• Pastor Jason

A Tribute to My Friend - Dr. James Ray McKinney

There is a phrase that comes up over and over in the Bible: "So ______ rested with his fathers..." 1 Kings 2:10

It comes up over and over again in Israel's history. The phrase often marks the transition point from one era to another. At the passing of each king, the Bible records "So _______ rested with his fathers..."

Death is a sleep. It is like resting. When someone dies in Jesus, the next thing they will see is the coming of Jesus in the clouds of heaven. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

So then, when a Christian dies there is less reason to be sad for them than for those they leave behind. It is those who remain alive who must temporarily feel the loss of that person.

When Moses passed away, the Israelites wept and mourned for thirty days. (Deuteronomy 34:8) And yet, "we do not mourn as those who have no hope," (1 Thessalonians 4:13) because Christians have the hope of the resurrection!

I once had the privilege of officiating at a funeral with Dr. JR McKinney. McKinney shared, "Death is like being stored in a safety deposit box. And Jesus has the key!"

Sadly, Dr. McKinney passed away yesterday. My heart goes out to Phyllis and the family. For this reason, I write this tribute to his impact on my life.

Dr. James Ray McKinney may not be Moses or King David, but he was surely a Christian man who gave his life in service to Jesus here in Greeneville, TN. I only met him when I first arrived to Greeneville in 2013. We were looking for a place to live and he was the first to show us around. His lifelong service and impact were evident everywhere.

I remember sharing my Seventh-day Adventist faith with Greeneville residents and the first thing they would say is, "Oh, Seventh-day Adventists, yes they are good people. Dr. McKinney delivered me when I was born." Or, "Oh, I know Seventh-day Adventists. Dr. McKinney is the best doctor I have ever had."

McKinney's healing ministry was long and impactful. But most of all, it was an avenue to point others to Jesus. I remember sitting in Dr. McKinney's Sabbath School class amazed at his command of Scripture and the writings of Ellen White. He seemed to be a walking repository of inspired material. But this was only evidence of a lifelong pursuit of God. Most of all, Dr. McKinney was intent to paint the picture of a God who loved people more than anything. What a beautiful legacy!

As he passes away, I find myself thinking of all that knowledge and life experience which passes away with him. All that history of how Takoma hospital or the Greeneville church was built. Have you ever considered how much knowledge is lost when someone passes away?

But perhaps the greatest thing about Dr. McKinney, from my knowledge of him, is not all that he built, but how graciously he let it all go. When we pass from this earth, we take nothing with us. Our houses, our cars, our companies, our careers... none of it comes with us. Yet, it can be a temptation to feel like these things are ours and to fight for them as if they all depended on us. I am sure that at times during Dr. McKinney's leadership tenure there were some who thought he acted like it all depended upon him. But that is not the man that I observed.

I can only imagine what it was like for Dr. McKinney to see all that he had worked so hard for melt away. As Takoma hospital became Ballad Health and his local church attempted to censure him for his portrayal of God, it must have felt as if everything that he had worked for was coming to nothing. But as I observed him in that moment, facing his accusers, I did not see a man concerned about power or control. Only a man anxious to share the love of Jesus. He may have accomplished many things, but he had not built his identity on them. His identity was in the Jesus he knew and loved. In that moment, when it seemed like he was losing everything, yet really it appeared as if he was losing nothing. His hope in Jesus was so secure that he could afford to be so gracious even to those who opposed him. He forgave them even as they had not asked for forgiveness. I likewise hope that I may be as gracious a servant as he.

I'll always remember his visits to Riverview. I can hear his voice saying, "Good sermon, Jason." I can't wait until Jesus comes again and we can sit together as Jesus Himself teaches us. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

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