Flirting with temptation; playing with fire

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Proverbs 27:6)

Perhaps the most dangerous place on the church campus is the pastor’s counseling office.

When the minister is shut up in a tight space with a vulnerable female who confides in him the most personal things of her life, often the two people do something completely natural and end up bonding emotionally.

The bonding process is simple: she opens up to him, he sympathizes with her, she reaches out to him, and there it goes.

Many a ministry and a great many marriages have been destroyed in the counseling room.

Can we talk about this?

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Through no fault of their own: The preacher’s kids, caught in the crosshairs

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 decided to take out his frustrations with the preacher on him.

Each week during the Sunday School assembly, the director of the children’s department would ask, “Has anyone had a birthday this week?” Since the church bulletin carried this information, he already knew the answer. But, the birthday children would speak up and everyone would sing to them.

That week, little David had celebrated his 7th birthday and was eagerly anticipating the tiny bit of recognition from his friends in Sunday School. However, that Sunday the director chose not to ask if anyone had had a birthday.  David came home in tears.

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Helping a child through the first faith crisis

And when your children shall say, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say….  (Exodus 12:26)

Parents, you’d better be prepared. That day will come.

More than likely, the way children will ask this question will not be with upraised hand and respectful tone.  They will sound more like: “Why do we have to do this?  It’s so boring! I don’t get anything out of it!”  The word griping comes to mind.

Anyone heard that from your little ones?

But count on it.  They will ask that question, however they phrase it.  You’d better be ready with an answer, parents.

Six-year-old Matthew believed his mother totally, and that’s what caused the problem. He had heard and loved all her stories of Santa and elves and the North Pole . Now, he’s a bright child and he listens to the other kids. That’s how he heard that not only Santa and the elves, but also the Easter bunny and Rudolph and the entire galaxy of holiday characters were all figments of someone’s imagination. Fictions. Fantasies.

Remember, he’s six years old.  He was devastated.

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Mountain-climbing: “He makes me walk on my high places”

He causes me to walk on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:19)

Monica Kalozdi is a New Orleans resident with a passion for climbing mountains.  For some reason, years ago after the birth of her third child, she developed a yen to climb things.  First she was climbing hills and mountains.  Then she got ambitious. She decided to climb the highest mountains on the seven continents of the world.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (Wednesday, July 13, 2005), Monica Kalozdi scaled Kilimanjaro in 2000, Aconcagua in South America in 2001, McKinley in 2003, and then in the summer of 2005 she reached Everest.  And that’s what I wanted to tell you about.  (Btw, typing her name into search blanks will bring up videos of her interview on New Orleans television.)

Here is Monica’s story…

For 55 days, she and her team lived in the frozen regions of Everest, eating dried food out of bags, living inside tents that were sometimes shredded by hurricane-strength winds. The final 1500 feet of this 29,035 ft mountain, she said, is called the death zone. Monica says, “You’re exhausted. You feel your body giving out. You can’t see where you are stepping, and you know one misstep can kill you. You’re terrified to take another step because you know you could die. But you also know you can’t stop, because if you do, you’ll die.” Pretty terrifying, but it gets worse. “We knew we had not drunk enough water and hadn’t eaten any food. Those were mistakes.” She says, “It was the scariest, most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. It is a death zone.”

Just 1500 feet? A breeze, right? Monica says the path is not particularly steep, except for three places…where it’s straight up for anywhere from 50 to 200 feet. Sheer rock wall. Through snow and ice, the climbers walk with steel claws called crampons attached to their boots for traction. But in rock? Well, good luck. This is where people die.

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A favorite story for about fathers. Dads too.

It was mid-way through December and I was telling a minister friend how I had preached on Joseph, the father of Jesus, the Sunday before. The message was all about obedience and carrying out the will of the Lord, even when it didn’t jive with what you’d always been taught and believed.

Joseph gives us a powerful lesson,  and he deserves more than the short shrift he is usually given.

My friend said, “Let me tell you a little story I sometimes use when I’m preaching on Joseph.”

As you know, scholars believe Joseph died before Jesus began His earthly ministry because he is never mentioned again after the incident when Jesus was 12. (That would be Luke chapter 2.)

Anyway, I was thinking about what God said to Joseph when he died and arrived in Heaven.

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What true love looks like

No one will ever convince me Solomon wrote the “Song” attributed to him in the Old Testament.

No one with hundreds of wives and a gymnasiumful of ready-made girlfriends can focus on one woman the way the writer of that poetic rhapsody did.  (If you love the Song of Solomon, good. I’m only saying there is no way it’s from the pen and heart of this Israeli king. See my note at the end.)

True love is not about being enamored by the sheen in her hair or the gleam in her brown eyes.  It’s far deeper than that.

I was preaching a revival in Elberta, Alabama, a sweet little community near the coastal resort town of Gulf Shores.  One morning, host pastor Mike Keech and I met for breakfast at a quaint little cafe called Grits ‘n Gravy. I’d brought along my sketch pad, so over the next hour we table-hopped and I drew all the diners, a dozen or more, as well as Patrick the owner and Megan the counter lady.  Everyone was friendly and the chatter was delightful, but no one was more memorable than the senior couple sitting in a corner booth.

The man had a long white beard. I walked over and said, “Folks, I’m a cartoonist and I draw people. And you, sir, are just crying to be drawn.”  “Oh?” he said. “Yes sir. You look like a character and I do love to draw characters.”

“I’m not a character,” he said solemnly.

His wife said with a smile, “He is most definitely a character.”

I sat down beside them and sketched both.

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My biggest challenge in crisis ministry

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?

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Your story might make a great parable

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.”

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Through no fault of their own, the preacher’s kids are caught in the crosshairs

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.

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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 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.

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