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Joe McKeever Christian Blog and Commentary

My sister Carolyn sent me a list of lame excuses men use as to why they didn’t get their sweethearts anything for Valentine’s Day. “The Hallmark store was closed and I refuse to give you anything but the best.”

That sort of thing.

At the end, her list cited a quote from the old comic Red Skelton.

“All men have flaws; but married men find out them a lot sooner than others.”

You think that’s funny, but it’s not.  A lot of truth to it. And good truth, may I say.

This will be my first Valentine’s Day without Margaret, who left us for Heaven a few days ago. My first anything without her, as a matter of fact.  And I was thinking….


–Who will tell me not to wear those shoes with that outfit?  She did, just recently.  I tried to reason with her that men wear sneakers with sport coats and slacks these days, but she would have none of it. So, I changed into dress shoes.  After all, she was dressed up, why shouldn’t I be?  (We were headed to church for the Christmas luncheon for seniors.)

–Who will listen to my blog in the mornings when I am halfway through and stuck and need to hear the perspective of someone whose brain actually works. And, may I add, works differently from mine. Her thoughts were almost never my thoughts, nor her ways my ways, I think with a smile, a corruption of Isaiah 55:8.

–Who will listen to a sermon idea I’m working on and ask a question I never thought of, which changes everything about what I was about to do?

–Who will call me back to earth when Facebook friends or church members tell me how wonderful I am?  Without her, will I start believing that stuff?  (She would not dispute the  compliments they were sending my way, but just smile. That’s all. Such a poignant smile, as though to say, “Ha! If they just knew.”)

Who’s going to do that for me now?

Right now some of my longtime buddies are thinking of picking up the phone and volunteering to be the one to put me in my place, to pop my little pretensions, but thank you. No.  I’ll pass on it.

No one does these things better for a preacher-husband than a wife who has shared his life for almost all of it.

We preachers sometimes think our wives do not know how wonderful we are or appreciate the great work we do.  (A hint of a smiley-face goes here.)

We preachers sometimes think our wives and Job’s wife have a lot in common.  You will recall she gave him no sympathy in his distress but suggested he “curse God and die” (Job 2:9).  In other words, “Quit moping around here. Just get it over with.”

No sympathy here for all our hard work and long hours.

I recall something Franklin Graham said a few years back when his wonderful mother, Ruth Bell Graham, was alive.  His father, Dr. Billy Graham, was telling his wife how badly he felt.  “I feel like I’m about to die.”  She said, “Oh, that must feel wonderful.”

We all laughed. Franklin said, “Dad is not going to get any sympathy from Mother.”

Every preacher-husband understands.

The fact is the wife has her own load to bear, her own burdens and hardships and demanding schedule (of one type or other), and she knows many things about her preacher husband.

She knows that when he wants to, he can close the door and have the secretary protect him from visitors and phone calls for an hour or two.  She has no office and no secretary.

She knows that while her preacher-husband does have a lot of demands on him, he still gets tons of compliments and appreciation.  He goes somewhere to guest-preach and people tell him he’s the greatest since Spurgeon, and he eats it up.

She knows him. She has seen him broken and angry and when he has lost his temper.  She knows him as well as anyone on earth.

And if you want to know the truth, that bugs the preacher-hubby just a tad.

He sometimes thinks he would like a wife who worships the ground he walks on, and who counts as her greatest blessing in life the fact that he married her.

He thinks that sometimes.

But in his sane moments, he knows better.

God made her different from him for a reason.  The pastor-husband needs the balance she brings to him.  The ballast, if you will.

If he’s like me, the husband will realize it most when she leaves and there is no one to provide that any more.

That’s an awful feeling, friend, believe me.

I do miss my valentine today.

Treasure yours, pastor friend. She does for you something no one else could ever do, whether you are smart enough to appreciate it or not.

She keeps you real.

Church bullies have always been part of the ecclesiastical landscape.

They had them in the first century, as evidenced by the tiny epistle of Third John. A brute named Diotrephes was ruling his congregation with a strong hand.  The Evangelist John turned the spotlight on what the man was doing, which ordinarily is sufficient to arouse the congregation to unseat the man. John ended with a promise: “If I come, I will call attention to what he is doing.”

Don’t miss the understatement of that: “I will call attention to what he is doing.”

That will be quite enough.  When the Beloved Apostle (for so was John known in the early church) stands before an adoring congregation and informs the membership what their so-called leader has been doing behind their backs, they will deal with him.

That has always been the Lord’s plan:  Tell the church, expose the brute, expect God’s people to do the right thing.

We’re not talking about taking matters into our own hands or doing anything heavy-handed.

Even though the flesh wants to drag the church boss out back and give him “what for,” that is never the right approach. Nor should we plot and maneuver and scheme behind closed doors. The Lord’s people must never adopt the deceitful tactics of the tyrants.  We are to be “as shrewd as snakes and as gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

American history provides a near-perfect example of how to bring down a bully. It’s not a simple story, but I’ll do my best…

The tyrant throwing his weight around without a thought as to who got hurt in the process was Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.  Google his name and pull up a chair, because the information on this brute will keep you occupied for days. Entire libraries have been written on what this man did in the first half of the decade of the 1950s. A shorter version can be seen on wikipedia.

Senator Joe McCarthy was riding the wave of the Communist scare and accusing various governmental agencies of harboring Reds, being directed by Reds, or outright cooperating with the Kremlin. In his speeches, he would wave papers which he said contained the names of 250 or 125 or 306 known Communists working for this or that agency.  When he or his staff found that some prominent person really had belonged to an organization that was a Communist front during the Great Depression, McCarthy was off and running. He would hound that guy into an early grave, then move right along to his next victim.

The public did not know what to think.

The American people rightly feared Communism, seeing it on display in Asia with all its fierceness and cruelty. The last thing they wanted was for the USA to fall under its power. The question was how to stand against it.  McCarthy, we were to learn in time, was primarily interested in becoming a hero and would do anything to achieve it. After the Second World War, he lied about his war record in order to receive distinguished recognition, which would enhance his political career, and bitterly attacked anyone who dared oppose him.  More than one person with a questionable affiliation in his past committed suicide rather than endure a public lynching at the hands of McCarthy’s team.

When the U.S. Army refused to give special treatment to a McCarthy aide who had been drafted, the senator turned his guns on the military.  He accused the Army of harboring Communists, and the fight was on.  As the namecalling and mudslinging intensified, the Senate decided to hold hearings and settle the matter.  McCarthy chaired the committee that would inherit this assignment, so another senator was chosen to lead the hearings which would last over a month.

America was transfixed.

ABC-TV decided to do something unheard of in 1954.  They aired the senate hearing from gavel to gavel.  (Bear in mind, television was still in its infancy, there was no C-Span, and most network news programs at the supper hour ran for 15 minutes.)

This is how the American people got to see Senator McCarthy exposed as the bully and tyrant that he was.  The programs were live and unedited, meaning the tactics of the senator were on public view for all to see.

Boston lawyer Joseph Welch was hired to represent the Army in the hearings.  He was a class act, a distinguished man, in high contrast with the flabby McCarthy who always looked like he needed to shave last week and was often under the influence of alcohol.

Had Hollywood been casting this scene, it could not have picked two more likely actors for these roles.

McCarthy’s approach was always to “attack, attack, and then attack again.”  He rarely explained what he did and almost never gave a satisfactory answer to questions.  He simply kept the opponent on the defensive. And this day, he accused Attorney Welch of having a young lawyer with ties to a Communist organization working for his firm back in Boston.

Welch had an answer.

Welch explained that when he was first asked to represent the Army in these hearings, he wanted to bring two young attorneys from Boston with him to Washington. He asked if either had anything in his past which McCarthy could use against him. One of the two admitted that when he was in law school, he belonged to a young attorney’s group which was later found to be controlled by the Communists.  Welch sent him back to Boston, because he knew McCarthy would turn that against the Army, as he did. Even though the young attorney was not on Welch’s team in Washington, but merely with his firm in Boston, McCarthy exposed this “grave wrong,” and implied that Mr. Welch was thus untrustworthy.

That’s when Mr. Welch said what he did.  Right there on national television, with millions of Americans watching, Welch spoke the immortal lines that would ultimately end McCarthy’s career.

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.”

Welch was soft-spoken and gracious. His words were like knives.

When McCarthy tried to interrupt and continue the attack, Welch softly but angrily continued:

“Let us not assassinate the lad further, Senator.  You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?  At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Historians tell us that overnight McCarthy’s popularily plummeted.  Not long after, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy and strip him of his chairmanship.

Ostracized by his party, ignored by the press, and abandoned by his supporters, McCarthy died 3 years later, a broken man, only 48 years old.

Brought down by public exposure and relentless, though gentle, questioning.

That’s how church bullies are to be dealt with.  (Question: Why not bullies of all kinds, in the workplace or playground or political arena?  Answer: Church bullies are a breed apart, having the same self-centered run-roughshod goals as all other tyrants but they tend to be subtler and work behind the scenes. Exposure is the last thing in the world church bullies want.)

1) Church bullies need to be exposed in a public forum.  The tactic of modern-day Diotrephes is almost always to work off-radar, sending their lackeys to do their bidding.

2) The best public forum to expose the bully would be a church business meeting.  Woe to the church which, under the leadership of a pastor who dislikes being held accountable, has canceled regular times of reporting to the congregation.

3) The questioner needs to be someone Christlike, mature, and gracious.  If he/she is pugilistic (i.e., they love a good fight), the congregation will see this as two fighters going at each other, and nothing will come from it.

4) The questioner makes no charges, but merely raises questions, letting the congregation think for themselves.  And some will.

5) Some questions that will often expose a bully include “Who decided that this would be done?”  or “How was the decision made to do this?”  “Moderator, could we ask the chair of that committee to explain this action?”

6)  Once the appropriate person has been made to tell the congregation what was done and why it was done, if this is unsatisfactory or if it is obvious that important pieces of information are missing, followup questions are in order. These are of the same kind and gracious manner: “I don’t understand, Brother Chairman. You say (such and such) and yet the congregation had specifically said (thus and so).  Help me out here.”  Or, “You said (such and such) but the church constitution specifically says we are to do (thus and so). I don’t understand.”

7) The questioner makes no charges, accuses no one of deceit or underhandedness.

8) When it becomes obvious that no more information will be forthcoming, the questioner may do one of two things: sit down silently, leaving the clear impression that he/she is not satisfied with what has been said, or make a gentle statement in the manner of Robert Welch at the McCarthy hearings.  Perhaps nothing more than, “Well, then, we are not the church I thought we were.”  Or, “Mr. Bully, did you not pray about this?  Did you not ask the Lord what He wanted done?”

9) Silence should follow.  When the gentle (persistent, gracious but devout) questioner sits down, there will be a stillness as the congregation absorbs what they have just heard.  And then, it should happen….

10) Some strong, faithful leader who has followed all this, now senses that the congregation is ready to do something that should have been done long ago: Deal with the bully.  So, he/she rises and makes a motion to the moderator concerning action to be taken.  What that action is, I have no clue. It depends on what’s going on.  It may be something as benign as rescinding the action of the committee run by the bully.  Or, it may be a motion to “vacate” that committee (unseat all the members of the committee) or to ask Chairman Bully to step down.  Perhaps the leader who rises to make a motion simply wants the pastor to appoint a committee of three or four who will study this matter and bring a report back to the church. If this is done, the person who did the questioning (above) should be the first one appointed.

Harmless as doves, wise as serpents.

That says it all.

POST SCRIPT:  A few questions arise….

1) Some will always ask, “What if the pastor is the bully?” Answer: Deal with him the same way, in an open forum where the congregation is present.

2) What if the pastor has been so sufficiently buffaloed by the bully that he does not want anyone to “stir up” the congregation by publicly exposing the tyrant?  Answer: This is not about the pastor. The goal is to have a healthy church, and the Diotrephes is interfering with that.  So, stand up in the business meeting anyway. I can guarantee that after the bully has been de-clawed, any pastor will be eternally grateful.

3) Speaking of declawing Diotrephes, what if the church action following the questioning did not unseat him and he’s still around?  In most cases, the public embarrassment he experienced was sufficient to issue a wakeup call to him and to send his lackeys scurrying.

The opening statement of this article is an eternal verity, I’m afraid. The bullies will always be around. Therefore, the Lord’s faithful children must never drop their guard, never agree to cancel regular church business meetings, and always encourage questioning from the congregation.  Exposure carries no threat to the godly.

“I will sing a new song to Thee, O God….” (Psalm 144:9)

The message from a friend raised a question I’d not thought of: “Can you tell me how to freshen up my prayer time? My prayers all sound the same after a while. I get tired of my own words, so I know the Lord must.”

How, he wanted to know, does one freshen up his prayers?

Herewith my thoughts on that subject. (I speak as an expert on absolutely nothing, but simply as one believer encouraging another.)

1. Freshness is overrated.

When my grandchild enters the room, I’m not listening for something new from her. She crawls into my lap, hugs my neck, and speaks the same words I have heard again and again, but which never grow old or stale: “I love you, grandpa.”

I love you, too, honey.

(A personal word to my grandchildren who read this. I know, I know–you’re growing up and not given to “crawling into grandpa’s lap” the way you once did. The oldest of you is Leah, 23, and the youngest is JoAnne, 15.  In between are Jessica, 22, Abby and Erin, 16, and Darilyn, 15. But you will understand what I’m saying here. I so adore these 6 granddaughters and just as much our 2 grandsons, Grant 18 and Jack 11.)

2. Freshness may be more for us than for the Lord.

Since He sees on the heart and knows the mind before a thought is formed, it’s not as if our Heavenly Father “needs” a new or better expression of our devotion. This is why, so long as our hearts are in it, prayers and scriptures we have memorized may still be effective in drawing us closer to the Heavenly Father. What the Lord seems not to care for are mindless recitations of memorized prayers.

I frequently begin my prayer period with scriptures I memorized decades ago but which continue to inspire me. “My soul doth magnify the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). “I will call upon the Lord who is greatly to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies. The Lord liveth; and blessed be the Rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted” (Psalm 18:3,46).

I recite the Lord’s prayer, sometimes more than once if I sense my mind is wandering or not getting into the meaning of those words.

3. Nothing teaches us how to pray and to pray freshly like the Holy Scriptures.

a) We see how others prayed and are instructed by the pattern of their praise and intercessions.

I love the prayer of Elijah at Carmel: “Lord, let these people know there is a God in Israel and (while you’re at it) that I am your servant!” (I Kings 18:36).  As a pastor, I have prayed that repeatedly when it seemed that a few people were trying to undermine my leadership or countermand my messages. And, I’m happy to say, the Lord always answered.

b) We read a passage and are inspired to “pray those same words.”  Praying Scripture–that is, asking the Lord to do in us what He said in that text–is always a great way to lift our intercessions out of the doldrums.

Praying the Beatitudes, we would ask that the Lord would help us to be poor in spirit that we might receive the kingdom of Heaven, that we might mourn over the sinful condition of our world in order to receive His comfort, that we might be gentle and thus inherit the earth.

Jesus taught the pathway to greatness is through serving people (Matthew 19:26-28). So, either privately in my closet or publicly in a worship service, it would be worthwhile to pray for this–for the desire to serve (not just occasionally but as a way of life), for the willingness to lay ambition and self-centeredness on His altar daily, for the love that makes servanthood authentic, and for my focus to remain on Jesus Christ and nothing else.

c) My favorite approach is to find a verse of Scripture that “has my name on it” (that is, it seems to jump off the page, demand my attention, and insist that I camp out there for a while) and reflect on it, then pray it.

Case in point…

“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).  We read that verse, conclude there’s nothing notable about it and go on. But by camping out on it, by meditating upon these words and asking the Lord to open them to us, we begin to see wonderful insights.

–He is the God of Jacob.  Jacob was his original name, replaced later by Israel. Jacob was the one who lied and cheated and swindled his brother.  God is the God of some mightly flawed people. And aren’t we glad of that! This is encouragement.

–God loved Jacob just where he was, but loved him enough not to leave him there.  So, the Lord allowed him to go through a testing/disciplining time in the household of his uncle, and later appeared to him for a time of refocusing.  God took the flawed Jacob and turned him into a champion, Israel.

–This is the kind of God we serve, who is our help, our hope. Our help today (and in ages past), our hope for all the future.

–And how encouraging is that!

And so, my prayer–inspired strictly by that one verse of Scripture–might go something like this….

“Dear Lord, You have said in your holy word ‘How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.’ That’s us, our Lord. You are our help–the One called along side us to guide and strengthen us for the assignments you have given us. And you are our hope–the One to whom we focus all our expectations for the future, in this life and beyond.

“We find comfort in knowing that our Heavenly Father is the One who took a weakling like Jacob, a man of many faults and flaws, and you showed great patience in leading him through the years, eventually making him a great champion of faith.  Father, do that in us please.

“Be patient with our flaws; but give us victory over them. Your word says, ‘He himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.’ So, you are under no illusion about us. You knew you were getting no bargain when You redeemed us. Thank you for redeeming us, for calling us, and for your infinite patience as we have stumbled along. But make us strong. Make us champions for thee.

“Father, lift up our spirits, anchor our hopes in Thee, set our feet on the solid rock and energize us as we go forth into this day to serve Thee.

“For Jesus’ sake, Amen.”

The rest of Psalm 146 expounds on the theme of the Lord showing favor to the flawed and fallen.

vs 7 “He executes justice for the oppressed”

vs 8 “He opens the eyes of the blind”

vs 9 “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow; but He thwarts the way of the wicked.”

There is so much prayer material there.

d) Got time for one more?  Isaiah 62:6-7 gives us a prayer-insight in Scripture not mentioned anywhere else, to my knowledge. It’s demonstrated again and again, but this seems to be the only place that refers to prayer as “reminding” the Lord.

“On your walls O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent; You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” 

You who remind the Lord.

That’s us.

When we pray, we are not telling the Lord anything He doesn’t already know. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).  He already knows, but we will remind Him.

This kind of prayer is demonstrated in numerous Psalms, as well as David’s prayer over the materials collected to build the temple (I Chronicles 29:10-19), Solomon’s prayer of dedication of that house of worship (II Chronicles 6:14-42), Jehoshaphat’s prayer when Judah was invaded by a pagan coalition (II Chronicles 20:5-12), and my favorite, the early church’s prayer when threatened by the religious authorities (Acts 4:23-31).

The thing to notice in these prayers (and so many similar throughout Scripture) is the form the pray-ers used…

–they reminded the Lord of Who He is.

–they reminded the Lord of what He had done.

–they reminded the Lord of what He had said (promised).

–and then, they reminded the Lord of their present situation.

–finally, they reminded the Lord of what they needed, their specific request.

An admission here: This concept is too weighty to address in a sermon, but is ideal for a classroom situation when everyone is relaxed and can take notes, look up references, and ask questions. I enjoy sharing it with pastors, and encourage them to construct their Sunday morning pastoral prayers in this manner. 

How many other ways are there for freshening up one’s prayers?

Only a thousand. Use a hymnal, borrow a Book of Common Prayer from your Episcopal friend (or do as I did and purchase one), and read books of prayers. Read books aboutpraying.  Go online and listen to the prayers of preachers.

And, if you do nothing else, please bear in mind our first two observations: 1) freshness is probably over-rated and 2) it’s more for us than for the Lord.

Now, let us pray!!