(After years of declining health, most acutely during the past couple of months, my dad died Monday morning. That explains why I haven’t written any blog posts this week. The only thing I wrote this week was his eulogy, and as one final way of honoring him I’d like to share that eulogy here as a post. I preached this virtually word for word the way I wrote it.)
What I’m doing tonight is a one-off. I got one father in my life, and this is the one time I’ll preach his funeral. So, I’ve had a lot of different things on my mind and my heart, and if you’ll permit me I’m just going to run with this and see how it goes.
Some of you know who Miranda Lambert is. For those of you who don’t, she’s a country music star. A few years back, in 2007, she had a hit song called “Famous In A Small Town.” The gist of that song was that everybody who spends their life in a small town becomes so well known in that town that they are famous (at least for that town) when they die. Well, Bakersville is a small town, Spruce Pine is a small town, Mitchell county is a small county, and daddy was famous. People either grew up with him, were kin to him, went to school with him, played ball with him, ran around with him, drag-raced him in his legendary ’62 Ford with the 406 engine, played youth- league football for him, or worked with him during one of the 283 jobs he held in his lifetime.
I’ll give you a few examples of what I’m talking about. Randall Mckinney is suffering from the effects of Lou Gehrig’s disease, so much so that he can no longer speak. When he heard that daddy had died, he wrote on a piece of paper the word “undefeated.” Then he started writing out the names of his teammates that had played on one of daddy’s youth-league football teams, a team that had gone undefeated.
Tonya and I were in Ingles Monday night buying a few groceries, and Tony Hoilman (one of the managers there) came over and started talking. He said, “I was sorry to hear about your dad.” Then he told me that daddy was the only coach he ever had who had let him try out for quarterback. He said daddy let him play quarterback for a week. Just the fact that daddy gave him a shot at the job meant enough to him to talk about it years later.
Here’s another example. My first day of Driver’s Ed. class at Mitchell High School (I guess it was 1982), Leroy Ledford, the Drivers Ed. teacher, called roll. He came to my name and said, “Russell Mckinney.” I said, “Here.” Then he stopped right there in the middle of class, looked at me, and said, “Your daddy was in the first drag race I ever attended.” Then he went on to tell me how the law had showed up and how he had had to jump over a fence and hide in a ditch. I thought to myself, “Well, it’s important that a Driver’s Ed. teacher knows how to handle himself at a drag race.”
But that’s been my life. Over the years, I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many conversations I’ve had that started with the question, “How’s you daddy?” Daddy just had that way about him. He had a natural charisma and likability. In some weird way, even if he did you a wrong turn, you still liked him.
And he was so talented in so many areas. He was well known for being (in his prime) the best mechanic in Mitchell county. For years, I thought it was only the people of Bakersville who knew him that way. But when I went into the ministry one of the elderly preachers who took a liking to me was Preacher Cassity from Spruce Pine. And once he figured out who I was, he said, “Oh, I know Lloyd. He used to work on my car when he worked at the Ford place.” Then he told me how good a mechanic daddy was.
And daddy wasn’t just a great mechanic with cars; he was a first-rate diesel mechanic, too. That was how he earned his living during his later years.
He was a good athlete. He was the co-captain of his Bowman High School football team along with his buddy Emmitt Burleson. He played baseball, too. He played 3rd base and was a power hitter who hit in the middle of the order.
He knew how to put out a garden. He knew about guns. He used to ride around Mckinney Cove with a rifle hanging on a gun rack in the back window of his truck and look for groundhogs way off in the fields. When he would see one, he would pull over, sight in that rifle, and shoot at that groundhog just for the marksmanship challenge of it.
He could fish. He and a bunch of his friends went to the beach one time to deep-sea fish, and daddy caught the biggest fish of the trip.
He could drive a tractor-trailer. He made his living doing that for years. He drove the west-coast and just about everywhere else. His brother Buddy was talking the other night about how it seemed like daddy had a photographic memory for interstates, roads, and highways. Long before g.p.s., you could plop him down anywhere in the United States and he wouldn’t be lost. He’d know exactly where he was and how to get to where he needed to go. If you ever went on a long trip yourself, he could tell you interstates, road numbers, exit numbers, and how many red lights were in a town. He really was unbelievable that way.
I’m telling you, when it comes to natural talents and abilities, I’m not half the man daddy was (and I’ve known few people that were). I would describe it this way: He had a gear in him that was uncommon. And if you ever saw him operating in that gear, you were impressed. But here’s the part that was so frustrating, so maddening, so illogical about him: He simply could not or would not always operate in that gear. He would show it to you (let you see a flash of it), and then he would do something completely contradictory to it.
For example, yes, he was a great mechanic. But when he went into business for himself running the Texaco station in Bakersville (Mckiney Texaco), it wasn’t too long before he went belly up. Why? It was because he had no interest in the responsibility of laying in there day after day, working on cars, and running a business. All the skills were there, but he just wouldn’t let that side of him become successful owning and operating that business.
That was daddy. He was a walking contradiction. If you were around him consistently, he could show you the best times of your life, but the same man could also show you the worst times of your life. I mean, he was never just anything or always anything (either for the good or the bad). Whatever you saw in him, either something good or something bad, all you had to do was hang around him a little longer and you’d see something completely opposite.
It was like his personality had ten different sides to it. Two of them would make you want to be his friend. Two of them could be successful at just about anything. Two of them would want to ride the roads, have a big time, and blow money. Two of them would want to go to church every time the doors were open. And two of them would make you want to swing at him or kill him. How do you preach the funeral of a man like that?
I do want to say one thing about him. And to get me into it, I’ll use a verse of scripture: Ecclesiastes 12:1. That verse begins by saying: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth…” Then the verse goes on to describe the days of youth in the following way: “…while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”
You see, that verse teaches that when you become an adult, your days become “evil.” That’s the word the King James translation uses. Other translations translate the original Hebrew as “days of trouble” or “days of adversity.” The point is that when you are young, you don’t have to worry about being to work on time, paying the bills, which insurance plan you need to enroll in, how you are going to pay for the new roof your house needs, etc., etc. All you have to do is enjoy being a kid.
And daddy (with momma’s help) gave me the opportunity to have a wonderful childhood. The first house I remember us living in was the one they rented in Bakersville, the little stucco house on the hill across from Charles Blevins’ house. Then we moved from there up to White Oak, where they rented the farm house that was part of Ed Wilson’s dairy farm. Then they built the house over in Mckinney Cove. That was the house I grew up in.
We had the best Christmases there. Daddy loved Christmas. I think it was his favorite time of the year. I’ve thought for years that he loved it so much because, in a lot of ways, he never really grew up himself. A big part of him was always that little boy growing up in Green Cove, the youngest of 7 kids, the one who was petted rotten.
We opened our presents on Christmas Eve and then Santa Claus came later that night while we were asleep. One year, after I was older and had figured out the Santa Claus deal, I asked for a little pinball machine as a gift. That Christmas Eve, way past midnight, I woke up to the sound of Santa Claus playing that pinball machine in the living room. I told momma the next morning, “I heard Santa Claus playing my pinball machine last night.” She replied, “The whole neighborhood heard Santa Claus playing your pinball machine last night.” But that was daddy, and I will always, always be indebted to him for all that.
Let me give you an illustration that he would appreciate. He loved old westerns. They were his favorite thing to watch. Gunsmoke was his favorite show of all time, but this illustration comes from an old Western called “The Rifleman.” Some of you remember that show. It’s the one that starred Chuck Conners as Lucas McCain. In one episode, the townspeople leave Lucas alone to face four outlaws, and when Lucas tells his young son Mark to go home to the house, Mark objects by saying, “Pa, ain’t I old enough now that I can stand together with you and help you fight?” Lucas’ answer to that is, “No son. You’ve got the rest of your life to do man things. Right now you still need to be doing boy things.” Well, whatever else Lloyd Mckinney did or didn’t do in his life, he worked and did his part to ensure that my brother Richie and I had good days growing up as boys. We got to do a whole lot of boy things, and they are good memories.
Was he perfect? If you knew him, you know the answer to that question. And I can tell you that he had a lot of regrets. One night a few weeks ago, when he had been in Spruce Pine Hospital a couple of days, he was totally clear minded. It was about 10:00 at night, and he and I were in his room all alone. And we talked about things that he (under normal circumstances) would never have talked about.
It started with him, more or less, wanting to know what I thought was going to happen to him. Did I think he was going to die? Did I think he was going to end up in the Brian Center? I told him that I didn’t know but that he was in bad shape and that something was going to have give some way or another. To that, he said, “Well, I believe you reap what you sow, and I guess I’m reaping what I’ve sown.” Again, under normal circumstances he would never have admitted that or acknowledged it. But he did that night.
I said, “Well, yeah, I guess you are.” He continued, “I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life.” I said, “Well, we all have. I know that I’ve done things that I regret.” That’s when he looked at me, gave me one of his looks, and said, “You think you have.” That was the closest I ever got in 53 years to hearing him be down-to-the-bone honest about his life. Normally, if you asked him about any of that kind of stuff he’d say, “What’s it to you?” or “Who wants to know?” But that night he was real.
-Was he saved? Was he a Christian? I asked him that question one night not too long after that when he was in the Brian Center. He was telling me all about how he wanted his funeral to be and where he wanted to be buried, and I said, “Now wait a minute. Before you leave us let’s just make sure that you’re ready to go. Are you ready to meet the Lord? Have you got that covered?” He took great offense to that question, and blew my hair back with the answer, “Yes, I’m ready to meet the Lord. I settled that back in 19…..” I said, “Alright, I believe you. I was just making sure.”
I do believe he was saved, and I believed that even before he told me that. He grew up in this church (Roan Mountain Baptist). He made of profession of faith in Jesus, got baptized, and became a member of this church. During the years that daddy and momma were married, he was a member of Mckinney Cove Baptist. At one point later, when he was dating Rita, he was a member of Cane Creek Freewill Baptist.
He sent money to the Billy Graham organization. When we cleaned out his apartment Tuesday we found all kinds of Billy Graham “Decision” magazines that he had kept. We also found a Charles Stanley daily devotional book and that classic daily devotional “Streams in the Desert.” He had three or four Bibles, one of them falling apart from use. He had a whole bunch of southern gospel albums, cassettes, and c.d.s., too.
He loved southern gospel. When I was growing up, on Sunday mornings at our house when he was in from trucking, he would play the Inspirations, the Primitive Quartet, the Hardin Brothers, etc. That was his worship music.
-There was a time in my life when I started a church (Disciples Road Church), which I pastored for eight-and-a-half years. And in the our final years there with that church daddy attended faithfully.
Somebody might say, “Well, I hear what you are saying, Russell, but I know for a fact that Lloyd did this, that, or the other thing.” Well, I believe you. You could tell me anything about him, either for the good or the bad, and I would believe you. Really, the great tragedy of his life was what he could have been if he had ever come fully and totally under the lordship of Jesus — not just get saved — and let Jesus mold him and shape him and guide him. But that didn’t happen.
-Still, though, the Bible teaches that we are not saved by our works. Ephesians 2:8 says: “For by grace (grace is God’s undeserved, unearned favor) are ye saved through faith (that’s faith in Jesus Christ), and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Friend, you can’t do one thing to earn or deserve a gift. The moment you earn it or deserve it it’s no longer a gift; it’s pay. The only thing you can do with a gift is accept it or reject it. And the gift of salvation is all wrapped up in Jesus Christ. So, you either accept it by placing your belief in Jesus as Savior or you reject it by rejecting Him as Savior. There is no third option.
I’m not going to fight about this or get into a theological debate about it, but I do believe the Bible teaches eternal security (once saved, always saved). In John 10:29, Jesus says that no one is able to pluck His sheep out of God the Father’s hand.
2nd Corinthians 1:21-22 says that God has given the Christian the indwelling Holy Spirit as the earnest. That’s an old English reference to “earnest money.” Nowadays we call it “downpayment money.” So, God has given the Christian the indwelling Holy Spirit as a downpayment on salvation, and God always pays His bills in full.
Romans 4:8 teaches that God will never again impute sin to the believer, and that word “impute” means “to charge to an account.” The teaching is that God will never again charge any sin to the Christian’s heavenly account.
John 1:12 teaches that the person who receives Jesus as Savior becomes the child of God. Once that heavenly Father-child relationship is established, it cannot be broken. I am a father to Ryan and Royce, and they will always be my children, regardless of their moment-by-moment, day-to-day behavior.
And then here’s one more that I really like. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul talks about the love of God. It is, however, a very specific type of the love of God. Paul calls it “the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Those words “Christ Jesus our Lord” show that he is speaking to Christians. Then, Paul says about that love of God: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels (that’s a reference to good angels/unfallen angels), nor principalities (that’s a reference to bad angels/fallen angels/Satan and his demons), nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature (and that includes even us ourselves), shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And so, ladies and gentlemen, based upon that passage, these others I’ve mentioned, and several others that I didn’t take the time to mention, I believe in the eternal security of the Christian. That means that if Lloyd Mckinney, at any point in his life, placed his belief in Jesus as his personal Savior, that was enough to ensure that at the moment of his death his soul departed and went to heaven.
That’s why I really can’t grieve all that much tonight. I can’t grieve because I know what his quality of life has been for these past few years (in particular these past couple of months), and I know what his quality of life became became this past Monday morning just before 6:30 a.m.
So, in closing, the family and I thank you so much for all that you’ve done these past couple of days. Thank you for the prayers, the phone calls, the texts, the comments on Facebook, the offers to do something to help, and the attendance tonight. Also, I personally thank you for your indulgence as I have preached what has been the longest eulogy I’ve ever delivered. Normally in doing these things I keep things kind of short out of consideration for the family, but for this one the family is me. But right now our church choir is going to do a song, and then I’ll come back and close the service with a prayer.