A friend on the staff of a large church emailed about a family basically living in the ICU ward of a local hospital in our city. Doctors had told the parents nothing more can be done for the daughter. So they were standing by, waiting for God to take her home.
The friend asked if I could visit this family.
An hour later, I was in their hospital room.
The patient lay there heavily sedated, while family members and friends were seated around the room, talking softly. They greeted me warmly, having been informed that I was coming.
Two things about this family I found amazing. They had lived in the intensive care units of their hospital back home and this one in my city for over 40 days. And yet, there was such a steady peace and beautiful joy about them.
The question I face
That brings me to my dilemma, one I have frequently encountered when calling on the families of Godly people going through various kinds of crises: Do I enter into their joy or remain outside?
This is for pastors. The rest of you may listen in.
We have all had defining stories occur in our families and our personal lives that would make great teaching parables. Interesting stories in themselves, they also serve as vehicles to convey spiritual truths to our people.
I have three samples for you. Whether you use them as parables–microcosms of spiritual lessons–or simply as sermon illustrations will be up to you.
First Parable: Eugene Peterson, in his book “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” gives one of his parables.
Dr. Peterson was in a hospital room, recovering from minor surgery on his nose which had been broken years earlier in a basketball game. The pain was great and he was in no mood for fellowship.
However, the young man in the next bed wanted to chat. Peterson brushed him off–his name was Kelly–but overheard him telling his visitors that evening that “the fellow in the next bed is a prizefighter. He got his nose broken in a championship fight.” Kelly proceeded to embellish it beyond that.
Later, after the company had left, Peterson told him what had actually happened and they got acquainted. When Kelly found out that Peterson was a pastor, he wanted nothing more to do with him and turned away.
The next morning, Kelly shook Peterson awake. His tonsillectomy was about to take place and he was panicking. “I want you to pray for me!” He did, and they wheeled him to surgery.
After he returned from surgery, Kelly kept ringing for the nurse. “I hurt. I can’t stand it. I’m going to die.”
The little boy was 7 years old and loved the church where his dad served as pastor. So, he was not prepared for the bully who took out his frustrations with the preacher-daddy on him.
Each week during the Sunday School assembly, this man, the director of the children’s department, would ask, “Has anyone had a birthday this week?” Now, he already knew the answer since the church bulletin carried this information. But, they would identify the children with birthdays and sing to them.
The week little David was celebrating his 7th birthday he was eagerly anticipating that tiny bit of recognition from his friends in Sunday School. This day, however, the director chose not to ask if anyone had had a birthday that week. David came home in tears.
“Who can find a virtuous man? For his price is far above diamonds” (Not Proverbs 31:10, but it well could be.)
My father was Carl J. McKeever (1912-2007). No one who met him ever forgot.
Like two of his four sons–the two who became preachers!–Pop was a talker. 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 that 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. Up 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 during our brief visit at the restaurant in Jasper, Alabama.
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 issue ruling after ruling that has changed the character of marriage, definition of gender, responsibilities of employers, and a hundred other things.
Conservatives are justifiably concerned. We are stuck with their decisions.
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.
My friend Paul took up golf so he would have something to share with his boys when they became teenagers. Smart man. Fathers find fewer and fewer activities in common with their children as they grow up and mature.
When my children were small, we connected on every level. I helped them learn to swim, taught them to ride bikes, and every night, told them bedtime stories (with one lying enfolded in each arm). We flew kites and dug for sharks teeth and collected rocks. We made up silly songs in the car and they sang out as loudly as I did. We visited the zoo and played ball and worked in the yard. We visited grandparents and they slept over with cousins.
Then they got to be teenagers. Sing in the car? Dad, you’re kidding, right? Be seen in the mall with you, Dad–do I have to? Oh, and drop me off a block before we get to school so my friends won’t see me getting out of the family car. Family reunion? Boring!
They did let me teach them to drive the car. Usually, it was a Sunday afternoon in an empty parking lot, or down some deserted road. But as soon as they received their license, they preferred to be left alone with their friends.
Life had changed.
Lois Jane Kilgore was 17 when she agreed to marry Carl J. McKeever, a 21-year-old she had been seeing for three years. She was a farmer’s daughter with a 9th grade education; he came from a long line of coal miners and dropped out of school in the 7th grade to go to work. He was the oldest of 12, she was the middle child of 9.
They surprised the preacher and got him out of bed that Saturday night, March 3, 1934, and asked him to perform the ceremony. There was no premarital counsel, no fancy surroundings, and for a time, no honorarium for the preacher. Two days later, the coal miners went on strike. An inauspicious beginning for marriage.
Lois had no idea what she had gotten herself into. Nothing from her sheltered, happy upbringing in the church-going farm family had prepared her for married life with that Irishman with the temper, a love for the sauce, and an unruly mob of siblings of all ages.
A friend texted late last night to say he’d just left a video conference with his area pastors. “They are trying to navigate in a world where the church is encouraged not to meet for a period of time.” Strange, indeed. He asked, “How did the New Orleans churches deal with Katrina? When so many had fled the city or were otherwise unable to meet with their church family. Were there lessons that might apply today?”
I lay awake in the night with that laying heavy on my heart. For this, the first week of COV-19 Captivity I have refrained from doing exactly this–trying to sound like a know-it-all who has been there/done that because we survived a hurricane fifteen years before. But perhaps there are a few things to be said from our experience. I’m willing to give it a try…
Do you want the schools to teach the Bible? Do you want prayer returned to the schools? Would you like stores and movies to shut down on Sundays? Taverns too?
If so, you would have loved life in the South in the 1940s.
Jerry Clower–the wonderful Mississippi comedian and Baptist deacon whom I was honored to call friend–used to say, “My mama wants prayer in the schools. But what she means is she wants a Southern Baptist prayer. She does not want anyone and everyone leading the children in prayer.”
When the city council or state legislature decides to open each session with prayer and they start inviting outsiders to lead those prayers, they are duty-bound to respect all denominations and all religions in their area. It’s the fair thing to do.
They will get every conceivable prayer and pray-er. It’s a given, and there is not a cotton-picking thing anyone can do about it. It’s the price they pay for wanting to begin with prayer.