"G-Time"        Philippians 1:21-30      September 21, 2008

In the last decade, a new global, cyber-based time system emerged.CNN uses it and global corporations are turning to it. Beat time, or, Internet time.

A new Swatch watch now uses it. In fact, it was the Swatch Company, with headquarters in
Switzerland, who came up with a revolutionary new idea: synchronizing the world's timepieces on one time.

"Beat Time" proposes a new way of reckoning time. It is a global, cyber-based measurement that breaks the 24-hour day into 1,000 "beats." You can check the current beat time on the CNN Web site. For Internet purposes, the entire world is aligned on the same beat -- all on the same time zone.
When it's 750 beats in Cleveland, it's also 750 in Los Angeles, Rome, Tokyo and everywhere else. That might have been helpful last week as I traveled from Louisiana to Utah. The airlines routed me from Monroe, LA, C.S.T. , to Phoenix, AZ, P.S.T., only to fly back me back to Salt Lake City, UT, M.S.T.!

It is not clear that "Beat Time" will catch on across the globe. There is something inherent in us that makes us calculate the time "here" versus the time "there" when we see a news report from London, Paris or Beijing.
And while running the planet on one clock has a certain appeal, an afternoon phone call overseas will still wake up the party at the other end no matter what "beat" we're on.

Centuries ago, the apostle Paul had a clear understanding of whose time zone he was functioning in. Paul suspected he was still needed in this world, although his internal clock seemed to be ticking more and more on divine time. Beat Time for him was, "Living is Christ and dying is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Paul was running on G-Time: God's Time.

In the first century, God's faithful were far more willing to confront the mystery of life and death head-on. This week's epistle finds Paul once again in prison. Apparently, he is charged with no civil crime, but is incarcerated simply out of fear of the potentially disruptive power of his preaching. Faced with the distinct chance that he might be executed, Paul offers a radically new, thoroughly Christian perspective on the continuum between life and death.
Paul begins by proclaiming the believer's dilemma: "living is Christ and dying is gain" (v.21). How is one to discern death's place in life? Paul's faith is so overwhelming, so all consuming that he doesn't just experience his life as being "in Christ" or "with Christ" or "for the sake of Christ." Paul's assertion, that dying is gain, rests in his conviction that even in death his relationship with Christ will continue to develop and deepen.
Once again, in prison, in Rome this time, Paul was not concerned with where he was or where he would rather be. He recognized something foreign to most of us: His life, Paul knew, was not his own.
"Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death," he writes in verse 20 -- this is from a man who could die at almost any moment, either at the hands of his captors or from the disease and other conditions in the Roman jails. Paul knew he had life at this moment, but he also knew it could end in an instant.

Paul had a different sense of time than those he was writing to; he functioned on G-Time. Paul no longer saw the world through the earthly eyes of someone who aspired for religious recognition or worldly success. Rather, his view was of an eternal prize, a "forever" home with Jesus.

This view of time did three things for Paul.

1)         It clearly changed Paul's focus from his wants to others' needs. "To remain in the flesh is more necessary FOR YOU," he writes (v. 24), and THAT, not his personal convenience is what makes the difference. The love of Christ for Paul made Paul love others more than he loved himself.

We see this repeated throughout Christian history. Martyrs in the church laid down their lives for the cause of Christ. Maximilian Kolbe, a brave priest, substituted his life for another's at Auschwitz, and thereby gained freedom for another man. The Vatican later beatified Kolbe for living on G-Time.

2)         It also changed Paul's view of what mattered in life. Before his Damascus road conversion, Paul was concerned with the approval of his peers in the Sanhedrin. Afterward, he wanted his life to reflect well on the cause of Christ.

What a recipe that would be for every church to follow! Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said that the biggest obstacle to the spread of Christianity was the small number of its people who actually practice the religion. Sad but true! If we all were "standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel" (v. 27), this world could be changed in no time, or should I say, God time?

Paul was not concerned about himself because he was at peace with God. He wanted the Philippians to live lives worthy of the gospel because such lives would be a powerful witness. For most of us, it means keeping the bigger picture in mind. How will what I do affect someone else? How am I representing Christ to the world?
3)         Finally, running on G-Time, helped Paul to see his struggle as a "privilege." He realized the damage he had done persecuting the early church. After his life-changing encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul saw things with a new vision through the Holy Spirit and counted his trials as blessings. Furthermore, he wanted the Philippians to do the same because they not only had the privilege of believing in Christ, as he had, but suffering for him as well.

Lance Rive is a name not very well known in the Christian world, but his story should be told. Today he is a Salvation Army officer, an ordained minister of the gospel. A few years back, Rive was in a vehicle with his wife, being driven through the jungle roads in Africa. The car overturned, and he suffered a broken vertebra, leaving him a quadriplegic.

Here was a man in the prime of life, at the height of his career, reduced to utter helplessness. After months of therapy, he returned to his native New Zealand and a home specially built to accommodate his wheelchair and other needs. His wife works with him, as does a visiting nurse.

But instead of moping and complaining about this sad turn of events, Lance Rive took a different tack. With his wife's help, he logs on to a computer and answers, via e-mail, the confidential letters of thousands of people from around the world. Most don't know who is writing back to them, and almost no one knows the burden under which he works. Yet thanks to years of running on G-Time, Rive is able to turn that suffering into service, awaiting a day when his pain will end and the healing promised by Christ will become a reality.          

 Someone once said he was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a whole lot more as they get older. Then it dawned on him -- they were cramming for their finals. (From Jay Tharp, via e-mail, March 13, 1999.) Scripture comes to us, pointing us away from today's trials and conflicts, urging us to turn our eyes toward Jesus and toward the work he wants us to do, stepping to the divine rhythm in Beat Time -- G-Time.
Are we living on G-time? Are you at peace with God, with yourself, with others? Are you living on God-time?
One late evening, after a hearty dinner of dog stew and a pub crawl with a half-dozen South Korean advertising executives, I retired to my hotel room [in Seoul]. But as I prepared for bed, I was stricken with crushing chest pains, radiating down my arm and into my back. Obviously, I was having a heart attack.

Or a gas attack. How are you supposed to tell? I thought of calling for help, but then I considered the problems of communication, and the chaos, and the potential for embarrassment -- to say nothing of the uncertainties of Korean cardiac care. I imagined the emergency-room physician saying, "Yes, Mr. Garfield, you are having a serious myocardial infarction. I will now place seven tiny needles in your eyelid."
So I decided to take my chances. I managed, through the pain, to write a brief, tender note to my survivors, and lay down at peace with myself. I loved my family. They loved me. I had accomplished some interesting things in my career. No felony convictions. Sufficiently insured. Go to sleep now, Bob. Maybe you will wake up.

To the best of my knowledge, I did. And I was joyous -- not that I had lived through the night, but that I had not been afraid to die. I was at peace with myself, a priceless revelation. / Are you at peace with yourself? . . . with God? (Bob Garfield, "Fort Wayne, Bath Gel and Execubabes," The Washington Post Magazine, March 14, 1999, 38.)

Let us pray:

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ: in all my trials and sufferings you have given me the strength to stand firm; in your mercy you have granted me a share of eternal glory. Amen.
                                       --Irenaeus of Sirmium, Yugoslavia (d.304), Greek prelate, saint, martyr.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
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