By Trennis Henderson
Carved on my parents’ headstone in a rural church cemetery in southeast Missouri are the profound words of Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ. To die is gain.”
Those eight words sum up Dad’s brief 56 years on earth as well as Mom’s full 94 years of life, including nearly four decades anticipating her heavenly reunion with Dad.
On a practical level, what does it mean that our earthly lives represent Christ and death represents gain?
According to Acts 17:28, through Jesus Christ, we as believers “live and move and have our being.” That’s an all-encompassing description of our daily life in Christ. Wherever we go and whatever we think, feel, say or do, our very being is connected to the presence of Christ.
What about the biblical description of physical death as actual gain? It’s all rooted in Christians’ eternal life in the presence of Christ. In the words of Jesus in John 14:2–3, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” To die in Christ is gain indeed.
I was a mere 20 years old when Dad slipped off to Heaven. As a result, I have now spent more than two-thirds of my life with only memories of Dad rather than the daily reality of his presence. Despite the 40-plus years since we last visited together, I still vividly recall many of the life lessons and words of wisdom he shared.
As a Baptist deacon, Sunday School teacher and lay speaker, Dad often shared biblical insights in a variety of settings. I specifically recall a Wednesday night Bible study he led during my teen years in our home church of First Baptist Church Portageville, Missouri.
Speaking on the topic of “Three Philosophies of Life,” Dad said those three perspectives are:
- What’s mine is mine and you can’t have it.
- What’s yours is mine if I can take it.
- What’s mine is yours if you have need of it.
Throughout his life and ministry, I saw Dad consistently choose option number three. Perhaps that’s why his outline has stuck with me all these years. He delighted in sharing what he had with others and gently pointing them toward a personal faith walk with Jesus. To live is Christ.
Walking with Christ
Some 40 years later, I had the bittersweet privilege of speaking at Mom’s memorial service in the same familiar setting where our family had gathered for worship so often over the years.
I recall affirming that my mother was “one of the most genuine, dedicated, sincere followers of Jesus I have ever known.” I went on to share that Mom didn’t just talk her faith, she walked it every day of her life. She trusted God with everything. No matter what came her way, even in the most challenging moments of life, her typical response was, “God will take care of it.”
In handwritten memoirs presented to each of her grandchildren, Mom wrote that what she valued most in life was “my relationship with God and seeking to do His will in all things.” Or in other words — to live is Christ!
So what’s the story of hope from a kind, loving couple who lived their lives in faithful dedication to Christ?
May we always remember those timeless words of wisdom etched on a headstone and inscribed on believers’ hearts across the ages: To live is Christ. To die is gain. May we joyfully embrace those truths every day of our earthly journey.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This is an excerpt of a chapter contributed to WMU’s “Because of Hope: Reflections of Faith” devotional book that can be purchased at wmustore.com.