My son and how the Lord roped him in!

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.

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The time I took a $32,000 cut in salary

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.

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Someone’s been praying for me. Thank you!

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.

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My personal story of Billy Graham

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.

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James and Cissa Richardson. My beloved friends. For eternity.

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

You can’t pay tribute to a lifelong pastor’s wife without talking about her husband also.

Mrs. James “Cissa” Richardson went to Heaven over the weekend.  Her husband, Dr. James Richardson, longtime pastor and dear friend and mentor, had preceded her by 15 years or more.  I miss him every day.

Cissa was 90 years old.  I knew her wonderful mother.  Mrs. Alexander, of Cleveland, MS, was as lovely and charming as her daughters Cissa and Toni (Antoinette Myers).  In the late 1960s Mrs. Alexander would listen to my daily radio program from Greenville, MS, and was always gracious in her comments.

The Richardsons pastored the First Baptist Church of Leland, MS for some 25 years, followed by another 15 or so at FBC Madison MS.  Wherever they went, they were wonderfully used of the Lord.

Margaret and I came to know the Richardsons in the late 1960s when we went to pastor in Greenville, MS, a few miles west of Leland. We quickly came to see James was made of different stuff from all the other pastor friends we knew.  When we needed a marriage counselor–as we did several times in our 52 years of marital bliss (Margaret would roll her eyes at that)–James was willing to help us. That forever bonded us.

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Getting old–a day at a time–and loving it

“Lord, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) 

“Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am.” (Psalm 39:4)

“They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green.” (Psalm 92:14).

The Bible has a lot to say about getting old.  And most of it is great.

As a child, I would lie awake wondering about the future.  For one born in 1940, the turn of the 21st century was several lifetimes away.  “In the year 2000,” I thought, “I’ll be 60 years old.  Almost at the end of my life.”

When that momentous time arrived, I was scarcely out of my teens. I was anything but old.  Surely not.  No way was I ready to cash in my chips, to hang it all up.  To call it a day.  To head for the house.  And a lot of metaphors like that.

I was still young and alive and working.

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Go home again? We all try it from time to time.

For two years after college, I worked as the secretary to the production manager in a cast iron pipe plant in Tarrant City, a suburb of Birmingham. I took shorthand, wrote Mr. Hooper’s letters, typed up instructions for the foundry and orders for the shipping.  I worked the teletype and emptied Mr. Hooper’s spittoon.

It was unlike anything I had ever done before or did afterward.  I loved everything about those two years.  We were young marrieds, and soon with a baby son, and in addition to working at the plant, I was beginning to pastor a small church 25 miles north of the city. Everything was new and fresh, scary and untried, and the adrenalin was always pumping.

In college, I had majored in history planning to be a teacher, so to say my theological education was lacking is the understatement of the year.  I had no idea how to prepare a sermon or to deliver it once I came up with one.  So every week I re-invented the wheel.  The sermons were pitiful, but they were sincere efforts from this eager, naïve, kid preacher. Give Unity Baptist Church of Kimberly, Alabama credit; they were patient.  For the entire 14 months I remained with them.  Smiley-face here.

They paid me 10 dollars a week.  My tithe was twelve.  In one sense, I was paying them for the privilege of pastoring.  It was money well spent.  Another smiley-face.

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The favorite books on my shelves

After giving away a few thousands books–dealing with the ministry, history, cartooning, and a hundred other subjects–I’ve pared down my collection to a stark 500 or so.  And, painful though it is, I’m still trying to shrink that number.

Adrian Rogers stood in my pastor’s study once, perusing the titles on the shelves.  “I’m a book-aholic,” he said.  “I cannot throw a book away.”  He paused and said, “I even have ‘None Dare Call it Treason,'” perhaps the worst book of the 20th century. Well, it is if we rule out Mein Kampf, and I’m in favor of ruling that one out forever.

Some books are such keepers, they are practically enshrined on my shelves.  They had something–a chapter, a story, a paragraph, a line, a fact–that left an indelible imprint on my soul, and are as dear to me as it’s possible for an inanimate object to be.  I keep Jeff Christopherson’s “Kingdom Matrix” just because of the story he tells of his parents.

Two or three are books I read in elementary school and never forgot. So, when I stumbled across them in old, used bookstores, I had to have them.  A few are Bible commentaries, but most are not.  Some are history books, my major field of study in college and seminary.  Three of them tell the same story, basically, of the life of one of the 20th century’s most fascinating characters, Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the Japanese bombing raid on Pearl Harbor in 1941, triggering U.S. involvement in the Second World War.  Later, he was converted to Christ and spent the last quarter-century of his life spreading the Gospel across the globe. The most fascinating aspect of his never boring story is how the Lord reached him. Two of the books are biographies of Fuchida and one is his own account of his life.

An entire bookcase is devoted to books dealing with World War 2.  Two of them, sitting side by side, deal with incidents in 1940, arguably the most dramatic year of the century (due to the Nazi invasion of the low countries, the coming to power of Winston Churchill, the bombing of Britain, and all the hemming and hawing going on in this country as America tried to figure out what to do, what to do).  1940 was the year both my wife and I arrived on the planet, so that might figure into the choice, but I doubt.

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The pastor looks back…and remembers a deacon.

Even in the difficult years, it wasn’t all bad.

My journal records a conversation with a deacon almost 25 years ago.

At one point he said, “Pastor, you know that I voted against your coming to our church.  But God has shown me that I was wrong.  You have meant so much to me and my family.”

We were talking about the church’s response to my first two years there.  In a word, let’s just say it was lacking. Lukewarm.  Tepid.

It was a Sunday night and we had just completed a weekend revival with a preacher friend of mine who was as fine and godly as anyone I ever knew. His messages were anointed and straight from the throne. I had so wanted our people to hear God’s message through him.  But so few had turned out.

The problem was his style.  He was low key.  He would often stand with his hands in his pockets and talk in a conversational tone.

The congregation could not abide that.  They had been conditioned to believe that powerful preaching is loud and bombastic, accompanied by guilt-inducing tirades and finger-pointing assaults.  (They would have been so surprised to learn that Jesus sometimes preached sitting down in a boat!)

As we discussed the church’s lack of response during my first two years, I said, “Sometimes I wish God would send someone here whom they would respond to.”

If that sounds like discouragement, it was.

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“You’re going to be needing this,” said the Holy Spirit.

“Do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you.  Surely, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Sometime around 1996, our minister of education installed a desktop computer in my office.  “You’ll be needing this,” he said.

He was more right than either of us could have ever imagined.

Then, sometime around the year 2002, my son Marty, knowledgeable about computers in ways and depths that elude and astonish me, emailed me. “I have reserved for you.”  He added, “You’re going to be needing it in the future.”

I scarcely knew what a domain was.  But I thanked him.

The website sat there unused for 2 years.

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