The Single Best Invention of Life

Much has been said and written about the passing of Steve Jobs, and, as a longtime Apple customer, even I posted a few thoughts on my personal blog. He was an interesting individual. I’m sure many readers of this blog would be quick to point out that he was not a Christian, and I hear our friends (and I use that term loosely) at Westboro were even planning to picket a public funeral that wasn’t going to happen. Regardless of spiritual standing, however, there are always lessons we can take from a life lived fully.

One of the best talks I think Steve Jobs ever gave was not a product announcement or a press conference. It was a commencement speech delivered at Stanford University in 2005.

It was a speech filled with frankness about his own mortality. He says:

Death is the destination we all share, no one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because death is very likely the single best invention of life.

And:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

We tend to view this life as permanent. Even when we acknowledge our own mortality, we always see death as a very far away thing, but we must all realize that it is an appointment we will all one day keep. It is seldom expected. Rarely is it welcome. Still, it’s hard to listen to and read those words without thinking that Steve Jobs’ mortality was very much on his mind, convinced that he did, in fact, take his own future death very seriously.

James 4:13-15 tells us:

Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.

And Peter very much had death on his mind when he penned the opening chapter to Philippians. Chapter 1:18-23:

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 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.

This is the same person who, in Romans 14:8, wrote, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” When it comes to the big choices in our lives, we have to keep in mind that those choices are temporary but may have eternal consequences. If we die, we should hope to die in Christ, and, as long as we live, we should be living for Christ. We only have a short time on this world, and we all know it. Death is certain. When it may come is an unknown, but we are all under a time constraint. We all know our time is limited. We all know we have but one chance at this life. Let’s use it wisely.

Pleasure In Death

As of May 1 ,2011, Osama bin Laden has been confirmed dead in an address given by United States President Barack Obama. He was killed in an operation based on U.S. intelligence, and reports claim large crowds had formed around the White House singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “We Are the Champions,” among other things. This is a major accomplishment for President Obama’s national security team; it is a large symbolic victory; and it is an event that has been a goal of both major political parties.

But I won’t be joining the festivities, and I would discourage anyone wearing the name of Christ from celebrating the death of this man.

For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.

– Ezekiel 18:32

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles…

– Proverbs 24:17

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

– II Peter 3:9

God’s nation of priests is not a bloodthirsty people. It is not a vengeful people. It is not a murderous people. Yes, Osama bin Laden did wrong in this life. He caused pain to many. He reaped violence as he sowed violence, but Christ died for him as much as He died for me. I, in turn, am no more worthy of God’s mercy than was Osama bin Laden.

Christ died for the sinful, for the outcast, for the unworthy. While He lived, Jesus sat to eat with sinners of many varieties. I truly believe God is saddened at the loss of bin Laden’s soul as He would be with any other soul lost to our true enemy, and I can no more rejoice over this death than I could rejoice over the death of a loved one. While I admit to a certain carnal sense of finality, there is no joy where no hope is found. Therefore, instead of lifting up our voices in joy over the death of a lost soul, let’s instead work to lift each other up to the standard Christ set for us in His life and ministry.

Memorializing the Innocent

Standing before the Lord’s Table, we often revisit thoughts surrounding the various memorials we have in our culture, whether they be monuments, days, or ceremonies. The vast majority of these memorials center around the numerous military conflicts this nation has been a part of, and we memorialize soldiers who have fallen and great leaders that led us to triumph. We lionize and idealize those to whom these numerous memorials are dedicated, but there are two groups involved in these conflicts we seldom commemorate, or indeed recognize at all: our enemies and the innocents.

The past hundred years or so have seen some of the largest and bloodiest conflicts in the history of this world. Sennacherib’s loss of 185,000 at the hands of Jehovah in II Kings 19 is mere child’s play by today’s standards. War casualties in the last century number in the millions, and if you break it down only to civilians, some casualty  figures look like this:

  • WWI: almost 7 million
  • WWII: 40-52 million
  • Korean War: 1.5 million
  • Vietnam War: 2 million
  • Iraq + Afghanistan: as many as 1 million

Counting only these conflicts – a small fraction of the wars and battles that have been fought the last hundred years – over 60 million have died in the crossfire of opposing armies. It may surprise you (as it did me) that in every conflict listed, except World War I, civilian death tolls outnumbered military deaths by a margin of at least 2-to-1. In almost every case, the number of innocents who died were more than double those actually involved in the conflict, and, with a couple notable exceptions, these lives are seldom remembered. (Memorials dedicated to the Holocaust and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki come to mind.)

In fact, far from being memorialized, these deaths are often marginalized and trivialized. They are reported as “collateral damage,” or we breathe a sigh of relief that “at least they are not American lives.” Then we forget them as readily as any other unpleasant fact we’d rather not dwell on. Try, however, to tell an Afghani mother whose son was cut down in a skirmish on the streets of her hometown that her child was merely collateral damage in a conflict for a greater good. Tell an elderly Japanese man or woman who lost loved ones in Hiroshima or Nagasaki that their loss saved American lives in the long run. See how it goes. Who memorializes the innocents, lives cut short by the choices made by others?

Now I want you to imagine, for a moment, that Great Britain launched a war against us. Imagine they carpet bombed strategic locations and major metropolitan areas to cripple us quickly. Imagine you had a son or daughter in one of those locations who was killed in those bombings – not because they were part of the military trying to fight the invading forces, but simply because they were in the way when the bombs fell. Imagine that son or daughter became “collateral damage.” How would you feel after that?

After the dust cleared, the treaties had been signed, and the troops gone home, would you ever be able to look at England the same way again? Would you ever be able to forgive them? Might you cringe every time you heard and English accent? Would you throw away all of your old Beatles albums? Adding to this, what if the attack on our soil was completely justifiable by political standards? What if history was on the side of Great Britain? Would that change how you feel? Would the pain be erased, knowing that your child’s death, in the long run, saved the lives of those you view as enemies? Somehow I doubt it.

This, however, is exactly what Christ’s sacrifice was, and it is what God did for us.

  • Jesus was an innocent death. II Corinthians 5:21 and Isaiah 53:9 refer to Christ as sinless or blameless. Even Pilate attests to Jesus’ innocence in the face of unjust accusations.
  • Jesus was “collateral damage.” Repeatedly, in Isaiah 53, the prophet tells us God’s chosen Servant would be bruised, beaten, and killed in our place. We should be the casualties of the war with sin, but those sins cut Him down instead.
  • Jesus died for His enemies. The first few verses of Romans 5 make it clear that Christ came and died for us while we were at enmity with God. Where few would think to die for a righteous man, Christ laid down His life to save those opposed to Him.

Unlike the numerous civilian casualties of war, however, Jesus was not merely caught in the crossfire haphazardly. He was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. His death was no accident. He walked into the conflict willingly to be the innocent sacrifice that would save those who would reject Him. God sacrificed His child that those who set themselves against Him might not perish but have eternal life, and I have to ask myself, “How could God do this? How could He send His Son to die in my place? How could He offer such a sacrifice for an enemy?” Then I read Isaiah 55:6-9, where the prophet extends an invitation of forgiveness to a people who rejected God:

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God’s ways are higher than our ways. His love is greater than our love. He was willing to sacrifice His Son for the sake of those on the side of sin and lawlessness that we may have hope of life after death. That’s why we take the time to memorialize this innocent death.

The Rest That Awaits Us

Hebrews 12, after lifting up numerous examples of enduring faith in chapter 11, speaks of Jesus as the captain on our faith, using a term seldom used in the Bible. Joshua, Saul, David, and Hezekiah were referred to as captain in parts of their reigns, and the Hebrew writer impresses on us that Jesus is a better ruler than even these. This same author quotes from the Psalms of David, and invokes more Old Testament imagery, in chapter 4:1-11, speaking of the rest into which we may enter.

Despite having some great leaders, the people of the Old Testament never found true rest in the Lord. He speaks of their disobedience, of their disbelief – not in God’s existence or His power, but rather in His all-sufficiency and His ability to provide something better than they already knew. Time and again in their history, the children of Israel demonstrate they long for and are content with the things of this world. They do not trust in God’s all-sufficiency and always keep God’s promises at arm’s length. Whether it’s coming out of Egypt, leaving the wilderness, living amidst the idolatry of Canaan, or returning from Babylonian captivity, they demonstrate a willingness to just stay where they are.

Are we like this spiritually? Are we content stagnating in our spiritual growth? Simply arriving into God’s deliverance is not the rest in itself (Hebrews 4:8-10), and we have a rest promised to us if we are diligent to remain faithful. Like ancient Israel, however, we fall short when we grow content in stagnation, when we grow resistant to facing the challenges of discipleship. Remember how often the children of Israel affirmed their faith in God and promised their obedience, falling short time and again because their actions did not support their words. Hebrews 3:16-19 reminds us this lack of faith and trust kept Israel from ever finding true rest in the Lord.

God has an eternal plan to save us and give us rest (Hebrews 1, Ephesians 3:11). We may not follow that plan, however, and be content with something that approximates that plan but cannot provide the ultimate peace of Hebrews 4:9-10, this cessation of all labor to live in God’s glory for all time. Think of the imagery in Revelation 21-22, where death, tears, suffering will be forever erased. All the trials we face in this life will be behind us, and we will find our peace in Him.

We cannot be content with where we are spiritually. We cannot become sedentary. We cannot keep looking back at the comforts we left behind to follow God. Our path is not the easy path. Instead, we must strive forward to be like and with Christ. God has promised us something better, but it takes obedience, faith, and growth to reach that promised rest.

We have to listen to those good tidings of Hebrews 4:2-7. We have to then be obedient to that word like the Hebrew writer admonishes us in chapter 4:6 and 11. Then we can never become complacent with our progress. Our actions and our attitudes convey our faith in God’s all-sufficiency, in His ability to provide something better. We cannot consider ourselves to have arrived until we hear Him say, “Enter in, good and faithful servant.”

lesson by Tim Smelser

Taking Joy in Tragedy

Over the course of the last twenty-four hours, I’ve been trying to digest the information surrounding the murder of Dr. George Tiller while he was serving as an usher at his Wichita church. That he was murdered was not entirely unanticipated. He had already been attacked once in 1993, and, prior to that, his clinic had been both blockaded and bombed by activists. He is the sixth victim of vigilante justice on the American abortion scene since the early 1990s – and those are only the attempts that “worked.”

I have little concern that my brothers and sisters in Christ will attempt to repeat this heinous act. My concern is the attitude we might take. Already, I’ve heard quips and comments like:

  • “He got what was coming to him.”
  • “His death was as bloody as his life.”
  • “He was pro-choice, and someone CHOSE to end his life.”
  • “I’m glad another baby-murder is off the streets.”

Dr. Tiller was no more or less deserving of judgment or death than you or me. Romans 3:23 states that all are guilty of sin, and chapter 6:23 calls death the natural consequence of sin. (Both passages then appeal to Christ’s blood as that which can redeem us from such a fate, but that’s another post.) Hebrews 6:4-6 specifically talks about the effects of a follower of Christ sinning – it is the same as putting Christ through another crucifixion. God takes sin seriously, and passages like Revelation 21:8 that lump lying and murdering into the same category. In God’s eyes, sin is sin. Let us not be quick to condemn another, for, in doing so, we condemn ourselves.

Based on scriptures like Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:4-8, I believe that God does recognize an unborn infant as a living being. I do believe that killing an unborn child is wrong. I am what is commonly referred to as pro-life. However, God is pro-life beyond the womb. All life is precious to Him. Doesn’t II Peter 3:9 read that God wants all to have the opportunity to come to Him? Doesn’t Romans 5 reveal that God was willing to send His Son on our behalf while we were undeserving? Doesn’t Jesus say His mission was to seek and save the lost in Luke 19:10? We should take no joy or satisfaction in the death of Dr. Tiller. We should only feel sympathy for his family and regret at needless violence claiming another life.

I Corinthians 13:6 states that a loving Christian does not rejoice in wrongdoing. If we rejoice in this death, we disregard love. In disregarding love, according to I John 4:8, we disregard God. Let us be very careful in the attitudes we take and the comments we make regarding this act of violence. Remember the love we want from our Father, and let our words and actions reflect that love in turn.

Live Like You Were Dying

The song Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw came out in 2004 shortly after the artist’s own father passed away from terminal cancer. It reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard Country charts, won AMC single and song of the year, CMA single and song of the year, and Tim McGraw netted an Grammy award for the song. He also performed the song in Rome for Bono’s Live 8 concert, and his song was the most played during news coverage of the event. With the possible exception of “Don’t Take the Girl,” it is easily the single most recognizable song by this artist.

The song tells the story of a man with a terminal illness having a conversation with the narrator, telling the narrator how he changed his life with the news, and, in doing so, he expresses his desire that the narrator make these changes himself. In this lesson, we’re going to take a look at three of the improvements this individual makes (and, no, riding a bull named Fu Man Shu is not included) because we really should be living like we are dying. After all, we are.

Living Like We’re Dying

“I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t.”

I really am just going to focus on husbands here, but these words do apply both ways. Most of us could probably quote Ephesians 5:25, but I think this “giving” of one’s self here is deeper than we usually apply. Yes, we should be willing to give up our lives for our spouses, but what about giving up our time? How do we feel about giving up a hobby or a bad habit? How do we feel about giving up a preferred activity in favor of spending time with our wives, doing something they want to do? If any of us husbands were to pass away right now, could our wives say that we were the husbands that we should be? Wives, can your husbands say that of you?

I Corinthians 13 describes love as something optimistic, patient, kind, faithful, and tender. I think how we treat our spouses and how we behave towards and around our spouses can provide a very good mirror of our true character. Personally, I would like to say one day that I spent every moment I could being the husband my wife wants to have.

“I became a friend a friend would like to have.”

What do we look for in our friends? We want someone who is trustworthy, reliable, helpful in a pinch. However, do we demonstrate the friendship toward others that we want in return? In Romans 15:1 we are instructed to bear the burdens of those who are struggling or feel weakened. Paul goes on in verse two, telling us to do good toward our neighbors, being an encouragement to all.

Galatians 6:9-10 encourages not lose faith in doing good and that our friendly attitude should be demonstrated to all. In our daily lives, we sometimes seem to confuse “friend” with “acquaintance.” We call each other friends – fellow Christians, people we work with, our physical neighbors – but how well do we really know each other? Are we willing to go out of our way to help our friends out? Can they rely on us, or do we make excuses to them and ourselves to avoid a true commitment in our friendships? If I’m going to be a good friend, then I need to be the friend I want to have.

“I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin.’”

We hold grudges so easily. “Never forget. Never forgive,” is a phrase used in so many contexts it’s hard to think of just one example. Unfortunately, we can sometimes get caught up in this attitude over the smallest of offenses which seem so huge from our limited perspective. In Matthew 18:21-35, after the well-known “seventy-times seven” response to Peter’s question on forgiveness, Jesus tells the story of a master who forgives his servant a large debt. Unfortunately, this servant is unforgiving toward another indebted to him, inciting the master to punish him for his callousness. Jesus simply states that our Lord looks upon us this way when we refuse forgiveness.

Likewise, during Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6:12, God is asked to forgive us as we forgive others. Are we forgiving, or are we denying forgiveness? Regardless of the reasons we think we have for withholding forgiveness, all we do is hurt ourselves and others when we do so. We want our God to forgive us. We should be willing to forgive others in turn.

Conclusion

At the outset, I said we should all live like we are dying because, in reality, we actually are. Our bodies mature and grow for a given time. When that maturation process ceases, we begin to slowly break down. Every day brings us closer to death – expected or unexpected. Now is the time to make things right with others and with God. We don’t want to miss the chance we have because we waited until it was too late.