Advice from Steve Jobs

This is from the famous commencement speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford:

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

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. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.

Signs of Life

My latest column at Christian Week:

People like me have been writing about the challenges facing the Church in Canada. The problem is that some churches obviously haven't been reading my column, and they seem to be doing just fine.

We just got back from a weekend in Ottawa, where we visited a church we'd heard about. We arrived, and the church was packed even on a long weekend. The pastor was off sick, so a former intern spoke instead. He's one of many former interns who have entered vocational ministry and are serving in cities all over the map.

He spoke with appreciation for how that church had built into his life at a critical time. Balloons decorated the stage, each representing a life that had been reached for Christ through the ministry of that church. The church is doing well, even on a long weekend, and even with the pastor off with a serious illness. Not only that, but it's a pipeline for leaders who are serving in other ministries as well.

I know another church located in downtown Toronto, where churches aren't supposed to grow. It's part of a denomination that's withering. And yet it's flourishing, full of the people that are statistically hard to reach. They have recently launched a ministry to reach those who would never dream of coming to a traditional church. This is a church with all of the odds stacked against it, and yet it's beating those odds.

Signs of life

Everywhere I look I see signs of life. I was in a meeting of pastors recently when I realized that four out of the five pastors serve in growing churches that didn't exist 10 years ago. I keep meeting young people who are solidly committed to Christ and eager to pay the price of serving Him.

I don't want to pretend that everything is rosy. I also see a lot of struggling churches too. I just took a call about a church near us that's on the verge of closing its doors. The same day I received an e-mail from a friend who needs prayer for his languishing church. The challenges facing the Church are huge, and we can't wish harsh realities away.

But here's the thing: these harsh realities aren't stopping God from working. The people I meet in these thriving churches are very aware of the challenges, but they seem to be more attuned to the possibilities than all the reasons that the Church can't flourish. They're keeping their heads down and doing the hard work of ministry, and it's paying off, even though all the books and experts say it shouldn't.

It's time to stop reading the death notices for the Church in Canada. It's most decidedly not dead yet. God is very much at work. I don't know why this surprises me, because it lines up nicely with what I claim to believe about God. Maybe it's my lack of faith. I constantly need to remind myself that God often shows up at the precise moment that He's been written off.

Intentional Doing

We also need to be wise in how we invest our energies. I've noticed that the people I've met in flourishing churches are very intentional in what they're doing. They've thought about the issues and decided where they're going to focus. It's not enough to just hang on; we need to take a look at what we're doing and sometimes decide to move on. This isn't easy, and it takes lots of prayer and discernment. But gritting our teeth and hoping for better isn't enough. We also need to be wise.

But we also need to remember that it's not extraordinary people and churches that God is using. Angelique Arnauld said, "Perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well." I usually bristle when I read inspirational quotes like this, but it's true. God seems to be using pretty average people and churches in extraordinary ways because they're covering the basics: preaching, praying, investing in relationships and serving. All this sowing seems to be followed by a good bit of reaping.

Ignore the naysayers. Times are tough, but God is at work. Churches are flourishing where experts say they can't. God is good at beating the odds that we give Him.

Beloit College Mindset List

This year's Beloit College Mindset List has just been released:

This year’s entering college class of 2015 was born just as the Internet took everyone onto the information highway and as Amazon began its relentless flow of books and everything else into their lives. Members of this year’s freshman class, most of them born in 1993, are the first generation to grow up taking the word “online” for granted and for whom crossing the digital divide has redefined research, original sources and access to information, changing the central experiences and methods in their lives. They have come of age as women assumed command of U.S. Navy ships, altar girls served routinely at Catholic Mass, and when everything from parents analyzing childhood maladies to their breaking up with boyfriends and girlfriends, sometimes quite publicly, have been accomplished on the Internet.

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God's Response to Imprecatory Psalms

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Many Christians struggle with the imprecatory psalms. They wonder how to interpret and use psalms that call for God's wrath against enemies like this:

Let their own table before them become a snare;
and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them.
(Psalm 69:22-24)

How do you reconcile this with Jesus command to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44)?

Graham Gladstone, a pastor at The Rock Community Church in Woodstock, Ontario, sent me this, and it's very good. He's given me permission to post it here:

The imprecatory psalms record for us the human response to evil, sin and injustice. We, with justice in mind, want to see evil-doers get theirs.

Question: I wonder if/to what degree the Hebrews expected the fulfillment of their imprecatory prayers to come through their Messiah?

If so, no wonder they were disappointed, because when He came, He came not as a nationalistic warrior, but as a Suffering Servant.

Now, here's the twist.
The imprecations are humanity's plea: God, punish evil!
The Incarnation is God's response.

The problem is, all of humanity finds itself under the curse that it calls upon its enemies in these types of psalms. Instead of doling out the punishment of the imprecations that every human deserved, God answered the prayer by sending (not a warrior to punish individual sinners), but His Suffering Servant Son to receive the punishment that all sinners deserve, and so ransom humanity. What incredible mercy!

What incredible mercy indeed. The incarnation, including the work of Christ at the cross, is God's answer to the imprecatory psalms.