Friday, October 7, 2011

A Christian Tribute to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs: innovator, entrepreneur, & visionary.

Say It Ain't So
Thursday morning, Oct 6, I was on my way to seminary classes here in Seoul when I saw a text message on my iPhone 4 telling me that Steve Jobs passed away suddenly. I couldn't believe it. I checked my news apps but because the story just broke I couldn't find any articles confirming his death. In my heart I felt immense sorrow at the thought of losing him, like an uncle passed away or something. Then my heart sank when it was confirmed on Apple's web site and I saw Steve's portrait with the words
"Steve Jobs 1955-2011". 

The Whole World Mourns
Within a few minutes, as I was tweeting the story, twitter and facebook began to explode with updates. There was no need to wait for late night news shows or the morning paper, within the hour the whole world discovered that we lost an extraordinary leader.
"The world has lost a visionary. And there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented." (President Obama's fb page) 
"A visionary who changed the way we live, an innovator whose products brought joy to millions, a risk-taker who wasn't afraid to challenge the status quo." (House minority leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Obama hails Jobs as brave, bold and talented - CNN)  
"Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you." (Mark Zuckerberg's fb page) 
"The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had... I will miss Steve immensely." (Bill Gates, Microsoft Chairman) 
Almost as if Steve knew that his time was coming, he stepped down as CEO in August and handed over the leadership mantle to Tim Cook (very few leaders both in and out of the church do this). Then the day after Tim gave his first keynote speech and introduced the iPhone 4S, Steve exited the stage for good.

Pastors Honor Apple's CEO
Looking through my tweets, I was surprised to find that lots of pastors and Christian leaders were unafraid to pay tribute to Steve.  

"Tonight when I left a prayer meeting at our church I found two text messages (on my iPhone) from friends telling me that Steve Jobs had died. I was surprised at how sad I felt at the news. My prayers are with his family and friends." (Joshua Harris, Pastor of Covenant Life) 
Our Edison departs. Steve Jobs said, "I was lucky- I found out what I love to do early in life." This was Gods gift to him and thus to us. (Lance Wallnau, Speaker and Author)
"Steve Jobs, the Thomas Edison of my generation. Miss him already." (Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback)  
"Steve Jobs we will miss you." (Erwin McManus, Pastor of Mosaic)  
For me, the tweets and article re-postings were a surprise because I know there are a lot of "religious" pastors who would refuse to honor Steve because he wasn't a Christian and in his youth used to identify himself as a Buddhist. Is it right for a Christian leader honor a former Buddhist? Well I don't know if it's right or wrong but I choose to honor him because although Steve wasn't a born-again Christian, I believe his life was filled with the fingerprints of God. 

Here's my take.

Steve's life story is a picture of the gospel
Steve unveiling the Mac in 1984.
If you didn't know, Steve started Apple when he was 20. In ten years, the company grew to a value of $2 billion and 4000 employees (source: Stanford speech). But that same year (1985) he got fired from the company he started.  After being devastated, he started from scratch and built Pixar and NeXT. A decade later when Apple was on the brink of collapse (1997), Steve returned to serve as the CEO of Apple and then totally revived the company (famous Think Different video that marked Apple's turnaround). The growth has been incredible to say the least. Today the company is worth $351 billion (briefly surpassing Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world) and has 47,000 employees. We must take mental note: Steve's story is quite unique. I believe God has given us his life to illustrate a picture of the gospel.  In my humble opinion, I think Steve's return to Apple was one of the greatest comebacks in all history. And in Christianity, our faith's foundation rests on the greatest comeback ever. Steve did not have a college degree which tells me that God can choose the seemingly foolish things in the world to shame the wise. The young Steve had vision but made mistakes and had an abrasive personality so he was fired. But Steve made changes and eventually he was invited back to Apple. Can't you see the gospel message in all this? Steve's story gives people who've hit rock bottom hope. It seems so clear to me. Steve's life isn't a Buddhist story, it's a Christian one. And I'm pretty sure I know who the Author is. It's not about karma and reincarnation, it's about grace and redemption.

Steve's strategy teaches us about church planting
With my co-workers at the NYC SOHO store
on my last day of work in Dec 2002.
Shortly after Steve returned to Apple, he began to open up brick and mortar stores. Many thought this was a stupid move because computer companies (e.g.: Dell) at that time believed online orders would make physical stores obsolete. The stores had a slow start but Steve stuck with his vision of seeing Apple stores not only be a place to buy Mac products but a place teeming with life. In 2002, I got hired by Apple and helped open up their biggest flagship store to date in NYC SOHO. It was a huge success! I'm not exaggerating when I say this but I learned more about church planting by watching Apple open up that store than I have in reading articles and books on church planting by Christian authors. Steve had a way of breaking ground and then sending a team to establish new stores in the hardest to reach places. I personally believe that God placed insights of church planting into Apple stores. Consider how far they've come since the NYC store. Apple has been able to setup 357 stores in 11 different countries with "many more" coming (Tim Cook announces impressive Apple Retail Store numbers). Just as God put the revelation of apostolic ministry into Rome's expansion strategy (the term "apostolos" was actually a term that was already in use by the Roman Empire), I think pastors can learn a lot about church planting by humbling themselves and studying a secular company's approach to opening new stores. 

Steve received and applied Biblical values
In 2009 I was in Sydney getting some repairs done and inquired of a "Mac genius" what his employment experience was like. Just like my own personal experience, he confirmed that it was quite amazing. I was wondering what possibly could account for Steve's change from his former tyrannical ways. The genius guy told me that while on a visit to Cupertino he overheard that Steve's metamorphosis may be attributed to the influence of a group of Christian CEOs that Steve met regularly with and it seemed they had spoken into his life. We have no idea if Steve ever considered becoming a Christian because of this but despite Steve never praying the sinner's prayer, I believe the word of God was still established in Steve's heart and mind.  And it changed him into a better family man and CEO.  I observed it personally, the company culture is clearly filled with Christian values. This is what advancing the kingdom is all about. As representatives of Christ, we got to teach and lay biblical values in business, government, education, and the arts. Many successful business leaders will tell you that Christian values are the best foundations on which to grow a business. Getting people saved cannot be our only goal, we need to teach and disciple people with biblical principles even when they don't come to Christ! Or else these systems that affect millions will be full of corruption and darkness.

Steve Didn't Even Have the Anointing!
From the invention of the Apple II to the MacBook Air, Steve's creativity had an inexhaustible quality.  You would think a man and his team would run out of ideas after awhile!  But not Steve. At every Apple presentation he always had something more amazing than before. And for me that speaks of God's infinite creativity and glory than it does about any of Steve's abilities. If Steve without the anointing could do that, God's people can do immeasurably more!

Thanks Steve
Lastly, Steve had an amazing ability to take something complex and make it simple and available to all. And isn't that what we try to do with the gospel to an unbelieving world? I don't know if you see it but I see it and I glorify God for putting it together and I don't mind honoring the man through whom it came.

Thanks for the amazing ride Steve. You'll be missed.

(source: Jonathan Mak of Hong Kong)


  1. Thanks for writing this. I rarely cry when famous people die but his passing made me so sad. I was in class when my TA told me and I was so shocked. I had to go fing a news clip. I cried while listening to his graduation speech. Truly an inspiring man. There's a lot we can learn from him. You summed it up so well.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the read. Steve was truly an inspiration! I'm hoping any day now that his family announces that Steve became a Christian in the last year, just so I can shake the man's hand!

  3. Another interesting fact that few ppl know is... Steve was adopted! Many things about his life points to the gospel. I think I can evangelize at 10:38 this month just using Steve's life story alone.