Margaret Ann Henderson McKeever (June 9, 1942 – January 29, 2015)

“Beauty is deceitful and popularity is vain. But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her own hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:30-31).

Margaret would be embarrassed to know I used Proverb 31 on her.

But she was in many respects every ounce that strong woman to whom someone is paying tribute.  She had to be, considering all the hurdles she cleared, the obstacles she overcame, the setbacks and hardships and difficulties life handed her, all of which she met head-on and surmounted.

I wish you could have known her in her prime.

She could be fierce in her faith and soft in her sweetness, and focused like a laser when she set her mind to do a thing.  Only in her later years did the burdens begin to outnumber and overwhelm her.  Even then, she was a fighter.  Her calendar is filled with appointments I am having to cancel–meetings with therapists, nutritionists, pain management clinic, physical therapy, a psychiatrist, and a few other things. She was not giving up, she was not going down without a fight.

Joe married a fighter.  April 13, 1962.  A Friday night in Birmingham, Alabama.

She would have to be a fighter. She was tying herself to a young preacher who hardly knew how to be a husband, breadwinner, pastor, or a father, and much less a caretaker, lover, best friend.  I would have to learn all of this, and some lessons came harder than others.

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A few notes about my wife Margaret

Margaret is still with us as I write, so this is not an obit.

I just wanted to express more fully the appreciation of our family for the faithful prayers of countless friends far and wide who have lifted her and us to the Father since Margaret’s massive heart attack last Friday around noon.

WHAT HAPPENED...

Friday morning perhaps around 11 am, Margaret had driven herself to the nail salon for a pedicure.The ladies there say she had just seated herself on the chair when she began coughing. Then, she passed out.

They ran next door to the laundromat and asked for help. Someone called 911. The Harahan police station is a block away, and they responded immediately, followed by the firefighters.  They started CPR, and rushed her to Ochsner’s Hospital, some three miles or so to the east.

The hospital called my house. “Sir, you need to come to the emergency immediately.”  Daughter-in-law Julie had to drive me since we have only the one car.(I was afraid Margaret might have been in an accident. She’s driving very little these days and has been getting around with a walker or cane. But this drive was short and the parking was easy. Still, I was concerned.)

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My single biggest problem in crisis ministry

Take last evening for instance.

A friend who is on the staff of a large church in the northern part of our state emailed about a family basically living in the ICU ward of a local hospital in our city. Doctors have told the parents nothing more can be done for the daughter. So they are standing by, waiting for God to take her.

My friend had planned to drive down to see them, but because of a cold decided it was best if he canceled and asked me to call on them.

An hour later, I was in the hospital room with the family.

The patient was either sleeping or heavily sedated and several family members and friends were seated around the room, talking softly.  They greeted me warmly, having already been informed that I was coming.

Now, two things about this family I found amazing.  They have lived in the intensive care units of their hospital back home and the one here for over 40 days.  And yet, they have such a steady peace and beautiful joy about them.

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How to bring down a church bully

Church bullies have always been part of the ecclesiastical landscape.

They had them in the first century, as evidenced by the tiny epistle of Third John. A brute named Diotrephes was ruling his congregation with a strong hand.  The Evangelist John turned the spotlight on what the man was doing, which ordinarily is sufficient to arouse the congregation to unseat the man. John ended with a promise: “If I come, I will call attention to what he is doing.”

Don’t miss the understatement of that: “I will call attention to what he is doing.”

That will be quite enough.  When the Beloved Apostle (for so was John known in the early church) stands before an adoring congregation and informs the membership what their so-called leader has been doing behind their backs, they will deal with him.

That has always been the Lord’s plan:  Tell the church, expose the brute, expect God’s people to do the right thing.

We’re not talking about taking matters into our own hands or doing anything heavy-handed.

Even though the flesh wants to drag the church boss out back and give him “what for,” that is never the right approach. Nor should we plot and maneuver and scheme behind closed doors. The Lord’s people must never adopt the deceitful tactics of the tyrants.  We are to be “as shrewd as snakes and as gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

American history provides a near-perfect example of how to bring down a bully. It’s not a simple story, but I’ll do my best…

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Let me (ahem) repeat myself. Again.

Having done this blog for over 10 years, I find myself going back
and repeating some of my favorite stories.     

It has nothing to do with getting old and forgetful.

Although I am getting old and forgetful.

Nearly a lifetime ago, as a new student at New Orleans
Baptist Theological Seminary, I signed up to preach on the streets
of the French Quarter.  Of all the "field mission" choices available
to students--working with inner city children, hospital and nursing 
home ministry, jail ministry, etc.--this one, preaching on 
the streets, was the scariest. 

Therefore, it would be perfect for me.

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The best thing a boss can do for his worker

If I work for you, I expect you to protect me when I’m attacked unfairly and defend me when I am accused unjustly.  Your failure to do this means I lose confidence in you and the quality of my work begins to suffer immediately. In most cases, I begin looking for a better environment in which to work.

Let a good supervisor–the manager of a business, principal of a school, or pastor of a church– learn this most valuable lesson. 

I was a year or two out of college, newly married, and pastoring a tiny church up the highway 25 miles.  During the week, however, I was the secretary to the production manager of a cast iron pipe plant on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama.

My boss was 65-year-old Clyde Hooper, a cigar-chewing Methodist layman who could teach sailors a few things about plain speaking.  He had paid his dues in coming up the hard way, and was so tightly bonded with the 300 men working in the foundry that they would have died–or killed–for one another.  Mr. Hooper wore a crisp, starched white shirt and beautiful tie to work every day.  I adored the man.

I also emptied his spittoon in the corner of the office.

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The day you started to die

I was reading the short wikipedia bio of a British entertainer whom you might know (but who will remain anonymous here simply because his name does not matter).

The writer told how the celebrity was a regular on British television for over three decades.  Finally, the network decided his work was declining along with his audience and so canceled him.  Within three years, the man was dead, even though he was still in his 60s.  This sentence remains with me: “The day they canceled his contract is the day he began to die.”

We’ve all known of individuals who died shortly after retiring from their life work.  Whether retirement caused the death, hastened the death, or was completely irrelevant is something no one can know. But we each have our own suspicions.

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Joe’s next 10 rules for success in ministry, slightly more spiritual than the first 10.

(These follow an earlier article on “Joe’s 10 ironclad rules for success,” which were mostly silly and intended to provoke a hearty laugh.  Now, we get just a tad more serious. But, not to worry, not much more serious.)

11.  If you study hard for your sermons and eventually get to a big church, you can hire research assistants to do your studying for you. Success brings its privileges.

12. If you look at the ceiling while you preach, you may overcome your shyness but you will end up preaching over the heads of your people.

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What hatred does to a soul

“Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:6).

The Pharisees were not normally murderers.

They were highly religious, faithful keepers of the flame, staunch defenders of orthodoxy, and determined champions of conservatism.  If there had been a Tea Party of their day, they were it.  They hated modernism, treasured the heroes of their past, and wanted to return the nation to the glory days of centuries past.

But their hatred for Jesus trumped their devotion to God.

Hatred is a toxin, which when introduced into the soft, vulnerable and defenseless soul of mankind, wreaks havoc, destroys everything it touches, and sends its host spiraling ever downward toward the lowest pit of hell.  Hatred corrupts and perverts, sabotages and undermines.

Saddest of all is watching good people fall into its grasps and never come up for air.

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Remedial studies in the work of the Lord

“By this time you ought to be teachers (but) you need someone to teach you again the first principles…” (Hebrews 5:12).

Sherrie Waller, a member of our church and wife of one of our deacons, teaches math at the local Baptist seminary.

She’s training the next generation of preachers and missionaries how to count the offering, I suppose.

One “school” in our seminary is Leavell College, where people can get a four-year bacculaureate degree.  And one aspect of that, as with any college in the land I expect, is that students/graduates have to have a certain amount of proficiency in a wide range of disciplines, math being among them.

I can appreciate that.

Most of what Sherrie covers is taught in high school, had these future preachers and missionaries been paying attention.

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