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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.
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Every now and then, I’ll pick a question (or a comment) and answer it on my blog. Today’s question is about how this person, let’s call her Drama Queen 1 (as I expect there to be more drama queens) feels bad about not fitting in, and what advice I would give her. The simple answer is: Get a life. But while that makes perfect sense, in this highly-sensitive world we live in with people who aren’t equipped to process any truth when delivered offensively, I will provide an inefficiently long explanation. First of all, why does one feel bad about NOT fitting in? Why does one feel bad at all? Many times, we feel bad when we don’t get what we want. When we feel bad that we don’t fit in, it reveals a desire to fit in. We feel bad because want to fit in, we want to feel accepted, we want to be validated by a certain person or group, and we want to be acknowledged, and we don’t get it. But this is where a little deep thinking would help us a lot if we would only do so. Why do we want to fit in so much with others who don’t care about us? Why is the opinion of others about us so all-important? Why is the rejection of people who probably aren’t really objectively that important to our existence so painful to bear? Why do we want the acceptance of people who probably don’t deserve our attention anyway? It’s because we’re empty. And it’s because we’re unthinking. We’re empty and believe we need other people to fill us. And we’re unthinking that we don’t question our belief that the acceptance of others will fill us when over and over history, and many times our own experiences have told us it’s not true. There is no logic to people who are empty wanting their validation buckets filled with other empty people. Instead, stop expecting others to fill you and feeling bad about it. Take responsibility for your own validation by “getting a life”. What is a life? Here’s a simplification of what having a life is: – Someone who embraces his Role – Someone who understands his Responsibility – Someone who optimizes his Routine – Someone who cultivates healthy Relationships – Someone who pursues his Reason – Someone who honestly Reflects – Someone who humbly Repents – Someone who achieves Results – Someone who is generous with Rewards And this is the beginning of a new series about “getting a life”, not the entitled, nanny-cultured, politically-correct, but a breakdown of the qualities above. Many Weak Well-Meaning Parents Today Now I want to explain the title. Parents play an incredibly key role in the development of their child. This should go without saying, but who knows what people actually agree with these days. Note: Before you discount my thoughts on this on the account that I don’t have kids, remember that both Jesus and Paul, both of whom we get a lot of family wisdom from, both were unmarried and had no kids (though one could argue “the church is the bride of Christ” and “we are His children”, but the simple point is you don’t need to be a philosopher to think. In fact it matters that no matter who or what you are that you develop objective critical thinking or you become the opposite of someone who cannot objectively critically think: ignorant. I believe that the main role of a parent is to provide loving training for their kids. By training, I don’t mean a narrow interpretation of manners, maths and sciences, tennis camps, and Sunday school. By training, I believe that the parents play an incredibly important role in Preparing Their Sons and Daughters for Liberty. What does this mean? It means preparing them to appreciate their liberty (they can choose), preparing them to harness their liberty (by making wise choices), and preparing them to enjoy their liberty (particularly through the fulfilling activities of improving oneself and loving others). By training their kids to appreciate their liberty, if taught properly, they will also teach their kids to appreciate the liberties of others. Appreciating someone else’s liberty does not mean agreeing with their choices. It also does not mean you have to tolerate all their choices. It does mean you: a. Understand that everyone is free to choose, including choose things I don’t agree with. b. Understand the distinction between free choices (non-illegal choices that are more informally influenced by society) and illegal choices (choices that break the law which the government punishes you for). If I decide to have my underwear over my jeans, I would not be breaking any government rules. I would be challenging “social rules” and could be laughed at, passed-over for a promotion, and get no loving from my wife. But the reality is, in places where this is not illegal, such as my own private property, or even public spaces where it’s ok, I have the liberty to do so. But just as real, are the social consequences, such as repetitional costs, of choosing such a fashion statement. Now if I decide to take drugs, I get punished by the law if caught. I find that even “Christian” parents don’t understand that law-breaking sons and daughters will suffer the consequences of the law, and if they don’t, if they routinely break the law and are spared from the consequences of it because of some family tie or influence (as happens in the Philippines), not only is this unproductive, but unjust, and shows a significant brokenness in our justice system and understanding of justice. It doesn’t matter how many times a day we cry, fast, and pray for a better world, if we practice or promote injustice, we will reap injustice. c. Understand that since everyone is free, controlling and coercing others to do what you want is not appreciating liberty, but we “control” others by “controlling” ourselves. We influence how others use their liberty by using our own wisely. I cannot control what my boss’s salary scales are, I can control who my boss is, where I work, the excellence of my work, and the impact of my work. How do I control myself? By choosing wisely. By not letting my choices be arbitrarily made by my reactions and appetites nor someone else’s, but being objective, being discerning, and being teachable. This is how we harness our liberty, and we must, because we’re free to choose but not free to choose our consequences. Teaching kids these things requires parents to be informed on these topics as well. One cannot train their child to harness their liberty wisely if one does not know what liberty, wisdom, choice, and the role they plays in free society. This was probably not as required in a simpler world with limited influences. But in today’s multichannel, multi-message, and multi-influence world, parents need to be more deliberate with their own content and their own influence. Before, parents knew exactly what their kids learned because they were the primary teachers. Then they still knew exactly what they learned because they knew the village school-house teacher or the community priest. Today, kids are absorbing information from unlimited sources – sources many parents have no clue about and cannot control completely. Training a child to make wise choices in this age of unlimited choices is more important than ever. But you cannot train people to be wise and critical thinking in a nanny-cultured, kiddy-gloved, superstitious environment. You will not be successful in training your kids to hunger for growth when your home is too comfortable. It just won’t happen. There’s a reason why statistics show that 3rd generation wealth runs out. You will not train hope in someone who has an silver-spooned life, which Warren Buffer calls a silver dagger to the back. The Bible already gives a clear path to hope, and it’s through suffering, perseverance, and character building. Yet you have parents so preoccupied with giving everything to their kids and feeling bad when they can’t afford things for them. Are they better parents for doing so? No. They’re not thinking. They’re seeing society and they’re starting with that. They’re not starting with an examined decision on what they should do to raise a person who is mature enough to handle the real world, not our man-made bubbles, but the real world that is both beautiful and dark, by making the right choices, even difficult right choices. You will not teach your kids how to make a stand, how to live by their convictions, if you’re too afraid of being rejected by them when you do a right thing that offends them. This article is long enough, but I’d like to underscore a simple point: unthinking parents who do not train themselves for liberty by defining their principles and developing disciplines, will have a difficult time raising sons and daughters prepared for liberty. It doesn’t matter what the commercial says, your son’s future does not depend too much on how white his uniform is but on how wise his decisions are. I realized that more and more kids will struggle with “wanting to fit in” because too many parents have not outgrown wanting to fit in themselves.
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