Divorce, T.S. Eliot & a great story about India

29 Aug

This week a well-known pastor couple has called it quits. They are a pastor couple in that they “co-pastor” their church, one of the largest churches in the US.

They are calling it quits. They are not quitting the ministry; they are quitting their marriage. Both will apparently stay in the ministry. One of them will continue leading a media-empire and the other will lead the church from what I can tell. I do not want to be judgmental. I do not what to name them. I do not know these people. I have caught them on Christian television from time to time and I have seen their faces in Christian magazines, but I do not know anything about their lives, the marriage, their spiritual life. I do not know much of their preaching emphasis, but it appears to be in the “God-wants-you-wealthy/success-in-life” media-saturated vein. And now they are getting a divorce. What the heck?!?

This news has got me wondering…

How will the Pentecostal/charismatic community respond?

Does this look like the Church that we read about in the New Testament?

Is marriage sacred anymore?

Would I choose ministry of my marriage?

Do I love my wife like Christ loves the church or do I love the church like Christ loves my wife?

When will the media-driven, success-in-life, get-rich-with-God’s-help message lose it grip on American Christians?

When will they (we) start reading the verses in the Bible that we don’t have underlined or in a “promise book” or on a refrigerator magnet? (Verses like “Life doesn’t exists in the abundance of possessions.”

I haven’t had much time to blog this week, because I am getting ready for three sermons this weekend. I am preaching two at a youth retreat in Florida on Friday night and Saturday and I am preaching my regular Sunday morning service at home. Not complaints…I love it, but it has kept me busy.

I was reading some of the works of T.S. Eliot this week. Eliot was an American-born poet who later became a British citizen (a “subject”). He was friends with noted agnostic Bertrand Russell, but did not follow Russell in a denial of the Christian faith. Eliot came to Christ in 1927 and remained an Anglican until his death in 1965.

I read his poem Ash Wednesday which is a wonderful reflection on repentance. One line in the opening paragraph was particularly thought-provoking for me.

Why should I mourn the vanished power of the usual reign?

The “usual reign,” the reign of self, the reign of conscious control….should we get upset when its power has yielded to Another? Why should I feel internal turmoil when I feel the hands of providence leading me down an unknown path? God is leading me by the Holy Spirit down a path of servant hood and self-sacrifice. I am no longer leading. I am being lead, by Hands of another. They are good hands, strong hands, trustworthy hands.

I was thinking of that line when I got the following email from a member of our church. It tells the story of Dr. Charles McCoy who saw the power of the usual reign vanish. He was ready for retirment from the ministry in the US, when God opened up a new ministry for McCoy as a missionary in India. What a moving story. Here it is:

Let me tell you a very “humorous” story. It’s about a seventy-two-year-old Baptist preacher named Charles McCoy. McCoy was pastoring a Baptist church in Oyster Bay, New York, when at age seventy-two he was mandated by his denomination to retire. A lifelong bachelor, he had cared for his mother for as long as she lived. In his spare time he had earned seven university degrees, including two Ph.D.’s—one from Dartmouth, the other from Columbia. But now, at age seventy-two, he was being forced to retire from the ministry.

He was depressed. “I just lay on my bed thinking that my life’s over, and I haven’t really done anything yet. I’ve been pastor of this church for so many years and nobody really wants me much—what have I done for Christ? I’ve spent an awful lot of time working for degrees, but what does that count for? I haven’t won very many to the Lord.”

A week later he met a Christian pastor from India, and on impulse asked him to preach in his church. After the service the Indian brother asked him matter-of-factly to return the favor. Since he had preached for McCoy, would McCoy come to India and preach for him? McCoy told him that he was going to have to retire and move to a home for the elderly down in Florida. But the Indian insisted, informing McCoy that where he came from, people respected a man when his hair turns white. Would he come?

McCoy thought and prayed about it and decided he would. The members of his church were aghast. Dire predictions were made. The young chairman of his board of deacons summed up the attitude of the congregation when he asked, “What if you die in India?” I love McCoy’s answer. He told him he reckoned “it’s just as close to heaven from there as it is from here.” He sold most of his belongings, put what was left in a trunk, and booked a one-way passage to India—his first trip ever out of the United States!

When he arrived in Bombay, he discovered to his horror that his trunk was lost. All he had were the clothes on his back, his wallet, his passport, and the address of missionaries in Bombay he had clipped from a missionary magazine when he left. He asked for directions, got on a streetcar and headed for their house. When he got there, he discovered that while he was on the streetcar his wallet and passport had been stolen! He went to the missionaries who welcomed him in, but who told him the man who had invited him to come to India was still in the U.S.A. and would probably remain there indefinitely.

What was he going to do now? they wanted to know. Unperturbed, McCoy told them he had come to preach and that he would try to make an appointment with the mayor of Bombay. They warned him that the mayor was very busy and important and that in all the years they had been missionaries there, they had never succeeded in getting an appointment with him. Nevertheless, McCoy set out for the mayor’s office the next day—and he got in! When the mayor saw McCoy’s business card, listing all his degrees, he reasoned that McCoy must not be merely a Christian pastor, but someone much more important. Not only did he get an appointment, but the mayor held a tea in his honor, attended by all of the big officials in Bombay! Old Dr. McCoy was able to preach to these leaders for half an hour. Among them was the director of India’s West Point, the National Defense Academy at Poona. He was so impressed at what he heard that he invited McCoy to preach there.

Thus was launched, at age seventy-two, a brand new, sixteen-year ministry for Dr. Charles McCoy. Until he died at age eighty-eight, this dauntless old man circled the globe preaching the gospel. There is a church in Calcutta today because of {94} his preaching and a thriving band of Christians in Hong Kong because of his faithful ministry. He never had more than enough money than to get him to the next place he was to go. He died one afternoon at a hotel in Calcutta, resting for a meeting he was to preach at that evening. He had indeed found himself as close to heaven there as he would have been at his church in Oyster Bay, New York, or in a retirement home in Florida. It was incongruous—an old man, waiting to die at age seventy-two, leaving everything he had ever known and preaching around the world. That’s funny! But funnier still was the surprise of God’s grace, completing the incongruity of this old man. May we all know this quality of humor in our lives as we wait!

Taken from “Keep on Laughing, Genesis 18”
a sermon by Ben Patterson (

Adapted from Franklin Graham, with Jeanette Lockerbie, Bob Pierce, This One Thing I Do (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983), pp. 115-21.

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Posted by on August 29, 2007 in Ministry



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