Four pursuits of a lifetime

“Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, and faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

Let’s say you are a mama trying to get your children ready for church on Sunday morning. The first one is finally bathed and dressed, and you are working on the second and third ones.  Suddenly, you notice that the first one–the child ready for church, decked out in his Sunday best–is heading out the back door to play in the yard.

You call him back.  You warn him as sternly as you can against going there and doing that.

Then, you sit him down at a table with some books or toys, hoping to occupy him with something good.

After cleaning us up, so to speak  (one verse earlier), the Apostle Paul now says we should avoid those activities that dirty us up again and dedicate ourselves to better things–righteousness, faith, love, and peace.

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Facebook, credit cards, and other evils

“Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). 

I remember so well the day many of us cut up our credit cards. It was a victory over bondage. We celebrated, and probably bragged on ourselves just a tad.

Today, over 30 years later, I own three credit cards and a debit card and am in bondage to none of them.  What happened?

In those days, the 1970s, many of us looked upon credit cards as an evil force enticing people into deeper debt and the accompanying bondage and oppression.  And, that was exactly what was happening to many people back then.  I knew people who found the temptation to pull out that credit card and buy something they could not afford–and would not have purchased had cash been required–irresistible.  Furthermore, the use of credit cards was not at all necessary in the society of that decade, but merely a convenience.

Times have changed.  These days, we are moving more and more to a cashless society.  And, while I have three credit cards (one is for gasoline only), I pay them off monthly. The banks make no money–not a red cent–from my cards. The debit card, of course, simply deducts money from my bank account on the spot, so there is no debt involved, and no bondage.

Yet, I recall those days of the 1970s when we read books and studied courses and attended conferences, then held ceremonies to cut up our credit cards.

I think of this when I hear someone ranting about the evils of Facebook.

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A minister should be able to teach.

“And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged….” (2 Timothy 2:24).

I am a teacher.

When I was a senior in high school, a classmate gave me one of those unforgettable moments that lives in one’s mind forever.  Principal Andy Davis had summoned me to his office to help Jerry Crittenden with a math problem. Now, Jerry was a big football player, lovable and kind-hearted, and a joy to be around.  But in math, the guy was lost.

Toward the end of our session, Jerry said, “Joe, you should be a teacher. I can understand it the way you explain it.”

Eighteen months later, following a frustrating freshman year of college that taught me one huge thing–I do not want to major in physics!–I realized that God wanted me to be a teacher. He had gifted me with a love for history as well as a delight in learning, and had surrounded me with some excellent teachers as role models.

At the time, I thought the idea was to become a history teacher in high school and later, after getting the necessary education, in college.  Then, as a senior in college, God called me to preach.  I think members of my churches over these years would say, however, that Joe never quit teaching.

And that’s good.

“Able to teach.”  What a strange thing the Apostle Paul did.  In the middle of calling his preachers to hold down the noise, to quieten the arguments, and still the controversies, he wants them gentle and patient and kind–and able to teach.

Pastor search committees would do well to put this skill high on their list of requirements when checking out preachers.

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Our great adventure with Jesus

“Abraham went out not knowing where he was going. He did that in obedience to God. That’s faith.” (Taking liberties with Hebrews 11:8)

Here’s what happened.

The little family had moved to that community so the husband could serve on staff of a church, leading their high school and college ministry. The young wife established her counseling ministry in that town and it was doing very well.  The youth were responding to his leadership, and lives were being changed. Their numbers were up, the best in quite a few years.

Suddenly, one night the leadership abruptly informed the husband that “we made a mistake in bringing you here. You’re a great guy, really godly and sincere and all that, but you are not a good fit for our church.”

Pardon me while I deal with my anger.

All this means–I’m as serious as it’s possible to be–when they say ‘you’re not a good fit for our church’ is someone in a power position doesn’t like you. Period.

It always means that.

God help His church.

The next day the pastor confirmed that, yes, as unfortunate as it seems, you are being terminated. Effectively immediately.

The couple took it like champions.

They have been respectful to the church leadership and compassionate to their friends, in particular the young people who were being ministered to and now cannot understand the leaders of their church doing such truly stupid things.

So, the little family is making plans to move “back home,” to be near their families.

In a message to friends, the wife asked a favor.  “Don’t tell our older son that we’re moving.  He doesn’t know yet.  He has so many friends and would be devastated to know he might never see them again.”

She said, “We’re telling him we’re going on a Great Adventure With Jesus. And he’s excited about that.”

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Why teaching sound doctrine is not enough

“All Scripture is inspired of God and profitable…” (2 Timothy 3:16).

In previous articles for this website, we have stressed the importance of pastors and teachers feeding their people a steady diet of healthy doctrinal teachings.  IScripture calls it “sound doctrine.”

This cannot be overemphasized. The Apostle Paul said, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another….” (Colossians 3:16).

Paul speaks of being “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (I Timothy 4:6).

Teaching sound doctrine is a big deal for all believers.

Clearly, that refers to teaching the Bible with a thorough understanding of what that means, where each doctrine fits, how to live its teachings, and so forth.

But there is one huge thing more, without which simply teaching sound doctrine is not enough.

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Saying goodbye to our brother

(Random notes on the funeral of Glenn D. McKeever, held Sunday, February 9, 2014.)

This weekend was one none of us will ever forget.

It was painful, tearful, memorable, sweet, blessed, and heart-rending.

We buried my big brother Glenn Sunday afternoon at 2 pm, across the road from the family church just outside Nauvoo, Alabama. He was laid to rest a few feet from our parents and not far from our youngest brother Charlie, who died 8 years ago.

In many respects, it was a typical funeral, I suppose.Our oldest brother Ron, one year Glenn’s senior, and I worked with home church pastor Mickey Crane who also sang two hymns. It was similar to hundreds of funerals the three of us have conducted over the 150 years combined we have logged in ministry. Except this time it was personal.

Glenn had had angioplasty last week, and in our judgment (as well as the coroner and medical examiner, too, as I got it), the hospital sent him home too quickly. He came home on Thursday and died of a blood clot the same evening.  We have given him back to the Lord, and Glenn was ready, so we’re mostly okay on this. He had suffered so much the past few years.

He suffers no more.

We are the ones who suffer. Our hearts are aching and the tears will not stop flowing.

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Since the congregation is made up of all kinds of people, expect anything.

Often, I will post an article on this blog and a few days later, see that some online pastors’ magazine has lifted it (they have our blanket permission) and shared it with 75,000 of their closest friends. That’s when I find out what a bum I am.

Maybe I should not read the comments at the bottom of those articles, but the temptation is just too overpowering.  I end up reading things like:

“What kind of idiot would say such a thing as this?”  “I thought it was a positive article and could not wait to read it. Imagine my disappointment when I found out what the writer was saying.  McKeever is weird.”  “This guy is a Christian?”

It’s all I can do not to respond to such comments, and once in a while I will give in and say something like: “How unkind” or “Such anger,” and leave it there.

Mostly, I read it and go away reminding myself that anyone can subscribe to these online magazines, and often does.  Just as there are some bizarre churches in the land purporting to be Christian, they are led by pastors who tend to be just as off-center.

The point being, don’t let it upset you, preacher.

Not that I am above criticism.  Far from it.  In fact, I love it when someone points out a flaw in my thinking with some well-reasoned evidence or some biblical truth I may have not taken into consideration.  Often, I’ll go back into that “WordPress” program and correct the article.

There is, of course, a lesson for pastors here. And that’s the point of this piece.

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How to revitalize an old church and live to tell about it

Let’s state the obvious here. If we let a church die and go out of business, then bring a new group into the building and start afresh with something different, we have not revitalized anything.  We have held a funeral and then birthed a new flock.  And that is often necessary and good.

We’re talking here about taking a dying, dwindling congregation, one that has been on the decline for years and even decades, and turning it around, giving the people new vision, and watching God turn it into a strong body of believers.

Hard to do? You bet.  And, may we say, pretty rare, too.  Most dying congregations are that way for a reason, chief among them being that they are wed to the present way of doing things and are dead-set on not changing a thing.

A young friend will be leaving his church soon to move to another state where he will be taking the pastorate of an older congregation that has been dwindling in numbers. Members who remain are all in their golden years.

The pastor was excited but clear-headed. He knows this can be hard in the best situations and impossible in others. So, wisely, he’s picking the brains of seminary professors and veteran pastors with experience in the business of turning around dying congregations. And, he’s interviewing young ministers who are accomplishing this very thing, wanting to know what they have learned.

As is often case, his small congregation has invited a larger, dynamic church to adopt them, completely turning over the keys to them, so to speak, which is the only way to achieve this.  The big church is the one bringing in my friend to lead the one on life-support.  That’s a good sign and shows the weak congregation is serious about wanting to survive and have a strong presence in their community.

For what they are worth, here are a few of my comments to the young minister….

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Some people love the idea of work more than its reality

(These are simply stories and not a how-to article.)

“We must work the works of Him who sent Me, as long as it is day; night is coming, when no man can work” (John 9:4). 


My grandson Grant might have been 5 years old. Frequently, on my off day that summer, I would pick him up and we would spend the day together. We would go to the park and feed the ducks or head to the playground. Sometimes, we visited the zoo and later the playplace at our favorite McDonald’s.

That day, he agreed to go with me to pick blueberries.

Now, to get from the city–we live in the western part of metro New Orleans–to the country is a drive of an hour minimum.  And to get to Talisheek, Louisiana, added another 30 minutes to the trip.  Grant was buckled into the back seat and we talked all the way. From time to time, he wanted to know, “How much longer?”  I soon decided this might have been a little more than he needed.

Eventually, we arrived at the blueberry farm. It’s a self-service thing where you take a plastic bucket and go in any direction. Later, you weigh up the product and leave money, so much per pound, in a slotted box.

Grant and I got our ball caps on, rubbed on some sun screen, grabbed our plastic buckets, and headed out into the field.

“Grandpa, this is fun.”  I was glad to hear that. The long drive faded in his memory, apparently. That was good because the ride home would be just as long.

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How to fire a staff member, and have him like it

There are healthy ways to do the most unpleasant of things.

Nothing is more difficult, more unpleasant, and with a greater possibility for collateral damage than terminating a minister on the church staff.  Few churches get this right.  Many end up doing far more damage to the kingdom of God than if they had left that staff member where he was and done nothing.

To be sure, there are occasions when terminating a minister on the spot with no advance notice is necessary. I can think of several reasons…

–He has been arrested and there is probable cause.

–He is guilty of a serious immorality and people were hurt by him.

–He is doing teaching something blatantly unscriptural and insisting that he will continue.

–He is being disruptive in the church and doing great harm.  Let’s say he is leading a movement to get the pastor fired.  He should be terminated on the spot.

However, even in those situations, you as a church leader have more people to think about than just that one person.  If he has a wife and children, you owe them the Christlike care and continued ministry of the church until their lives straighten out.  If that minister has the trust and affection of church members, you owe them the assurance that this matter is being handled in a way they would approve of if they were doing it.

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