My friend Steve Hayner died a few weeks ago. I met Steve more than twenty-five years ago when I served a church where Steve and his family attended. I was a newly-ordained pastor, fresh out of seminary, with an awful lot to learn. Steve was a seasoned pastor, with a PhD in Old Testament, and was serving as President of a national ministry for university students. The congregation I served was full of professionals in ministry, academia, and business. It took me all of a week to realize that I was in way over my head as their pastor.
I’ll never forget the first sermon I preached there. I was nervous, scared, and intimidated – and it didn’t help matters when I looked out from behind the pulpit and saw the Rev. Dr. Hayner sitting in the third pew. But as soon as I started preaching, Steve gave me his rapt attention, with a broad smile on his face, hanging on every word I spoke. You would have thought he was listening to Billy Graham. I can assure you that he wasn’t. But his demeanor never changed – even though he was listening to one of the most ragged, incoherent, rambling sermons he’d ever hear. His support and encouragement for a naïve young pastor made a difference in my nine years of service at that church – and ultimately a difference in my entire life.
Steve had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer shortly after Easter Sunday 2014, and succumbed to the disease on the last day of January of this year. I don’t say that he “lost his battle to cancer”, because even in physical death, Steve never tasted defeat. He knew very well that victory was defined not by whether his cancer was cured or went into remission. Steve’s ultimate victory was won two millennia ago in the tomb that was found empty three days after Jesus’s death on the cross of Calvary. It was that event that the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to the church in Corinth, “When our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).
At BLI we believe that legacy is what you leave behind after death. But it’s also what you pass forward to the next generation, even while you’re still alive. With that in mind, I was struck by the eulogy that Steve Hayner’s son Chip gave at his dad’s memorial service just three weeks ago at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, where Steve and his wife Sharol had both served as pastors before Steve was called to be President of Columbia Theological Seminary. In his remarks, Chip recalled some words that his father had spoken to him during his last days while sitting together on his dad’s deathbed. Steve had told his son, “Don’t worry about leaving a legacy. Just worry about being faithful – and God will do the rest.” Chip said, “These words will stick with me forever – partly because of their simplicity, and partly because they are core to who my father was.” Chip said that his Papa had lived this advice his whole life by focusing his efforts on serving others – not on striving to leave a legacy.
That’s sound advice for all of us, no matter whether we’re healthy or sick, young or old, faithful or faithless. Whenever we put others before ourselves, we model the One who took on death, that others might truly live. And that’s a legacy worth living for.