You’re a pastor; you’re not like us.

It was some forty years ago, and I was flying home from somewhere, the last leg of the trip being from Memphis to Columbus MS where I pastored.

It was a dark and stormy night.

And the planes assigned to our Golden Triangle Airport by Southern Airways were the ancient Martin 404s.  Prop jets, maybe they are called.

We bounced all over the sky that night. Lightning flashed around us, rain pelted our little plane, and thunder crashed.

You’ve heard of white-knucklers; this was the mother of them all.

The next day in the supermarket, a woman whom I did not know introduced herself. “My husband was on that awful flight from Memphis last night.”

Oh yes.  That was unforgettable, I said.

Continue reading “You’re a pastor; you’re not like us.” »

My bucket list: The revised standard version

A friend gave me a nice hardbound, spiral notebook the other day. The cover says “My Bucket List Journal.” At the bottom are the words “Write it down!”

Inside, the first two pages offer 100 blanks to list the places one plans to go, the experiences he wants to have, the mountains to climb, before “kicking the bucket.”

A few years ago, I compiled such a list and published it on my blog. It was picked up and reprinted by many other websites. By googling “bucket list McKeever”, I got this one:

However, as I told my friend who gave me the book….

Continue reading “My bucket list: The revised standard version” »

Joe is interviewed by Vanity Fair (sort of)

On the final page of Vanity Fair’s October 2015 issue, Whoopi Goldberg is interviewed. The questions are generic, sort of here’s-how-to-interview-anyone. So, I thought I’d give it a try and answer them myself. (At the end, I added a few more.)  Here goes….

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being in the place God put me, doing the work He gave me.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  Likewise, the best definition of hell on earth is to be out of His will.

What is your greatest fear?

Just that very thing: being out of his will.  I fear nothing so much as disappointing Him.  That could happen to any of us. None of us is immune to temptation. That keeps me on my knees every day.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Abraham Lincoln. I’ve been to his birthplace, the restored “New Salem” where he lived as a young man, to his hometown of Springfield, his burial place, and in Washington, D.C., to Ford Theatre and the house where he died.  I own many books on Lincoln.

Which living person do you most admire?

Continue reading “Joe is interviewed by Vanity Fair (sort of)” »

How God works. (Hint: It’s different from our ways.)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

On the farm, after we killed the hog, someone had to make cracklings, known otherwise as “cooking the lard.”  (They were never pronounced “cracklings;” the ‘g’ was always dropped.)

A fire was built under a black iron pot into which cut-up portions of the less-desirable fatty hog meat was thrown.  As a worker stood by stirring, the contents boiled and bubbled and gradually released the lard, leaving behind a crisp rind (called the cracklin’), sometimes carrying a streak of lean.  The lard went into gallon containers for household cooking throughout the year. Cracklins became snack-foods for relaxing times, and can be bought commercially even today.

Similarly, the messages I have preached over a half-century have been boiled down to their essence. (No greasy rinds left, however!)  Mostly, the result–that is, the gist of my preaching these days–ends up looking something like this….

Continue reading “How God works. (Hint: It’s different from our ways.)” »

Looking back and assessing your ministry

“Remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears…. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel…. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’….” (Acts 20:31-35)

I wonder how it would be to stand before a group of elders and tell them of the 13+ years I served the Lord at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, or the 3+ years before that at the Church in Charlotte. Or the 12+ years prior to that at the Church in Columbus, Mississippi.

Could I get it right?  Would I be prone to brag or exaggerate? Or to omit and gloss over?

This Spring, I returned to Greenville, Mississippi, where we pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church as our first congregation after seminary.  We had never spent any time in Mississippi prior to this and knew absolutely nothing about life in the Delta, particularly in the late 1960s when racial unrest was at its height.  Greenville lies only a few miles west of the birthplace of the (white) Citizens Council.

We served in Greenville from November 1967 through December of 1970.  Three years and two months.  Not long by most standards. But looking back and reminiscing, I am amazed at all the things that took place in that brief time. Consider….

Continue reading “Looking back and assessing your ministry” »

So, how would you write your obituary?

My son Neil and I had a few days to work on Margaret’s obituary.  Understandably, he could not bring himself to think about it while she lingered in the hospital on life support.  It was hard, but I worked on the essentials.

Margaret and I used to talk about these things. But not seriously. Somehow, you think this could never happen to you.

Margaret’s sister, widowed perhaps four years ago, told how someone praised her husband Jim with a good line which she later used as an opener in his memorial.  So, we began thinking about that.

Continue reading “So, how would you write your obituary?” »

What my 90-year-old father taught me about life

“Never unprepared.”

The McKeever crest actually claims that as our family motto, going back to somewhere, Ireland or Scotland or both.

I used to laugh at the irony of that.  I mean, what were our people, a bunch of boy scouts?

I’m not laughing any more. My dad taught me how it works.

Carl J. McKeever, the 6th generation descendant of Cornelius “Neil” McKeever who arrived from the old country on the east coast around 1803, was definitely an original. The first-born of an even dozen children, Dad started working inside the coal mines in 1926 when he was 14.  His formal education ended with the seventh grade, but he never stopped growing and learning and being curious.

At the time this happened, I thought this was hilarious.

Continue reading “What my 90-year-old father taught me about life” »

Part 2 — The most fun I ever had in the ministry

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry…” (I Timothy 1:12).

I was pastoring the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi.  This was the zenith of our twelve-plus years in that wonderful old church located in the heart of “the Friendly City.”

Here is the background….

In the summer of 1979, we had flown over 70 of our people–adults and youth–to New Jersey where they spent two weeks in a church-building blitz as well as ministering in the community. My son Neil was 16 that summer and went along. He has never forgotten the experience of working alongside successful businessmen and women who rolled up their sleeves and worked like dogs and sweat like…uh, pigs?

The experience was so great for our church, we decided that since we needed a new building for our music ministry in Columbus, rather than contract it out as we might normally do, we could build it ourselves.  The summer of 1981 would be highlighted by a two-week period in which we would ask our people to take their vacation from work and act just as if they were in New Jersey or somewhere, and help construct that three-story building.  (Yes, we actually hired an on-the-scene construction supervisor, and paid to have the foundation poured and the steel girders erected.  Some things you don’t want volunteers doing.)

Anyway, we decided we would raise the money for the project and not go in debt.  Our target date for the money was March 1, 1981.  Now, I want to share with you excerpts from my journal leading up to that.  Every pastor in the audience will see in a heartbeat why this experience ranks as perhaps “the most fun” of all my years in the ministry….

Continue reading “Part 2 — The most fun I ever had in the ministry” »

The most fun I ever had in the ministry (part 1)

A friend challenged me to write an article under this title. She saw where I posted a number of possible subjects to get the creative writing juices going for preachers, and the one titled “write about the most fun you ever had in the ministry” intrigued her.

I told her I’d give it a try.

With the call of God on one’s life, a place to serve, great friends alongside you, and laughter in your heart, it hardly gets any better than this!

Now, fun comes in many shapes and sizes and varieties in the ministry.  Mostly, for me, the “fun” was of two types:  a) everyone enjoying one another and b) great things happening in the church.

This article is of the first type; the next article gives the second type of fun.

Continue reading “The most fun I ever had in the ministry (part 1)” »

10 differences in New Orleans since Katrina

“Work for the shalom of the city where I have sent you…and pray on its behalf. For in its shalom, you will have shalom” (Jeremiah 29:7).

New Orleans is safer now than in 2005. The Corps of Engineers has raised the levees protecting the city by five feet, and spent billions of dollars on pumping stations to empty the city of water should it be flooded.

Streetcars travel up and down Canal Street now, and soon will head down Rampart Street toward the Bywater neighborhood.  This is all new and we’re excited about it.

Oh, and the Baptist Seminary has a Wal-Mart across the street.  And speaking of NOBTS, the enrollment is back up to pre-Katrina numbers, although a large number of those students are strictly on-line and not in the city.

But here is my personal list of the 10 greatest changes in New Orleans since that fateful August 29, 2005….

Continue reading “10 differences in New Orleans since Katrina” »