PREPARATION: lighting the candle and readying myself to listen
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
When I was a child, I thought of Jesus a bit like I thought of Santa Claus. I imagined that Jesus, like Santa, spent most of the year far away from us, sneaking in stealthily on His birthday to visit. Then, when the Christmas decorations came down, baby Jesus slipped away for the rest of the year to keep lists of the naughty and nice, promising appropriate reward and punishment.
Today, I talk with many adults who think of Jesus as a Cosmic Watchmaker: He created the world much like a watchmaker makes a watch, winds it up, and leaves it to run all on its own. The Cosmic Watchmaker leaves us pretty much alone; but He might send down some help if we send up prayers. My experience as a pastor and chaplain leads me to think that pastor-theologian A. W. Tozer is right: “To most people God is an inference, not a reality. He is a deduction from evidence which they consider adequate, but remains personally unknown to the individual. ‘He must be,’ they say, ‘therefore, we believe He is.’” (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God) How wonderful it is to share the good news of Immanuel, God is with us and God is for us throughout all of life!
In today’s scripture the apostle Paul writes from a miserable Roman prison, fully assured that God is more than a logical deduction from evidence: “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” From that day of encountering Christ on the Damascus Road it has been as if Paul began life all over again. The Greek text literally reads, “I live Christ.” Sometimes we hear it said of a person that they “live for golf”; “live for their grandkids”; or, “live to make money.” But for Paul, Christ is the sun around which his life orbits. “Living is for him so full of Christ, so preoccupied with Him and for Him, that ‘Christ sums it up.’” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)
The indwelling Immanuel lives, breathes, and energizes Paul. Whatever time Paul has, whatever life, whatever strength: it will be in Christ and for Christ. He has no thought of life apart from life in Christ and Christ in him. In fact, Paul later says in this letter to the Philippians “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). In this verse Paul says that he regards all accomplishments and honors as “dung” (skybala) compared to the joy of living life with Christ.
But if living means Christ for Paul, he is confident that death will actually mean gain; “for that is better” (Philippians 1:23). Paul knows that if Emperor Nero’s verdict for him is death, then he will be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Paul is not talking here about the act of dying, but as the Greek words express it, the eternal blessedness that comes after dying. Death for the believer means to forever be with Immanuel. Thus, Paul can gladly say, “Life versus even more life! I can’t lose” (Philippians 1:20, The Message).
Paul models for us that the Christian life means growing in the awareness that we share life with Christ. Jesus’ death is our death, His resurrection is our resurrection (Romans 6:4-5; Colossians 2:12-13). Everything He did is ours. So, we get to live out of the new life that Jesus has accomplished for us in His death and resurrection.
As Jesus is one with the Father, so Jesus has been made one with us. Jesus took on our humanity so that we can share in God’s very life. “What a far cry from the exhausting idea that Christ has done his bit and now it’s time to do ours…We are united to the Son so we can enter his life. Our joys, our prayers, our mission, our holiness, our suffering, our hope are all a participation in the life of the Son.” (Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ) Far from the Cosmic Clockmaker, Immanuel is God with us today. Whether living or dying, we cannot lose!
CONVERSATION: I talk with God about the thoughts and feelings stirring within.
REST: I take time to be present to Immanuel who is present to me.