Steve Jobs: “Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow.”
A direct quote from the famous Founder of Apple, but that wasn’t his marketing pitch for a new product launch at the annual MacWorld gathering. Steve’s last words; his wife was there to hear them.
Reflections from some of history’s famous notables as they breathe their last: Leonardo Da Vinci: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” Donald O’Connor: “I’d like to thank the Academy for my lifetime achievement award that I will eventually get” (he still hasn’t received it). Winston Churchill: “I’m bored with it all.” Todd Beamer (on Flight #93, on 9/11): “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll…” John Belushi: “Just don’t leave me alone.” Diana, Princess of Wales: “My God. What’s happened?” Bob Marley: “Money can’t buy life.” Edgar Allan Poe: “Lord help my poor soul.” Harriet Tubman: “Swing low, sweet chariot.”
When you don’t have much/any time left on your meter, words become few and highly valuable. It’s true for people who are famous leading up to death, but become immensely normal in their last moments. When the cameras stop rolling and only those closest are nearby, truth becomes reality.
Some have the opportunity to archive their last words in print, leaving no question about their veracity. Paul – the tentmaker and Apostle – was writing his last letter, to Timothy when he summarized his own epitaph: “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Stephen R. Covey is best remembered for his signature book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The second of the principles is fitting here: Begin with the end in mind. That’s an ingredient in the recipe for living well; it’s also wisdom for dying well. If you could pre-script the eulogy for your memorial service – or, purchase your tombstone in advance – what are the meaningful remembrances you’d want to convey to those assembled in a post-covid public service?
The lockdown fog is still hovering over many of our communities; time to read and ponder is an unintended consequence of the coronavirus pandemic panic. Today – and, the next few Mondays – I want to listen-in as Paul hits the highpoints of his life of Calling. For him, his LifeMission didn’t get life focus until middle age; he was about 49 when: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2-3).
For the next 15 years, his purpose in life became crystal clear and central to all that he did. The key take-aways of a lifetime accumulated in his last decade-and-a-half.
There’s no call for sympathy in the self-pronouncement of his limited time horizon: “The time for my departure is near…” (he was executed by Nero for promoting the Gospel). With anticipation of his imminent transition into Eternity, he cuts to the chase in encapsulating what really mattered.
“I have fought the good fight.” The assignment given to Paul – to take news of the Jewish Messiah to the Gentile world – was no cake-walk. We live at a time when “free speech” is easily taken for granted; in the 1st Century Roman Empire, comments that could be associated with insurrection against the Emperor were delivered with great risk.
But Paul knew that no human was his true enemy: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12). Nero was not his enemy; Satan was his real opponent.
His example stands today: if you’re out to serve the Kingdom, the Enemy of Heaven will battle you in an effort to compromise your results and thwart your initiatives.
On the top of Paul’s paragraph-long press release: he had been engaged in spiritual warfare for 15 years… and he emerged the Victor.
More next week…