Reporting In: News From the Front

Observations on the home front and the front line (which, as it turns out, happen to be the same place: my front porch)–

1) Fourth year into retirement and all is well.

In the final year or two of employment, the prospect of being unemployed and thus without income or steady ministry was a matter of concern to me.  I didn’t obsess over it, did not lie awake at night, and did not bug my friends about it. But I talked to the Lord on numerous occasions. And he answered.

He gave me the same word He had given to the Tribe of Levi in Old Testament days: “I am your portion.”

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A Note of Sanity About Halloween

“See that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

Recently a seminary student I know–a young man preparing for the ministry–wrote on a paper, “The only thing I really fear is zombies.”

I wrote back, “You fear zombies?Zombies??”

Hey friend, I have a message for you: Zombies. Do. Not. Exist.

Someone made them up. The nonsense about “the walking dead” might make for interesting story lines for books and movies–I said “might”–but they are the figment of someone’s imagination, and nothing else.

Neither do wooden puppets take on human personalities and kill the people around them. On full moons, certain men do not become werewolves. And old Plymouths do not suddenly come alive, leave the junkyard, and run over everyone in their path.

Stephen King and others like him are toying with their readers. They are doing one thing and it’s such a big thing, I’m surprised that all theists (God-believers) haven’t figured it out yet and been complimented: They are imagining how things would be in this world if God were not alive, on the throne, and in control, and evil was allowed to run amok.

Such story-lines are a back-handed compliment to God.

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Another Storm of the Century

“…and to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh….” (II Corinthians 12:7)

Hurricane Sandy is taking dead aim at the most populous region of the USA.  This Monday morning’s news says the hurricane is one thousand miles across, that 50 million people are in its path, and the storm damage could amount to $80 billion (that’s with a B).

It may be safe to say there has never been a storm to hit this country like Sandy.

This may be the hurricane that erases Katrina from everyone’s memory.

God help us. Lord, help all who are in the path of this monster storm.

Sunday morning’s headline in The (Baton Rouge) Advocate read “Road to Mars Paved In New Orleans.” The story behind that somewhat awkward opening tells of a recent gathering of scientists and businesses at NASA’s Michoud plant just east of the city “to get an update about the progress of the Space Launch System,” the program by which we will explore asteroids and Mars.

Big stuff, right?

The first launch would come in 2017, with the first manned mission projected for 2021.  Which, if you do the math, is not that far off. (It’s about the same as when JFK announced plans to “send a man to the moon in this decade,” and we pulled it off in 1968.)

Oh, man.

We can go to the moon, probably travel to Mars, and do a thousand other things. But when a storm arises out of the Caribbean and comes our way, we are completely at its mercy. All we can do is evacuate (“Mayor Bloomberg has ordered the mandatory evacuation of 375,000 people,” they announced this morning) or try to ride it out and hope for the best.

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The View From the Bridge (Stories and Observations)


Pastors are always looking for sermon illustrations. See if any of this works for you.


This week, C-Span televised the funeral of South Dakota statesman former Senator George McGovern, who had run for the Presidency in 1972 and lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon.

Whenever there is a funeral of a national leader on C-Span, I try to watch as much of it as I can. The fascinating part is hearing stories from colleagues, some of whom are often well-known in their own right, tales from earlier years, stories that never made it into newspapers.

This funeral was held, I believe, in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church of Sioux Falls. I did not watch the entire service, so my observation is not about this funeral specifically.

Pagan funerals–in our culture–look back; Christian funerals look ahead.

It’s that simple. The pagan service will celebrate all the good the subject did in his life while ignoring any unsavory parts; the Christian service may indeed bring in some of the accomplishments from his lifetime, but mainly looks forward. As the Apostle Paul said, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day–and not to me only, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4).

Something else about George McGovern intrigues me. In World War II, he flew bombers over Germany. He was a full-fledged American hero and thus entitled to all the trappings of macho-ism (machismo?). But the American public never saw any of that bravado from him as a senator, politician, and candidate for the highest office. In fact, he came across as rather nerdish.

And, by a strange coincidence, so did George H. W. Bush (our 41st president). In World War II, he was a fighter pilot who on one occasion had to parachute from his stricken plane. And yet, in one of his campaigns for the presidency, Newsweek magazine ran a cover with his picture and the words: “The Wimp Factor.” (Wimp? The man jumps out of planes to celebrate his 80th birthday? He is anything but a wimp!)

By contrast, when John F. Kennedy was running for the presidency in 1960, his wartime experiences as commander of PT-109 became a big deal. Books were written and even a movie starring Cliff Robertson was (later) made.

Perceptions are often so unreliable. We must learn to look beyond how things appear, to look beneath the thin veneers, and to try to see the realities that lie below.


Our friend is a woman, a Christian, and a medical doctor.  Over dinner the other night, she told my wife and me of a conversation she had with another friend who was stridently pro-choice, which of course is a euphemism for pro-abortion. He was insisting that the only way to go for anyone supporting “women’s rights” is to be pro-choice.

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Plain-speaking and Clear Speaking in the Lord’s Work (from II Corinthians)

“For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand.” (II Corinthians 1:13)

Jessie was a matron in one of my early pastorates. As generous a soul as ever lived, she once made two bookcases for my office and assured me, “These are for you, so take them when you leave.”  That was over 40 years ago, and today, those bookcases are in our bedroom, one on each side.

But Jessie had a little quirk that drove me up the wall.  She would sometimes drop by the office and say,”Joe, what did you mean in that remark you made last week when we were standing in front of the church?” “What did you mean by what you told me yesterday?”

I learned to answer, “Jessie, whatever it was, I meant what I said and nothing else. There were no hidden meanings to the words.”

Jessie’s habit, no doubt picked up over a lifetime of conditioning, was in over-analyzing matters.  She would walk away from a conversation and relive every word spoken, searching for hidden meanings and implied messages. Poor thing. That is not a happy way to exist, I’ll tell you.

The Apostle Paul was being harassed by some in the Corinthian church who accused him of saying one thing and doing another, insisting that his messages did not always convey the full story. In II Corinthians 1:13, he tells them to stop that, to take his words at face value. On this verse, John MacArthur says, “(Paul’s) continuing flow of information to the Corinthians was always clear, straightforward and understandable, consistent and genuine. Paul wanted them to know he was not holding anything back, nor did he have any secret agenda (10:11). He simply wanted them to understand all that he had written and spoken to them.”

The president in my lifetime who was gifted (afflicted?) with the plainspeaking gene was Harry Truman. Merle Miller wrote a book about Truman by that title, “Plain-Speaking,” in which he interviewed people who had known HST all his life. Almost to a person, they said the same thing about Truman, that he said what he meant and meant what he said.

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Comparing Religions: Go Ahead and Do It.

“For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.” (II Corinthians 3:9)

Going forward into an unknown future is scary.  Going back into a known yesterday is safe, feels secure, and quietens unsettled nerves.

Churches trying to retain the trappings of a 1955 faith and worship services will resist modern developments such as projection screens, PowerPoint, wireless microphones, digital drums, and choruses. Many would rather argue points of theology than face contemporary issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.  They speak of former days as though there once was a golden age of Christianity in this country, and they despair at the form of today’s church.

The politician who can promise his constituents all the glories of an imagined utopia of yesterday–“the Reagan years” or “the prosperity of the Clinton administration” are current favorites–will always find a following. The candidate who insists we deal with today’s realities by plunging headlong into the challenge not so much.

Israel in the wilderness could not visualize the blessings of Canaan, a land only promised but never seen by any of them. And since getting there was proving to be harder and taking longer than they ever expected, many wanted to go back into the slavery and misery of Egypt.  Better the drudgery that we know than the uncertainties we don’t (see Numbers 11:5 and chapter 14).

In the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews particularly, but also here in II Corinthians 3, we are given a striking contrast between the “old system” (called variously the Old Testament, the old covenant, or simply Judaism) and the new way, which is in Jesus Christ.  

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Global Maritime Ministries plan – pay off loan in a year | The Baptist Message Online

Via The Baptist Message Online.

NEW ORLEANS – It’s a bold move, but if anyone can pull it off, Joe McKeever can.

Paying off its $290,000 loan in one year at Global Maritime Ministries, Southern Baptists’ port ministry in Southeast Louisiana, is a strategic plan that will launch new avenues of ministry, leaders say.

Philip Vandercook, executive director, said freeing up the $3,000-a-month mortgage payment will provide for more personnel, the center’s greatest need. Up to three new chaplains could be hired with the redirected funds.

Triumphing in Christ. How Sweet It is!

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” (II Corinthians 2:14)

Scripture ransacks the human language from many lands in its search for ways of conveying the fullness of the salvation which is in Jesus Christ.

At the end of the day, no doubt, the writers (who, of course, had no idea they were writing Holy Scripture) must have laid down their styluses (stylii?) in frustration at their total inability to begin describing all God has done for us in Him. As one said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high; I cannot attain to it” (Psalm 139:6).

When the Apostle Paul wrote the Greek believers in Corinth of the triumph which is ours in Christ, he had a particular image in mind, one completely foreign to us, but which offers fascinating insights.

He had in mind a triumphal procession given to Roman generals after a great victory overseas on their return to Rome.

Over forty years ago, I discovered and delighted in the description and discussion of this from William Barclay in his commentary. Rather than regurgitate it in my own words, I want to quote him verbatim, then make a few comments.

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Why Pastors Love Second Corinthians So Much

“For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end; just as you also partially did understand us…” (II Corinthians 1:13-14)

Pastors like Moses because they identify with his situation so strongly. Against great odds and at incredible risk, long after retirement age, he performed feats of leadership still talked about thousands of years later. And what’s more–the part we particularly appreciate–he did so in spite of the constant bickering and harassment of God’s people.

Moses literally dragged God’s people to Canaan.

The people he was called to serve, those for whom he was devoting the last third of his life, these who were his pride and his joy–they were his biggest headache.

That’s why we love the epistle called Second Corinthians so much.

In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, the membership is called immature and carnal and it’s easy to see why. They were divided, cliquish and clannish, competitive with one another, and callous anyone they didn’t approve. The lessons the apostle teaches on spirituality, spiritual gifts, and love are some of the finest in Scripture.

When we come to his second letter to that church, we might expect more of the same. Instead, it was like Paul was writing to a different church altogether. These people have become angry and resentful toward him, the man who started their church and poured his lifeblood into building it up.

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What Preachers Do to Burden Their Hearers

“God was well-pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.” (I Corinthians 1:21)

On Facebook, I asked the question, “How do preachers burden their hearers and undermine their own effectiveness?” Since a large percentage of my “FB friends” are in the ministry and almost everyone else goes to church, the answers poured in. Pastors preach too long, tell too many personal stories, get too deep, never have a focus, and such.

More than one pastor took umbrage at the entire exchange. One said, “All this criticism–and during ‘Pastor Appreciation month’ at that!” Another seemed to shrug it all off, saying he would take pleasure in staying with “the foolishness of preaching.”

To my knowledge every person making a comment on that page loves the Lord, believes in preachers, and supports them. But that does not blind us to the fact that some are undercutting themselves by mannerisms and methods which interfere with the very thing the minister is trying to do. He is making his work more difficult and creating problems for his listeners, the very people he’s trying to bless and strengthen.

We are starting with two assumptions: no minister preaches as well as he would like; every minister would love to improve.

Anyone for whom this is not the case may get up and leave the room now. Nothing that follows will pertain to you.

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