Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
– John 21:20-22
In this passage, Jesus is telling Peter that he will be required to follow in Jesus’ footsteps to a martyr’s death. Peter turns to John and asks about him. Some of us come close to death and continue on. Others die much too young. But some seem to be saved for a purpose. Those people need to heed the warnings and listen for God, to find out what that purpose is.
When I was a junior in high school, I wrecked the car. I had never driven on ice before. I was going to where the school bus was parked to see if I had missed the bus. School had been called off an hour before, but I never listen to the radio. I was doing pretty good, until I came to the most insignificant hill that you could ever imagine. I fought skid after skid as I went down the hill, going faster and faster. What little control that I had, I steered the car onto the shoulder. Ice on grass was easier to drive on than ice on asphalt. I pumped the breaks, but to no avail. I saw a road sign and a tree. My last thought was that if I could just drive between the two, the road was starting to go up hill and then I could stop. I clipped the wooden post of the road sign with my left fender. The last thing that I remember was the road sign heading straight for my head. My head then hit the side window.
What happened after I passed out was that the collision with the road sign sent the car sideways, causing the road sign to fly past without hitting the car. But now sideways, the passenger side of the car wrecked into the tree. This caused the car to spin in the opposite direction. When I woke up, it was very cold. The side windows were gone on the passenger side, and the back-seat area showed the markings left by the tree, a crushed area showing an eight-inch diameter tree deep into the back seat. The car was resting on top of honeysuckle vines. I walked to the nearest house. The guy got me pulled out of the ditch with a farm tractor, and I drove it home. Of course, my mother ranted and raved about how I could have avoided the wreck by listening to the radio. There was no checking for a concussion. As angry as my mother was, she would have ensured a concussion if I didn’t have one already.
At this point, I wasn’t even born-again, but God had a purpose for me.
Do you have some type of irritant that causes you to not be able to sleep? Okay, I have had a life of insomnia, so maybe I am unusual. My absolute irritation to prevent sleep is snoring. Noise in general, unless it is white noise, ranks way up there, but snoring is a guarantee.
Why bring this up? Let’s fast-forward to my freshman year of college. I had been volunteering with a Lay-Witness Mission Team for the Methodist church right after I graduated high school. A few of the younger members of the team invited me to a camp near where I was going to school. Near Ole Miss is Camp Lake Stephens. I think it is a Methodist church camp, but I am not sure. I didn’t want to go. I had a Physics final on Saturday morning that was going to be rough. The team members begged, and I relented.
The camp meeting was to go from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, early worship time for us all to leave. The important thing was that there were two nights involved and sleeping bunk house style. After the first night of no sleep because of the snoring, I survived my Physics exam and made it back to the camp for the afternoon sessions. (I got a “B,” but made the dean’s list.) The afternoon sessions were rocking. This camp was just for high school and college aged kids. The Holy Spirit descended onto the camp and by the time we went to bed Saturday night, many had accepted Jesus as their savior. There were spontaneous baptisms in a nearby creek.
I didn’t go to the creek. Since I had not had any sleep since I woke up early Friday morning, I got the bright idea to head to the men’s bunk house and get to sleep before the snoring started. That did not happen. My insomnia caused me to run over the events of the day and how God had been in our presence. My eyelids were just getting heavy when everyone barged into the room to grab guitars and start a three hour sing along. By 1:00am, everyone was asleep and snoring, except me.
The next morning, we had a final talk as the sun came up followed by hugs and good-byes.
It had now been over 48 hours since I last slept a wink. I had about 40 miles to drive to get home.
In those days, the road from Oxford, where the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) is located to my hometown of Pontotoc, was absolutely straight from a point near Oxford until a point near Pontotoc, over half of the forty miles. I fell asleep at some point on that stretch. I don’t know how many miles I had covered after falling asleep, but I was on one of the very flat spots on the hilly road when I heard a distant honking in my dreams. The honking kept getting louder until I woke up and realized that I had drifted into the other side of the road and a car was less than 100 yards in front of me and moving very fast.
Another near disaster was averted. I steered to the right and avoided the head-on collision. The fright kept me awake the rest of the way. God had plans for me.
A little over two years later, I was at Fort Bragg, NC. I had no idea why God had not prevented me from the danger of being drafted, but here I was at ROTC summer camp, my way of dodging the draft. They may treat officers with utmost respect, but in summer camp, we were not officers yet. The instructors made sure that they were as tough as they could be. As a result, I escaped from the camp on the few weekends that we had free. I would go to South Carolina, just to be out of the state where Fort Bragg was located. I’d do my laundry, swim in the pool, watch TV, and sleep. A lot of sleep.
On one fateful Friday night, I missed the left-hand turn to go to the interstate. Within a block, there were suddenly no street lights. A stop sign appeared, but not in my headlights. I stopped for the stop sign. I had no air-conditioning in the car, so my windows were rolled down.
I was confused. This didn’t look right. The stop sign was not at an intersection. It was as if the stop sign was illuminated by a flashlight and not my headlights. All of this was going through my head when I heard the unmistakable sound of a switchblade knife. My left eye caught the glimmer of steel coming in through the open car window. I had a manual transmission. I already had it in first gear. I popped the clutch, and floored the gas. I drove, running stop signs, until I was out of town. I had taken a wrong turn, so I was lost, but I was not turning around and going back through the death trap. In the next town, I found an alternate route to get back to the interstate, a lot of miles in the wrong direction.
Whenever I made these weekend getaways, I was back on post by Sunday afternoon to go bowling with guys from my platoon. At the post’s bowling alley, I told the story about Friday night. One of the locals overheard me. He told our little group that I shouldn’t be alive. A local gang had an initiation trial for new recruits. A boy that wanted to join was supposed to show his bravery by stepping in front of the stopped car. The street lights would be broken. The stop sign would be lit by flashlight. The initiate would jump in front of the car, and then the guy who wanted to become a member of the inner circle would kill the driver. They’d then send the car to a chop shop, and take whatever they could from the deceased driver. The local GI had not heard of anyone surviving until now. They only heard how the system worked from gang members that leaked the information.
I was saved, because the initiate chickened out. He didn’t jump in front of the car. God had plans for me.
Of course, the US had a cease fire in Vietnam at that time and the last US troops left Vietnam less than two weeks before I graduated one year after. That was a close call also.
I could fast-forward to my Army experience and mention a few more times that I came close to death, but only one incident seems so vivid for one reason or another. I was working at an old World War II vintage Army desk when I heard a tap. The platton sergeant came into the room and explained that a nail gun had gone off in the next room. The nail had been shot in my general direction through a concrete block wall. I looked up. The nail was embedded in the post that I was using to steady the old desk, right at eye level and less than a foot from my head.
Also, the Red Army Faction used our stairwell where we lived in Germany as a money drop. My wife and I provided evidence that led to many members of the terrorist gang getting flushed from their hiding place and eventually killed. But there seemed to be a barrier between us and the danger in my mind.
By the time in the late 90s when I flew from Singapore to Los Angeles while my luggage flew to San Francisco, I had not had a weapon pointed at me in a long time. A jittery custom agent unholstered his weapon and pointed it at my center of mass. He told me that I had to return to get my luggage. I guess he thought I was leaving a bomb behind. I calmly, but grumpily (again no sleep in over a day), told him that he should talk to the airline’s uniformed agent right over there about lost luggage. Without even waiting for him to holster his weapon, I walked past into Los Angeles airport and a bus to another terminal to catch my next flight. I had just spent a month in India. I was not going to miss the flight home.
I am not saying that Christians are invincible. Christians die every day. There is a growing number of Christians who are persecuted and killed each year, but when God is saving you for a purpose, you need to only say, “Here am I. Send me.”
Is God saving you for something? Are you ready to go?