The pain in pastors that never goes away

“…serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials…” (Acts 20:19)

Let a pastor go through one huge church fight that leaves God’s people bleeding and bitter and scattering and he will do everything in his power to avoid another one.

Let a pastor go through a termination in which he is forced out from the church where the Lord had sent Him, and the pain of that rejection will accompany him the rest of the way home.

Some pain never leaves.

The wound heals but the scar remains and the memory never fades.

Thoughts of that event will color his counsel to other pastors.  The pain of that event will pop up at the strangest of times.  The lessons of that event will demand to be shared with others going through their own bit of hades-on-earth.

As a result of all this, the wounded pastor will mention that event from time to time.

It’s not a choice he makes.

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The pastor’s pain which few ever see

“I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against me….” (Isaiah 1:2)

Abandonment.  Desertion. Rejection.

The pastor loves that family and longs for them to do well. Their children are so fine and exhibit incredible potential. He knows their names.  He prays for them, encourages them, and goes out of his way to support them.  And they seem to respond. They flourish spiritually and seem to love the Lord, love their church, and love him. And then…

One day, they disappear.

When he inquires, someone tells the pastor, “Oh, they’ve joined that new startup church down the highway.  The one where the pastor is so critical of us and our denomination.”

He never hears a word. They just disappear from his radar and he never sees them again.

It’s not that they stabbed him in the back. They did not pull a Judas and betray him.  They just walked away without a word.

That hurts.

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Two huge things we will learn in Heaven

“So, you were the one praying for me!

Tara Edelschick was brought up the daughter of a secular Jew and a lapsed Lutheran.  She learned to be fairly self-sufficient, went to a great college and married a super guy.  “Weaker souls might need a god,” she thought at the time, “but I needed no such crutch.”

That belief was obliterated when my husband of five years, Scott, died from complications during a routine surgery. Ten days later, I delivered our first child, Sarah, stillborn.

Oh, my.  Talk about a double whammy.  Life suddenly took a tragic turn, blindsiding the unsuspecting young woman.

Many would never have recovered from such a blow.

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Life’s intersections: What if that person had not shown up that day?

Last evening and today, I’ve been texting with a friend of 60+ years as we set up the reunion for the church in Birmingham that ministered to me so thoroughly when I was a student at nearby Birmingham-Southern Baptist Church.  Everything that follows below is relevant to that. 

I’m 81 years old. Not decrepit or senile, thank you very much. And, not ancient or feeble by any means, you understand.  But the calendar is what it is and the white hair belies my protestations.  Honestly, l feel like I’m 15.  Okay, sort of.

However.

The time is here when it’s perfectly acceptable to look back and remember and give thanks to God for what He has done.

Thinking of all the blessings of people and incidents, of words and books and jobs and churches, I constantly thank God that He did “this” and not “that” or something else entirely.

You are looking at one blest man. (Okay, to the extent you are actually “looking” at me, that is.)

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What I learned at the 50th reunion of my high school class

We graduated in May of 1958 from the Winston County High School in Double Springs, Alabama. We were all so glad for that long-anticipated event to arrive, once it was over we quickly scattered in our own directions without a thought to the fact that we were seeing some of our classmates for the last time. We had no way of knowing that in a few short years our school would burn down or that by the 50th anniversary of our graduation, over one third of our members would no longer be living.

There is a reason only older people attend class reunions. They know.

The recent graduates are still in college somewhere or serving Uncle Sam or trying to get established in low-paying jobs and can’t afford the trip back home. But mostly they don’t come to reunions because they haven’t figured it out yet.

They think they have forever. They think of the rest of us as oldsters, like ancient relics of a previous civilization that has no bearing on the world they live in today. They have no idea that the time between now and their fiftieth will seem like weeks. They will still be looking upon themselves as the younger generation when suddenly their twentieth reunion will be announced in the newspapers.

If they’re like me, the twentieth will be the first reunion they attend. And if they’re really like me, they will open the door and look in that room, taking in all the bald heads and unfamiliar faces, and decide this can’t be my class and walk on down the hall looking for the real class. They will soon realize there is no one else in the building and that this is their class.

That’s the moment when they start to grow up.

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Little things that delight a weary preacher

Humor refreshes me.  You too? 

I like finding signs with misprints. The sign in front of a local neighborhood center announced: “A DULT DANCE — Thursday 7 pm.” It was repeated just like that on the other side.

I read that and wondered, “What is a dult? And why are they invited to the dance and no one else?”

In a book, this misprint gave me a chuckle: “They are up there hugging one anther.” Someone had written underneath, “I’ll hug an anther. Show me one.”

This brings to mind a bit of graffiti observed on a New York subway. Someone had scrawled on a poster, “I love grils.” Underneath, another had written: “I love girls.” And beneath that, a third person had penned: “What about us grils?”

In Reform, Alabama, after the Sunday morning church service, we were in line for lunch in the fellowship hall when a man gave me one of the best cartoon lines ever. He remarked to a friend, “I told my wife, ‘I’m coming back this afternoon and see if I want to sleep on this pew as bad as I think I do!’”

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A slice of my journal: October 18-20, 1993

“When you take time to journal each day, it’s like snipping out 30 minutes of your life now and sending it ahead far into the future.”  –Joe McKeever  (Hey, if I don’t quote myself, who do you think will?)

“When was your daughter born?” I asked the mother of the bride.

“October 18, 1993.”

I said, “Was I there?”  “Yes, you were,” she said. “We still have the cartoon you drew for us when you came by the hospital.”

Then it hit me: I have that day in my journal.

Back in the decade of the 1990s, I kept a hand-written, daily journal, requiring a full half-hour of writing each night.  In time, it filled 56 volumes. For reasons long forgotten, I gave it up after the year 2000 arrived.  (Probably because it took up so much space.)

The journal says I did indeed go to the hospital when her daughter was born.  I photocopied the two pages and sent to her.  And decided someone might appreciate reading about that time in my ministry.

So, here goes….

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The worst part of being a pastor

“What’s the worst thing about being a pastor?” she asked. “What is your worst nightmare?”

She and I were Facebooking back and forth about the ministry when she broadsided me with this one.

She suggested possible answers. “People writing nasty letters complaining? giving you advice? criticizing what you wear?”

I laughed and thought, “Oh, if it were that simple. No one enjoys getting anonymous mail trying to undermine your confidence in whatever you’re doing, but sooner or later most of us find ways of dealing with that.”

“It’s worse than that,” I typed. Then I paused to reflect.

Hers was such a simple question, one would think I had a stock answer which had been delivered again and again. But I don’t remember ever being asked it before.

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How to clean out a garage–and unclutter your life

(This was first posted in 2009 as I was preparing to retire from the active, paid ministry. I’ve tweaked it a little. –JM)

Margaret and I were talking about my upcoming retirement from this position with our association. I said, “What do you want me to do when I retire?” She said, “Clean out the garage.”

And then? “The attic,” she said.

My wife has learned to lower her expectations concerning tasks around the house by her spouse of nearly 47 years.

The other day, our oldest son Neil was over. He’s being ordained as a deacon in our church on Sunday night, April 5.  We’re all excited; if ever a man had a servant heart, he does.  He said, “I decided that being ordained deserves a new suit, so I’m going to treat myself.” After suggesting a good men’s store, I said, “I’ll give you some financial assistance on that suit if you will help me clean out the garage.”

Sneaky, huh.

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At age 81, still as young as ever! (He said hopefully)

“They will still bear fruit in old age. They will be full of sap and very green….” (Psalm 92:14). 

This is an updated version of a similar article written on my 78th birthday. March 28 will be my 81st birthday.  I’m so thankful to still be young and energetic and both loved and in love.   So, here are 21 things that are keeping me young! 

One. I laugh a lot.  I love Genesis 21:6, “God has made laughter for me.”  Laughter is a vote of confidence in the Lord, that He is in control and has it all in His hands.  This means some of what you’ll hear around this house is pure silliness.  And I’m good with that.  Many years ago, as six-year-old Abby and I played at the swing in her front yard, she said, “We’re being silly, aren’t we, Grandpa?” I said, “Yes, we are. Why do we like to be so silly?”  She said, “It’s a family tradition.”  (Abby marries Cody Erskine in two months. I may tell that story.  Cody needs to know what he’s getting into!)

Two. I take a full regimen of vitamins. In the mid-1990s, when I’d gone a decade without seeing a doctor, I accompanied my wife for her appointment and ended up becoming a patient too.  One day the doctor gave me a list of vitamins and minerals she wanted me to start taking.  As I left, she said, “Mr. McKeever, I think we have just prevented a heart attack in you.” Well, apparently so.  I have rarely missed a day taking them, although the precise list of what I take has varied a little over the years as successive doctors have tweaked it.

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