Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs: Living As If You're Dying

October 5, 2011 Steve Jobs breathed his last in this world. Succumbing to pancreatic cancer the technological pioneer finally saw his last day that he had anticipated since being diagnosed in 2004.

Jobs was first told a very grim prognosis; six months to live. Later it was discovered that his form of cancer was responsive to treatment and thus Jobs lived a few more years.

At age 56 Jobs’ death strikes close to home since I’m only a year behind him and prompts me to once again reflect on my own mortality. Jobs gave a memorable commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 which is one of my favorite Ted Talks. In light of his diagnosis Jobs challenged the graduates to live before they die. Among his helpful comments he said…

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. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Without a fatal diagnosis is it possible to live as if you are dying? The fact of the matter is that we are all dying but most of us have the presumption that it will be far into the future.

If I lived as if I was dying I think I would give more generously, love more freely, forgive more quickly, make amends thoroughly, enjoy friendship daily, frequently kiss, hug, cry, laugh and know and worship God as deeply as possible.

What about you? What would be different if you lived as if you were dying?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Gambling on Life, Death and Faith

Recently I read an update on film critic Roger Ebert that prompted the following reflections.

Most of you know who Roger Ebert is. For years he has been one of the more popular film critics and was the long time co-host of “At The Movies” with Gene Siskel and later Richard Roeper.

In 2002 Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He has endured years of treatment and surgery, including the removal of his jaw in 2006.

In his memoir, “Life Itself”, Ebert speaks of his impending death—
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.

Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don't feel that way. "Faith" is neutral. All depends on what is believed in. I have no desire to live forever.

What I expect to happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function and that will be that.

Mr. Ebert has made a bet. He is betting that there is no Creator God who has given life to each person with an expectation on how that life will be lived and for which there will be accountability and possible judgment.

If Mr. Ebert is correct then it truly doesn’t matter that he hasn’t lived with a view of having a relationship with God or attempting to please God. If he is wrong then death will be a very undesirable experience.

This has led many to philosophically and theologically conclude: “If I bet that there is a God and live that way, then die and find out I was wrong, it is no big loss. However, if I bet there is not a God and live that way, then die and find out I was wrong, it is the all-time biggest loss.”

Of course most of that thinking is around the notion of spending forever either in heaven or hell. I’m sympathetic to the rationale and the concern for people to go to heaven when they die.

Of greater concern to me is this: If God is real (all powerful, all knowing, etc.), and if God has invited us to know Him (forgiveness of sin, justification, redemption and reconciliation), then not knowing God and experiencing His gracious gift of life would be the all-time greatest loss.

So here’s my challenge for Mr. Ebert and everyone else who shares his thinking: Don’t make a blind bet. Investigate, explore, and search regarding whether the claims about God and life with God are true. Don’t settle for a few superficial caricatures of faith based living that are weird, cheesy, flaky or a turn off (and there are many).

Investigate Jesus and Christianity as thoughtfully and carefully as you examine movies. If you do so, I bet that you reach a different conclusion.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Reflections on the Cross

Ryan Holladay is pastor of Lower Manhattan Community Church which meets two blocks from the World Trade Center site. His article in Christianity Today, “Why The 9/11 Cross Should Offend All of Us” is worth a few moments of your reflection.

A cross is on display at the memorial site and this is literally making some atheists sick. The atheists claim that the presence of the cross has caused them to suffer “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety and mental pain and anguish”. Though many are not finding the atheists’ claims to be credible Holladay wonders if the atheists are taking the cross more seriously than do most believers.

Holladay reminds us that the cross “tells the world’s strangest story in an image.” The Apostle Paul said that the cross is to some a scandal and to others a joke (1 Cor. 1:23). Simultaneously and paradoxically the cross declares that mankind is sinful and condemned AND that God is merciful and full of grace.

When the Apostle Peter preached this dual message of condemnation and salvation in the cross the Bible says that “when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart.” Kind of sounds like the first century audience was at the same time sickened and hopeful.

Holladay opines, “The atheist litigants have called the 9/11 cross an ‘ugly piece of wreckage,’ arguing that it speaks of ‘horror and death.’ On the basis of the New Testament, these statements are difficult to contradict.”

How should one respond to the cross? Peter advised, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” The Book of Acts reports that thousands of people believed Peter’s message, responded with repentance and faith and their lives were changed forever and their lives changed our world.

In conclusion Holladay ponders, “Suppose God Himself has suffered and died at the hands of evil men. Suppose God Himself has shown the capacity for taking what was intended for harm and using it for good. Might this affect the way we ourselves face evil and suffering?”

Monday, July 04, 2011

Five Vows Worth Repeating

Ray Orlund, the late and longtime former pastor of Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, California, made the following vows to God that are worth our reflection and emulating.

1. Vow to give God all the glory in all your success.
2. Vow to confess your sins and do a thorough job of repentance.
3. Vow never to say anything slanderous or destructive against any of God’s children.
4. Vow not to own anything. Leave all ownership to God.
5. Vow that while you live you will seek to live with enthusiasm and joy by the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 56:12
“I am under vows to you, O God.”

Thursday, June 02, 2011

God's Sovereignty: Painful, Powerful, Purifying

Some of you won’t be ready to read and consider this post. I pray that you’ll bookmark it for another day.

God’s sovereignty is a glorious and painful subject. Glorious because when we think about or see a life event or circumstance rightly (biblically) we behold something great and grand about God. When we are unable or unwilling to see rightly we can be consumed and destroyed by disappointment, anger, resentment and grief.

John 9 tells the story of a man who was born blind. One day Jesus’ disciples notice him and they inquire, “Was this man born blind because his parents sinned or because of his own sin?” Jesus replied that neither speculation was correct. Rather, the man was born blind so that “the works of God might be displayed in him.” (9:3)

Jesus is basically saying that God, in His sovereign will, caused this man to be born blind and did so in order that God might be glorified because of it. The implications of that text are extremely difficult for many of us. When you apply the theology of that text to your own circumstance it can be very difficult to comprehend and accept.

Did God intend and cause your cancer or bodily defect or disability for His glory? Is God capricious, unkind or cruel?

I’ve wrestled with these questions through the years and feel like I’ve been able to land at a biblical conclusion but rather than sharing my musings allow me to introduce you to John Knight.

In the video below John Knight, a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis is interviewed by his pastor, John Piper. Knight is the father of a son who was born without eyes. Knight’s testimony may be the clearest biblical articulation I’ve heard on God’s sovereignty and it is totally authentic as his words and inflections drip with pain of his journey.

As you view the video (those viewing through a reader may need to click through to the web site) prayerfully seek the Lord, asking Him to speak into your heart and reveal His ways to you. There is a reason connected to God’s sovereignty that you saw this post and that you’re reflecting on this subject.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Wrestling With an Angel

Greg Lucas is a police officer, husband, father, Christ-follower and now an author. For some time I’ve read his blog, which describes Greg’s awakening to and experience of God while providing care for a special needs child with cerebral palsy, autism and a variety of other challenges. Now Greg has a book by the same title as his blog, “Wrestling With an Angel”.

When you have 5 minutes check out the video (those viewing through a reader may need to click through to the web site) and reflect on the grace of God while listening to Greg’s testimony.

Wrestling With An Angel from Brian Patton on Vimeo.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Easter: Exalting Christ, Removing Idols

As we approach the Easter celebration of the resurrection of Christ let us exalt Jesus by removing our idols. David Powlison's list of questions in Seeing With New Eyes are good for a diagnostic test on our lives now and again to help us identify idols.

1. What do I worry about most?

2. What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?

3. What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?

4. What do I do to cope? What are my release valves? What do I do to feel better?

5. What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about?

6. What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?

7. What do I lead with in conversations?

8. Early on what do I want to make sure that people know about me?

9. What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?

10. What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?

11. What is my hope for the future?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jim Joyce and Why I'm in Celebrate Recovery

This past summer one of the more memorable professional baseball episodes happened the night the Detroit Tigers played the Cleveland Indians. Armando Galarraga was pitching a perfect game for the Tigers, a rare feat in major league baseball.

Veteran umpire Jim Joyce was at first base. In the ninth inning on what should have been the final out and therefore a perfect game for Galarraga, Joyce missed the call and said the runner was safe. I blogged about it here and commented about what a tremendous picture it became of confession, accepting responsibility, forgiveness and reconciliation. Joyce publicly confessed his error and asked Galarraga to forgive him; Galarraga forgave Joyce; the next night the two teams played again and Joyce was plate umpire and walked into Tiger’s stadium and the crowd graciously cheered him.

Seven months later ESPN has written a story on how the controversy has continued to play out for Jim Joyce. He and family members have received hate mail and death threats. Joyce admits that he thinks about the missed call every day. Though some support and encouragement has continued to come his way from baseball fans, MLB management, and other professional officials of various sports, Joyce has struggled to forgive himself and put it behind him. Though a veteran umpire and well respected in professional baseball, Joyce believes that all of that has been wiped away by one bad call and that he will be remembered and defined by that bad call the rest of his life.

Perhaps you’re like me and you take your work and your life seriously. I am a perfectionist to a fault and when I make an error in my professional or personal life I often struggle to let it go. I tend to replay the scene over again in my mind and relive the anguish of the mistake.

When I read the ESPN story tears started forming in my eyes as I thoroughly identified with Jim Joyce. My failings and sins have never been as public as Joyce’s since millions have no doubt viewed the television and print and Internet coverage. Still, I erred in the way I treated my wife a few weeks ago and though she was quick to forgive me I’m still struggling to let it go.

Regret, shame, embarrassment and sadness are powerful emotions. I believe the biblical promise that when I confess my sin Jesus is faithful to forgive me and cleanse me (1 John 1:9). I pray that prayer every time I err and sin. In my head I sometimes acknowledge my forgiveness while in my heart I harbor harsh feelings toward self.

Sound sick? It is. That’s why I participate every week in the Celebrate Recovery program at my church. Perfectionism messes with me just as much as drinking or drugs or other habits mess with other people. By consistently practicing the 12 steps that are based upon scriptures I’m being set free from my craziness.

I pray that Jim Joyce likewise finds deliverance from his anguish in relationship with Christ and the practice of biblical truths.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Win The Day

Tonight the Auburn Tigers face the Oregon Ducks for the college football national championship. Two undefeated teams, two high scoring offenses and one Heisman Trophy Winner would seem to be a formula for a great game.

Though I’m a Washington Husky fan I’ve enjoyed watching the Ducks all season and I’m always curious about what their next uniform look will be. They are definitely the champions of style.

Oregon is in the championship game for the first time. Under second year head coach Chip Kelly, the team appears to have bought in to Kelly’s philosophy, “Win the day”.

Kelly preaches a single message to his team, “Win the day”. Who cares about tomorrow, who cares about yesterday, all that is demanded of you is win the day. If it is a practice day, win that day, practice with excellence. On your day off have an excellent day of rest. On game day, play an excellent game.

Mondays can be difficult for a pastor if he feels like he didn’t preach well on Sunday. Mondays may be difficult for you as you dread the coming week of work or school. Win the day. All we’ve got for now is today.

And, since I’m a West coast, Pac-10 guy, may the Ducks win the day.