A Matter of Life of Death
Bible Reading: Philippians 1:19-30
Philippians 1:21-24, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 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. 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.”
My last week began with a wedding in a graveyard and ended with me leading a funeral in a ghost town. I’ll describe, in a future post, the circumstances which led to the former event. So today let’s talk ghost towns. There are about 200 ghost towns in Oregon, the most of any state in the country. They are according to one of five different classifications, depending on how “ghostly” they now are as compared to their past. The town of the location of the funeral service is classified as a class D ghost town since it still has a handful of residents.
In the late 1800s, the town was said to be a “thriving little trade center” and once boasted of a population of nearly 1000 souls. The completion of a railroad in the 1920s led to its eventual demise. Although long ago weather worn of paint, many of the homes still stand. The main surviving commercial building, the community center, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
I was there in that community center on Saturday to lead a memorial service for one of our hospice patients. She had died weeks before, having peacefully passed into the Lord’s presence with her beloved husband by her side. Not so many days before that, we’d prayed together for a peaceful departure, having talked about the glories of heaven and of being with Jesus. She was ready to go.
So, we were all gathered there for her service–her husband, siblings, children, and grandchildren and a few locals. I commented how unique it was to lead a service in such a place. Adorning the walls of the center are so many pictures, wonderfully framed and situated so as to tell the town’s history. It was her and her husband who framed and put them all there. For years, the town hosted an Oyster Feed which fed hundreds of folks. She had played an integral role in those. From her kitchen window, she could look across the highway to the community center. Whenever she saw anyone stopping, she’d rush over to talk with them about the history of her beloved little town. It was a nice service for a dear woman, and I couldn’t help but think of how she’d left her mark on her community in a unique way.
In our passage, the Apostle Paul was addressing matters pertaining to life and death, as is summarized in verse 21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He was uncertain to what his future held. Some five years later, he would write, “The time for my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6). But as he wrote to the Philippians, with a decision in his case still pending, he doesn’t know for sure what will happen. And he wrote of how he was “hard pressed from both directions” (Philippians 1:23).
The advantage to dying was to be with Christ, something he deemed to be “far better” (Philippians 1:23). He yearned to be in the presence of Jesus. On the other hand, the advantage of remaining on in the flesh was his ability to engage in “fruitful labor” (Philippians 1:22), which would have been of benefit to the Philippians themselves (Philippians 1:24).
Nothing mattered more to the Apostle Paul than Jesus. To die was to be with Him. To live was to serve Him. What a wonderful perspective! A ghost town is a fitting metaphor when it comes to this world, for it is “passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17). “During the time of your stay upon earth” (1 Peter 1:17, NASB), you’ve the opportunity to do things, as you love Jesus by serving others, that will outlive you. Either way, with your eyes and heart set on Jesus, you’ll be in a good place, in both life and in death!
GIVE ME JESUS
Take the world, but give me Jesus,
all its joys are but a name;
but his love abides forever,
through eternal years the same.
Oh, the height and depth of mercy!
Oh, the length and breadth of love!
Oh, the fullness of redemption,
pledge of endless life above!
Take the world, but give me Jesus,
sweetest comfort of my soul;
with the Savior watching o’er me,
I can sing, though thunders roll. [Refrain]
Take the world, but give me Jesus;
in his cross my trust shall be
till with clearer, brighter vision
face to face my Lord I see.