As we approach Father’s Day, perhaps I could tell you about my number one son from his father’s perspective. Incidentally, he’s an excellent father himself to Grant, Abigail, and Erin.
Neil McKeever is a junior. Joe Neil McKeever, jr., to be exact. He lives in Mobile and works in Pascagoula at the shipyards, in the HR department. He and Julie and my three grands are faithful members of the great Cottage Hill Baptist Church, and Neil often teaches a Sunday School class. Julie is the financial secretary for a nearby church.
Neil is a deacon and has been chairman (in their previous church). He is a singer and has often taken leading roles as singer or narrator in pageants.
But he wasn’t always rightly connected with the Lord. This is about two instances in his adult life where the Lord stepped in and remedied that. Big time, too.
In the late 1980s, I was pastoring in North Carolina. Neil was out of college and living there, but not in our home. He wasn’t going to church and as far as I could tell, living for the Lord was far from important to him. So one day I told Margaret my plan.
“I’m going to talk to Neil about his relationship to the Lord.” And how are you going to manage that? she wanted to know. I said, “I’ll take him to a Braves ball game and have a captive audience in the car.” She said, “He’s not going to like it.” I said, “It’s worth running that risk.”
I called him up and invited him to go with me the following Friday. We would make the four hour jaunt down I-85 from Charlotte to Atlanta, get a steak, and see the Braves play baseball, and then come home, arriving at 2 am. He didn’t hesitate. “Yes sir!”
That Friday went off well. We had a nice drive down, a good dinner, and we loved the ball game. And then we were driving north on the interstate in the middle of the night. I began…
“Son, I want to talk with you about your relationship to Jesus Christ.”
He said, “Dad, I’d rather not.”
I said, “I know you wouldn’t. But this is so important, I’m willing to risk angering you.”
I said, “You don’t have to listen and you don’t have to say anything. But we’re doing 75 mph on the interstate and you can’t get out, so I’m going to talk.”
I told him when he was 7 years old, I was not happy that he began pressuring me to be saved. “I wanted you to be fifteen when you made that commitment so you’d not be one of those people who say ‘I didn’t know what I was doing.’ But when you kept at it, your mother said, ‘Joe, you have to deal with this!’ We did, we prayed with you, and I baptized you.”
I went on to say I didn’t know whether he was saved or not, that I certainly was not seeing any evidence of it in his life now, and that concerned me.
“One of these days, son, I’ll be leaving this world. And I’m going to Heaven. But, if I got to Heaven and you didn’t, it would be hell to me. I love you as much as it’s possible to love another human. And I don’t want to go to Heaven without you.”
He didn’t say anything. We rode in silence for a while, and then we began to talk of other matters. The next day he told his mother, “That’s the last ball game I’m going to with Dad!”
A couple of years later.
I had gone to pastor the First Baptist Church of Kenner, LA, across the street from the New Orleans airport. We had a school that went through the eighth grade, with nearly 300 students. Our principal, Pam Mancuso, was a prayer warrior who would start the day talking to the Lord and then come in and tell you what He said. At first, I thought she was a little over the top about this. Then I began seeing that everything she said was on the money.
I began believing in Pam’s prayers.
One morning Pam said, “Brother Joe, this morning the Lord told me He wants Neil to teach in our school.”
I said skeptically, “Pam, you don’t even know Neil.”
She said, “You’re right. But God does.”
I said, “You’ve got that right!” As much praying as his mom and I were doing for him.
Margaret agreed with me that the idea of Neil teaching in a Christian school was too far-fetched.
When Pam mentioned it again and I had no response, she said, “Aren’t you going to see him soon?” I would be flying to Charlotte, overnighting with Neil, and driving on to Roanoke for a revival.
I said I would. “Then, mention it to him,” she said.
I did. And went on to Roanoke for the meeting, then returned. We went to dinner before I caught the plane home to New Orleans. “Son,” I said, “you haven’t mentioned teaching in our school. So I assume you aren’t interested.”
O, ye of little faith.
“No, I am interested.”
I said, “You are?”
I put him in touch with Pam at our school and he began sitting in on classes at Charlotte Christian School. And at one point, I told him plainly….
“Son, if you’re coming to New Orleans but not going to join the church and serve the Lord, please don’t come. My ministry does not need another dose of what my children put us through in North Carolina.”
He moved to New Orleans, joined the church, joined the choir, and began going to Bible studies for the singles. And one day he came in and said, “Dad, I’ve met someone. Julie Gatwood.”
She had joined our church a few weeks before Neil moved down. From nearby Slidell, Julie was a legal secretary, and a solid believer. They were married a year later.
She was the best thing that could ever have happened to our son. We are eternally grateful. Their adult children love the Lord and their home is wall-papered with love. Neil and Julie have been on many mission trips together. In fact, he will be joining a group from their church on a mission to Puerto Rico in a week.
Happy Father’s Day to my son Neil, and to second son Marty (and while I’m at it, to daughter Carla!). I am one proud father.