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Lessons Learned from the Life of My Grandfather

Lessons Learned from the Life of My Grandfather

Lessons Learned

If you have been at a recent worship service or paid attention on Facebook then you know that my Mom’s dad passed away this week. I’ll fly out to Arkansas later today to officiate his funeral Saturday morning and catch the red-eye flight to be in worship with all of you on Sunday.

My grandfather, Joseph Charles Oliver, was a complicated man. All of his grandkids knew him as Paw-Paw. As a young man raising my Mom he was a street brawler, constantly in bar fights or spending a weekend in jail. One of those fights earned him a large vertical scar down his chest from a bar fight that ended with him taking a bullet to the chest. The story goes that someone in the bar was picking on a handicap guy and my grandfather defended the man by giving the other guy a bit of a beat down. The man pulled a gun, shot my grandfather, to which my grandfather apparently proceeded to give him another beat down and then walked to the ambulance. Always sounded like something out of Steven Segal movie to me. That was my grandfather. Even up into his elderly years he was getting in fights along the side of the road.

Paw-Paw met Jesus the year before I was born in 1975. The man I knew as a child was a Jesus-loving, God-fearing sinner saved and washed by the blood of his Savior Jesus Christ. I can still picture him sitting in the pew next to Maw-Maw. He would always wink at me as I walked by as I impatiently sat through church.

He sang in the church choir until one Sunday the choir director asked the choir to march as they sang “Onward Christian Soldiers.” J.C. was way too much of a tough guy for that type of silliness and so he quit.

Some years later my grandparents separated and Paw-Paw moved to Arkansas. I can’t remember how old I was at the time. Probably eight to ten years old.

From that moment forward I don’t believe Paw-Paw darkened the doors of a church except for a couple of occasions.

My mom called me a couple of weeks ago and asked me to call Paw-Paw. Death’s reality was pressing on his soul. He was grieving over 30 years of his life that he was lamenting he had wasted.

When I called Paw-Paw I said to him “Mom tells me your having a hard time. She says you think God doesn’t hear your prayers.” I gently prodded and asked questions. Our dialogue went like this:

Paw-Paw: “Son, are you asking me if I’m saved?”

Me: “No. Paw-Paw I know you’re saved.”

Paw-Paw: “Then what are you asking?”

Me: “I’m asking if you sense God’s love and forgiving grace that He has for you today.”

Paw-Paw: “Well Son, I’m backslidden. I haven’t been to church for years. God doesn’t hear the prayers of backslidden people.”

Me: “I hear you Paw-Paw but have you ever called out to God and asked for God’s forgiveness? 1 John 1:9 says that when we confess our sins God is always faithful to forgive us.”

Paw-Paw: “Yes Son. I prayed every night for God’s mercy and grace. But when I could have been in church I was too busy washing my car.” (Paw-Paw loved cars and trucks.) “When I could have been in church I was too busy fishing.”

Me: “Paw-Paw, when Jesus went to the cross Colossians 2:14 (and I read it to him) says: ‘He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.’ All the accusations and their guilt have been nailed to Jesus’ cross.

Paw-Paw: “But Son, I am backslidden and there is a verse in the Bible that says God doesn’t hear the prayers of backslidden people.” (He couldn’t recall the verse).

Me: “But Paw-Paw, you realize that when Jesus went to the cross 2000 years ago all of your sins future sins right? And Jesus paid for those too?”

Paw-Paw: “I refuse to believe that God hears the prayers of backslidden people. I should have been in church all those years.”

Me: “Paw-Paw, I agree with you that you should have been in church all those years. But it sounds to me like you are repenting of that today. And if this cancer were to miraculously go away I would hope you would get back in worship too. But it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. So the thing I want for you is to know joy, peace and grace today.”

We went back and forth a little more but he was weakened. This once powerhouse of a man reduced to 140 pounds as the cancer wasted his body. We exchanged short pleasantries said our goodbyes and I ended the call saying “I love you Paw-Paw.” It was the last time we spoke.

I hung up the phone and sat and wept. Its always sad to lose someone you love. But I wasn’t weeping only because I was losing my grandfather. I wept because he had no peace, joy or sense of God’s amazing grace.

Psalm 34:8 says “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” Paw-Paw stopped tasting grace not because it wasn’t on God’s menu but because he wasn’t coming to the dinner table, to the family meal.

There is nothing magical about going to church. I believe God loved Paw-Paw on his deathbed just as much as he loved him as he was fighting in bars. He loved him just as much on those days when Paw-Paw was giving someone the business on the side of the road as when he was sitting in the pews of Valley Baptist Church. Going to church doesn’t make God love us more anymore. I don’t love my kids more when they clean their rooms.

Paw-Paw was right about one thing: Going to church is vital to our spiritual health. Where else in this life do we come together with other people to celebrate who God is, what we has done for us in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection? Where else do we constantly get reminded that God loves us with a lavish and unending grace? Where else do backsliders (like me who backslide on a weekly basis) go to hear that God always welcomes wandering sons and daughters with open arms? Every week when we taste bread and drink wine we feast on this precious reminder.

So the lesson learned is this: God is a good, gracious God who longs for us to taste His goodness. Like Paw-Paw, we starve ourselves from the reminders of grace if we cut ourselves off from the ministry of the Word and Sacrament.

May we come together frequently and often to taste and see that our God is good. The Feast is prepared. The Table of God’s Son is open. Come. Taste. See.

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