"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Php1:21)
Of what do our lives consist? When little children are asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" the typical answers are: Fireman, policeman, doctor, astronaut, etc.
But are those things the 'essence' of a person's existence?
The other day my neighbor (at work) popped his head around the corner to ask, "Do you have a 'ruler' I can borrow?" To which I wittily replied, "King or queen?" (This is told to explain the dry humor atmosphere in which we often visit with each other, for something that will be mentioned here in just a minute) He decided he wanted a "prince".
The person has been away and we haven't talked in awhile. So, once I had handed him a 'ruler' to borrow, we did some friendly chatting, catching up on each other's lives since we had last talked. And he asked me...
"Are you still doing your 'hobby'?"
Hobby? What 'hobby'?
That 'thing' you do (wiggling his finger around). From past conversations I knew he meant: this VW ministry and website.
He knows that I do "a lot of writing", for which he sees me regularly, sitting at the computer, deeply engaged in the process. He has seen the URL for the website on my store's front window, although I don't know if he has ever visited it. He is an agnostic, non-religious. A Jew who has no "tug" at his heart regarding anything to do with Israel; and married to a catholic. When he attends the catholic church with his wife, he is at least 'honest' enough to -just- 'sit' in his place, and not 'partake' of the mass, and the various rituals. He has also heard various things from me, over time, about God and Faith in Christ. And from our past conversations, I think he has figured out that I am not a "pretend" Christian, but that I am also 'honest'.
I don't now remember my exact words, verbatim; but I responded something on the order of, that this "thing" I do is the very "essence" of my life. The store, the sign shop, is merely how I "pay the bills", but that the 'purpose' of my existence this "thing" I do. That it -is- 'who' I am.
So, here's where the humor comes in... He replied, with a smirk, that if I was without this "thing", then I might as well shoot myself? (as he holds up two fingers to his own head like a mock 'gun')
There was a brief consideration of the concepts of "vocation" vs "avocation"; what one does to earn a living vs what one does because they enjoy it.
So then I reiterated that everything in my prior life had led up to 'this' time, for 'this' that I am now doing, and that this is my only reason for existing at this time, that 'this' is who I am... by the expression on his face, I think he suddenly GOT IT! It is more than just merely a "vocation" or "avocation", but one's 'life'... one's very 'existence'.
Paul said, "for to me, to live is Christ"
For most "Christians", I dare say their "christianity" is a -hobby-. And most other people have vocations and/or avocations.
But having been a "musician" in my past, I can assure you that, for many people in the arts (both musical and graphical) their art is more. It becomes their 'essence'. If you've ever been around an artist much, perhaps the following will make some sense. And some people are with their careers this same way.
As a musician I had the radio on first thing in the morning to CBC-FM, listening to classical music. Was in school all day in classes and rehearsals. In the evenings would go to people's homes to teach piano lessons. And once I got home, would do homework. During this time I also directed church choirs and sang solos. Then there was professional music. A handful of rehearsals, and concert. Handful of rehearsals and into the CBC studios for an LP or radio broadcast recording. When there were solos, I usually/often got them.
But for me there was also always this 'nagging' from the Holy Spirit that I was supposed to be a preacher of the Gospel. And to make this part of the story short... ultimately I did not continue in music.
Some months ago public TV had a documentary on the Philadelphia orchestra, featuring some of its musicians. These people are like I was back then, and beyond. When they would speak of their 'tie' or 'bond' to the music, I understood; I've been there. You've no doubt seen them: they carry their violin or flute everywhere they go. One would think they almost take their instrument to bed with them and snuggle with them...keep them warm. When they are without Christ and without God, music is -all- they have. It is all-consuming. If you were to take their music away, you might just as well rip out their heart. (Fingers to the head, "bang!")
More recently public TV had a special on the late Leonard Bernstein. What a 'possessed' man! For him his music was like a "fire" inside his soul. Like Jeremiah says about God's Word, "But His Word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with holding it in, and I could not." (Jer20:9) Bernstein, a Jew, and yet did not know God; and was continually searching within his own soul, and did so through his music. Years ago when I first heard the "Credo" from his "Mass", my first reaction was that Bernstein was the worst sort of agnostic and 'rebel', blaspheming against God; the English parts, just utterly horrendously blasphemous! But after watching the documentary, I came to realise that he was a terribly -empty- man, without God; and the "Credo" was his own soul crying out, looking for meaning for his own tormented soul... through the avenue that was his 'essence', music. How sad!
Again: "for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain"
You know, my neighbor, in his wry humor, wasn't really all that far off. If I can't be a Christian, serving the Lord; then yes, might as well put a gun to my head and pull the trigger. There -is- nothing else.
"..to live -IS- Christ.."
The former president during impeachment proceedings tried to argue "what the meaning of 'is' is." "IS" is the very definition of "existence". Like from Shakespeare, "to be, or not to be, that is the question". To "be", to "exist". A person who exists in the present tense, 'is', by definition.
Paul said that his very existence was Jesus Christ. When he traveled around, planting churches, being persecuted; that was NO "hobby". That was the definition of his life, his existence.
If you continue in that passage a few verses, notice how he longed to go and be with the Lord. Last December we had the article "He did not know the Lord" That was Samuel as a wee tyke.
But Paul -KNEW- the Lord. And what was the manner in which he knew the Lord? In the "power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (3:10) What greater bond is there between two people, than to go through battle, imprisonment, torture and extreme hardships together. What greater love is there than to give one's life for another? (Jn15:13)
Recently a couple journalists were on the news, who "converted" to Islam, in order to obtain their own release from terrorists. I haven't heard, since then, if they ever produced their 'crossed-fingers' from behind their backs (just kidding); nor that they have, since, recanted. They were obviously not [C]hristians. One who truly loves the Lord will not deny Him, no matter what.
But what about -you-, dear reader?
Do you call yourself a "Christian"? Of what sort are you? Of what sort is your christianity? Of what sort is your "faith"? Are you primarily a family member, making a living, living an existence, you have friends, you have avocations, you car-pool your kids around to soccer, baseball, gymnastics, etc.
AND, OH YEAH... BY THE WAY... you go to such-n-such 'church' on Sundays. Where's your Bible? Uh, let's see...has anybody seen my Bible anywhere?? I -just- had it! ...uh...how many days ago...
For you, "Christianity" is your -hobby-... if even that!?
No... not everybody is called to do what I do. Not everybody is a 'mouth'; some are hands, feet, eyes, ears. (1Co12) But as Paul would invite, "Be imitators of me, just as I am also of Christ" (1Co11:1) Everybody, whatever they are called to, is to be functioning -as- a [C]hristian. When others see us, it should be able to be said of us, as Paul could say, "And they glorified God in me" (Ga1:24)
Does anybody even realize you're a Christian? Do they see "Christ in you, the hope of glory"? (Col1:27)
The essence of any person is "spirit, soul and body" (1Th5:23) And by definition, a Christian is possessed of God's Holy Spirit. If a person is minus the Holy Spirit, they are not a [C]hristian; by definition. (Rom8:9)
So, where is your mind? Where are your desires? Where is the essence of your existence? In what things do you delight? What can you not do without?
"If then you are raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things of the earth; for you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Col3:1-3)
There is a colloquialism that goes something like, "I'd just die if I couldn't...blah, blah, blah!"
For you, what defines "blah, blah, blah"?
Paul said, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Php1:21) And I share in that spirit.
What about you? Like that old song says, Is Jesus "all the world" to you? Or is He merely your "hobby". If He is only your hobby, He is not yours at all!
Jesus says, "Sell everything that you have (get rid of all your encumbrances)... and come, follow Me." (Lk18:22) It is not possible to serve "two masters" (Mt6:24); both the Father and the world. (1Jn2:15)
It's like somebody said years ago: If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.