My grandfather Nevin Wax was born when Herbert Hoover was president, during the dark years of the Great Depression. His life spanned 16 presidencies. He lived through World War II, the Cold War, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He served his country during the Korean conflict, often called “the forgotten war.” He was born when radio was king, at the end of the silent-film era, and he lived into the computer age, the arrival of the internet, and marveled at the iPhone.
Grandpa said “Til’ death do us part” to Grandma in 1957, and he kept that vow for 64 years, with his bride by his side, as he departed this life last Friday morning.
Grandpa and Grandma had four children, three here today: Kevin, Peggy, and Karen. At his bedside, shortly after he left us, as we sang the Doxology, I couldn’t help but think: This God we praise, from whom all blessings flow, poured out so many blessings to us through this good man.
Several moments stand out in my memories when I think about Grandpa. I remember as a child of about 7 or 8 years old—the age our son David is now—the smell of the ink and the sound of the presses in the garage on Grigg Avenue. Grandpa was a printer. I remember him hard at work, and I remember him sitting on the patio at the end of a long summer day. He knew how to work, and he knew how to rest and enjoy the fruit of his labor. One summer, when I was home from college, the two of us (Grandpa was in semi-retirement, I was just getting started) went around town selling ads for a local publishing project.
Grandpa served in the Navy, but his real love was flying. And he flew. A lot. On Saturday mornings, he’d fly to breakfast gatherings with other pilots in other parts of Tennessee. I went with him on a couple of those. He loved to travel. And he made plenty of memories with family and friends over the years. My favorite travel memory was when he flew me, Grandma, and two of their best friends to the Bahamas for a few days the summer after I graduated high school. Grandpa was fun.
He was also serious. He cared about God’s Word, and he cared about the gospel. He learned the craft of the printing business by helping run the press that pumped out the independent Baptist periodical The Sword of the Lord for many years. He cared about God’s Word and God’s people. He flew missionaries and pastors here and there and everywhere, delivering hope.
Grandpa never got over his own salvation or the desire to see others know Jesus. He was an evangelist. Last week I heard a story told of Grandpa in his 40s pleading, in tears, with a man who, after having heard the gospel multiple times, hadn’t yielded his heart to Christ. When Grandpa came to Christ, he wanted everyone he loved to know him also, and so he led his parents to Jesus, witnessed to his siblings, shared Jesus with family members, and friends—and let me tell you—he started in evangelization young.
When our son Timothy was born in 2004, it was the first time in the Wax family line since Peter Wax, the first to come to America, when there were four generations of Wax men alive at the same time: Nevin, Kevin, Trevin, and Timothy. I remember in the hospital room just a day after Timothy came into this world, Grandpa coming in, the patriarch of the family—somewhat shy about holding babies, almost afraid of how tiny and fragile they are. We carefully placed Timothy into his arms, his first great-grandchild, and I remember him stroking Timothy’s head, quoting John 3:16 to him and then saying, with a tear in his eye and a smile on his face, “Jesus saves, you little sinner.”
You may chuckle at that, but Grandpa had good theology. As innocent as a baby may appear, we’re born in sin, and that old sinful nature shows up. Believe me, we’ve got three kids now . . . and that sinful nature? It showed up! But the good news for all of us little sinners, even all of us big grownup sinners, is that Jesus saves. He saves sinners. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Grandpa believed that truth with all his heart.
And so, after he handed the print shop over to Dad and now to my youngest brother, Weston, Grandpa didn’t move into a life of retirement. No, no. He started another print shop down by the church and was responsible for thousands upon thousands of Bibles in different languages going all around the world. Even when macular degeneration set in and he could no longer see well, he’d feel that press with his hands and lean on others to be his eyes, to keep that press running.
One last memory to share. In 2012, I wrote a book, Clear Winter Nights, a fictional story full of conversations between a faithful grandfather and a grandson who was struggling spiritually. I dedicated that book to the three men who were grandfathers to me: Browder Wyatt, Bill Alexander, and Nevin Wax. Only Grandpa Nevin was still with us when that book came out, so over the course of several days, I went over to Grandpa and Grandma’s place and read the book to them out loud. I knew he couldn’t read anymore, the blindness having set in, but I wanted him to receive the honor of that dedication.
This week, in the middle of our sorrow at the loss of Grandpa, I have the joy of knowing those three godly men are all together. The writer of Hebrews says we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” and Grandpa is in that crowd of heavenly witnesses now. For those of us who remain, our race is not finished. We run the race set before us, keeping our eyes fixed on the One my grandfather always pointed to: “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”
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