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” »

My single biggest regret from a lifetime of ministry

I invite you to read this opening to my journal dated October 1980.

I was 40 years old and Margaret was 38. We were in our 19th year of marriage, and pastoring the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi.  Our  children were 17, 14, and 11.

The first entry in the book is dated October 9.  However, the paragraph above that reads:

The month of October got off to a poor start around the McKeever household.  I announced to Margaret that until October 27th, there were no open days or nights.  The month was filled with church meetings, committees, banquets, associational meetings, speaking engagements at three colleges, a weekend retreat in Alabama, and a few football games. She cried.  Once again, I had let others plan my schedule in the sense that I’d failed to mark out days reserved for family time.

I ran across that book today, read that paragraph, and wept.

Continue reading “My single biggest regret from a lifetime of ministry” »

Why a man needs a wife. (Why this man does, at any rate.)

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Proverbs 18:22).

My friend Dr. Fred Luter, pastor of New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, has an interesting way of introducing his beloved Elizabeth from the pulpit.  He calls her “the love of my life, the apple of my eye, my prime rib, my good thing!”

Elizabeth has heard all that only a few thousand times, but she beams each time, as the congregation laughs and applauds.

My dad, Carl J. McKeever, who loved mom, Lois Kilgore McKeever, every day of his life, would say, “My rib is the best bone in my body.”

When the great C. S. Lewis married Joy Davidman, she moved into his house near Oxford and looked around.  His home, called “The Kilns,” hadn’t been redecorated in decades.  “The walls and carpets are full of holes,” Joy wrote. “The carpets are tattered rags.”  She feared that moving the bookcases might cause the walls to cave in.

Joy was soon bringing in decorators and workmen and turning that pile of rubble into a home worthy of its distinguished resident.

Who can calculate the worth of a good wife?

I was thinking this week about this.

My friend Randy is burying his wonderful wife of 53 years today.  I participated in Charlene’s funeral on Monday, and they were transporting her body to Florida for burial.  My heart goes out to Randy and his family. This distraught husband has some lonely and tearful days and nights ahead, and there is nothing to do but to go through them.

His big house will have never seemed so huge. And so empty.

Yesterday, I saw a dermatologist.  I told him, “I don’t have any particular reason for coming except I no longer have anyone to spot something on my back or neck and tell me I should see a doctor about that.”  I said, “Would you mind looking me over?”

Two years ago, I had skin cancer and surgery, so I’m vulnerable.  The doctor spotted a pink area above one eyebrow. “We’ll keep an eye on that.”  I’m to return in six months.

They say widowers and other single men live shorter lives than married men.  If that’s the case, I think I know why.  A wife will see that a man eats right, and that he sees his doctors as necessary.

Continue reading “Why a man needs a wife. (Why this man does, at any rate.)” »

“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.”

Continue reading ““Looking Back” — Joe is interviewed by an editor” »

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.

Continue reading “What my dad said about fathers” »