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.

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Recovering from “Ain’t it awful” preaching

“We preach Christ….God’s power and God’s wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:23-24).

Rick Warren says a lot of what pastors are feeding their people is “ain’t it awful” preaching.

I am so in agreement on that.

Recently, guest preaching in a church, before I rose to speak, a member of the flock with “a gift for continuance,” as a friend put it, addressed the congregation on the latest Supreme Court ruling concerning marriage.  The lady was upset, and she had a bad combination: strong convictions and the gift of gab. She went on and on about the sad state of affairs in this country.

Ain’t it awful.

To hear her tell it, the country is going down the tubes, the Supreme Court is out of hand, our freedoms are all in peril, the end is near, and God’s people are in huge trouble.

She said that and then sat down.

I had to follow it.

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Stifling the urge to correct others

“Convince, rebuke, exhort….” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Winston Churchill’s wife told him that loosing the election may turn out to be the best thing that could have happened.”

That statement from an online preacher’s magazine set off my inner alarm. The proper word is not “loosing,” but “losing.”

As an old high school English teacher, I know a little about these things.  And I know that these things matter.  (That is not to say I don’t slip up occasionally. I definitely do.

However….

A couple of days ago, someone wrote to Smiley Anders’ column in our paper to bemoan the wrong placement of the word “only” in conversation and print.  Someone may say, “There were five boys, but I only gave quarters to two of them.”  See the problem? “Only” belongs before “two of them.”  It should say, “There were five boys but I gave quarters to only two of them.”

Two days later, Smiley says the language maven wrote a followup note to say that the very day her gripe ran in his column, the editorial cartoon violated the “only rule,” with that word in the wrong place.

And I’m thinking, “Get over this, lady.  If you go through life correcting everyone’s English, you have taken on a thankless job and unachievable task.”

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A natural disposition toward shallowness: Ah yes. The pastor’s occupational hazard.

“I was born with a natural disposition toward shallowness.  I now work as a pundit and columnist.  I’m paid to be a narcissistic blowhard, to volley my opinions, to appear more confident about them than I really am, to appear smarter than I really am, to appear better and more authoritative than I really am. I have to work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug superficiality.  –David Brooks, “The Road to Character”

We preachers have a great deal in common with “pundits and columnists.”

We are constantly driving ourselves to produce the next sermon, the next church program, the next article, no matter whether we are clear on the subject or not.  We work to appear confident even if we have not worked out the details.

We gravitate toward superficiality and shallowness.

It goes with the job, I suppose.  An occupational hazard?

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Making a good faith effort

“She hath done what she could” (Mark 14:8).

These days, my walking routine–long established but constantly taking different shapes–consists of two miles just before sunup.  That requires some real self-discipline on these muggy summer mornings in the sultry South.

On days when, like today, the temperature at 6 am was in the low 80s and the humidity the high 80s, I cut myself a little slack.  I anticipate being miserable out there, but know how critical exercise is for this 75-year-old body. So, even though I make myself get outside, I decide that “this morning I’m giving myself permission to make a good faith effort.”

I can cut the walk short if I choose.

In so doing, I’m making a statement to myself only that by being out here I’m still walking and still committed to taking care of this body.  It means I’m bringing my body under subjection, as Paul puts it.  And I’m being victorious.

It’s important not to lose the momentum of daily exercise if I would serve God for years to come (if He so wills).

The simple fact is anyone can make himself/herself walk when the temperature is 68 degrees and the humidity is 50 percent.  On those mornings, I could walk forever.  I think, “All year long, I live in anticipation of such days.”

But to walk at the hottest time of the year takes strength.  And discipline.

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Pluto, Hubble, and why I believe in Heaven

“You have covered the heavens with your majesty…. When I observe the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You set in place, what is man that You remember him…? Lord, our Lord, how magnificent is Your name throughout the earth!” (Psalm 8)

This has been quite a week for science lovers and everyone else.

The New Horizons spacecraft did a fly-by in the area of Pluto traveling at a comfortable 30,800 mph.

And sent back snapshots for our enjoyment.

Pluto is handsome and a little small for his age, but still quite the character.  He’s definitely someone we wanted to know.

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Why a man needs a wife, and vice versa (so to speak)

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper who is like him” (Genesis 2:18).

The old t-shirt said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”

It’s cute, but quite wrong.  Dead wrong, as a matter of fact.

We all need other people in our lives.  God made the genders male and female so that we complement each other.  Because we are different, we bring different things into the marriage. Some of those “things” are gifts and endowments and strengths and some are what we call “baggage.”  Such “baggage” may include character flaws, prejudices, areas in which we are immature, fears, guilt, and needs.

No one enters a marriage empty-handed.

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No two marriages are alike, but some are amazingly like yours

“They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35).

No marriage is perfect.

The union of two godly well-intentioned disciples of Jesus Christ does not guarantee a successful marriage.

And even the successful ones–however we would define that!–in almost every case had their ups and downs.

So, if you’ve been feeling like a failure because a) your husband spends more time at the church than at home, b) your wife isn’t nearly the cook or housekeeper your mom was, c) you and your spouse argue, d) you have each lost your temper and said/done some things you regretted later, or e) all of the above, then….

Welcome to the human race.

I’ve been reading William J. Petersen’s book “25 Surprising Marriages: Faith-building Stories from the Lives of Famous Christians.”

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10 things the preacher’s wife can give him no one else can

“D. L. Moody found in his wife what he termed his balance wheel.  With advice, sympathy and faith, this girl labored with him, and by her judgment, tact, and sacrifice, she contributed to his every effort.”  (quoted in “25 Surprising Marriages” by William Petersen)

The pastor’s wife is in a unique position.

She is close to the man of God but she does not come between him and God.  She is privy to a thousand things going on between him and God, but must not insert herself into that process.  She knows this man as no one else in the congregation does and can counsel/advise him as no one else is able, but she must know when to speak up and when to be quiet.

In many respects, she has the best seat in the house and the hardest job.

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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.

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