What’s the Distinction?

I was in the middle of what would roughly be a 14-hour plane ride. My beautiful wife, Yasmin was peacefully sleeping beside me, with her pregnant belly more visible than ever. I felt a deep feeling of contentedness thinking about our startup family. Then my thoughts shifted to work, to the exciting things we’re doing at Bridge and Elevation Partners, to the opportunities with New Leaf Ventures and Issho Genki, and to the doors opening left and right. I prayed a silent thank you to God for being with me and saving me from the Lion and the Bear, as I shared in my last post. 

Then my contentedness was interrupted by a challenge: David, are you really a Christian?

I’ve thought about this question many times, especially during periods in my life when I was not living virtuously, but rarely did I think about this when I felt like I was in the “center of God’s will”. Like many others, I make the mistake that being on the center is proven by having no problems and feelings of happiness, that because things are happening for me, God must be blessing something I’m doing right, and He must be pleased with me. But then I thought about the city I had just come from, London, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with so much happening for the people there, so much beauty, so much wealth, so much history, so much legacy, and such a big role in the world, yet not a lot of Jesus in the conversations I had there. (Though I did gain a lot from the Bible studies, church services, and conversations with other local believers.) I highly enjoyed the rational discussions but found over and over that many of these excellent people were not driven by Christian principles. If “the life we always wanted” is the proof of God’s presence in our life, than how does one explain the amazing lives of those who don’t believe in God, much less obey Him, and much less have Him? What is the distinction between an excellent person and a Christian who is also excellent? What is the distinction between a good mother and a Christian who is also a good mother? What is the distinction between a good businessperson and a Christian who is also a good business person? 

This brought me back to the original question: Are you a Christian?

I typed a follow-up question: What does it mean to be Christian? 

And here’s a simple description of what it means to be Christian:

  • Someone who embraces God’s purpose, which is the salvation of all men.
  • Someone who obeys God’s commands
  • Someone who bears spiritual fruit

A Christian isn’t just someone praying and behaving their way to “the life they’ve always wanted”. A Christian is motivated by the cause that man has major giants, not least are spiritual emptiness and existential questions of meaning, identity, and purpose, and that God wants to redeem every area of man. He wants to save man. He doesn’t merely want to convert man into a Sunday clapper, fellowshipper, cryer, tither. He wants to save man from whatever it is that’s making him or her a slave, whether that be a spiritual issue, a financial one, an emotional one, a physical one, a relational one, or some other concern. And He wisely saves us from the heart first, because that’s where the slavery happens first and foremost. If “Christians” are not primarily motivated by the salvation of man, if we are more motivated by growing our businesses, increasing our respectability, raising impressive kids, experiencing the latest popular liesure or influencer fad, then we must admit that there is no distinction between us and others. 

This really shook me on that flight. It shook me more than any turbulence could have. The flight was as smooth as can be, but my soul wrestled. It’s not a bad thing to wrestle with tough questions. In fact, it’s important. It’s important to face the inner person and learn to trust God with even that, not just our physical needs. 

I started to pray, “Father, help me be distinguishably Yours. Just like the world knows I’m Yasmin’s, just like the world knows I’m a businessman, let it be obvious that my life is dedicated to the salvation of man…”

“You will know them by their fruit…” this thought intersected with my prayer. 

Spiritual fruit distinguishes the Christian, and I don’t mean someone who is a prolific converter, but someone who is bearing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control, a person who is living virtuously, in order than all men may be saved. 

I continued to wrestle with the idea of being distinguishable. If the average Christian has the same daily purpose of materialism, survival, comfort, and security just like everyone else; and if they’re living according to their own feelings just like everyone else; and if their fruit is just as average as well, then what makes them Christian? If there’s nothing important that distinguishes Christians from others, why be Christian at all? 

This led me to three questions to ponder on during daily devotions:

  1. Who is God leading me to serve today?
  2. What is God having me do today?
  3. What virtue is God cultivating in me today?

By setting a framework of Godly purpose, Godly  commands, and Godly fruit, I am more aware of whether I am truly living a Christian life. I find in my own life that the busyness and urgency of things many times steals the purpose from my heart, the obedience from my actions, and the virtue from my results. It’s more important than ever to be deliberate about being distinguishable, because we will never be a light for others if our motivations, actions, and results are no different from theirs. 

The Lion and the Bear

London, England

I’ve tried to write this post a few times but it always came out too long. I guess there is much to say on the topics of adversity, courage, and victory. But I want to keep this piece as accessible as possible, as practical as possible, as livable as possible, because no insight left unpracticed and un-lived has ever benefited anyone. In many ways this can fool us into thinking that just because we hold a certain ideal or certain opinion we live according to them.

Many times we don’t.

It’s like asking someone, “Do you believe that God is all powerful?”

“Yes.” He answers

“Do you believe that He loves you and does what is best for you?”

“Yes.” He replies again.

“If He has all the power in the world and does what is best for you, how much time do you spend with Him on a daily basis? Does it not make sense to spend as much time as possible with Him?”

The usual answer that I’ve heard these days is, “Um… I don’t really have a set time, but I pray every now and then throughout the day. I just feel Him throughout the day.”

“And what happens when you don’t feel Him?”

This usually leads to, “You can’t judge me!”

I give this example to point out that we many times hold an idea and think we live it when we really don’t. It is possible that we hold the idea that we are Christian when we really don’t live like Christians. We hold the idea that we love God when we don’t even spend time with Him. He is our random invisible friend, on call when we feel Him. We hold the idea that we are obeying Him when we’re really just doing whatever we feel like doing, and rarely stopping to ask the very simple question of, “What would You have me do?” We hold the idea that we are close to God but are easily discouraged, easily offended, easily insecure, selfish, unkind, and entitled, all descriptions of people who are not close to God.

I am very many times guilty of all of the above. I’m glad I’ve had time on this trip to have slower days to rest and pray, to really go back to the simplicity of “Jesus, You are my Lord. What would You have me do?”

There’s an attack in London, “Jesus, You are my Lord. How would You have me respond? How would You have me feel? My impulse is to fear, give me courage.”

There’s an attack in Manila, “Jesus, You are my Lord. How would You have me respond? Who would You have me comfort? How would You have me pray?”

There’s a work issue, “Jesus, You are my Lord. How would You have me respond? Please give me clarity and a sound mind.”

This posture of, “Jesus, You are my Lord.” simplifies our decision making. What is right isn’t what isn’t convenient but what is God-glorifying, what God-obeying, and what is God and man loving. It helps bring clarity to our thoughts, especially during periods of frustration, of high pressure, high stress, of confusion, of sadness, and of fear. When we put things aside and say, “Jesus, You are my Lord. Speak to me.”

I think about how I’ve practiced this simple prayer. Despite a checkered past of both victory and struggle against sin, I’ve learned that many times the only decision we need to make is the one right in front of us, which is, “Will I make Jesus Lord over this next decision?”

Deep in millions of debt? Or have a big financial goal? Make Jesus Lord over your next expense. Then do that again. Maybe the millions are currently out of reach but the next decision is well within your control.

In the different areas of life, with the next decision, make Jesus Lord.

I was reminded of this while sitting with Yasmin in the emergency room of St. Luke’s Medical Center. We had to rush to the hospital Friday midnight because Yasmin’s left foot was very swollen. We were worried it could be a blood clot, and extra concerned because we were scheduled to fly out to London Saturday. After a couple of hours and some tests, we were advised to get an ultrasound to be sure. This would mean missing our flight, rebooking, more spending of money we don’t have, and missing time with family. My normal impulse feelings started swirling, I could feel the frustration, impatience, and grumbling bubbling up. But somehow I managed to catch myself and ask, “What’s the most important thing right now?” The most important thing was Yasmin’s and my son’s health. Let’s make the decision that protects that. What’s even more important than that? That God is glorified even in our inconvenient and scary moment. Let’s have the attitude that honors that. Then we just faced every other decision the same way, not muddying the choice with how we felt or our fears about the future, but looking at things very matter of factly, but surrendering every immediate choice to the Lordship of God. Somehow we managed to complete all the tests, rebook our flights for the next day with minimal financial damage (though it still hurt). More importantly, Yasmin and the baby were shown to be well. Most importantly, I believe, we glorified God.

Where did we learn to process life this way? Was it through a sermon from a charismatic preacher? Was it through the popular Christian book of the day? Was it through an emotional moment at a Christian concert? When I praying and thinking about the events of that weekend, I remembered a very special verse to me:

And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!” – 1 Samuel 17:33-37

We learn how to trust God for big things by trusting in Him for the smaller things. David, while simply serving his father faithfully, and learning that God’s power was helping him succeed in this task and against the threats he was facing, was being taught how to face something much bigger and with bigger implications.

He didn’t learn how to defeat giants through thinking big or faking it to make it. He learned how to defeat giants by being faithful with something smaller, protecting something smaller.

Too many times we’re waiting for that big break, we’re praying to God for that big dream, that wish, that hope, and we’re missing the preparation of today. Praying for that big business break? How is your workmanship today? Are you excellent today? Or are you already faltering? Are you already tired where you are?

Praying for a spouse? How are your current relationships? Are you good at apologizing? Are you good at forgiving? Are you good at serving? Because if you’re not, you’ll lose your spouse. You can expect that. If you’re not beating the lions and bears of selfishness then you’ll be crushed when it’s the giant.

Praying for a spiritual revelation? How are you with your daily devotions? How are you with obeying your parents or authorities? How are you with obeying your spouse?

We learn how to defeat giants by defeating the lions and the bears, because if we can’t trust in God’s power for smaller things, we won’t trust Him for bigger things. We will have no experience to remember, no answered prayer to hold on to, and no proof of God’s work in our own specific lives.

So let me summarize into one sentence: We need to apply God’s power to defeating the lions and bears of life, that we may learn how to apply His power to   life’s giants.

If we really believe what we say we believe, if we have convictions (not just opinions), if Jesus is really Lord, then we must apply His Lordship (His purpose and power) in our decision-making, and if we do, we will succeed, and with each success, we will grow in confidence that we can trust in Him no matter what we face. This is what it means to grow in faith. It’s not some mystical zap that now makes us more believing or more patient or more loving. It is exercising our faith by obeying God’s word with every decision, finding that not only is this the right thing to do but it is also the beneficial thing to do, the pleasing thing to do.

I love this approach. It removes the burden of my many mistakes and focuses me on one thing: glorifying God with my next decision. From my experience, whether it’s a challenge brought about by my own bad decisions or someone else’s, by relying on God’s power for the immediate and succeeding decisions, I find that even the gigantic problems are now beatable, because The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me.

Someone Who Embraces His Role

NOTE: Before I continue, while I use masculine pronouns, this in no way means I’m automatically referring to men unless explicitly done so. These days, with all the sensitive people, one must be extra politically correct. (I’m mocking political correctness, in case my sarcasm is missed, as happens many times in writing.)

Also, because quite a few people got offended with the directness of my post on Getting a Life (as I thought would happen), I’ve decided to make these posts more about “How I went about things” and “How I would do / redo things”. If you don’t like what you’re reading, just leave the site. No need to whine little boy / little girl.

This morning, May 1, Labor Day, a holiday, I woke up at 6am, a little later than usual, to go through the events of the day. With the office closed, I set aside time to do a lot of catching up, particularly with my fitness goals, work priorities which include our upcoming investment round and board meeting, a moment to connect with new friends (Yasmin and I have been trying to spend more time with older couples), and some “home work”. There’s a lot of literal homework going on as we prepare for our baby, a son, for those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram. We’re moving things, packing things, selling and giving things, as we make space for another human. I also wanted to continue on a painting I started but I simply don’t have time today. After devotions and before going to the gym, I wanted some time to write this piece on embracing one’s role. Needless to say, I have a very packed “free day”, and that’s not a bad thing. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have anything to do, when waking up early was not an option, and it’s not because I have people breathing down my neck, but because of two words: Roles and Responsibilities.

A person who “has a life” embaces his roles and understands his responsibilities.

Let’s start with Roles

At the start of this year, I made a mind map of my priorities for the year. I didn’t start with “What do I want to do?” or “What’s my passion project for 2017?”, but a simple listing down of what my roles are. When I was a child, my role was very undefined and limited to mostly playing and hopefully behaving. When I became a student, that became my defining role, and with it came responsibilities such as learning and getting good grades. When I got to college, along with the continuing responsibilities of a student, I also could fulfill other roles that opened up as my abilities improved. For example, since I could drive already, I could go to the store and pick things up for my parents. I also started my first “business” when I was 16 (if you could call it that), and with the new role, again, I had new responsibilities to customers and suppliers. When I graduated and started working with Dr. Joey Castro, the founder of the Real LIFE Foundation, I added the role of Executive Director for a very small salary, which my dad explained to me, came with the role of being in a startup program. After this, when I took over an ailing company, I took on a CEO role, which sounds more impressive that it really was because the company was hemorrhaging cash. It’s in this period that I learned NOT to put too much emphasis on the title but on the requirements and responsibilities of the role. For me, during that period, I needed to stabilize cash flow, reduce expenses, and pay of debt. I wasn’t a CEO on a private jet. I was a CEO using public transportation because the role I was in needed a level of frugality to keep us alive. I would take on more business and non-profit roles, requiring different behaviors, different skills, and bringing different responsibilities. Some were fun immediately fun and rewarding, others have been a continuous slog, but all have been contributive in their own way.

These days, I am now having to integrate two very important, in fact, most important, roles to an already busy life: Husband and Father. They’re not easy because these roles are highly emotional and require more than discipline and efficiency. They require patience, kindness, generosity, humility, selflessness, gentleness, politeness, truthfulness, or in short, in requires love. Nothing has shown me how selfish and unloving I can be than having to live with someone – for the rest of my life. I’m glad I married Yasmin, who is not just extremely beautiful, but loving, kind hearted, funny, and can cook! The thought of ending up with someone horrible sends shivers down my spine. I’m glad that I’m adjusting to this new role with someone as patient as Yasmin. In a week’s time, May 7, we would have been married for 1 year. I marveled at how fast time flew. My friends marveled at how Yasmin was able to take me for a year. I marvel at that too.

Because it hasn’t been an easy adjustment for me. It must have been extremely difficult for Yasmin to adjust to me. Our friend, Jay Rod, commented yesterday, “I spent the afternoon with David and Yasmin, and David is really tiring.” I have to admit that I can be. It’s the problem with intensity and energy are mixed together in one person, that helps a lot at work, but it’s something that needs better management now that I’m married. I have a different role with Yasmin, and I need to adjust. This role doesn’t require me to hit sales targets. It requires that I make Yasmin feel loved. This is harder than it sounds because “feeling loved” isn’t a measurable thing. Sometimes I wish someone would invent an objective measure of love, but then love would lose its dynamism. I’m learning that fulfillment in a relationship is not something you can copy off a book or Instragram (this part I knew at least), but something two people have to calibrate, something two people have to learn when they vow to take on the roles of husband and wife.

And now, I’m going to be a father. I’m both excited and terrified. The stakes with this one are so high. Parenting is the greatest role on Earth, and I’m happy I get to fulfill the part with the most beautiful person in the world. I’ve been reading books and articles on parenting, on baby formation, on pregnancies, on the meaning of names, on baby stuff, on early childhood development. I’ve been running the numbers on how much it’s going to cost. (How does such a tiny thing cost so much???!!!) It’s yet another role I need to play. Maybe play is the wrong word, when the roles I’m talking about, particularly the roles of husband and father, are incredibly serious.

The next part of this series talks about the Responsibilities that come with our life’s Roles, but for now I have a simple point: All of us has a role, a part to play. They start very small and simple. For some of us, it’s to be a great student. It’s to take each class seriously. It’s to help around the house. For some of us, it’s that and to put our siblings to school because of a financial difficulty. For others, it’s to babysit, it’s to work summer jobs, and it’s to ace night school. For some of us, it’s to save a family business, or find a job, or keep a job. For some of us it’s to come up with killer marketing campaigns, it’s to design websites, and sell products. For some of us it’s to manage the accounts, it’s to make sure recruitment is working, or security is tight. For some of us, it’s to help our teams win, to stay fit, to practice. Everyone has different roles, that while similar to others, are different depending on the circumstances you find yourself in. I had to take on a tough business role at a young age. It wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t lucrative. It wasn’t fair. But it the role required filling, and I filled it.

When I look at the most secure people I know, when I look at the most impressive people I know, I find that the security wasn’t some natural or magical endowment, but rather an achievement that came from embracing the role presented to them that needed filling. Too many people are looking for that thing they love to get their life going when there’s a family at home that requires a helping hand, an encouraging member, and source of joy, there’s a piece of homework that needs excellence, a lecture that needs mastering, and an objective that needs achieving. People are always looking at some future opportunity, some lottery win, or praying for some open door, when a door was flung wide open, and the path made so clear the day they were born. All they need to do is to embrace what they have now and commit to executing even the most simple roles in most excellent ways.
#db