A memorial service will be conducted at 11:00 a.m. today at the Mid-County Church of Christ in Troy, OH for Jack McKeown, age 56. A native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jack served as a preaching minister for more than 35 years for churches in AR, CA, FL, OH and OK, as well as Ireland. He preached on numerous occasions throughout the United States and Great Britain and returned on two occasions to Britain to work as a missionary. Survivors include his wife, Elizabeth, three adult children and three grandchildren. Send memorial contributions to the American Cancer Society, T-Cell lymphoma – Sezary Syndrome.
Oddly enough, I don’t recall the first time we met. I say “oddly” because it was difficult to meet Jack McKeown and not remember him. What was it you noticed first? His easy smile or his hearty laugh? Was it his bright eyes (how they ever danced with interest and wit!) or his dapper appearance? Most likely of all it was his passion for God’s good news, Jesus Christ. His courage in the face of difficulties could command your attention and his swiftness to encourage others was often inspiring. He was, quite simply, nothing less than a prince of a man to me and one of the dearest friends with which God has ever blessed me.
When God gave us the gift of friendship, we wasted no time unwrapping the gift. We quickly came to speak with each other as if we had been brothers from birth. We readily shared our hopes and dreams as well as our troubles and concerns. Quite simply, we literally rejoiced with each other when joy was at hand and we wept with each other when only tears would do.
But Jack was much more than a friend to me; he was an instructor to me of Christ. Several years my senior and a veteran minister while I was just a pup in preaching, I watched Jack, yea, studied him some. As he served God’s people in a variety of places and ways, I made it a point to learn what I could from his ways with God and his people.
Jokingly, and with just a hair of jealousy, I often teased Jack about how I had to work like a dog just to get together something people might half listen to in a sermon, while all he had to do was begin to speak and by the fifth word he would have every heart in his hand and every listening ear charmed, given his wonderful, Irish brogue.
But it was not what he came by naturally that I admired most in Jack, but what God’s Spirit worked in him and through him. For in so, so many ways Jack was the incarnation of oh, so many virtues I have longed to see more fully formed in me. To listen to Paul’s description of the fruit of God’s Spirit in a person’s life was to hear a listing of qualities I saw in abundance in the life of Jack McKeown:
“. . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
And he was, to me, the epitome of Christ-like ministry in his shepherding of people with sensitivity and care, grace and deep, genuine love. He was a leader of leaders, a visionary par excellence, ever able to see, and willing to convey, precisely what people needed to hear most at any given time.
And so I can say today not merely as an admiring friend, but as an attentive student of his life, Jack was a gifted man of God and a man who laid down his life as an offering to God.
If Jack had a favorite Scripture, it surely was the one I heard him quote most frequently: “Preach the word.” (2 Timothy 4:2) But there is a passage I cannot hear or read without thinking of him, for it speaks precisely in terms of how, and why, Jack McKeown lived his life as he did:
“If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11)
Of the following I know Jack was persuaded. Surely now his persuasion has become reality:
“. . . to be depart and be with the Lord is far better . . .” (Philippians 1:23)
With these words, I encourage myself and offer them to you for the same. May God grant us a good remembrance of this very good man and may we, in our remembering, truly honor and revere the One he served. Amen.