Whenever I think of Uncle Ray, there is one particular memory that comes to mind. I remember a hot summer afternoon, perhaps about 15 years ago, when Ray and Laverne were living on East Silent Lake. Many family members were there for a weekend visit. We swam, went boating, did some fishing, and had many good conversations. On the afternoon that I remember best, all the men were sitting on lawn chairs in a circle on the driveway talking about the good old days; and for the longest time, all the attention was on Ray. He was in his finest story-telling form that day, and he told story and after story. Stories of childhood, stories of his days in the military, stories of the truck driving days, stories of loved ones long gone; on and on he went. I remember thinking, “This guy can really tell a story;” and he had so many to tell. He never ran out. I recall thinking back to seminary classes where I was taught how to tell stories and use them effectively in sermons. But as I listened to Ray I realized that to be able to tell stories like that isn’t something you learn in a class. It’s a gift, and either you’ve got it or you don’t. Ray had that gift.
The part of Ray’s personality that impressed me the most was his self-confidence. Maybe that is part of what it takes to be a good storyteller– you have to be confident enough to believe you have something to say. And Ray was confident of his opinions and confident of his decisions and confident about everything he said and did. He was a bold, forward moving guy, who didn’t spend any time hemming, hawing, or having second thoughts about anything. That doesn’t mean he was always right. And that doesn’t mean that such bold confidence is always the best way to be. Every personality trait has its advantages and disadvantages. I am not saying any of this to flatter or to criticize, but simply to state a fact. Ray went at life with a great deal of zest and drive and an unshakable confidence.
I have been wondering these past few days where such confidence came from. Ray was the baby of the family, his mother died when he was only 14, he grew up during the depression and then the war, and he was poor. When he was seventeen he came to live with my grandparents. He was grandmother’s little brother and was going to work for my grandfather; and so he was going to stay with them for a while. My dad, a young boy at the time, remembers how Ray arrived at the door carrying everything he owned in a paper sack. Ray had a humble start in life.
So where did Ray’s powerful self-confidence come from? I don’t know. I do think God makes us in a certain way, not only physically, but also on the inside. And then, I believe it is up to us to make something of what God has given us, by making our own good decisions. Ray had to depend on himself and he had to work hard, and that can build confidence. We can make some guesses about why people are the way they are, but we really can’t say for sure why some lack confidence, and others, like Ray, are filled with self-confidence.
And that self-confidence, that ‘depending on yourself’ can get someone a long ways in life. It served Ray well, and he enjoyed great success in all that he did. But such confidence can only get you so far. That ‘self’ we have to depend on does eventually get old, and it can get sick, and it will weaken and die. And that ‘self,’ no matter how strong and confident and self-sufficient, may well, in the end, have to depend on everyone else for everything. And then death comes, when no one help you any more. Self-confidence can get you only so far.
That is why it is of such great comfort today to remember that Ray had another, deeper confidence, a confidence that relied not upon himself, but upon God. Romans 14:7-8 says, “None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone; whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” We do not have to depend only on ourselves. We belong to the Lord. And that is what gives us hope and confidence on a day like today. Our deepest confidence comes in knowing that death does not get the last word. God gets the last word, and his word is a word of life for all who will believe it. We give thanks today for that good word and promise of God, and we give thanks because we know that Ray knew and believed in that Lord of life. God gets the last word over us, and God says that because of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, we are forgiven of our sins and we will live again. We express that deeper confidence ever time we say the Apostles Creed when we say we believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” (continued…)
II Corinthians 11:17 — In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.
Romans 14:7-9 — For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
Jeremiah 17:7 — Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.
For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you.