Early this morning, Paul died. 52 years old. He woke up on Sunday morning having absolutely no idea that by Sunday afternoon he would be in the hospital, no idea as he went into surgery Sunday evening that it would be the last time he would see his family on this side of heaven. An aneurysm behind his stomach burst. The doctors operated for hours, but in the end they could not save him. They stopped the surgery and brought him back to his room so that his family could say goodbye.
Paul was Lori’s husband. Lori is Lynn’s cousin. Four years and one week ago, Paul and Lori’s daughter Jenna died… car accident. In the space of 209 weeks, a family of four has become a family of two. As a husband and a father I can’t begin to imagine… the ferocious tenacity of the “why” question. God. Why? Why did they die?
As a pastor I am drawn to answer with Biblical hope. The statement that God keeps leading me to was first spoken by Paul. He said this, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) Let me share just a few of the thoughts that are painted by the brushstrokes of that statement.
1) Far too many of us live out the opposite of that statement. “For me to live is gain and to die is Christ.” We live as though the primary goal of this life is gain. Gain success. Gain friends. Gain a home. Gain an education. Gain a retirement. Gain stuff. Gain a career. Spend all of this life gaining. Then when you die — if you are a Christian — you get Christ.
2) If the goal of this life is gain — then the death of two people in their prime — is incredibly unjust. They have unfairly been cut short from the gain they might have had from more life. But if gain comes when we die, then death is like a combination of getting called up to the majors, winning the lottery, and becoming whole all at the same time — and it is equally available to all.
3) If the goal of this life is Christ — then the death of two people in their prime — brings them the goal of this life.
Paul and Jenna both pursued Christ in this life, both of them made much of Christ. I can’t even begin to list the ways, but those who know them will agree, they aimed their lives in the direction of Christ — and when they died, they gained. Imagine life that overflows, that can’t be continued in a heart now take that times a power of 100, that doesn’t even touch what they have gained.
That’s why Paul can say in another letter, “We don’t grieve like those who have no hope.” He doesn’t say, “we don’t grieve.” We do. I liked Paul. As a non-Jacobsen he welcomed me into Lynn’s extended family. Over the years we had some good conversations about faith. I watched his courage as he walked through the death of his daughter. I see evidence of his heart in many places. But I can’t begin to imagine the grief that his wife and son are experiencing at the moment. We grieve our loss, but we live in our hope. We live in our hope that when our living is all about Christ, our dying will be all about gain.
If you read this…take a moment. Tell God thank you for the lives around you that “live Christ.” Then take a moment and pray for Lori and David (Paul’s son). Then ask God to show you the places where your living has gotten caught up in the goal of gain.
Why do we live? To make much of Christ. What happens when we die? We gain.