“Looking Back” — Joe is interviewed by an editor

“…that the generation to come might know….” (Psalm 78:6)

It was baseball great Satchel Paige who said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

At the age of 75, it’s probably safe for me to look back, at least for a few moments. I’m not racing anyone any more, if I ever was. And the only thing gaining on me is Father Time. (He can afford to pace himself, not having lost a race yet.)

Perhaps now is a good time to pull over into a rest area for a brief retrospective.

The editor of a Christian magazine posed eight questions to jog my thinking.  He mostly wondered if I see the pastoral ministry any differently now from “way back when.”

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What my dad said about fathers

“Who can find a virtuous man? For his price is far above diamonds” (Not Proverbs 31:10, but it well could be.)

My father, Carl J. McKeever (1912-2007), was someone no one who met him ever forgot.

Like a certain son of his, he was a talker.  Like that same son, he was interested in a thousand things and enjoyed good food, hearty laughter and great conversation with friends.  And he loved to write.

What’s interesting about his love for writing is he had a seventh grade education.  As the oldest of an even dozen children, he left school to help support the family when he was 12, and entered the coal mines to work alongside his father two years later.  His formal education may have ended, but dad was always learning and thinking and paying attention.

Most of his writing was done on note pads, in a lovely script which schools taught back in the 1920s. Something called the Palmer Method.  To his death at the age of 95, his handwriting was impressive.  Those notes he wrote were legible and intelligent, and remarkable for a coal miner.

I’m leading up to sharing one of them with you.  My brother Ron handed me this in Pop’s handwriting a few days ago during our brief visit at the restaurant in Jasper, Alabama.

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Life’s intersections: What if that person had not shown up that day?

I’m 75 years old. Not old or decrepit, thank you very much. And, not ancient or senile by any means, you understand.  But the calendar is what it is and the white hair belies my protestations.  Honestly, l feel like I’m 15.

However.

The time has arrived when it’s perfectly acceptable to look back and remember and give thanks to God for what He has done.

Thinking of all the blessings of people and incidents, of words and books and jobs and churches, I constantly thank God that He did “this” and not “that” or something else entirely.

You are looking at one blest man. (Okay, to the extent you are actually “looking” at me, that is.)

Recently, when members of the old (read that, “now defunct”) West End Baptist Church of Birmingham held a reunion and then the next day, a joint service of worship with Mount Calvary Baptist Church, the congregation now occupying the buildings and campus of our beloved WEBC, it kicked my thinking about these things into overdrive.

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Some weddings you never forget. As much as you’d like to.

I’ll take a funeral over a wedding any day.

You don’t have to rehearse a funeral. And there are no formal meals or receptions involved. You stand up in front of the honored guest, and do your thing, say your prayers, enjoy a couple of great songs, and go your way.

But with weddings,  you have these rehearsals where a thousand things can go wrong, where the bride and her mother argue, where bridesmaids sometimes see how risque’ they can dress, and the groomsmen how rambunctious they can behave.  You have a wedding director who may or may not be capable. (I’ll take a drill sergeant from Parris Island any day over a lazy director who has no idea all the awful things that can happen the next day.)

Weddings have a hundred moments where slipups can occur and trouble can happen.  Brides are late to church, grooms forget the rings, someone has been drinking, the flower girl is crying, photographers are arguing, the wedding director is pulling her hair out, and the caterer is trying to get paid. The candles either did not arrive, will not light, or are dripping wax on the carpet. The limo is late bringing the maids and the bride because, this being his third wedding of the day, each one took more time than he had allowed, so instead of arriving at the church at 6:30 for a 7:00 wedding, the limousine pulls in at 7:45.

Charles and I were standing outside the sanctuary waiting for the musical cue from the organist signaling time for us to enter. He was marrying a lovely young lass whose father was an Air Force officer. We had done the obligatory pre-marital counseling sessions, although they both seemed reluctant and uninvolved, like this was something they wanted to get over.  My watch said “Two o’clock,” but the organist kept playing.  He and I had done a hundred weddings before, so I knew to listen for the Trumpet Voluntare and not to enter until he sounded it out.

Something was amiss.

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The enlarging work of the Holy Spirit: My personal story

“Thou hast enlarged me” (Psalm 4:1). The way I heard it, the mother of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the 19th century’s greatest preacher, said to him, “I prayed that God would make you a preacher. But I had no idea He would make you a Baptist.”  (I think she was a Methodist.) “Mother,” said Charles, “it’s just as the Word says. He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you ask or think.” Spurgeon was quoting Ephesians 3:20,  a truth that should be engraved on the flesh of our hearts if not tattooed on our brains. Our Heavenly Father loves to do big things with unlikely prospects. If God’s plans for you and me are to come to fruition, He has to enlarge us. Continue reading “The enlarging work of the Holy Spirit: My personal story” »

A cup of cold water to a disciple (a Billy Graham memory)

“And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).

My friend Barbara was waxing nostalgic about the Coke commercials through the years.  “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” was the best song at the time (find it on youtube).  And the “Mean Joe Greene” commercial was the absolute best TV ad.

In that commercial, a kid comes up to this an all-pro Pittsburgh Steeler named “Mean Joe Greene” for his toughness and also because Joe Greene is his name and the prefix “Mean” gives it a certain something–and hands him a Coke. Greene has just played his heart out on the field and is clearly exhausted. He swigs down the soft drink. Then, as they are departing, the giant athlete calls out, “Hey kid.” The boy turns around and Greene pitches him the jersey in which he has just played the game.  Ask any fan. It was a great swap and a magic moment.

I thought about the business of giving a cup of cold water–or a Coke–to a great champion and remembered a time when I did something remotely akin to that.

It was November of 1986.

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What to do, pastor, when you are the victim of a rumor

“Why would you rather not be wronged?…..For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:7,20).

In 1990, after a preacher had served only seven months and tore the church up twice, I arrived as the new pastor.

I  was not the excited new kid on the block as with my previous moves. This was different.

I had endured a brutal three years in my former pastorate and thought perhaps the Lord wanted this broken church (to which I was coming) and this bruised pastor (moi!) to help one another heal.

Some years later, I learned a preacher in our area was telling people that I had torn up this church because of some serious immorality.

I sought him out and asked if he were really saying this.

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Meet my friends Jack and Marian.

(Be sure to read the postscript and the comments at the end.)

When Jack’s mother died, wife Marian realized that God finally had his attention.

Jack loved his mother, a godly woman whom he would never see again unless he changed his ways. Jack had no use for church and religion, but devoted all his weekends to hunting whatever was in season.

Marian asked a godly deacon in her church to pay Jack a visit. Dr. Norris Vest, dentist and devoted soulwinner, dropped in and led Jack to Christ.  That’s when Jack informed Marian he did not care to attend her church.  “Too big,” he said.

They’d heard me on the radio and decided to visit our church out at the edge of town.

I loved this little family from the start.  Jack and Marian had two small girls, Julie and Cindy, who fit right in with the children at our church.

Our friendship has now lasted over 45 years. Margaret and I saw Jack and Marian perhaps once or twice a decade, but we dropped the occasional note and always felt each other’s love.

But what I wanted to tell you is something very special God did with this couple. Well, one of the very special things.

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“Get on with your work,” said the Lord.

“Neither do these things move me,” said Paul. “Nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

I enjoy telling of the last words–okay, “some” of the last–of Ty Cobb, the baseball great.  For 22 years, he played lights-out ball for the Detroit Tigers, setting records many of which are still on the books.  I was told he gave his life to Jesus Christ and was transformed sometime in the last weeks or months of his life.

He sent a message to the men he’d played ball with.

“Tell them, ‘fellows, I got in the bottom of the ninth.  I sure wish I’d come in the top of the first.'”

If we think of our lives like a nine-inning ball game, the final inning would be our last time to do anything before the “game was called” and the park was darkened.

What inning are you in?

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Pastors of the larger churches and the other preachers in their community

“We then who are strong ought to bear with…the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.  For even Christ did not please Himself….” (Romans 15:1-3)

Outside observers are often surprised to learn that in many cities after churches grow to a certain size, they cut off fellowship with all the other congregations in their area.

Pastors of those mega-churches pull away from the ministers of the small congregations in the same city, as though they now live in different worlds.  They give the impression that they have been elevated to such a higher plane that the only ones who now speak their language lead churches of similar or greater size.

The truth, I sometimes suspect, is that they feel more comfortable with peers of similar status who also make the big bucks and do not feel guilty that their income is ten times that of the part-time preacher sitting next to them.

It’s utterly foolish, if you ask me. It’s prideful, egotistical, and completely counter-productive to the work of the Kingdom.

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