I called him Dad.
And he called me Son.
The first time I met Danny Kirk, I was a high school senior taking his daughter out on our first official date. He was smiling and friendly and, as I would later learn, prohibited by his wife and daughter from giving me a hard time.
In the months that followed, I would come to experience the love of Jesus afresh through Angie, her family, and her church, which quickly became my church, too. When I struggled with a sense that God wanted me to become a pastor, Danny guided me through the wilderness, gave me my earliest opportunities to preach and serve, and mentored me each step of the way.
On June 14, 1997, Danny became my father-in-law, officially, when he pronounced Angie and I as husband and wife. But he’d already become another father to me – a father who would help to initiate and usher me into manhood, marriage, ministry, and parenthood.
I can’t tell you how many road trip and back porch conversations Danny and I have had over the last 28 years in which we talked about life’s significant transitions, our sins and God’s grace, our experiences with suffering, our frustrations in leadership, our failures and successes, and so much more.
I had the privilege of preaching his funeral service, just seven weeks after I preached my own Dad’s service back in Kentucky. In the message, I shared how, on one particular road trip together, Danny and I listened to a funeral message together. It was the late Dr. E. V. Hill, preaching the funeral of his beloved wife. Dr. Hill quoted Job 1:21…
Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Job 1:20-21 NKJV
Job, who had just suffered tremendous loss, offers this philosophy of life: We have nothing when we’re born. Everything we enjoy is a gift from God. Everything we lose was also a gift from God. God be blessed, no matter what.
When times were good, Danny Kirk taught us all to express gratitude to God, often and out loud.
And when times got hard, in moments of loss and pain, Danny Kirk taught us to express gratitude to God, often and out loud.
His faith constantly inspired ours, even to the final moments of his life on this earth with us.
I wanted to share here, in this written post, what I shared in the funeral message about Danny’s life and his impact on all of us. In particular, there were at least seven virtues he modeled before all of us.
I loved hearing Dad pray. He always asked for forgiveness, which reminded him of God’s goodness and grace. And he taught us all that God remained good no matter what was happening in our lives. God could be trusted.
Every time he prayed with all of us, he asked the Father for to forgive our sins. This wasn’t, in any way, an undue emphasis on our depravity. Rather, it was a reminder of the goodness and grace of God. It was a reminder that God alone forgives, and he does so faithfully.
Danny was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known. He never stopped learning and he never stopped teaching. Not too many months before his death, I walked in his front door and asked what book he was reading. “A book about salt,” was his reply. And he proceeded to recount to me how the history of the modern world had been shaped by salt as a resource. It was one of dozens of subjects about which he never stopped being curious.
He served on numerous teams and committees over the years where he put his wisdom to use, asking thought-provoking questions and suggesting approaches to leadership and ministry that simply made sense. Even when his questions and reasoning ran against the grain of a group, he was never afraid to voice what felt was right.
There was never a significant decision I made in my life that I didn’t run past him. Even today, as I consider my own future and the future of my kids’ lives, I wish more than anything that I could have conversations with him about it all.
He would do the right thing, no matter the personal cost. He took the high road and went the second mile. He embodied grace and kindness even if it wasn’t returned. He always valued his testimony more than his comfort.
Danny and Carolyn are two of the most generous people I’ve ever known. They give, whether there is ever recognition for it or not. And they give faithfully, whether it’s easy to do so or not, pouring themselves into whatever will outlast them. They gave to their local church, to missions, and to anyone who needed help along the way.
Danny was a doer. As much as he loved reading and collecting knowledge, he also loved working with his hands. He loved operating heavy machinery, flying airplanes, mowing lawns, framing buildings, and wiring something electrical whether the breaker was on or off!
Danny loved to laugh and loved to make others laugh. He often kept us in stitches and loved to dance right along the razor edge of appropriateness (while always maintaining his personal integrity). Often he would crack a joke and, while we were all still laughing, he would blurt out, “Stop pinching me, Carol.” And we’d all laugh a little harder.
Dad loved his people! He loved his wife, his kids, his grandkids, his church members, his small group friends, people he got to meet on mission fields, church planters, and total strangers, even in his final days confined to a hospital bed.
I watched as he treated every nurse, every doctor, and every orderly with the utmost kindness. He smiled through his pain, encouraged in the middle of his own discouraging condition, and sought to elevate and restore a sense of dignity to every person with whom he ever interacted.
I’ve written before about the waves of grief that tend to keep hitting us, long after we experience losses. But in between the waves of pain and struggle come the moments of peaceful solitude and reflection.
Today, I’m reflecting on Danny’s life, which reminds me about the goodness and faithfulness of God, the potential for any of us to really love other people deeply, and the long strategy of living life for God’s honor and glory to leave a lasting legacy.
I hope you’ll honor Danny with me by doing the same.