2014 Finale: Every Day Be This

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This year sped by fast. It’s the fastest and busiest year so far. It’s been awesome.

Every year I try to cap my blog with a finale, and in the past I’ve basically packed (some have said overpacked) my post with the lessons I picked-up from the year that just passed. This year, I’ve thought long and hard about the one idea that stood out among the rest, the one I feel has been most critical to learn and will continue to be critical to practice. I’ve done this because I recognize that many people don’t read long articles (which is a shame because I actually like it when good articles continue) and because I’ve experienced the beauty, practicality, and effectivity of focusing on the essentials. This year, what’s become most essential to learn is this one thing.

One Thing

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
– Psalm 27:4

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
– Mark 10:21

I never liked the story about the rich young ruler in the book of Mark. Along with the stories of Samson as well as David & Bathsheba, this story seems to be written exactly for someone like me, not that I’m a ruler or rich, but because like him I’m prone to getting so caught up in being a certain kind of person that I tend to forget that one thing. It’s funny how Jesus put it, “One thing you lack” then He goes on to enumerate a few things. Here again is the depth of the Bible on display, because that one thing Jesus was asking, in my humble non-expert opinion, was faithfulness, and not just any kind of faithfulness, but faithfulness to Him, and to be faithful to someone means to devote yourself to that someone – and that includes doing a whole lot of things you may not like, including giving up stuff,  because you know it brings you closer to who you value. Jesus wasn’t simply asking the young man to do or not do things. He was asking Him to follow Him, and not just to go where He goes, but to be like Him and live like Him. Jesus was inviting him into a relationship. The verse actually says,”

Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

If I were to paraphrase (and I have no idea if this is allowed), I think Jesus was saying, “I love you. Come give everything up for me – especially that thing you love most: your wealth, because to love someone means to lay your interests down for them.”

The young man in the story valued his wealth and his honorability most, and what he wanted from Jesus was not Jesus but to enter His Kingdom or to enjoy the wealth and honor that kingdoms are supposed to have. That’s why when he realized that Jesus was not promising the wealth and honor of an earthly kingdom but the vulnerability, humility, and self-sacrifice of love, he walked away.

Why would anyone reject Jesus?

Jesus explains why in verse 23 when he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

And thats the part that hit me. It’s hard for someone who is caught up with what he has to get caught up in God. It doesn’t have to just be money. It can be achievement and success. It can be wisdom and insight. It can be religion and tradition. It can be honor and duty. It can be relationships and friends. It can be so many things, even so many good things that we get so caught up with that it becomes the thing we cannot give up for God. It’s whatever we’re rich in that can get in the way.

Instantly, I started seeing things in my heart that I’ve prioritized over God. Good things that I treated as more important than Him. So I did what I do during the many times that I’m wrong and repent. I realized that it wasn’t that the things I was prioritizing were wrong – they’re actually good and important things – it’s that I realized that in my life I was lacking that one all-important thing: faithfulness.

More on this later.

Shortcut to Happiness

But godliness with contentment is great gain.
– 1 Timothy 6:6

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
– Matthew 25:23

Get up you son of a bitch. ’cause Mickey loves ya.
– Mickey, from the movie Rocky

I was sitting in the back of my Uber ride (which has been useful since Dante drives for Yasmin), and I was talking to the driver like I enjoy doing because I find their life stories interesting. This driver was special. He was well-dressed, wore driving gloves, spoke intelligently on the topics we discussed and in perfect English. I liked him so much that I tried to segue into offering a job. I asked him, “Have you thought about doing something other than being a driver? You seem really smart. We may have some openings for you.” He replied quickly, “No, sir. I like driving.” To which I responded, “You can still drive. Maybe be a manager of a fleet.” And to that he came back with, “I like what I’m doing now. I’m driving here because I chose to be here. I like driving and I like meeting different people. And now I can make a decent living doing both every single day. I actually have a degree and can get other jobs but I’m happy already. I’m happy to drive and drive and drive and interact with different people like you.”

I’ve paraphrased his exact words (this was a while back) but the basic idea was simple: I’m happy. And I thought about that after he dropped me, here was a guy who took a short cut to fulfillment, and it was simply this: “I’ve found what I love doing and I’m going to do it extremely well.”

Thinking of this experience, I was reminded of The Parable of the Talents and how the Master was happy with the two servants who stewarded what they were given wisely. I used to think it was unfair that the guy with five got five more and the guy with two only got two more when he was only given two to work with. That’s how I felt seeing other people with more capital and I had to work for mine. I used to think to myself, “If I just had that person’s capital I’d be more successful than him.” (I’m giving you a preview to my proud mind.) But this year I had a different insight to this story that removed removed my envy of the opportunities of others. It’s this, when the Master rewarded them both, He rewarded them with the same two things: an invitation to share in His pleasure and additional responsibility commensurate to their abilities. I realized that the story isn’t so much about how to have more but about being faithful, and that both the guy with 5 things and the guy with 2 things were invited to the very same thing: share in the Master’s happiness. The reason why I thought it was unfair was that I have this simple-minded view that more automatically means better: the guy got 5 + 5 talents, so he’s better off than the others. But the story doesn’t teach us that more is better. It teaches us that having more means having more responsibility or duty to put the more that we have to good use, and that we are judged by our Master, God, not by how much we have but by how faithful we were in putting what we had to good use.

But in both cases of faithfulness, they both are invited to happiness. This story shows us that ultimately, we’re not scored by how much we have but by what we did with what we have. We are scored on faithfulness.

Like my driver, being faithful at whatever we’ve been given to steward, even if it seems tiny compared to the other “important” things others are doing, is the shortcut to happiness. When we are faithful with what we have right now we find fulfillment.

I think one major reason why many of us aren’t happy is because we have been unfaithful. Many times we think that the way to happiness is to improve our circumstances, and that makes us victims to life’s events and the decisions of others. Maybe we will be happier in our marriages, at our work, with our families, in our nation, if we learn to take everything we’ve been given and faithfully steward it to grow to something better instead of looking at what we don’t have, what we wish we had, what we want to have someday, and what others already have.

Since coming to this realization, every day I start with a simple prayer, “Father, help me be faithful.” When I’m at work and having a difficult time, I pray it again, “Father, help me be faithful.” When I’m writing a blog post I don’t want to study for and just wing, I pray, “Father, help me be faithful.” When I’m running and feeling tired, “Father, help me be faithful.” When I’m working on a drawing or a painting, reading, spending time with Yasmin, and even when we argue (which is bound to happen when you have two strong-willed people), I make that my prayer, “Father, help me be faithful.”

Ultimately, I’m not scored by how much money I make, or how many awards I get, how many likes my posts get, how many people like me, how many books I read, problems I solve, people I help, or things I build. I’m not even scored by how church events I went to or whether I got more things right than wrong. I’ll be giving an account of what I was given, particularly the minutes of every day of every week of every month of every year of my lifetime, the calling in my heart, the talents within me, and the people already around me, and whether I took these and through faithfulness made them flourish, because that pleases God. To be faithful is to be full of faith, and faith pleases God.

Every Day Be This

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
– Matthew 5:16

That’s the meaning of faithfulness by the way: complete devotion, and not just not-cheating.
– It’s About Infinite Possibilities

“From a pound of iron, that costs little, a thousand watch-springs can be made, whose value becomes prodigious. The pound you have received from the Lord,–use it faithfully.” 
– Robert Schumann

Every day, be this: be faithful.

To be faithful means to be devoted. It includes not cheating and it also includes giving everything. It’s not enough to never do bad. You also have to do good. It’s not enough for a husband to never cheat on his wife. He also has to lead, and provide, and cultivate. It’s not enough for a wife not to cheat on her husband. She also has to support, and comfort, and manage. It’s not enough for a worker to simply clock-in at work, he also has to focus, and be diligent, and master his responsibilities. It’s not enough for a boss to pay wages. He also has to lead, and manage, and encourage. It’s not enough for a pastor to preach on a pulpit. He also has to affect his world outside the building because the true spiritual condition of a people is seen in daily excellences or lack of. It’s not enough for a teacher to parrot a lesson. He has to make sure students learn. It’s not enough for students to do homework. They need to make sure they’re being prepared for responsibility. It’s not enough to be spiritual healthy. Our bodies have to be healthy too, as both have been given by God. It’s not enough to know theology. We need to do theology, especially the most important part of loving God and loving others.

God has been generous to us by giving us such multidimensional lives. There’s a spiritual side to us but there’s also a physical side. There are emotions but there’s also logic. There are comforts and there are also responsibilities. There’s rest and work. There’s day and night. There’s so many different parts. And in all of them we are asked to be faithful, to make the most of each moment and because we know that it’s from God to treasure them and not waste them away.

Since praying that simple prayer, I’ve found more joy in my stressful situations. I’ve even found more joy in repenting because even in my struggle, I know, by faith, that this simple desire and simple act of just running back to God over and over, and not getting caught up in the circumstances, shows Him that I have remembered the one most important thing, to be faithful.

And what about the others who don’t do their part? Isn’t it difficult to be faithful in an unfaithful world? The Parable of the Talents actually shows what God wants us to do. With the person who didn’t handle his one talent wisely, he gave the responsibility to those who will be responsible. This is both a reward and a duty. We don’t have to live in a broken world because there are broken people in it. We can fix it. But it will require responsible people to go the extra mile and take on the burdens of those who have not carried their own. I don’t like this idea too much. But even in this story of responsibility, Jesus does not stray away from His core message of love. When others don’t do their part, take on the responsibility.

And what about if we’ve been unfaithful as we all have been? We just need to run back to our faithful Father. 2 Timothy 2:13 reminds us, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”

He cannot deny himself.

What a powerful statement. God’s very nature is to be faithful. That’s why it makes sense to be faithful to Him, as I’ve learned that not all faithfulness is beneficial. It’s possible to be faithful to the wrong things and the wrong people. But to be faithful to the most faithful is most wise, it leads to daily fulfillment and future success, and it results in shared happiness. That’s why for 2015, my encouragement is every day, be this, be faithful.
#db

A Journey to the Center of the Earth

A Journey to the Center of the Earth

NOTE: my views are my own and not the views of any institution I am affiliated with nor necessarily of the people I’m related to.

What a difference one year makes.

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Yokohama overlooking the bay. It’s a nice spot to have devotions, read, and shoot off email. In an hour, I’ll go to the gym, follow that with breakfast, and get some work done before I do a little shopping and maybe spend time at the onsen across the hotel. Listing down my schedule for the day, thinking about how nice this family vacation has been so far, I keep having this recurring thought: “I wish Yasmin was here.” She had to renew her passport and that look longer than we thought.

 

While taking her home after work last week, she said and asked at the same time like women do, “I don’t think you’re going to miss me.” and I stupidly answered, “Maybe. I’m not really the missing type.” Which upset her briefly until she asked me about it and I explained myself. I appreciate that about Yasmin. She gets emotional like any girl but she’s able to pull herself together and, after doing that, is willing to explain to me what she’s feeling instead of leaving me guessing about what I did that was stupid. I think it’s highly immature to expect people to always know when they have hurt you. If something is really important and needs resolving, don’t make people guess and stew, go talk to them openly and with the intent of restoring more than proving. Now if it’s really not that important, let go of it. Pride, fear, and the great activator of both, pain, make us forget that loving someone means wanting them to flourish. If our getting hurt makes us forget that intention then it shows our main concern is ourselves.

I wish Yasmin was here.

I’ve learned a lot from her, about how light it can be to forgive and let go, to be tough yet gentle, and I’ve learned a lot from being contained in a relationship. Being in a relationship is like entering a beautiful garden with someone, with the most amazing everything that seems to go on for miles, only to find yourselves in the middle of a war zone with scorched earth, crumbled walls, conflicting sides, yet when you journey past that, in the middle of that war zone, is a garden even more beautiful than the one you entered and more expansive, only to find that in the middle of that garden is another darker war zone, then another even greater garden, and on and on like living in a Matryoshka that keeps getting better. How can being in a relationship defy physics and get greater and greater as one journeys inside it? By going deeper, and as we persevere through the good and the bad, we find even more beautiful things. Of course that’s if the person has a beautiful soul. And I believe there are people with dark ones.

Being in a relationship is a journey into the center of each other, passing both marvels and horrors, yet, like Jules Verne’s novel, driven by a sense of desire to know what’s inside. I like one article I read that said that the point of adventure was to leave your comfort and security to attempt something great, not to give in to despair during seemingly hopeless situations, and not to be complacent about the world and be trapped in the philosophical, but to change it through disciplined and intelligent action. In a world where almost everything has been mapped by satellites, where the future is routinely predicted by actuarials, ultra-sounds, prophets, experts, and analysts, where comfort and security have become the basis for wisdom and prudence, it is easy to forget the beauty of mystery and adventure. Maybe that’s one reason why many, if not most, relationships today fail. Maybe we’ve made it too much about journeying into our “best life” as defined by our individual desires for securities and comforts, and maybe we reinforce this by making selfish and fear-based criteria for a partner.  Maybe this is why many relationships in areas incredibly saturated by the wisdom of books, blogs, workshops, and talks, don’t last.

Maybe, in our effort to get things right, we’ve removed the mystery and adventure, and in doing so, removed the discovery that makes being in a relationship beautiful. 

Maybe in our obsession with finding “God’s perfect choice” we miss out on the privilege, responsibility, and beauty of the “faith choice” –  a decision made in God-given freedom,  motivated by God’s empowering love, assured by God-pleasing faith, and resulting in God-glorifying obedience. And I don’t think those two are mutually exclusive but one in the same. 

I resolved a long time ago to remain in perpetual adventure, to live by faith, not by sight, especially with the big things, like a journey into the heart of someone you love.

Ok, that’s enough writing. Time to get the day going.

I wish Yasmin was here.