My bucket list: The revised standard version

A friend gave me a nice hardbound, spiral notebook the other day. The cover says “My Bucket List Journal.” At the bottom are the words “Write it down!”

Inside, the first two pages offer 100 blanks to list the places one plans to go, the experiences he wants to have, the mountains to climb, before “kicking the bucket.”

A few years ago, I compiled such a list and published it on my blog. It was picked up and reprinted by many other websites. By googling “bucket list McKeever”, I got this one:

However, as I told my friend who gave me the book….

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Sermon illustrations (maybe) from a book on crime

Michael Connelly writes the best crime fiction of anyone. His “Lincoln Lawyer” series, about Mickey Haller, and the detective series of Harry Bosch, are as good as they come.  But before he began a career as a novelist, he was a crime reporter for two major newspapers.  In his book “Crime Beat,” he tells of those early years of covering the dark underside of Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. 

I’ve chosen three segments from “Crime Beat” as excellent jumping off places for sermons or articles or essays.

 It all comes down to moments.

Connelly’s fascination with detectives started with a single moment.  He was 16, on his way home from his shift as a hotel dish washer in Fort Lauderdale. The streets were deserted, with no person in sight, and when the red light caught him he thought of running it.  Before doing that, he looked both ways. And that’s when he saw something.

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Joe is interviewed by Vanity Fair (sort of)

On the final page of Vanity Fair’s October 2015 issue, Whoopi Goldberg is interviewed. The questions are generic, sort of here’s-how-to-interview-anyone. So, I thought I’d give it a try and answer them myself. (At the end, I added a few more.)  Here goes….

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being in the place God put me, doing the work He gave me.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  Likewise, the best definition of hell on earth is to be out of His will.

What is your greatest fear?

Just that very thing: being out of his will.  I fear nothing so much as disappointing Him.  That could happen to any of us. None of us is immune to temptation. That keeps me on my knees every day.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Abraham Lincoln. I’ve been to his birthplace, the restored “New Salem” where he lived as a young man, to his hometown of Springfield, his burial place, and in Washington, D.C., to Ford Theatre and the house where he died.  I own many books on Lincoln.

Which living person do you most admire?

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Why you may not want to marry a preacher

“Do not be unequally yoked…” 2 Corinthians 6:14 (a reference to Deuteronomy 22:10 where Israel is told not to plow with a team composed of an ox and a donkey).

We all agree that Scripture teaches believers should not marry unbelievers.

But, would it be an unequal yoke for one called into the ministry to be wed to a Christian who resents his calling and resists the demands that this life places on her?

Surely we can agree that not everyone should marry a preacher.

(The obligatory disclaimer: In our denomination, preachers are men. I know some women pastors in other denominations and respect them very much. But I know nothing of the pressures they face. Thus, for me to write for their situation would be highly presumptuous. Please do not write accusing me of sexism or prejudice against women. Thank you.)  

When I began this list a few days ago, mostly I intended it as a light-hearted piece since I’m a preacher and love pastors and their families.  Any woman who marries a called servant of the Lord should feel special to Him, I’m thinking, and she needs to know what she’s getting into. And then, I decided to ask for help.

I invited Facebook friends to suggest reasons why someone “might not want to marry a preacher.”  I expected soft answers. Oh my, the responses.

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There are good reasons not to believe

“Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen…. By faith we understand….” (Hebrews 11:1ff)

There are good reasons not to believe in God, not to believe in Jesus, and not to believe in Holy Scripture.

A wise servant of the Lord will want to learn what they are and why people hold on to them. In doing so, he will better understand his own belief and will be able to respond to the questions/attacks of unbelievers.

This is far more important than the typical Christian realizes.

We cannot effectively counter the resistance of the unbeliever–whether he/she is a seeker, an agnostic, skeptic, atheist, or full bore antagonist–until we learn why they reject the heart of the message of the Christian faith.

Faith.  It starts with this and perhaps ends there also.

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“Don’t draw my wrinkles!”

I’ll be sketching a long line of people at a church dinner or community party, and in the course of an hour or two will hear it a dozen times.

“Don’t draw my wrinkles.”

Usually I laugh it off.  “You don’t have any wrinkles.”  Or I tease that “I take the wrinkles from the women and give them to the men.”

Sometimes I say, “Hey, they don’t call me ‘Botox Joe’ for nothing!”

Why do people hate facial wrinkles so much?

Some child called them “crinkles.”

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What I am learning about grief

We grieve, but not “as others who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13).

No one volunteers to become knowledgeable about grief.  Life hands you the assignment by robbing you of someone whom you love dearly. Suddenly, you find yourself missing a major part of your existence–an arm and a leg come to mind–and trying to figure out how to go forward.

You discover this ache in you goes by the name “grief.”  Synonyms include mourning. Sorrow. Loss. Bereavement.

Without warning, you find yourself experiencing an entire new lineup of emotions–all of them devastating–about which you had heard only rumors before.

The second discovery you make is people think you ought to be able to help others deal with it. Surely, they imply, if you have come through it and lived to tell about it, you must be wise.

I’m so unwise.

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When a pastor has exceeded his expiration date

Of all the questions church people send my way, this may be the most difficult.

Our pastor has been here umpteen years.  He has lost his vision and his energy, and the church is dying.  The numbers are down considerably, and yet the church is located in a growing area.  We love him and are so grateful to God for his ministry over the years. But isn’t there a limit to the loyalty thing?  At what point does a pastor need to be told that his time here is up?

There are no simple or easy answers to this.  Handled wrongly, this matter can destroy a church, inflict a terminal wound to a veteran minister, and hurt his family in lasting ways.

On the one hand, the minister is there by the Lord’s doing. Paul tells us the Holy Spirit makes the pastors/elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).  We do not want to casually hurt God’s servant since our Lord Jesus said, “Whoever receives you, receives me” (Matthew 10:40).  Now, we are not equating today’s pastors with Moses but throughout Israel’s wilderness wanderings, it was clear that the Lord took personally the treatment/mistreatment of His man by the people.

I think that’s still the case.  When people mistreated God’s prophets down through the ages, He interpreted that as an offense toward Himself.

So, we always want to try to honor the Lord’s servant, even if he is undeserving at this particular moment.

On the other hand.

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The dumbest prayer I ever prayed

“When He has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold” (Job 23:10).

No one volunteers for testing. Not if they know what’s good for them!

However, one day not long ago I prayed this prayer:

“Lord, please let one of the churches where You send me to minister give me an offering so abysmally small that I will have to reaffirm that my trust is in Thee and not in man, not in money, not in things.”

Okay. I don’t ever intend to do that again.  (smiley-face here)

Here’s the background…..

First: The Lord is my Source.

“The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel” (I Corinthians 9:14).  The laborer is worthy of his hire, as Scripture says in numerous places.

But the Lord is the Source for all of us who labor in His vineyard.

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This guy found a contradiction in the Bible and thinks he can now disprove God.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was reading comments on a friend’s Facebook page below something she had written about the Bible’s authenticity.

I suppose her critic was a friend, because after each of his statements, each one shallow and several insulting, she patiently responded with kindness and reason.

But nothing worked.

When one is determined not to believe, no amount of truth or reason or logic can penetrate the protective armor of alibis, arguments, excuses, and slander in which he clothes himself.

What was his “contradiction”?

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