What Do I Bring with Me?

What Do I Bring with Me?

V. 17 And to Adam, he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I had this thought, “Are the things we speak to our partner making their life more difficult? Are the requests, expectations, and comments improving the peace and rest? Or are we a ‘curse to their ground’, someone who makes their life more difficult, more painful, more thorny, and more tiring? What do I bring with me?”

While this verse is talking about Eve’s effect on Adam, the verse is clear that God put the responsibility and the consequence on Adam. I also think it’s very possible (and is not uncommon) for a husband to make life difficult for his wife.

As early as Genesis 3, the Bible was already revealing one major way we kill relationships: by making their life difficult by the things we ask them to do, particularly, asking people to sin. And what is sin? Is it simply asking someone to do something society agrees is bad? The Bible takes it further. Sin includes anything that gets in the way of us and God. Eve asked Adam to partake of something she thought was pleasing and beneficial. Are we asking our partners to partake in things that are seemingly pleasing and beneficial but actually lead to them having a more difficult, painful, thorny, and more tiring life?

As I was typing my thoughts on this verse, I remembered another verse I never thoughts was related:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

  • Matthew 11:28

This is followed by what seems like an oxymoron of a yoke and burden combined with rest:

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

  • Matthew 11:29-30

 

There is a similarity that they’re both invitations to attractive things, but one ended in pain and weariness, the other leads to rest. Which invitation am I taking? Which invitation am I offering?

Jesus never removed responsibility and burdens to achieve rest (which is what our leisurely culture likes to do) nor did he glorify the lack of rest as a sign of responsibility (which workaholics like to do). In fact, who was He inviting? Those on vacation? Those with no issues? Those with no concerns? No. He was inviting those who are working, who are carrying large responsibilities. You don’t invite someone you don’t want to welcome. He wants to welcome us to His rest.

As a worker, and as a person with growing responsibilities, I find it helpful to listen to God’s voice, to look for what He’s saying through circumstances, through others (such as my wife), and through His word, which is why I make time to do my morning devotions. Everything else can wait.

As a leader, as a husband, as a father, as a friend, I am convicted and led to repent. Am I gentle and lowly in heart? Do I lead in such a way that our goals and achievements are not causing others to be further away from God and further away from His rest? What do I bring with me? I can see many areas I can improve. I am grateful that I have Jesus to look up to.

Let it never be said by God to anyone, “Because you listened to the voice of David… …you are cursed.” What a chilling thought. #DB

What is a Spiritual Man?

What is a Spiritual Man?

This is not a theological article. It is simply my personal thoughts during my devotions.

Yasmin, and I were talking about a simple question on the drive to Clark from Subic. That question was: What does it mean to be a Christian? Thinking back to it, I think “simple” isn’t the best word to describe it, when it’s really more a “central” question, a question so important to know the answer to if one is to follow Christ. 

I thought about that question this morning in my devotions, but given my lack of mental power, I’m treating it the way I treat everything: moving away from never-ending intellectualising of a concept and concentrating my thoughts on how it can be applied and practiced.

What is a Christian Spiritual Man? There are many people who say they’re not religious but spiritual. I would respect this answer more if many of the people I’ve asked, “What do you mean by spiritual?” could answer it more meaningfully. But many times it’s a cop-out given by someone who is actually very minimally spiritual and incredibly materialistic. I wanted to learn for myself, in my simplified way, what is a Christian Spiritual man?

I ended up with these three indicators:

  1. Someone who has received Christ
  2. Someone who is led by the Holy Spirit
  3. Someone who produces the Fruit of the Spirit

Bellow are my thoughts on the three points.

Has received Christ

What does it mean to receive Christ?

  • Receive Him as savior (I am damned without you)
  • Receive Him as lover (I am alone without you)
  • Receive Him as provider (I have nothing without you)

I thought about how I can go through the day, in fact, most days, and not acknowledge my reliance on God for salvation, love, and provision. This shows clearly how un-spiritual a person I am. In fact, I would be lying if I ever said, “I am not religious. I am spiritual.” when the fact is I am neither. The more honest assessment is “I am very temporal.” as seen by what I m preoccupied with most. But a Christian recognizes this, and sees it as further proof of my need for a savior, that even in my best efforts, I am nowhere near as spiritual as I want to be nor need to be. When I realize this, and I am reminded of this almost daily, I do what Christians do: I repent and turn back to Christ, putting my trust in his salvation, love, and provision once more.

Is led by the Holy Spirit

  • The phrase “led by the Spirit” occurs only twice in the New Testament (in the context of battling with sin)
  • Walking in the Spirit means NOT walking in legalism nor licentiousness, which are both self-centred, but following the teachings of Christ, which does not merely ask the question, “Is this good for me?”, but goes beyond the satisfaction of the self, asking, “Does this please God?” and “Does this love others?”

I’ve always wondered about teachings connected to the Holy Spirit, particularly those about the Power of the Holy Spirit, the Speaking of Tongues, and what it exactly means to be “led by the Spirit”. I think most of my questions are the result of not knowing enough, from lack of knowledge, which is why I’m taking the time to study for myself what the Bible has to say on the topic. I do have to admit that I don’t understand many of what preachers say about the Holy Spirit, and worse, I don’t know how to apply it to my daily living. As I learn more, I am sure I’ll be able to improve my understanding in this area. To simplify it for myself, for now, instead of focusing on the more magical teachings on this subject, expecting some zap of power, some electric buzz, to help me do the right thing, I’m focusing on two questions:

  1. What is the leading of the Spirit, as seen in the instructions of the Jesus? I think I’ve many times been distracted by the question, “What does God want me to do?” when his instructions are very clear in areas like the 10 Commandments, love your neighbour as yourself, and pray unceasingly. I’m spending more time thinking about how to obey the instructions I have already been given more than asking for new instructions. It does make sense after all to do better at obeying what I’ve already been asked to do before asking for more.
  2. How do I design my life, how do I improve my decision-making process, and how do I strengthen my ability to act rightly? Given that the Bible already has a lot of instructions, how do I organize my existence to obey them? A quick review of myself does not reveal a life optimized for the self-less, God-centered, righteous life the Bible commands us to live. So I need to alter many things about how I think, decide, and act.

Produces the Fruit of the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. – Galatians 5:22

There is a lot that has been said about this verse, but another verse keeps haunting me every time I read Galatians 5:22, and it’s this:

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. – Matthew 7:15-20

This is probably one of the simplest and soundest pieces of advice I have ever read on determining whether a person is credible and worth listening to: You will know them by their fruits. 

It’s very clear that it’s not about titles, not about reviews, not about who they’re connected to, and not about popularity. It’s possible to have all of those yet not bear the kind of fruit that comes from a good Christ-centred seed. 

This is also a good way to honestly determine my own spirituality. Is my life bearing the right fruit? Is my life even bearing fruit? What fruit am I bearing?

As usual, that one question I take to God in prayer leads to more questions than answers, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is a journey after all, one that’s full of romance, mystery, and depth. Of course it leads to more wonder. Wonderful things lead to more and more wonder. #DB

Glorious Unfairness

Glorious Unfairness

I sat on an old bench in an even older bank building as I waited for my turn to talk to my credit officer. I was there to tell him the same embarrassing news: we still didn’t have money to pay our loans. I thought about how I got to this spot, just a year prior I was part of the Real LIFE startup team and had just joined Habitat for Humanity. I was on my way, I thought, to building a fulfilling early career in the nonprofit world before jumping into, I thought again, my “amazing innovative exciting business” business.

I was so wrong.

At least that’s how I felt for the first few years of taking over a distressed company. In a few months, not only was I not achieving my “big dreams”, I was living my nightmare. As a young man, when asked at a talk I gave, what I feared most, I had one answer: failure. And I was a big failure by many objective metrics. Financially I was not just not good. I was in terrible shape. My company was in terrible shape. Physically I was in terrible shape, skipping meals and drinking too much alcohol – and doing a couple of 1 am runs or early morning swims when my anxiousness would keep me awake. I had tax issues, sales issues, investor issues, supplier issues, and staff issues. I stupidly mixed that with girl issues. Spiritually, I was not in good shape as seen in my never-ending feeling of impending doom, that I was one more mistake away from utter failure. Truly spiritual people have a sense of calm, peace, and rest. I felt like I would burst at any time. I’ve written about this period in my life before, but I want to share a thought I had on that bench, a very understandable but evil idea that went:

“Why am I going through this? Why do I have to fix this while my brothers get to move on? Why do I get debt when my classmates got capital? Why do I have to struggle so much when I’m a good guy (so I thought)? Why do so many evil people, truly sick, corrupt, and despicable people, become so prosperous?” All these thoughts led to this one evil idea: “It is unfair.”

I’ve had many versions of this thought in my life.

When I was younger, “Why am I so short? It is unfair”.

“Why do I have bad skin? (I have atopic dermatitis) It is unfair.”

“Why am I so slow to learn? Why do I need to have extra tutoring when others learn so fast? It’s unfair.”

“Why others have so much money and there are so many decent poor people? It is unfair.”

“Why are there incompetent people who earn more than me? It is unfair.”

“Why do people who are close to the leaders, to the pastors, to the officials, get away with so much, have so much influence, even if they are clearly without credit? It’s unfair.”

I can go on forever.

The number of times I have called something unfair is embarrassing. Many of you probably have had similar thoughts as me. I still get those thoughts a lot. But I think I have a better perspective now. Two days ago, I was having lunch with Nels, a very respectable friend who I’ve connected with very quickly, and he was telling me about how his life has a non-financial score despite having had a highly successful banking career. He used the example of when Jesus told Peter he would be crucified, which Peter followed by asking Jesus, “What about John?” Nels said, similar to Peter, he has learned not to compare his life with others but to trust God. After our lunch, I went to a meeting to discuss exciting developments with Bridge, but after work, I kept thinking about the story of Jesus and Peter. Jesus told Peter he was going to die and when asked about John, replied: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is an extra stinging response when we remember that Jesus was just reinstating Peter, asking Peter to reaffirm his love and to “feed my sheep”. It kinda goes like this:

Jesus: Do you love me?
Peter: Yes.
Jesus: Then feed my sheep.
Repeat 3x, then:

Jesus: You are also going to suffer and die a gruesome death.
Peter: What about John?
Jesus: None of your business. That’s mine.

Thinking about that, I thought that evil idea I know so well, “That’s really unfair.”

Then I remembered a question my dad had just asked me to think about: “Why did Noah, who walked with God, have to suffer through the ridicule of building the ark, and suffer through an actual cataclysmic flood while Enoch, who also walked with God, skipped death and went straight to heaven?”

Then one by one the different unfair stories of the Bible jumped at me. “Why did God like Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? Why did God favor Jacob over Esau? Why did God rebuke the law-keeping Pharisees and welcome the adulteress Samaritan?” I am sure there is more unfairness in the pages of the Bible.

Until I went back to the story of Peter in the book of John: 

(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:19 ESV http://bible.com/59/jhn.21.19.ESV

The words glorify God stood out, I thought, ”What a selfish God this makes Him when I’m some plaything, whose only worth is to used by God any way He wants.” Which is basically what they teach you in Sunday school. But me being the challenger, I couldn’t settle on that. This idea is so counter to the loving nature of the God of the Bible. The explanation that God will do whatever He wants simply because He is God, even screw with your life because it is His anyway, which I’ve heard so many times from preachers does not reconcile with love. While I believe that is His prerogative (He is God after all), I don’t believe He will contradict His nature. Maybe that’s why much of the world, especially the objective world, does not believe in the Bible. We preach a God of love, then when someone’s life gets screwed we have two default messages: 1. “What sin did you break?” Or 2. “God is sovereign. Who knows His plans?” (which basically means “just take it”). But as I thought about this more, as I studied glory, I remembered a verse in Colossians 1:27:

“God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Christ in you, in me, the hope of glory. Glory comes when Christ is in us. I parked that thought.

Then I remembered another verse in Romans 5:3:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; We glory in our sufferings…

There’s that word again. Glory.

I read up more on glory and came upon this on gotquestions.org:

The hope of glory is the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore us and all creation (see Romans 8:19–21 and 1 Peter 5:10). This hope is not a wishful thought, but the confident, expectant, joyful knowledge that we are being changed by God and will one day see Christ face to face, having been conformed to His image (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2).

Then it hit me. It is not about fair or unfair. It is about glory.

It is not about everyone receiving an equal outcome, like everyone being blessed or having a nice car (which is impossible anyway), but everyone has equal opportunity to experience glory.

How do we experience glory? Through Christ in us. –> How do we grow closer to Christ? By becoming more like Him. –> What does it mean to be like someone? It means to share the same values, the same purpose, and the same practices. –> How do learn how to be more like Christ? By allowing all our own diverse life experiences to result in greater virtue.

To be Christlike is to exhibit Christ’s virtues, love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest. Our life experiences good and bad are meant to grow us in virtue. And if the experience, the good and the bad, do not result in greater virtue, then we will miss the glory of God. This is why we can have wealth but not have peace. We have money but not virtue. We can have networks but feel lonely because we have not grown in love. We can have all the different success metrics of the world and not have joy because joy is a virtue. We don’t earn peace. We grow in peace or any other virtue. We grow in virtue the way we grow in muscle. We experience stress, we rest, and we heal, then we do it again.

That’s what I was doing on that bank bench without knowing it. I was growing in virtue. I was being put in a situation where I had to exercise faith, exercise peace, exercise commitment, exercise perseverance, and as I did God’s amazing pattern of growth worked within me. He wasn’t merely punishing me like a vengeful God (how petty is that?) nor was He playing with me because He is sovereign and I’m too dumb to know His intentions (again, how petty is that?). I now know that I do know His intentions, and it was, and is, to use my life’s unique experiences as different opportunities to grow in virtue, to be more like Christ, that I may draw closer to Christ. His intention is a loving relationship.

This is why God kept speaking to Cain despite his bad offering and kept warning Him. He was offering the chance to grow in the virtues of humility and forgiveness. Those were his missing virtues. Sadly, he didn’t see it that way. He was blocked by envy. Envy is the devil’s way of making us focus on someone else’s lack of virtue when we should be focusing on the virtues we should be exercising ourselves. When we make material and earthly things our goal, we will inevitably feel envy. Some people do have more materials than others. But when you realize that the virtue of love can be exercised in any situation by anybody, you realize we all have fair opportunity to grow in virtue. And what enables this opportunity? God’s glorious unfairness to Himself in order that we may have a way to Him, a glorious unfairness exemplified by the death of Christ.

Jesus was not simply telling Peter, “None of your business.” Jesus was telling Peter, “Your lives are incomparable. You and John are different. Now follow me. Don’t follow the lives of others. Follow me. The life I am taking you through is the life that will lead to more of me in you. It is the life that leads to more glory.” I guess the headstrong Peter needed the extreme experiences he had. We know he was headstrong as he was still being rebuked by Paul down the road. Even this rebuke was not meant to prove superiority but an opportunity for Peter to grow in virtue. Just as my own father treated my brothers and I differently depending on what engaged us most effectively, God does not apply one style with all of us because He acknowledges our individuality, in fact, He designed our individuality. 

Now, I’m sitting on a couch in Singapore. In my inbox are some very happy investor and some very unhappy ones. There are great challenges waiting for me in Manila and great opportunities as well. I’m exhausted but am pushed by a very real anxiousness to be a good provider, especially now that I have a son. I have a little bit more today than I did back on that bank bench, but the worry, envious thoughts, and accusations are the same. They just have more zeroes now. But God’s plan is also the same, and His process for me stays, “Exercise virtue, David.”

Earlier I thought, “I can’t wait to be done with all of this character building. Where i am so good at handling my challenges with virtue.” Then I realized, in the fitness world, you call that plateauing, when your improvement flattens out and there are no more gains. I guess this is why God always challenges us to step out. But the good news is this challenge comes with instructions, to step out in faith, which is the confidence that He is with us and will never forsake us.

For someone with a dark heart like mine, to be welcomed over and over, and to be given an opportunity to experience Christ more and more is a gift I do not deserve. My stained offerings to Christ is so little compared to His great gifts. What a wonderful thing to be treated with glorious unfairness. #db

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