4292 Balboa Avenue, Clairemont
Pastor: John McKeel
Born: Wichita, Kansas
Formation: Columbia Christian College, Portland, Oregon; Pepperdine University, Malibu
Years Ordained: 32
San Diego Reader: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?
Pastor John McKeel: Life with a capital L. I really believe life is an adventure and we’re here to experience the highs and the lows. I have little patience for people who have been given gift of life and squander it…. We need to get out and meet people and experience things. Here in San Diego, especially, we have the ocean, the beach, the mountains, and the most amazing mix of people that I’ve met anywhere.
SDR: What makes life such an adventure for you?
PM: I was working at a university in Phoenix and I hated every minute of it. One day my wife leaned across the breakfast table and said, “Honey, the last of the kids has left home. What do you say we sell the house and give away everything we own and buy that sailboat we’ve always dreamed about?” I thought she was joking…but when I came home from work that day, I saw a “For Sale” sign on the front lawn and the house sold the next day. After we bought our sailboat — the Santa Teresa — the patron saint of romance and headache sufferers — an appropriate name for a sailboat, we sailed down the coast, pulled into San Diego. We had some engine trouble and I think our anchor got stuck on the bottom here because we stayed ever since.
But here’s the strange part of the story. I went to kindergarten here in San Diego in 1956–1957, and I remember as a kid that my father and other men of the congregation were building a building. Mom and the other ladies were making the sandwiches…and the kids were playing in the dirt. I had the most important job — I had a little red wagon and I’d fill it with nails and bring them to the men so they could build the building. What do you know? But 40 years later I’m the senior minister in that building. I had no idea it was until one day I was rummaging around in the attic and ran across some old bulletins. That’s when I realized I’d come home.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
PM: We go to the waiting place….When Jesus died on the cross, he was crucified between two thieves, and one of them turned to Jesus and asked him to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. And Jesus turned to him, and said, “This day, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).… There is a day coming when the world will end and the age is over and we all come to judgment. Meanwhile, the faithful wait in paradise…. But there is the paradise and the other waiting place. That’s the place of torment. If you remember in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), Lazarus had a hard time in this life, but he went to the bosom of Abraham, and across the divide there was the rich man, traditionally called Dives, who is in anguish, also waiting for the judgment in a transitory place, too, until judgment. But if someone doesn’t make it to heaven, then it’s a place that I don’t want to be. In other words, if you die and smell smoke, you’re in trouble.