What is your life’s motto?

Part 3: To DIE is gain.

The Greek word ‘gain’ means to gain an advantage, to profit, and win. “If I die, then I win!”

Paul preferred death over life. Paul emphasized that it was his desire to die and “be with Christ” rather than to continue living, 1:21: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. After noting that continuing to live will imply fruitful labor he expressed his inability to choose, 1:22: If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two.  In the next verse he made his preference very clear, namely to “depart and be with Christ,” which is “very much better.” Philippians 1:23: My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Death for Paul was therefore positive not as an event in itself, but rather as a means to an end, “to be with Christ.” But in 1:24 practical necessity wins the day: it is “more necessary” to “remain in the flesh” for the encouragement of the Philippian believers.

I have felt this tension at times. I would like to die and be with Christ, but Christ is in control of my life and I leave the choice to him. If Christ has a plan for me to stay in this world to defend the gospel and encourage other believers, then he will protect and provide.

Note: Paul was not saying religiously motivated suicide or martyrdom are better choices. Suicide was not negative in the Greco-Roman worldview. Socrates committed suicide to show no fear of death and become ‘immortal.’ No Christian should choose martyrdom. Life and death are in the hands of Christ. When Jonathan Chau was martyred on a remote island trying to share the gospel with a hostile tribe, he knew he would die. He had a desire to share the gospel with an unreached tribe. He chose martyrdom. Was it Christ’s will? Only Christ knows the answer. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

So let’s say you make your life motto “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” Does that mean you must become a missionary like Paul or Dr. Bill Wallace? No, only if Jesus calls you to do it. It means live for Christ whatever you do. It means your work place or career is your Jerusalem mission field. It means you must also look for and serve in your Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth mission fields.

To live is CHRIST, to die is GAIN. We only gain with Christ! We lose our sin and death and gain redemption and eternal life.

Other excellent biblical mottos:

  • Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:7: We walk by faith and not by sight.
  • Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ.

What is your life’s motto?

Part 2: To LIVE is Christ, to DIE is gain.

Paul is facing two alternatives and it’s a tough choice. But which alternative becomes reality isn’t really up to him; it’s up the God’s will. IF I really could choose between the alternatives, to live or die for Christ, then it would be a tough choice. The Philippian believers are praying for Paul to live, and Paul seems confident that he will be delivered from prison and have more years of fruitful labor. Paul is waiting to know whether it will be life or death. He also feels the anxiety of waiting. Waiting is the hard part!

What two alternatives are before you? You may desire one alternative over the other, but God’s alternative will prevail. You want God’s alternative to prevail because it will be what is good for you and glorifies God (Romans 8:28).

To LIVE is Christ.

Paul is referring to life in this world and maybe also eternal life with Christ. He gave three reasons for his hope to stay alive.

1) He is living to share the gospel with the Gentiles. 1:12-13:  I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. The imperial guard may have included several hundred soldiers. They talked about Paul’s gospel in the barracks.

2) He is living for the “defense” of the gospel. 1:7: It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  1:15-16: Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

3) He is living to encourage other believers. 1:22-26: If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me (me serving you). Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

What does it mean to live? Biological existence isn’t enough. Animals only need biological existence (with the exception of dogs!) People need meaning and purpose. In chaplaincy we learned to assess patients for four things: holy, hope, meaning, and support. What gives a person’s life meaning? Meaning and purpose is found in relationships and accomplishments (the people we know and the work we do). While serving as a chaplain I met an older cardiac patient who used a table saw to create wooden toys and puzzles for his grandchildren. That was his meaning and purpose. I met a woman with malignant brain cancer. She lost her ability to drive her Camaro and one of her relationships was painful. She cried as she thought about her estranged daughter. That is a hard loss of meaning and purpose, but she still had her most important relationship with God.

To live is Christ means our ultimate meaning and purpose is found in Christ. Our most important relationship is with Christ and our most important accomplishment is whatever we do to fulfill His commands – love one another and go and make disciples of all nations.

To be continued…

 

 

What’s your life’s motto?

We all know some famous mottos:

  • Nike: “Just do it.”
  • Apple: “Think different.”
  • McDonald’s: “I’m lovin’ it.”
  • Baptist Health Care motto: Helping people throughout life’s journey.

What’s a good motto for a Christian?

God works in mysterious ways. I picked up a free book at NOBTS about Christianity in China after the Cultural Revolution titled The Dragon and the Lamb. It briefly told the story of Dr. Bill Wallace. Then I bought the rare reprinted book Bill Wallace of China (by Jesse C. Fletcher). Dr. Bill Wallace served as a missionary doctor at a hospital in China during the Japanese invasion 1930s-40s. He was murdered by the Communists in China. Chinese believers erected a pillar on his grave with the inscription “For to me to live is Christ” in Wuchow, China, 1951. Wallace’s bones were reburied 1985 in Greenwood Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee.

Philippians 1:21:  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. This is a good motto.

Where was Paul and what happened to him when he wrote Philippians? Best evidence favors Rome as the place of origin and the date as c. 61. This fits well with the account of Paul’s house arrest in Acts 28:14–31. When he wrote Philippians, he was not in the infamous Mamertine Prison as he was when he wrote 2 Timothy. He was in his own rented house, where for two years he was free to impart the gospel to all who came to him. Paul wrote the letter after facing death in Jerusalem and waiting for his trial in Rome.

If you lived for money, material things, pleasure, fame, vacations, or even family, then what would be your motto? “For to me to live is money, and to die is to lose it all.” “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.” (He doesn’t win.)

What is the significance of For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?

To be continued…

 

Unexpected Tragedy & Psalm 139

I heard about a terrible tragedy this morning in New Orleans. It happened to my pastor’s friend. A pastor’s wife was killed in a carjacking incident. She was run over by her own car as the carjacker tried to get away. Her two pre-teen grandchildren saw it happen. At times like this I question the good providence of God. Is God really in control? Does God have absolute or only partial dynamic control over his creation and what happens to his children? I’m sure angels were present. Why didn’t they intervene at God’s command? Does Romans 8:28 apply to this incident?

My attention was drawn to Psalm 139:16: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. If all our days are written in God’s book while we are in the womb, then God foresaw this day in the life of the pastor’s wife. God knew it would happen. It was written in God’s book for her life to end this way. This is hard to accept and understand.

I have used this verse for comfort. But what does this verse mean? There are two interpretations of this verse. It may mean the days of our lives were mapped out in advance by God. Just as an architect has a plan to build something, so God has a book and works out the events of our lives according to what he wrote in his book before we were born. This is a powerful revelation of God’s providence. It may also refer to the stages of embryonic development in the womb which was unobservable to the Psalmist. The emphasis of this part of the Psalm is about God forming us in the womb (verses 13-15).

A commentary note: “As architects and embroiderers have a plan by which they accomplish their designs; so has God also his plan, his counsel, his purpose, his book, according to which he reigns and does all things, even to the formation of a human body in the womb.” This seems to encompass both interpretations based on the overall message of the Psalm.

Therefore, I accept both interpretations. If God’s providence creates us in the womb, then his providence is over us until the day we die. None of us know what God has written in his book for each of us. We trust in his goodness even when we walk in darkness and confusion (verses 11-12). God is with us no matter where we go (verses 7-10). But the ‘why’ still remains a painful mystery and a matter of desperate faith.

The Value of Unnamed Servants

Read 2 Kings 5. The most important people in this story are the unnamed servants. The servant who is named is the worst.

Naaman, the warrior servant of the King of Syria, had leprosy. He had a valiant heart, but decaying skin. An unnamed Israelite girl served Naaman’s wife (2 Kings 5:1-4). She was probably a young teenager. She had been captured on a raid in Israel. She had been forcefully taken from her family. She was probably lonely and desired to be home with her father and mother, but she served the LORD’s purpose for her life. She witnessed for the LORD.

If she had not been stolen from her family during a raid and taken to Syria to serve Naaman’s wife, then Naaman would never hear about the prophet in Israel, never be healed of leprosy, and never become a believer in the LORD of Israel. The teenage servant girl’s witness led to the salvation of Naaman and probably his whole family. This unnamed servant girl played a key role in this event. Was it the LORD’s will for her to be captured and taken to Syria? Was it the LORD’s will for her to be the vital link between Syria and Israel, and Naaman and Elisha? If the LORD is sovereign over all things then it must have been his purpose. The LORD places unnamed servants wherever he wants them to accomplish his will.

The other important unnamed servants in the story are in Naaman’s entourage. When Naaman’s pride and unmet expectations got in the way of his healing, his humble servants convinced him to follow Elisha’s instructions. Naaman wasn’t even greeted by Elisha. Naaman expected a healing show equal to his status as a valiant warrior. He expected Elisha to wave his hands and command healing of his leprosy in the LORD’s name (5:11). He brought gold and silver and ten sets of clothing to pay for his healing. He thought the rivers in Syria were better than the Jordan. The whole incident was an insult to his pride and he left in a rage. BUT the unnamed servants didn’t fear Naaman’s rage and they convinced him to follow Elisha’s simple instructions. The servants said, “If the prophet told you to do something difficult then you would have done it.  Wash yourself seven times. This is easy, so why not do it? You have nothing to lose except your leprosy.” Naaman followed Elisha’s instructions and was healed. He accepted Israel’s LORD as the one true God. He committed himself to worship only the LORD and not idols. (He asked for one exemption, 5:15-19.) He was healed body and soul.

The worst servant in this story is the named servant who ought to have been the best because he served the prophet. Gehazi was Elisha’s servant and he was a greedy liar. He was cursed with Naaman’s leprosy. The LORD is holy!

The unnamed servants are the heroes in this story. If you feel like an unnamed servant, then know that God knows your name. You are serving when and where God wants you to serve. Stay humble. You are the vital link and witness that the LORD will use for his glory and to lead someone else to salvation.

Moses the SJW

When you see an injustice what do you do?

When you see a wrong do you try to make it right?

Moses didn’t like bullies. He stood up for the weak and defenseless. He had a strong desire to right wrongs. He was a spiritual justice warrior. When he saw an injustice he tried to fix it. Read Exodus 2:11-22.

When he saw an Egyptian beating a defenseless Hebrew he killed the Egyptian.

When he saw two Hebrews fighting he decided who was right and who was wrong and confronted the one in the wrong. “And he said to the man in the wrong, ‘Why do you strike your companion?’”

When he saw seven daughters bullied by some male shepherds he intervened and saved them. Then he drew the water for the ladies and their sheep. He didn’t even know who they were but he saved them because he had to right a wrong and defend the weak.

Moses had a passion to fight injustice, but he had forgotten about the oppression of the Hebrews. He didn’t want to go back to Egypt and deal with the injustice of their slavery. Maybe because of the guy who said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” (2:14) Moses had a God-given desire to overcome injustice, but he didn’t want to help ungrateful people and he was afraid of the guy in power – Pharaoh. When the strong and powerful are causing injustice and oppression it is scary to stand up to them. He knew he couldn’t do it himself. Moses suppressed his desire to fight injustice and settled for a comfortable life in the desert for 40 years.

When you see an injustice what do you do? Do you walk away from it or walk toward it in Jesus’ name? Preach the Gospel and walk toward injustice in Jesus’ name.

Trust in the Lord

One of my favorite Bible verses to recite while walking around my pond and praying is Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

I want to make sure I understand what I’m reciting and believing. It is the word of God. It is a promise from God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. I feel like I only trust in the Lord with 75% of my heart. I worry about life situations. I worry about living with meaning and purpose. I worry about money. I worry about my adopted child. I worry about my mother and how I can help take care of her. I’m more afraid of living than dying. How do I get to 100% trust in the Lord? Maybe it isn’t possible in this life. I would like to get to 95% trust! Help me Holy Spirit.

Do not lean on your own understanding. This means do not support yourself by your own ability to figure things out. A building is supported by concrete and rebar. The concrete and rebar of your life cannot be your own imperfect understanding, your own thinking, your own intelligence. The concrete and rebar of your life must be trust in the LORD, trust in his goodness, trust in his plan and purpose even when you can’t figure it out with your own understanding. I remember a song, “Lean on me when you’re not strong and I’ll help you carry on.” It’s OK to lean on other people, but people are weak and fail and may not be able to bear the weight of your leaning. I know it’s hard to lean on the Lord because he isn’t in a physical body standing next to you. I think the disciples missed the physical presence of Jesus Christ, but they had the Holy Spirit. Lean on the Lord’s Spirit.

In all your ways acknowledge means be aware of the Lord’s presence with you in everything you do. It means enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with the Lord. Don’t let any worry or stress come between you and enjoying the Lord’s presence. If anxiety tries to build a wall between you and the Lord then listen to some worship music and sing along. Read some encouraging testimonies from other believers. (I’m reading a rare book Bill Wallace of China.) Get in a Bible study fellowship. And of course, read the word of God. Keep acknowledging the Lord.

And he will make straight your paths. Straight does not mean trouble free. A straight path is not a path without obstacles. The Lord’s straight path for you means guidance. He will guide you. The Lord’s straight path means he will get you to the goal he has for you; it means he will fulfill the plan and purpose he has for your life. Joseph had a straight path even though he was betrayed by his brothers, unjustly accused, and thrown into prison. That seems like a very crooked path! It was Joseph’s straight path because it was the Lord’s plan and purpose for him.

Isaiah 45:12-13 refers to the Persian king Cyrus, “I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hand that stretched out the heavens (the expanding universe), and I commanded all their host. I have stirred Cyrus up in righteousness, and I will make all his ways level – I will make straight his paths; he shall build my city and se my exiles free, not for price or reward,” says the LORD of hosts. The LORD declared his sovereignty over Cyrus. The Lord accomplished his plan and purpose through Cyrus, a king who didn’t even know him. The Lord overcame all human obstacles and satanic opposition for Cyrus to free the Jewish exiles and rebuild Jerusalem. He is sovereign over your life. The Lord will do the same in your life when you trust in him with all your heart.

Life and Death

For those few who may be following my wisdom – the reason I haven’t been writing anything for awhile is I am doing chaplaincy training at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. I encounter life and death every day and haven’t had time to write about it. I must write occasional “verbatims” about patient encounters and I will include some material from these verbatims.

I watched a patient die in a trauma room. The head nurse called me to convince a family to stop life support. I really didn’t do much to convince the husband and two daughters that their mother was brain dead. The mother’s chest went up and down but only because of the artificial breathing apparatus. I sat with the weeping family as the life support was removed. I watched the heart monitor gradually flatline. I saw the mother’s skin change from flesh color to the pale of death. The husband continued to kiss her forhead and recite the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Marys. Her spirit was gone. Where? I don’t know.

I was summuned to the Emergency Department. A young man tried to commit suicide. When he pulled the trigger the gun jerked and the bullet grazed the back of his head knocking him unconscious. I sat on his bed in the ED, his head wrapped with bandages, and we talked. Suicide to escape stress. When his wound healed he was transfered to the mental health department. I continued to meet with him and share faith in Christ. The patient was grateful to be alive. I found out he occasionally attended a church. Not by coincidence, I had passed by the church a few days earlier, so I knew where it was. I contacted the church and invited one of the pastors to visit the patient with me so the patient would have support when he left the mental health unit. We met with the patient and his wife and son and shared the Gospel with them. What a joy to see the patient confess faith in Christ! The patient, wife, son, and stepson will attend the church and receive counseling.

This is life and death in a hospital. I will share more later.

The Lord’s Prayer, My Prayer: Our Father

Our Father in heaven… In the Old Testament, God is referred to as the father of the nation of Israel. The main revelation of God as Heavenly Father comes by Jesus Christ. Most NT references to the heavenly Father or Father in heaven are in Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mountain” in Matthew. It’s really a sermon about the perfection and goodness of God the Father. Jesus revealed a dramatic new relationship made possible between God as Father and people. Children don’t call their father “father.” They always say “dad or daddy” which is a more intimate and affectionate term. This is how Jesus referred to God the Father. Jesus prayed “Abba, Father…” even when his soul was overwhelmed to the point of death (Mark 14:36). The Aramaic abba that stands behind the Greek pater was an intimate and affectionate title used by children. Children call their father “dad,” but they also learn to respect his discipline.  

In the Sermon there is intimacy with the Father and the distance of discipline; it’s the kind of distance you have with someone who is respected as an authority. The heavenly Father is the standard of perfection and we cannot measure up to his standard of perfection (5:48). We fall short and need grace. Did any of you have an earthly father who demanded perfection and you failed to measure up? (The Father’s grace provides the perfection we need in His Son’s righteousness.) The heavenly Father will forgive us only if we forgive others who sin against us (6:14; 18:35). Did any of you have a abusive earthly father who refused to forgive your mistakes? (Watch I Can Only Imagine.) God is good and he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous; therefore, we ought to love and pray for enemies who persecute us (5:44-46). The heavenly Father provides everything his children need to live when they seek Him first (6:25-34).

Do you ever struggle with the goodness of your heavenly Father? I know this may sound unbelievable from a pastor of 30 years, but I sometimes worry that my heavenly Father cannot provide for my physical, mental and emotional needs. I know my spiritual needs of forgiveness and assurance of life after death have been satisfied by Christ’s death and resurrection, but sometimes I get stressed out over my need for meaning and purpose as I now move into my latter years.

I am a father who would accept any sacrifice to meet the needs of my children. If I, as an earthly (and sinful) father, would do this for my children, how much more will my good heavenly Father provide for his children. I am the Father’s child and he has an obligation to provide for me. The Father will do what he has promised. Matthew 7:7-11: If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

The best gift the heavenly Father can give us is his Son to save us and then his Holy Spirit to fill us and assure us of his love. When we are worried and stressed out the best thing we can ask for is the Holy Spirit. His presence is peace. Luke 11:13 identifies the best “good thing” the Father gives us (see Matthew 7:7-11): If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! The Holy Spirit brings us into the loving relationship he has with the Father. Romans 8:15: For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. When we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit we want to cry “Abba! Father!” and we are never too old to do it.

I pray this way, “My good Father in heaven, every good and perfect gift comes down from you, the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17). Father God, you are light and there is no darkness in you (1 John 1:5). Good Father, you give the gift of the Holy Spirit. If I ask for a fish, you will not give me a snake. If I ask for an egg, you will not give me a scorpion. I am evil and I want to give good gifts to my children, then how much more will you, good heavenly Father, give the Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen me when I ask (Luke 11:5-13). Thank you, good Father in heaven.”

For the Sake of the Righteous

I watched a TV show on the 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from the cave in Thailand. Eleven of the boys dedicated themselves to Buddha. They shaved their heads, put on orange robes, and were ordained into Buddhist monkhood. When the boys were trapped in the cave most of the people outside prayed to Buddha and sacrificed to the goddess who lives in the mountain. The news reporter mentioned that only 11 of the 12 dedicated themselves to Buddha, because one is not a Buddhist; he is a Christian. He is 14-year old Adul Sam-on. He is a sponsored child of Compassion International. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in March 2018. I heard his parents say, “Hallelujah!” Their church, Baag Jong Church hosted the many of the rescue divers. I believe God saved all the boys because of the presence of one Christian boy, his parents and church members, who prayed to Jesus Christ.

Question: Is there any story in the Bible that teaches God will spare sinful idol worshipers because of the presence of one righteous person? Yes. It is the story of Abraham interceding for wicked Sodom and Gomorrah: Genesis 18:16-33. Then Abraham drew near and said to the LORD, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” If the LORD had been able to find just ten righteous, God-fearing people in Sodom, then He would not have destroyed it and killed everyone. (Archaeologists estimate a population of about 200,000 for the five cities of the Jordan Valley, Genesis 13:10, 14:1-3.) The Lord could only find four – Lot, his wife, and two daughters. The two sons-in-law refused to believe and perished. The presence of righteous people delays judgment upon the wicked and gives them more time to repent and get right with God.

Read Isaiah 42:6-8. Righteous people are a light “to being out prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” One righteous boy and family were the key to all the boys rescued from darkness and death. Proverbs 15:29: The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

Maybe some of the other boys and families will believe in Jesus Christ because of the witness of the Christian boy and his family. Pray for this.