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.
“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.
“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.