Life or By Death
Dr. Dan Hayden
conditions on Interstate 36 were not good. It was the last week
of July, 1996, and I was returning from a week-long speaking engagement
at a camp in northern Wisconsin. The rain had been heavy at times,
but now it was just steady -- one of those all-day summer rains.
Saturday afternoon traffic is always heavy during that time of the
year in central Wisconsin as vacationers come and go with RV's,
boats, pop-up campers, and rooftop carryalls. Yet things were moving
along at a normal pace, and in spite of the rain many drivers were
still seeking to pass the more cautious travelers.
For me on
that day, passing the slower customized van and boat seemed routine.
The left lane was clear as I inched past the tandem vehicle and
trailer, proceeding as expected. Suddenly the heavens opened without
warning and a torrential downpour engulfed us all. The first sensation
was visual -- I could not see. Simultaneously I felt the rear of
the car moving to the right and the realization was immediate. My
heart was in my throat -- I was hydroplaning.
manipulated the steering wheel instinctively, turning to the right
to compensate for the shift. But the swing back to the left was
dramatic and the attempt to regain control was hopeless. It was
as though I was on a sheet of ice, spinning in dizzy revolutions
at 65 mph along the slight downgrade of the Interstate highway.
I was no longer the driver. My life was in the hands of God.
lanes on which I had been traveling were at a higher elevation than
the northbound lanes, and the grassy median had a corresponding
steep slope down to a drainage gully before gaining a slight rise
into oncoming traffic. As the car spun into the median, I sensed
that I was going backwards down the embankment. The sound of grass
swishing by under the car was all that I could hear as I awaited
wheels slammed into the gully and the car began to flip -- first
onto its side, with glass exploding through the air, and then with
tires spinning toward the sky. I was hanging upside down in the
tight grip of the seat belt as the car tobogganed on its rooftop
along the slope of the gully. I braced myself for the impact of
an oncoming car, anticipating sliding into the busy northbound lanes;
but the upward angle of the median kept the car on a parallel trajectory
with the highway. And then, finally, it was over. I reached up,
turned off the key, and listened to the rain.
I was alive.
Furthermore, I didn't hurt... anywhere. Later I discovered a minor
cut on my arm from flying glass, but that was the extent of my injuries.
I was examined by the EMT's, signed a waiver, and the ambulance
returned to its garage -- without me. God had spared my life. The
car was dead, but I was alive and well.
Work Dead Ahead
however, it was different. The little town of Brooktondale, New
York is anything but busy. "Traffic" is not in their vocabulary;
and a collision is as unexpected as snow in October.
young, athletic, and recently married. He was enjoying life -- God
was good. He also had a strong testimony of love for Christ among
his friends and with the kids on his soccer teams. Coaching soccer
at the local community college, as well as at a local Christian
school, kept him busy. But it was early March, and spring practice
hadn't begun yet, so when he heard that his pastor needed a ride
to the hospital for treatment of a recurring illness, he jumped
at the chance to help. In his love for the Lord, he was developing
a servant spirit.
Road leading into Brooktondale had deteriorated under the effects
of a long, hard winter and now that some of the snow and ice had
cleared, workmen were in the process of making needed repairs. As
Aaron made his way along the country road through the valley toward
the pastor's house, the curve below White Church prevented him from
seeing the construction activity. Nor could he see the truck that
was making its way around the site -- on his side of the highway.
as he cleared the curve, it was all before him -- he had nowhere
to go. Even the quick reflexes of a seasoned athlete were not sufficient
to avoid impending doom. As the car slammed into the imposing County
truck, Aaron went to be with the Lord.
have lost a loved one to an accident can imagine the deep grief
of his wife and family. Yet in the midst of their sorrow, God brought
a two-fold comfort. First, Aaron was in the presence of Christ,
and that was something for which to praise the Lord. Secondly, however,
there was a magnifying of the name of Jesus in all the events surrounding
was packed at Aaron's funeral (I was there too), not only with family
and friends, but also with kids from the teams he had coached. They
had respect for Aaron, and they were there to honor the memory of
their friend and mentor. There were many testimonies that day of
appreciation for Aaron and his love for Christ -- and the Gospel
was clearly given. Thus, in the aftermath of all that had happened,
the message of Christ went with the memory of Aaron back to the
schools and throughout the surrounding communities. Aaron had died
--- but in his death, he had brought glory to Christ.
does all of this mean? Why have I related these stories? Well, let
two automobile accidents, four months apart, in the year of 1996.
Both were Christian men traveling alone. Both had a testimony of
faithfulness to Christ and both were traveling as a result of ministry
unto the Lord. There was absolutely no qualitative difference in
the spiritual condition of their lives that could account for a
difference in their fate. Yet one lived and one died. Why? That
is the question I kept asking myself. Why did I live, and why did
I have discovered that only God knows the answer to that question.
I have also come to realize that there is a spiritual principle
that puts these kinds of inequities into perspective. For the Christian
whose life is governed by the truth of God, there is one desire
with regard to all matters of destiny -- and that is that Christ
will be glorified. If we are oriented toward personal fulfillment
as the goal of life, then God is expected to fit into our plans.
We argue that things should be fair and equal. But when the glory
of Christ is the passion of our souls, then any hardship, and even
death itself is accepted as an opportunity to glorify the Savior.
Paul expressed it this way:
to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be
ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ
shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:20,21 KJV).
reactions to the circumstances of life, especially when life is
unfair, are greatly influenced by this truth. If our overall view
of life is anthropocentric (man-centered/self-centered), then we
will complain about the adversities of life and accuse God of loving
others more than He loves us. But if our orientation to life is
Christocentric (Christ-centered), then we are more likely to be
content with the uniqueness of our personal state of affairs.
of Christ is the key. That Christ shall be magnified in my body,
whether it be by life or by death is the principle that helps
me to make sense out of the mixed bag of destinies experienced by
the people of God. Aaron certainly glorified Christ in his death.
The challenge for me then, is to continue to glorify Christ with
Shall This Man Do?
an illustration of this principle from the Bible will help. It is
the story of Peter and John found in John 21.
learning some valuable spiritual lessons the hard way -- through
failure. He had denied the Lord three times and now Christ was reminding
him of that failure by asking him three times if Peter truly loved
Him. Peter was grieved at the realization that his love for the
Savior was suspect, but he also knew in his heart that Jesus was
right. The one ray of hope was that Jesus was not eliminating him
from service, for He had said each time that Peter should feed His
love for the Savior was not the only lesson Peter needed to learn,
however. Yielding to the sovereign control of Christ over his life
was another issue of grave importance for him. So on that same occasion
our Lord went on to talk about the means by which Peter would die.
truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself,
and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch
out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where
you do not wish to go." Now this He said, signifying by what
kind of death he would glorify God... (John 21:18,19).
did die a martyr's death, according to tradition, being crucified
upside-down by Nero, the Roman Emperor. On the occasion by the beach,
however, Jesus' words were a severe challenge to Peter and, again
he was off balance. It all seemed so unfair that he should have
to bear such a heavy burden. Looking around the group in his frustration,
he spotted John who obviously seemed to be having an easier time
of it. Through the ages, comparison with others has always been
a favorite means of arguing with the Lord Ñ and so he said to Jesus,
"Lord, and what about this man?" (v. 21).
that Peter was going to die a martyr's death made him anxious to
know if John's fate would be on an equal par with his own. Would
Jesus act with fairness or would He act with partiality, giving
John preferential treatment? Would John also face the challenge
had done so often in the past with His interrogators, He turned
the question back on Peter as the means of causing him to think.
It was another important lesson for all of the disciples, who were
listening in on the conversation. Jesus simply said, "If
I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow
me!" (v. 22).
Jesus said that Peter could not understand the unique situation
of his death by comparing himself with someone else's destiny. Peter
and John were each different, and the will of Christ for each of
them was an individual matter. It was not Peter's business to know
what Jesus would do in John's life, nor why He would act differently
with each of them. It was not Peter's concern to compare John's
destiny with his. The Lord's will for each of them was unique as
it fit His purpose in the overall plan of redemption. Peter's responsibility
was to keep his eyes on the Lord and to follow Him.
indeed die a premature death some forty years prior to John. There
is no question about it, though. Peter brought glory to Christ by
his death (cf. v. 19) and John brought glory to Christ in the course
of his longer life. To this day both men continue to be held in
high esteem by the people of God, not because they were equal, but
because they each magnified the Lord. And therein lies the lesson.
The only thing that matters for the one who loves Christ is that
in everything He will be glorified -- whether by life or by death.
Christian friend, stop comparing your situation of life with the
circumstances of others. Nothing good can come of that. Rather,
realize that you are the special object of Christ's love and that
you are unique in His plan. Bringing glory to Christ is all that
matters -- whether by pleasure or by suffering, whether by riches
or by poverty, whether by exaltation or by humiliation ...whether
by life or by death.