:20-21 and pull up a chair.  Those citing these two verses run the gamut from Leo Tolstoy to your favorite Indian guru to the atheists.

Taken completely out of context and given the speaker’s own spin, this malleable verse can be made to say whatever they choose.

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Rescue your life from bondage to your emotions

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh”. ” (Galatians 5:16)

Brothers and sisters.  If you would be spiritually mature and successful in the Christian life, you must rescue your spiritual life from bondage to your emotions.”  –J. Sidlow Baxter, speaking to Mississippi Baptists in the mid-1970s.

She said to me. “If I don’t feel like doing something, my heart would not be in it, and the Lord said we are to serve Him with all our heart. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

I said, “So, if you don’t feel like reading your Bible or going to church or apologizing to a neighbor, you don’t do it.  Right?”

She: “Right.  It would be hypocritical.”

Me: “Well. May I ask you, do you ever wake up on Monday morning and not feel like going to work?  Or, when you were a teen, were there early mornings when you did not feel like getting up and going to school?”

She: “That’s different.”

Me: “How is it different?”

She: “It just is.”

Her name is legion.  A million clones believe as she does.  And the most telling thing about her lazy philosophy is how she refuses to examine it to see if it might be flawed.

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Adults Excluded; Little Children Only Welcomed

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Luke 18:17).

Big shots need not apply.

Pride disqualifies all applicants.

Therefore, “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time,” meaning, whenever He gets good and ready.  That’s I Peter 5:6. Well, the first part of it is.

This fellow wrote to me recently to say why he no longer attends church.  He is burned out on four decades of shallow sermons and considers himself far beyond the kind of pap his pastor ladles out to the unthinking sheep on Sunday.  He has written scholarly essays on his beliefs and would be happy to send them to me.

Don’t bother.

Even if this were the case, that the pastors all serve milk to babies on Sundays and never meat to the healthy, the man is missing a huge point about church participation.

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What my dad said about fathers

“Who can find a virtuous man? For his price is far above diamonds” (Not Proverbs 31:10, but it well could be.)

My father, Carl J. McKeever (1912-2007), was someone no one who met him ever forgot.

Like a certain son of his, he was a talker.  Like that same son, he was interested in a thousand things and enjoyed good food, hearty laughter and great conversation with friends.  And he loved to write.

What’s interesting about his love for writing is he had a seventh grade education.  As the oldest of an even dozen children, he left school to help support the family when he was 12, and entered the coal mines to work alongside his father two years later.  His formal education may have ended, but dad was always learning and thinking and paying attention.

Most of his writing was done on note pads, in a lovely script which schools taught back in the 1920s. Something called the Palmer Method.  To his death at the age of 95, his handwriting was impressive.  Those notes he wrote were legible and intelligent, and remarkable for a coal miner.

I’m leading up to sharing one of them with you.  My brother Ron handed me this in Pop’s handwriting a few days ago during our brief visit at the restaurant in Jasper, Alabama.

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