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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Adultery’s Lies: The unspoken heartaches

A friend in another state emailed that the membership of her church is being plundered and savaged by adulterous affairs. She is asking for prayer.

Let’s talk about how the enemy sabotages the Lord’s people through the lies of adultery.

I recommend J. Allan Petersen’s 1984 book “The Myth of the Greener Grass.” It should be bought and devoured and kept by every married person, particularly those in the Lord’s work. (See the note from this book below, at the end of this piece.)

Here is my own personal list of the devil’s lies concerning adultery. See if any have been dangled before your eyes.

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The room in your home no one knows about

“I’ve got a secret!”  –Popular television game show of the 1960s and 1970s.

A man I know once wrote of the secrets his family was harboring as they struggled to deal with an addictive, out-of-control relative.

“You know how the family gets ready to host a guest and the house is clean and in order and nothing out of place?  The guest is impressed.  He wishes his house could be this neat and organized with nothing out of place.”

“But what he doesn’t know is that there is one room where you have stored all the junk and clutter.  If he were to open the door to that room, he would be amazed.”

That, he said, is how things are for a family that tries to keep up an image when they are about to come apart.

They push things back into that private room, whose door they dare not open.

It’s about family secrets.

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Want to hear a funny story about a wedding?

When you’ve been in the ministry as long as I have–I began pastoring when JFK was president!–there are few things you haven’t seen or experienced.  This one is about weddings I have done (or had done to me!).

There was this one wedding….

–Which was attended by Sandra Bullock. I didn’t know it at the time, and learned it later. The famous movie star was all of 10 years old. The bride was her aunt or a cousin of her mama’s or something. (I wonder if she remembers me. lol. )

–Where I called the groom by the name of the best man. Oops. (Thereafter, I wrote the names of the bride and groom in large letters at the top of my materials.)

–Where I dropped the ring. For years in rehearsals, I would instruct the bride and groom, “If it drops, let it go. No one will know and we’ll get it later.”  So, when it happened  I’m the one stooping down to pick it up. Oh, well. Not that big a deal.

–Where the groom was wearing cowboy boots with his formal tux. During the picture-taking, I said to the bride, “Debbie, you should have worn yours.” With that, she hiked her dress up and showed me. She was wearing her boots too.

–Where the bride fainted. See below.

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Discovered: The secret to a great marriage

God brought her to Adam.  And Adam said, “At last!”  –Genesis 2:22-23, pretty much.

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.  — Romans 12:10  In lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.  –Philippians 2:3

My wife and I each think we got the better part of the deal.

That’s it.  That’s our “secret.”

After 52 years of marriage–she to Gary and I to Margaret–Bertha Pepper Fagan and I met four years ago, February 15, 2016, and knew that week that the Lord had put us together. We were married the following January 11.  Next week we celebrate our third anniversary.

Everyone on my side of the family delights in my bride. And, as far as I can tell, Bertha’s side all seem okay with her pick of a hubby. So, we’re doing great.

We could wish every couple felt this way.

Have you ever known anyone who felt they married beneath themselves? That they could have done better?

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What if your cross is the person you married?

And so it came to pass in the morning, that, behold, it was Leah.  (Genesis 29:25)

Jacob was neither the first nor the last to find that the person he married was far different from the one he had proposed to and thought he was getting!

I’ve known a few pastors over the years whose marriages were crosses they had to bear.  I thought of that while reading Heirs of the Founders by H. W. Brands this week, as he commented on the marriage of John and Floride Calhoun.

John C. Calhoun was a prominent political figure in America the first-half of the 19th Century.  A senator from South Carolina, he served as Vice-President under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. His home, Fort Hill Plantation, is located in Clemson, SC, and is open for visitors.  Calhoun was a fascinating character about whom no one back then (or now)  was neutral. His son-in-law founded Clemson University.

To say the Calhouns’ was a difficult marriage would be an understatement.  And yet, it had a romantic beginning, as most probably do.

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The pastor’s heart: Reservoir or cesspool?

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).  “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13). 

This is one of those lessons almost no pastor learns except by personal experience.

Someone told you a joke years ago.  In my case, it was an older cousin and I was a young teen.  The joke was dirty by any measurement and some would say it was funny.  But it was filthy and has stayed with me all these years.  The joke is still in my mind and I am unable to get rid of it.

I wish I’d known.

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Resolving the two questions of Matthew 19: Divorce and the Law (Part II)

“But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

In Matthew 19, the Lord touched on two difficult issues with which His church has struggled and contended ever since: Does divorce exclude people from usefulness in the kingdom? Do the saved have to keep the Law?

He addressed the first subject with the Pharisees while His disciples were listening in (19:1-12).  The second subject He addressed to a man identified as “a rich young ruler,” but again, overheard by the disciples.

Are divorced and lawbreakers excluded?  (Part III will take up the second question, the matter of the Law.)

Before moving on, let’s revisit the subject of adultery and adulterous remarriages. I feel a need to add a word or two.

First, the text.  In Matthew 19:9, Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

That appears pretty open and shut. But it isn’t.

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Widowed seniors who remarry: 20 things we learned

My wife and I are still learning about marriage.

Bertha and I were both 76 years old when we married.  I’m five months older than she.

But don’t take that the wrong way. In no way are we old. We are not infirmed, crippled (thank the Lord!), or elderly.  We both still work.  She teaches English for a local community college and teaches online for a Christian university in Indiana.  I’m retired, but always on the go to preach and sketch people for events.  I write (blogs, books, articles for various publications) and watch a lot of sports on television (and she’s all right with that!).

We are loving our lives.

Bertha and I were each married 52 years, she to Pastor Gary Fagan, and I to Margaret Ann Henderson.  God took Gary to Heaven in May of 2014 and Margaret eight months later.  Bertha and I met in February of 2016, and were married a year later.

When Margaret and I married, she was just short of 20 and I was 22.  We were both children with hardly a clue what we were doing.  An accounting of the mistakes we made would fill an encyclopedia.  I’ve not asked Bertha about her and Gary who married about the same time.  But I’m confident she’s a different person now from the 22-year-old who stood beside Gary and took the vows.

Who wouldn’t be different?  We live and learn.

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The new pastor is a bachelor. Oh my.

“I could wish everyone were like me.” — Paul  (I Corinthians 7:7)

That the Apostle Paul was either a lifelong single or widowed seems to be the consensus of scholars.

There’s an old joke about a committee telling a young pastoral candidate why they would not consider him. “You’re not married.”  He responded, “The Apostle Paul was not married.”  A member of the team said, “Yes, but he couldn’t stay out of jail long enough to take care of a wife!”

It’s not that pastor search committees are against singleness. Every member of the search team either is now or has been single at some point.  It’s rather that they believe marriage has a good effect on a man, and they prefer a pastor who has the balance in his life which only a loving, faithful, dedicated female can provide.

Also–let’s admit the obvious here–they’re deathly afraid of what might happen if the preacher starts dating someone in the congregation!  Horrors.

Jimmy, a single pastor, tells me churches fear the notion of calling such a person as their shepherd for various reasons:

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