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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

“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 www.joemckeever.com 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.

Continue reading

Speak up for your pastor.

Lord, let these people know there is a God in Israel.  And while you’re at it, let them know that I’m your servant” (My paraphrase of I Kings 18:36).

A friend said to me, “Whenever I heard someone running the pastor down, I tell them to pray for him.”   I said, “May I make a suggestion?  While I appreciate your telling them that, a better thing would be to tell them strongly that you disagree, and say why you love your pastor.  They need to hear this.”

Yesterday, when my wife returned from her annual doctor’s appointment, she told me something fascinating.

On her way out of the office, two assistants spoke to her. “Isn’t he wonderful?”  “We have the best doctor in the building.” Bertha agreed.  We love Dr. Paul Vanlandingham.

I found myself wondering what if the church staff did that when people come into the office?  “Don’t we have a wonderful minister?”  “We’re so blessed to have such a godly pastor.”  “The Lord has blessed us by giving us such a spirit-filled leader.”

That sort of thing.

What if the ministerial staff said something similar as they interact with church members and others during the week?

Continue reading

I told the Lord I’m ready for that life-changing call. A few minutes later the phone rang.

“Delight thyself in the Lord and He will give thee the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

My ministry in that church was uphill all the way.  Everything was hard, it seemed. There were few rest stops, places where we could take a breather and enjoy a sense that we are accomplishing something significant for the Lord.

The church had few financial resources due to a heavy debt load, made worse by a major split in the congregation 18 months before I arrived as pastor.  The ministerial staff had little money for the outreach and educational programs they wanted to do.

It was a tough time in the life of that church.

Perhaps I was tired.  Or discouraged.  Or needed a boost of some kind.

Anyway, one day,  on the way back to the church office from lunch I prayed a prayer unlike any I’d ever prayed before.

Continue reading

What this place is saying

(from my 1990 journal)

Before I saw her dead and murdered, I enjoyed her yard and ate her mulberries.

For only the third time in my life, I walked by Miss Boshell’s house and stood in her yard the other day.  This time it was Spring.  The yard is rich in green and the daffodils are everywhere.  Mom says those flowers are from the bulbs Miss Boshell herself planted.  Since she’s been dead 39 years, that’s quite a record.  Buttercups–aka jonquils–must be more formidable than they appear.  The trees have been cut down so what was her house-place looks a lot like an open field.

The first time I came here was in late summer around 1950.  I was 10. Mom and several of us stood around in her yard and on the porch visiting.  The simple white frame house was shadowed on all sides by large trees.  The most interesting to us children was the mulberry tree out close to the road.  Its fruit was large and juicy and hung down within reach.  Nearby her muscadine vines competed for our attention.  It was good to be in Miss Boshell’s yard that day.  If the children talked to her at all, I don’t recall.  Mom did that. We had other business.

Continue reading

And the Lord said to Gabriel, “This guy has me cornered.”

In 1990, during a 12-month break between two pastorates–what most call unemployment–I kept a journal recording what was happening, what I prayed would happen, and what I feared might happen.  Below is a little reverie from that time when I was praying for the next pastorate, worrying whether there would be a next one, and anxious to get on with it.  In this piece, I imagined the Lord stepping in to answer our prayers.

God said to Gabriel, “This guy has me cornered.”

“He came when I called him to the last church and served where I sent him.  He turned down a bigger opportunity and a hundred thousand dollar bribe to see a difficult situation to its conclusion.  In the process, I showed him the 66th psalm.”

Background: One night in the middle of our firestorm, Margaret and I had sat on the back porch reading Scripture and talking.  I began to read Psalm 67. Quickly, everything inside me said, “No.  Psalm 66.”  Now, I could not have told you the difference. One psalm was the same as the other. But I read Psalm 66 out loud, and we were amazed. We saw the Lord was sending us a message.  In verses 10-12, He perfectly described our situation. 

Continue reading

Last one standing

In September 1939, Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty for the second time.  A quarter of a century earlier, during the First World War, he held the same position.  To assume the leadership of the greatest navy of the world twice was an amazing thing.  To do so 25 years apart was even more remarkable.

Churchill thought of all the great officers he had worked with the first time.  They were all gone now. He alone was still living and serving. In one of his books on the Second World War, Churchill quotes this little piece from the Irish poet Thomas Moore….

Continue reading

Thoughts about remarriage: Nothing changes; everything changes

In an article on this website, I told how Bertha Fagan and I met last February 15 and quickly came to see, in the words of Psalm 118:23 that “this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight.”

Making plans for marriage–at some point; we’re still undecided as to when–is certainly exciting and more than a little scary.  A relative said, “I admire your courage.”  I thought to myself, “Courage is the right word. It takes courage to uproot your lives, sell your homes, downsize your possessions, and merge your existence with another person for the last years of your life.”

It takes faith.

There are so many issues, questions to be settled, matters to be determined before we take that step.

Continue reading