Last Sunday I thought I was going to die.
“Brace! Brace! Brace!”
The flight attendants prepared us for impact. The pilot of American Airlines Flight 2775—which had just taken off from Charlotte and was heading to Seattle—announced moments earlier that our plane was experiencing engine failure and that we needed to prepare for a crash landing. The attendants ran frantically up and down the cabin, preparing us.
I missed their explanation on exactly how to brace. I wondered if I was doing it right, so I looked around. I saw a grown man crying. I saw a couple holding hands tightly.
I have never felt so out of control or totally exposed. Or—honestly—so scared. Three rows from the back of the plane, in a middle seat, with absolutely no ability to change anything that was about to happen. I played through my mind that in the next few minutes I could be meeting God.
My wife, Brittany, and I took a moment to remind each other the answer to the first question in the catechism we’ve been using as a devotional. We spoke the words back and forth to each other: “I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in both life and death, to God and to Jesus Christ my Savior.”
I asked her, “Did you do anything for God to save you?” Britt said, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Christ did it all.”
People were weeping, chests to their knees.
I turned my attention to the young woman sitting on my right. We’d had a pleasant conversation before takeoff, but now she was sobbing, curled into a brace position.
I leaned toward her and asked: “If we die in the next few minutes, do you know what’s going to happen?”
She said something about growing up Catholic and going to purgatory, or heaven, or something. She was unsure.
I said: “I’m going to share with you why Britt and I have hope right now; I hope that’s OK.” She said it was.
I then started preaching to a larger group in the rows around me, loudly over the sound of the plane. A 30-second sermon:
“I don’t want to scare anyone, but I want you to know why my wife and I have hope right now. We have peace with God!”
A couple of heads turned and looked at me.
“The God who made everything wants to make peace with us, even though we’ve broken his world. He loves you so much that he left heaven to make peace with sinners by dying on a cross. His name is Jesus. Confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is the risen Lord, and you’ll have peace with God!”
No one laughed. No one scoffed.
I don’t know if anyone heard or responded to my 30-second sermon in those frantic moments. But I’m glad God gave me the courage to not stay silent. I’d been meditating on the gospel for years. Now it was coming out, thanks to the prodding of the Holy Spirit.
I pray he will continue to give me, and every Christian, the courage to speak up. The precious souls around us need to hear—or be reminded of—the gospel of ultimate hope. That’s as true in a plane about to attempt an emergency landing as it is in a coffee shop or a cul-de-sac.
Brace for Impact. Back to Netflix.
We’d been above the clouds for a bit, but the ground was now getting closer. I saw trees. Then closer. More trees.
I don’t know if anyone heard or responded to my 30-second sermon in those frantic moments. But I’m glad God gave me the courage to not stay silent.
It felt like forever and a split second all at the same time.
Then, somehow, suddenly a runway underneath us. We glided onto the tarmac. Hollering, clapping, cheering, crying.
Everyone called a loved one. Or two. We stepped off. We got our $12 meal vouchers. We waited at the gate for the replacement plane.
And the wonder of it was that most passengers didn’t seem to care. Did they register what had just happened? Did it not jolt them awake to the precious fragility of life?
Phones and headphones came back out quickly. People finished the Netflix shows they had started on the plane, or Candy Crush, or scrolling social media.
Maybe the return to mediated normalcy was a coping mechanism. But we were stunned. God had grabbed us with a word. Something like: Any moment could be your last. You are not in control. Be ready.
It was the sort of experience that had the potential to wake us up—to draw us into a new urgency and awareness of life’s fragility, and God’s goodness in leaving heaven to initiate a relationship with us. I pray it was that sort of experience for some of the passengers.
My pilot friends have told me we weren’t really in much danger, and I believe them. Pilots are trained to fly on a single engine. I know that . . . now.
But the experience in the moment was like breathing in smelling salts and being rattled awake. For us, those surreal moments held the real possibility of an imminent end to life—like, minutes or seconds away.
God had grabbed us with a word. Something like: Any moment could be your last. You are not in control. Be ready.
Your next walk around your neighborhood could be your last moment on earth. Your condo complex could tumble down on you while you’re sleeping. Your next drive could end in twisted metal. Your life could be over before you drop your kids off at daycare.
For me, the Flight 2775 experience was a wake-up call to speak the gospel more often, and more boldly, to my unbelieving friends and family.
In a world of such violent contingency—where a life can be snuffed out at any moment, in any number of ways—you need to know what comes next. You need to know what will happen after you die. You have an eternal soul. “Do not marvel at this,” Jesus warned, “for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, the righteous to the resurrection of life, and the wicked to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28–29).
Don’t miss your chance. Don’t wait to meet God. Don’t overthink it. Don’t talk yourself out of it, out of pride or pain or apathy. Simply accept the peace terms he’s extended. Do not delay.
I don’t care who you are, what you’ve done, or how anti-God you’ve been. If you accept God’s peace terms—turning from sin and trusting in Christ—you will know for certain where you’ll be after you die. And you can live with peace and hope in a world where death, for any of us, is only ever a sinkhole or failed engine away.