A Tribute to the late Dr. Claude McGhee–God’s Man for My Maturity

I attended the visitation for Dr. McGhee yesterday, driving two hours to pay respects to someone who God used to help me mature as a Christian and pastor.  As in any school of higher learning, the selection of an instructor requires a review of the academic qualifications of the candidate.  However, in God’s school of learning, God gives and adds qualities to those he will use to train younger Christians to accomplish his purpose.  The following is a list of some of “Doc’s” qualities which were beneficial for my personal growth.

I never called him anything but Doc.  He had worked hard all his life leaving the rural Wayne County to attain a position as professor at West Virginia University.  Along the way he taught high school students as well as educators.  At the visitation I asked one of his former students who was now retired if Doc ever graded on the curve.  He gave me a strange look which spoke volumes.  However, a former high school student who is older than my fifty-three years of age told a story that Doc carried his high school students on his back.  Doc expected excellence in those he worked with because he expected excellence in himself.  He was honored as Outstanding Teacher at WVU.  His other awards spoke of his hard work and yet, he was also compassionate when compassion was required.  He taught me the pursuit of excellence in ministry was not about perfection because that goal is unobtainable.  Excellence meant you used all the gifts and abilities for God for he is worthy of the attempt. 

Doc’s passion outside of his faith was agriculture.  This was evident by the nearly 1/4 acre of ground he farmed behind his house in Kingwood.  Even at ninety years of age, Doc roto-tilled, planted, tended, and harvested this garden like the first farmer, Adam tilled Eden.  Bowed over by age, Doc lumbered in the garden with physical infirmities, and with his crop in hand would deliver the produce of his hands for others to enjoy.  Doc called it “feeding the pigs” and one time, I saw him walking up our steps at the parsonage on bad knees so we could enjoy this bounty all summer. With both education and expertise in farming, he taught me patience.  A farmer knows the day you plant is not the day you harvest.  Farmers also have to place their faith in the benevolence of God for rain and sun.  Patience does not mean laying back and waiting for God to act or the attitude of “what will be will be.”  Patience means continuing the work God has called you to do until he is ready to move you.  This served me well years later in a difficult ministry in which leaving would have been easier, but patience brought about a resolution of a generational problem in that church. 

Doc and Mildred, his wife of 67 years had a sense of humor which served them well in life.  Their own life was filled with trials they undertook with Mountaineer pride.  They lost their only son years before and took to raising their grandchildren for a time.  I cannot imagine the pain of a parent concerning their child but their humor was often stated in such a way you found yourself in the story until the punch line and Doc’s laughter mean he had pulled you into the joke.  One time Mildred came to me and said, “Pastor, do you want to know how we managed to stay married as long as we did, I will tell you.”  Expecting to get a lesson I could use to share with couples seeking to get married, I encouraged her to continue.  She said, “Years ago we made a decision to go out twice a week.”  Nodding my head and listening intently, she continued.  “Yes, I go out on Tuesdays and Mac goes out on Thursdays.”  In Proverbs 17:22 the Bible says “a cheerful heart is good medicine…”.  When Doc was taking Mildred to Wayne County for the first time, they traveled down the road and off in the back woods.  As the road became more narrow, Mildred asked him if he was taking her to the ends of the earth.  Doc said, “No, but you will be able to see it from there.”  Humor helps in difficult times of ministry because the end of the same verse says, “but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  In ministry, laughter has helped me cope with tough times. 

I spoke of compassion as one of Doc’s traits.  The end of my ministry at Kingwood followed the pattern of many brother pastors who left with pain and hurts.  At an associational meeting at another church we received a call stating Vicki’s uncle had passed away and we needed to leave.  As we got into our car Doc walked up and motioned for us to roll down the window.  Doc, bent over by years of pain, both physical and emotional, hobbled over to door and leaning in patted Vicki’s arm.  She had also been hurt at the church but his touch, and saying, “We miss you” came from his heart.  Doc did not mince words when he spoke.  There was no religious double-speak.  If Doc didn’t like something, he would say it.  He was never crude nor crass and was still able to get his point across.  You could trust his words.  I learned the best way to speak was calmly and directly without allowing anger to mix with my words.  When years later a member of the church came into my office and began using offensive language toward me, I calmly remained in my office chair and pointing a finger at him said, “You will not talk to me in that tone of voice.”  This man immedicately changed his attitude.  In years gone by other pastors would be provoked into joining this man and all that happened was they came down to his level.

There is now a vacant seat in the sanctuary of Kingwood Baptist Church.  The home stands empty except for the memories.  The field is now filled in with grass and weeds unattended for the last two years.  However, a saint has moved on.  Doc, there are no boards or committees to sit on in heaven.  There are no fields to attend.  There are no more students to teach or teachers to train.  You now get to rest and fortunately for you, God has given you an eternity to learn how.  God bless you, Doc. 

Watching and Waiting for God’s Call Home

Sitting with a family watching time pass and awaiting the death of a loved one can be both a blessing and a faith growing situation.  Whether someone is a believer or not, rich or poor, educated or not, death is the equalizer of them all.  The blessing of sitting with the family comes in the hours and moments as a chance to speak of God’s authority over death thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection.

As I sat yesterday and listened to the life stories of the family, I saw good times and bad.  I heard stories of sacrifice and service and was amazed at the life of a little Italian lady from the Pittsburgh area.  I saw family coming together in the days before hand as they rallied together and forgetting past differences, laboring together as a living example of the Ecclesiastes passage of two walking together.  Death can be used by God, who also uses Satan, to accomplish his plan of glorifying His Son. 

A friend sitting with a grieving friend can bring peace and comfort in a very difficult time.  Jesus brought comfort to the sisters of Lazarus by his presence.  While they wanted a healing, Jesus used the event to speak of his resurrection.  A believing friend can also use the same time to speak of the resurrection.  I have learned I cannot preach the dead into heaven, but I can take the opportunity to reveal Jesus.

Life review, anticipatory grief, helping with coping skills are tasks for the Chaplain.  Speaking of God’s defeat of death and the grave is the task of a preacher.  Walking beside the dying person and the family is not a task but a blessing. 

Figures Can Fool You

I heard in a few year China will become the economic superpower and America’s reign as the #1 will be over.  That is, until you come to the per capita figure which is the total number of goods and services created divided by people and we are far greater than China.  Numbers can be confusing for a purpose.  If I go to buy a dress for my wife, I know to get a size 10 which has no real relationship to weight.  Men buy pants based upon two measures: waist and inseam.  I wonder if marketing for women’s clothes came up with that idea.  I wish men’s clothing stores would do the same so I might be able to buy pants with, say, a 16 verses my waist size. 

Another number which is flashed around during religious holidays is 96% of Americans believe in God. Any higher power according to AA is the first step to sobriety.  It does not have to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  It could be a stone or tree or anything for that matter.  I know many who also believe in aliens and UFOs, but their belief does not mean they exist.

Existence is not measured by what someone believes about it, but upon several factors.  In Genesis, we are told God breathed into the nostrils of Adam and he lived.  We see Jesus breathe over his disciples to receive the Holy Spirit.  Scriptures are God-breathed and are living.  Breathing, or should I say the lack of it is a marker for death.  Though God is spirit, He allowed man to write his scriptures so we could understand he is a living and breating God. 

While the statistic of Americans believing in God seems high, you have to remember even the demons believe in God and they have a response to that belief-fear and trembling. Do the 96% of Americans quoted tremble at the thought of God?  Do we treat the needy as needy or a nusiance?  Do we obey his commands and refrain from evil?  Do we receive His offer of forgiveness and then offer this same forgiveness to one who has done harm to you?

I knew my parents existed.  They were there doing what they did and I obeyed them or suffered the consequence.  I must realize the statistic will persuade many that we are a good and godly nation.  We cannot rely on figures from man because they can be deceiving based on their agenda.  God has no agenda when he says there is no one righteous–not one. 

Once I was told by another minister when I went to Massachusetts to plant a church in a small town “We don’t need another church in this town.”  I told him with respect that until everyone in this town was in church we need another church in this town.  Church is not the answser to America’s moral decay–it is our believing in a God and then disregarding that belief.  Our decline will not cease until we stop, drop, and pray and repent over this nation. 

To Who Did You Say “Happy Easter”

The other day I saw a special needs adult who lives in our apartment complex and was reminded of a man I knew twenty years ago.  Teddy was a homeless man in Providence, RI and you could find him often in one of the many downtown alleys asleep.  On cold New England nights he would try to sneak into the Biltmore Plaza where I worked night audit.  Myself and a security officer would have to escort Teddy back into sub-zero weather.  There were shelters but he would not have any part of them.  A few years later Teddy would be murdered on those same cold and lonely streets.

There is a theory of communications called the “I-It, I-You and I-Thou” which speaks of the levels and means of communications between individuals.  The young person who works at the take-out window of a fast food restaurant is considered an “It” because we see them as someone who we need only to accomplish a task.  A co-worker might be a “You” and a spouse or loved one would be a “Thou”.  As this Easter season passed, I wondered how many of us took the time to say to the “Its” we met “Happy Easter”?  Our church gave us candy to pass out to those people who had to work on Easter and I gave mine to the local police officer sitting on the highway. 

The real fact is, Jesus died for the “Its” of this world.  He ate with tax collectors and lowly fishermen.  His band of followers included a zealot who would even commit murder to rid the nation of Rome.  He spoke to a Samaritan woman and loved on children.  These were the “its” to the religious of Israel.  They saw them as a nusiance and he saw them as sheepherdless sheep. 

A game children play is called tag.  They run around and chase one another and when they tag the other child, the say, “Tag, your It!”  Well, a few years ago Jesus came up to me and said, “Tag, you are no longer an “it” you are my “Thou”.  It is nice to know I am considered a person of value and not one just to do a task for God, but one whom God loved so much he gave me his son.  Thank You God. 

Why is Good Friday good?

In 1968 I was twelve years old and off for the Easter vacation (it was called Easter and not spring break back then) riding my bike with my good friend, Donnie Dixon.  I was racing and slipped off the pedals, flying over the handlebars and hitting the road with my face.  Later that day with ten stitches on my chin and eyebrow, I wondered what was so good about Good Friday.

There are a couple of possibilities.  One is the Germanic language of Gaul calling it good or holy.  The other is the idea it was once called God’s Friday.  In any case, Jesus denied the term good for himself saying only the Father is good.  Good is more than the opposite of bad.  God and God alone makes the right and best decisions.

It should always be remembered that the Hebrews often relate descriptions to functionality. The word tov would best be translated with the word “functional”. When looked at his handiwork he did not see that it was “good”, he saw that it was functional, kind of like a well oiled and tuned machine.” (Ancient Hebrew Research Center on line)  The word, tov, the tet is the initial letter of the word tov, “good.” The form of the tet is “inverted,” thus symbolizing hidden, inverted good–as expressed in the Zohar: “its good is hidden within it.” (inner.org) 

So maybe we need to look at the hidden good of Good Friday.  It is the culmination of a ministry which separated Jesus physically from the Father to come to earth to show us God in the flesh.  It is the beginning of the end for death and sin.  It is the highest example of love and sacrifice.  It shows the depths God will go to have a personal relationship with his creation–man. 

Today is Good Friday–the once hidden meaning of good or tov is revealed in one verse of Scripture: gave.
God gave his Son to have a relationship with me and that I will never die.  Sure sounds like a Good idea to me. 

What Am I Entitled To?

Our government and nation have come to believe everyone is entitled to something: medicare, social programs, health care and many other things.  Politicians pledge to do something to get the vote out.  We are promised jobs, cash payments, and even money toward a funeral.  Strangely, the more we get, the more we want.  Our financial house of our government is bloated for such largess.

As a Christian, I have come to know I am entitled to death because of sin.  Those are real wages I have earned because of my rebellion against God.  Rebellion in the Bible is not just breaking his rules, but saying your rules have no business in MY life.  I will do what I want when I want it.  I also learned I am entitled to God’s love because He CHOSE to love and cannot act in any other way.

On one hand death and the other hand love.  If I do nothing toward His Call to repentence then I am entitled to eternal death and separation from Him.  I wondered how a loving God could send me to Hell.  If I have chosen rebellion, then he grants my fullest desire–the absence of His presence for eternity.  This is truly HELL.  If I agree I deserve death but desire eternal life, I receive it by His Grace.  Nothing I do entitles me to this Grace because it is a gift, and no one is entitled to gifts–not even on a birthday.

This generation should be given a title like the generation when Regan was president.  It was called the “me” generation because people were only thinking about themselves and making money.  Now the “entitled” generation of this decade just wants Uncle Sam to give to them more and more.  Perhaps the same belief in entitlement makes people believe they are entitled to a God who just gives, and gives and gives with a little prayer.  They have not realized what they truly are entitled to—death.

There was a time when…

There was a time when the telephone was anchored by a cord and we had to get up and answer it.  Now we have a cordless phone with caller id so we can ignore anyone we want without a guilty feeling.  There was a time when a board game such as checkers or chess was played on the dining room table.  Now I can play without another person when I am in line at McDonald’s or waiting in my car for my family. There was a time when families would talk during the evening meal and relate the events of the day.  Now we go through the aforementioned McDonald’s, wolf down the happy meal on the way to piano, sporting events or school functions.  There was a time when dodge ball and tag where played without fear or governmental oversight but to teachers who somehow knew how to keep a majority of kids safe.  There was a time when if a kid did get a scrap on the playground, they went to the school nurse for a little TLC and a band aid. 

There was time when God said to the parents of Israel they were to teach the basics of the faith when they walked, when they went to bed and when they got up the next day.  How can we do this when  everyone has a cell phone to text, play, listen to music and basically ignore the rest of the family.  Children under the age of twelve want their own cell phones.  Why?  So they can talk to their friends I am told.  We did that face to face forty years ago.  Toddlers and infants have their own cell phone which make noise and down the road they will ask, ask, ask their parents so they can be like the other kids.  They want a lap-top computer for school work.  Why?  I went through twelve years of public school, four years of college and a whole bunch of post grad school without one.  I did have two things I think are still around:  books and a library. 

There was a time honest and hard work brought you the rewards of your labor.  Today, more and more feel they are entitled to compensation without the struggle.  Perhaps the reward of labor was not the money or the things we purchased from that income, but the struggle in itself.  It taught us to not give up and seek the easy road.  Oh well!  I guess when I reflect like this I sound like by parents.  They were the greatest generation who conquered tyrants without a bit of second guessing.  They survived a depression worse than what we have here today.  Maybe we can learn something from the statement, “There was a time when…”.

God’s greatest task for parents is to raise Godly offspring according to Malachi.  Now this might require non-paid labor and it requires a face to face meeting called conversation.  How novel!  Parents and kids talking without a technological device.  What will this world do?

Isn’t It Amazing How Job Titles Have Changed?

Taking with our social worker about statesment or politicians, he coined the word “poll-ition”.  He is right.  Job titles have changed over the years.  Growing up, I had teachers who invested their lives and talents into my young life.  From elementary through college and seminary and beyond, they shared more than information.  Today, teachers are called educators.  They convey information, but do they convey their life? 

The Bible says God has given the church certain offices to build up the body and pastor/teacher is one such office.  It does not call them pastor/educators because the Christian life must be shared with a growing disciple.  You must give them time, time and more time.  It is following the lifestyle of Jesus who spent three years with his disciples. 

Years ago, we had statesmen and women who worked in government.  Names such as Stevenson, Humphrey, Churchill, labored and made hard and difficult decisions and statements because they needed to be done.  But today, we have poll-itions who waver in the wind like wheat.  Blowing in many directions as the wind blows they make decisions on poll-itical expediency.  

Also, years ago, the word clergy spoke of those in professional ministry.  It comes from the Greek kergyma or to shout or proclaim.  It describes the work we are to do.  However, a pastor, as an under-shepherd is to walk with the sheep, talk with the sheep, and as one author put it, we are to “smell” like the sheep by being so close. 

Job titles change and sometimes to make them look important.  Oh well, I would rather not worry about a title except one–the righteousness of God through Christ. 

Has Anyone Noticed Job Titles Have Changed?

Showing yesterday’s blog to the Social Worker at SouthernCare, he remarked we no longer have statesman but poll-itions.  This seems abundantly true.  What happened to personal convictions and ethics?  People say they do not want an extreme Christian running for office because they might bring Christian values with them to a secular government.  Does an atheist bring their no-God belief system to our government
Years ago, I had teachers.  Today, those who teach our children are called educators.  An educator conveys facts to the student, but a teacher shares their life.  The Bible does not say God gave the church pastors/educators but pastors and teachers.  The Christian life is to be conveyed to the disciple.  It involves time and more time as you reveal to them what God has show you and how he has dealt with you in good and in bad. 

Political (or should I say poll-itical) people will blow with the winds of change and stray from their own convictions if they had any.  People say Rep. Ryan is a brave politician for coming out with a very serious budget.  I am not making any judgements on his motives.  I just wish we had men and women of government who would stand up for what they believe and not worry about their future.  I have not seen too many former politicans starving on the streets after their terms of office.  They seem to rebound well financially.  If they don’t do something, we may be the ones in trouble. 

Come on leaders–LEAD!

Showmen or Statesmen? What does this County Need?

A quote often attributed to P.T. Barnum is “There is a sucker born every minute.”  Barnum had the American Museum and because of its popularity, people would not leave and so new paying customers could not come inside.  That was until Barnum opened a new exhibit with the sign, “This way to the egress.”  Crowds would walk in that direction until they were outside and with the door locking them out would have to pay again to go back inside the American Museum.

In today’s political environment, Barnum would have been proud.  No matter which side of the political spectrum we are on, we both have “showmen” in government.  They speak to the reporters, television, print or electronic sources and the people of American will follow blindly.  Eventually if we are not careful, we might find ourselves on the outside of the American Museum wondering what happened.

Truth can only be found in Christ.  He is the Truth.  He is not a truth, but The Truth.  The Greek usage of ego ami removes any doubt by adding emphasis or exclusivity to the statement.  World religions will give the term “good teacher” to Jesus, but he neither declared himself good or teacher.  Those who followed him called him Rabbi, and he did not defer them.  Of course all the way to the cross they never fully understood Peter’s statement, “You are the Christ!” 

Politicians will say what we want to hear.  Even a child will tell their moms or dads what they want them to hear and lie behind their backs–even with a smile.  It is about time our political showmen and women become leaders.  I would rather listen to the reality of something than a fabrication meant to make me feel safe and sound. 

Truth can only be seen in Christ, and the rest–you can follow the showmen to the egress.