Things that no longer bother me

“Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty.  Neither do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me” (Psalm 131:1).

At least, I hope that’s true of me.

A young minister texted to say he was studying the various explanations and interpretations about the day of the Lord’s actual crucifixion, the number of days/nights He was in the tomb, etc.  “What is your theory?” he wanted to know.

I replied that I don’t have a theory, that for a lot of reasons such questions do not bother me.

He did not say whether that was a satisfactory answer.  But it’s the truth.

A lot of things I used to obsess about and study and address in sermons no longer bother me.  Part of it–I would hope all of it–results from a mature perspective of the world and the call of God.  Some things just do not matter to me that much.  If you the reader disagree, that’s fine and it’s your privilege.  I’m not saying the Lord makes all His disciples the same. The variety of His gifts and calls seems endless.

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Things I wish I’d said (and done) differently

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves….” I John 1:8

Looking back.

I do a lot of that these days.  I suppose it’s human, seeing as how I’m about to hit birthday number 79 in a few days. There are a lot of days back there to look at! I’m so grateful to be active and energetic and still in the Lord’s field working alongside younger men and women called to His work.

The days behind me far outnumber those in front.

I do not sit around wallowing in regrets, let me make plain.  But sometimes before rising in the morning, I lie there reflecting on times gone by, experiences in churches I served, remembering when my family was young, calling to mind conversations and decisions.

I have many a regret.

I wish I’d said ‘no’ to a lot of requests.  As a young husband and father and ambitious pastor, I accepted many an invitation to speak or travel or serve on a board because it felt like the very opportunity for which the Lord had called me and for which I’d been prepared.  But it took me away from my young children and my over-wrought wife.

Did I really need to serve as a trustee of that denominational board? It required me to travel out of state a half dozen times a year, two or three days at a whack.  Over a four-year term, that adds up to a lot of time away.

I think about the two weeks I spent in Singapore helping the missionaries conceive an evangelistic comic book at the time my three children were 10, 13, and 16.  Such critical ages, so formative, so needy of their father to be hands-on.  Poor Margaret, looking after them, doing all the things a faithful mother does, chauffeuring them to everything, and all the while working on her degree from the local university.  What was I thinking?

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How God called me into His ministry (My personal testimony)

“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?  Then said I, ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me.”  Isaiah 6. 

“I was not disobedient to that heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). 

I was 21 years old and a senior in college.  Our church was having a revival of the type you never hear about any more:  Two weeks long with over 400 people saved.  Pastor Bill Burkett baptized 250 of them.  On Tuesday night of the second week, the living God found me singing in the choir during the invitation.  “Jesus Paid It All.”  We were singing it non-stop as the flow of people to the altar seemed unending.  (We sang the same invitational song every night, so there’s no question on what we were singing!)

Suddenly, it felt like a curtain was being opened in my mind.  And the voice of God, that strong presence that I would come to know intimately over a long ministry, registered His presence and His message:  “I want you in the ministry.”  A thought completely new to me.  Something from outside, yet inside me.  Surprising, unexpected, not my voice.  But just as surely, I knew it was the voice of God.

It felt right.  Assuring.  Powerful.

I thought, “If this is really the Lord–and I know it is–it’ll still be here tomorrow night and I’ll go forward and announce it to the church then,” as was our custom.  And just that promptly the answer came: “This is the Lord and you know it is the Lord and there is no point in waiting.”  I remember thinking, “That’s true.”  I stepped out of the choir, walked down to the floor level, took the hand of Pastor Burkett and said, “God has just called me into the ministry.”  I have no memory of what he said.  He presented me to the congregation a few minutes later, along with all those who had come to be saved.  My friends came by to speak to me.

I was the only one surprised.

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Times I wish I had said ‘no’

It’s hard for us people-pleasers to say ‘no’ when going-along to get-along would cause fewer waves.

By  “people-pleaser” I do not mean as opposed to doing the will of God, but wanting the people around me to be happy if it is in my power to make them so.

“Why can’t we all just be happy?”  Smile, please.  Many of our readers are in that boat.  And some of us need to step out and take a stand on solid ground.

Okay, now.

My theory is that writing about mistakes made in my preaching/pastoral ministry of nearly sixty years is of more interest to the general reader and of greater value to the young pastor who wants to know where the potholes are in order to avoid them.  Even as we all learn from our mistakes more than from our successes, I suspect we benefit more from hearing of the failures of others than of their victories and successes.  I know it makes for more interesting reading! Anyway…

I’m thinking of two instances in particular when I should have put my foot down and said, “No, absolutely not” and held my ground.  As it was, I meekly went along with what others around me wanted–always wanting the people around me to be happy–and have lived with the memory of that ever since.

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Widowed seniors who remarry: 20 things we learned

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.

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Speaking in my defense….

“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 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.

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21 ministry lessons learned the hard way (with scars to prove it!)

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.

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What I hope goes on my record

“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.

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My son and how the Lord roped him in!

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.

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The time I took a $32,000 cut in salary

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.

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