“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? Then said I, ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me.” Isaiah 6.
“I was not disobedient to that heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).
I was 21 years old and a senior in college. Our church was having a revival of the type you never hear about any more: Two weeks long with over 400 people saved. Pastor Bill Burkett baptized 250 of them. On Tuesday night of the second week, the living God found me singing in the choir during the invitation. “Jesus Paid It All.” We were singing it non-stop as the flow of people to the altar seemed unending. (We sang the same invitational song every night, so there’s no question on what we were singing!)
Suddenly, it felt like a curtain was being opened in my mind. And the voice of God, that strong presence that I would come to know intimately over a long ministry, registered His presence and His message: “I want you in the ministry.” A thought completely new to me. Something from outside, yet inside me. Surprising, unexpected, not my voice. But just as surely, I knew it was the voice of God.
It felt right. Assuring. Powerful.
I thought, “If this is really the Lord–and I know it is–it’ll still be here tomorrow night and I’ll go forward and announce it to the church then,” as was our custom. And just that promptly the answer came: “This is the Lord and you know it is the Lord and there is no point in waiting.” I remember thinking, “That’s true.” I stepped out of the choir, walked down to the floor level, took the hand of Pastor Burkett and said, “God has just called me into the ministry.” I have no memory of what he said. He presented me to the congregation a few minutes later, along with all those who had come to be saved. My friends came by to speak to me.
I was the only one surprised.
It’s hard for us people-pleasers to say ‘no’ when going-along to get-along would cause fewer waves.
By “people-pleaser” I do not mean as opposed to doing the will of God, but wanting the people around me to be happy if it is in my power to make them so.
“Why can’t we all just be happy?” Smile, please. Many of our readers are in that boat. And some of us need to step out and take a stand on solid ground.
My theory is that writing about mistakes made in my preaching/pastoral ministry of nearly sixty years is of more interest to the general reader and of greater value to the young pastor who wants to know where the potholes are in order to avoid them. Even as we all learn from our mistakes more than from our successes, I suspect we benefit more from hearing of the failures of others than of their victories and successes. I know it makes for more interesting reading! Anyway…
I’m thinking of two instances in particular when I should have put my foot down and said, “No, absolutely not” and held my ground. As it was, I meekly went along with what others around me wanted–always wanting the people around me to be happy–and have lived with the memory of that ever since.
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.
“Oh that you would bear with me in a little folly–and indeed you do bear with me…. I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little” (2 Corinthians 11:1,16).
Even the great Apostle Paul thought it was all right once in a rare while to indulge his need for self-defense. So, I have good scriptural precedent.
When one of the on-line magazines called Church Leaders.com posted an article of mine, a critic accused me of doing anything to get an article on that website.
I replied that I write only for my blog and never know when one of several online mags will be picking up something from it. The first I know is when it shows up in my email inbox.
When you cannot find fault with someone’s reasoning, attack their motive. Ask any trial lawyer.
When an online magazine called Charisma posted our article on a doctrine we call “security of the believer”–which others refer to as ‘Once saved always saved’–you should have read the comments. Or, maybe you shouldn’t have. They were as mean-spirited as anything I’ve ever seen.
I began serving the Lord when I was 11 years old, began preaching the Word when I was 21, and began pastoring a year later. At the moment, I’m 78-and-a-half years old. These are a few lessons this life of ministry has taught me….
One. Never tell anyone anything you don’t want repeated. The single exceptions are the Lord in prayer or your wife in the bedroom.
Two. Never put anything negative in a letter. It will still be circulating and driving the case against you long after you’re in the grave.
Three. Never fail to check all the references of a prospective staff member. And then check a few more.
“Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for its services” (Nehemiah 13:14). “Remember me, O God, for good” (Nehemiah 13:30).
In the 18 months since I moved back to Mississippi, twice I have had men approach me, introduce themselves, and thank me for something I did over three decades ago.
After graduating from seminary in New Orleans in 1967, my young family and I moved to the Mississippi Delta region where I pastored a church for three years. Then, we moved to the capital city of Jackson where for another three years, I served on staff of the great First Baptist Church. Following that, we lived in Columbus, Mississippi for nearly thirteen years as I pastored the First Baptist Church. Then, we moved away.
That was thirty-two years ago, 1986.
As we approach Father’s Day, perhaps I could tell you about my number one son from his father’s perspective. Incidentally, he’s an excellent father himself to Grant, Abigail, and Erin.
Neil McKeever is a junior. Joe Neil McKeever, jr., to be exact. He lives in Mobile and works in Pascagoula at the shipyards, in the HR department. He and Julie and my three grands are faithful members of the great Cottage Hill Baptist Church, and Neil often teaches a Sunday School class. Julie is the financial secretary for a nearby church.
Neil is a deacon and has been chairman (in their previous church). He is a singer and has often taken leading roles as singer or narrator in pageants.
But he wasn’t always rightly connected with the Lord. This is about two instances in his adult life where the Lord stepped in and remedied that. Big time, too.
This is a risky thing to write. I’m well aware that what is a great salary for one person would be considered starvation wages for another. But perhaps it’s a story worth telling.
I’m in my ninth year of retirement now and can look back at some scary moments and see the hand of the Lord at work in dramatic fashion.
Take the time I went from a church paying me $80,000 a year to one offering a $48,000 salary.
“Do preachers ever go to a church that pays less?” people ask. Sure. They do it all the time. In one sense that’s what I did. In another sense, it’s not even close.
Here’s the story.
Meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers, I shall be granted to you. (Philemon 22)
Paul wanted prayer that he would arrive safely and on time at his appointed destination.
I ask for that all the time.
More things are wrought by prayer, said Alfred Lord Tennyson, than this world dreams of. Surely, he was right.
We never know when someone is praying, never know when something good resulted from the prayers of our intercessor, and never know when their prayers protected us.
As a preacher supposedly retired, I log some 30 to 35,000 miles a year up and down the highways, primarily to preach and serve the Lord. Last week, ministering in west Texas and in two churches here in Mississippi, I added another couple of thousand miles to the odometer.
Twice in recent history, I have come within a hair’s breadth of buying the farm (cashing in my chips, calling it a day, giving up the ghost; choose your metaphor.). Both times, I was at fault, which is a sobering thought.
I was in a congregation of ministers at FUMC in Birmingham once in the early 70s when Billy Graham entered. A shock wave moved across the auditorium. It was amazing, and I had no explanation for it.
He was God’s man. No question about it.
During the last years of the 1980s, I pastored Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and visited with Billy and Ruth Graham on several occasions. His sister Catherine was in my church, along with her family. Mostly, we shared a hospital waiting room while their friend and my congregant Dr. Grady Wilson was in surgery. Once I handed them a notepad and asked them to write their favorite scripture verse and sign it. That this was a presumptuous thing to do never entered my mind.
Billy jotted down “Psalm 16:11” and signed that familiar name. I said, “I’m glad you wrote that because I’ve quoted that verse for years as Billy Graham’s favorite.” Ruth Bell Graham laughed and said, “My favorite keeps changing!” As I recall, she wrote Proverbs 3:8-13 and signed it. My secretary had those two notes framed and they hung in my office for years, until I donated them to a fundraiser for a New Orleans ministry.