We weren’t sure when grandpa woke up, but we knew it was long before the sun did. My earliest memories of him revolve around a small kitchen table where he sat each morning drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. The walls of his basement were decorated with WWII honors and pictures of his hunting victories. Locked gun cases held treasures that we were only allowed to behold when grandpa opened them for us.
I learned my first curse words from my grandfather who was sure to drop some colorful language in at least every other sentence. He could be an intimidating man, but his smile and belly laugh always calmed our trepidation. His love for my grandmother was marked by service and tenderness I’ve rarely seen rivaled. He stood when she came into the room and was attentive to her every need.
Granddad was an occasional churchman. His faith could have best been described as private. As the patriarch of our family, he always prayed for meals during which he took the opportunity to thank God for our country and blast whomever might be president at the time. I never saw him open a Bible and never heard him speak of Jesus, other than when interjecting His name as an expletive.
In 2011, my wife and I planned a trip to Wilmington, NC as part of our family’s summer vacation. We chose this spot because we love the beach, but mostly because my grandparents lived there and we wanted them to meet our son who had recently been born. Our family was buzzing as the days drew closer, but along with the anticipation, there was a weighty awareness that rested on my heart. The Lord was calling me to share the Gospel with my grandfather.
I’d been burdened for his salvation for a number of years, but hadn’t had many in person opportunities to have that kind of conversation with him. Granddad was in his 80’s at that time and though he wasn’t in bad health at that time, I sensed the Lord had set this time apart for me to have an eternally important conversation with him.
I guess I’m like anybody else when it comes to sharing the Gospel. I believe it with all my heart, but whether it be fear of man or feelings of inadequacy, I still get anxious when I proclaim Christ’s name. The pending conversation with granddad took my fear to another level for several reasons.
First, it was grandpa. He was a man of steel and I was scared to death to speak truth to a man who’d lived nearly four times as long as I had. He’d forgotten more than I’ll ever learn and the thought of calling him to repent and believe in Christ made me so anxious I was nearly nauseous over it.
Second, he claimed to be a Christian. He’d gone to church a billion times and had heard as many sermons. He was a long standing member at a Presbyterian Church, but from what I could tell, it would be charitable to say they were light on the Gospel. Though Grandpa was a man of impeccable integrity and faithfulness, he didn’t display fruit that would be characterized as Christ-like (Matt. 7:16; Gal. 5:22-23).
Third, he was family. Family is always tough to share the Gospel with because they know all about you—the good, bad, and the real bad. Grandpa knew me when I was a womanizing coke head who mocked religion and was a disgrace to my family. Though Christ has done a wonderful work in my life, I was still aware that Grandpa knew my past, and on this particular occasion, it haunted me.
Before the trip, I prayed and asked others to do the same with the hopes that God would soften his heart and give me courage to speak truth to him. The Lord answered those prayers and on the last day of our trip, I was able to have a clear 30-minute Gospel conversation with him. At first it was a little tough, but I believe the Lord blessed our time together.
He raised numerous questions and shared some of his doubts, but expressed a willingness to consider the news I had relayed to him. Once I returned I sent him a letter addressing his questions, some selected Scriptures to consider, and a copy of my friend Mike McKinnley’s excellent book Am I Really a Christian? We had one follow-up conversation, during which he said, “I’ve never understood this ‘born-again’ thing, but I think I’m starting to get it.”
Granddad died on December 17th, 2012 with his wife of 55 years by his side. He’d requested to be cremated and my grandmother fulfilled his request. On Saturday I had the honor of leading a memorial service in his birthplace of Currituck, NC.
In the days since his death, I’ve often wondered whether or not the seed sown upon his soul took root. I have hope that God brought about repentance in faith in my grandfather before he died, but I cannot be certain. What I can be certain of however is that the Scriptures are true which say “the fear of man is a snare” (Prov. 29:25).
No matter what man we fear—even if its grandpa; fear is a snare. Fear is a snare for us and it is a snare for those who need to hear the message that can save their souls. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16) and it is good news, but as Carl F. H. Henry said, “it is only good news if it gets there in time.”
I have not always obeyed the Lord’s call for me to share the Gospel with people. To this day there are several scenes that haunt my memory. I know that though I withheld the Gospel from some, God’s mercy is still extended to me. This only highlights the abundance of God’s grace towards undeserving sinners like me.
The conversation with my grandfather was one of the toughest ones I’ve ever had, but the hindsight that his death provided for me has been sobering. My fear seems quite shortsighted today. At this moment my grandfather is in eternity. He sees what we have only heard. Christ is more real to him now than when we sat at his kitchen table and when he read the Scriptures that pointed to the Lord of glory.
I trust that on that Last Day when we all stand before that Great Throne of Judgment, the fear of man will be shown for the utter foolishness that it is. The weightiness of eternity is intended to press us into a deeper dependence upon Christ to do what He has called us to do while we still can. To be paralyzed by fear of people’s opinions, rather than stirred to declare the truth that can deliver people destruction is a most saddening tradeoff.
God has placed each of us in the families, neighborhoods, classrooms, and workplaces that He has to be ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We are not there by chance, and there is no time to waste. Pray for God to open doors for the Gospel and ask Him to give you courage to speak His Name. I believe deeply that one day, when we stand before Christ, those tough conversations will be among those we’ll be eternally glad we had.