I don’t feel qualified to write this, but I’m going to try to anyways. This entire story/article/tribute—whatever you want to call it—started out as a few notes that I was jotting down, trying to take in what had just happened—trying not to forget what brought such a sense of relief in such a dark time.
This story is about the gift my grandfather left me—left all of us—after he was suddenly killed in a car wreck.
Every Christmas my grandfather, Ray Downey, sat down in front of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to read the story of Christmas as told in Luke chapter 2. He’d pull out a Bible and read the story, while the kids (myself included) impatiently waited to open gifts.
As the years went by, and my faith grew (although erratically and with many bumps), I began to listen more intently to him tell the story of the birth of our Savior. He told the story with passion in a slow intentional method.
One year I started learning Spanish, and I bought a Spanish Bible to read. When Christmas came around that year, and it came time for Ray to read the Christmas story, my mother—with her strange sense of humor—brought him the Spanish Bible to read from… he did not speak Spanish.
So Ray opened up the Bible to Lucas, chapter 2, and began reading the Christmas story… without missing a beat…
And it dawned on me. He was never reading the Christmas story. He was reciting it.
This man had committed to memory the Christmas story, and only requested a Bible each year out of humility.
Early Sunday morning, the sheriff knocked on my grandmother’s door to tell her that “Brother Ray” had been in a serious car accident. He had come by to let her know and bring her his Bible, which he had taken from the scene. Broken glass and plastic filled the pages.
But when I opened the worn book, the broken glass and plastic barely caught my eye. Instead, highlighted verses, written notes, and red ink popped from the pages. And all I could think about wasn’t what this Bible had been through in the past few hours, but what this Bible had been through in the past few years. And how the man who owned this Bible had used it.
This was a man who studied the Word. Meditated on the Word. And never stopped yearning to learn more from the Word. This was a righteous man. A man of God.
Now to the reason that I felt led to publish and share this. Not to bring light to a wonderful man (although he deserves the recognition), but to bring light to what he left me. And what I implore you to leave others.
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)
Thank you, Ray. Thank you for this gift. The gift of certainty. The gift of having absolute certainty of where you’ll spend eternity.
In verse 13, Paul references “others” who have no hope. I am not of the others. I am of the brothers. Although I grieve, I grieve with the knowledge of your salvation. I am temporarily sad in this place, but I know you and I will be together “to meet the Lord in the air” and “we will always be with the lord.”
This I know, with absolute certainty. And that is a gift. The ultimate gift I could ever receive from anyone on this fleeting Earth.
To all of the fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, family, and friends out there—make sure you leave that gift to the ones you hold dear. There is no greater gift you could give.
We don’t care if you’re rich. We don’t care if you’re famous. We don’t care what statues they build of you, and we don’t care what monuments they erect.
17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.1 John 2:17 (ESV)
We don’t care about the things of this world—they pass away. We care about eternity. The things of the Lord. And thus, we care about your soul.
So the one thing I ask of anyone and everyone reading this… make sure you leave the ultimate gift to those you leave behind. Just as this man did for me, and just as I will one day leave for that baby girl.