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Blog, Devotions
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
2

Devotions
7:36am | Tokyo, Japan I was about to add a post on my page about how blessed I feel to have such an amazing wife, but as I typed it, I felt myself stopped by the thought, “What does it really mean to be blessed?” While I consider myself blessed to have Yasmin, there are times when this blessing and I don’t get along. Does she cease to be a blessing when we fight? Of course not. This is why I wanted to share my thoughts on being blessed, hoping that we won’t be so unstable, so easily impressed by stories of blessings and so easily rocked when our circumstances don’t seem blessed at all. We see the word blessed used a lot and we hear it in church often. A guy gets a new car and he calls himself blessed by God. A lady meets someone who matches her list of qualities and calls herself blessed because God knew her “heart’s desire”. Parents teach their children to be good so that God will bless them with the things they want. There are so many examples of God’s blessing around us. While most of these are well-meaning, many times, I find that what we refer to as the blessed life is simply a life where we get what we want. We see proof of this when we quickly equate receiving something we want with blessing and not getting it a lack of blessing. Very rarely, if ever, have I seen anyone say ‘I’m in my forties, I’m single, I’ve always wanted to get married, but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened, and I’m blessed because of it.” Very rare is a Nick Vujicic who can say he’s blessed by God to have no limbs. Some people don’t have a certain mobile phone and they already feel cursed. This guy has no limbs and he says God blessed him with his situation. I believe this is because he has a proper understanding of what it means to be blessed. Being blessed by God doesn’t mean that some divine being has aligned the universe to give us our heart’s desires. Being blessed by God means that God Himself has aligned the Universe to bring us closer to Him. Here’s a great article from Desiring God that explains this idea. I especially like this part: One translation of the New Testament (ESV) has 112 references with the words bless, blessing, or blessed, none of which connect blessing to material prosperity. Consider these passages:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn . . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–11) “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28) Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven. (Romans 4:7; quoting Psalm 32:1) Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. (James 1:12) “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:1319:9)
There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined by faith to Jesus.  According to the Key-Word Study Bible, “The Greek word translated blessed in these passages is makarioi which means to be fully satisfied. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances” (emphasis added). What is blessing, then? Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.   Our King-Sized-Bed-Sized Room Two days ago, when arriving at our hotel room in Japan, upon opening the door, I said, “Yasmin! Our room is huge!” knowing that I had booked us in one of those business/travelers hotels with tiny rooms, which I said was so that she could “experience” it, even if my motives were more cheap. She walked-in excitedly, then started laughing when she saw how small our room actually was. She laughed as she said, “I really thought it was huge, that when I saw the place it looked even smaller!” We were both laughing as we struggled to find spots for our suitcases. It was really tight. We called it our “king-sized-bed-sized room” because the main part is practically as big as our bed at home. “Now this is a honeymoon suite!” I declared. I have a feeling this is going to be a funny story we’ll remember forever, a story to remind us of how blessed we are, because we are closer to one another. In this age where material things are the proof of success and the good life, where true spirituality has been lost to this combination of spiritual materialism and spiritual self-centeredness, which simply means my “spirituality must get me the life I want”, we must make it a point to deepen our soul and reject the idea that having is more important than being. To have things is nice. To be someone, to know who you are in Christ, is empowering. To have someone is nice. To be with someone is special. Yasmin and I have been enjoying our tiny room. (I’ll leave out the details.) We’re enjoying it even it isn’t the most luxurious thing, even if it is inconvenient, because we’re enjoying each other. Someday, Yasmin and I will die, and one of us is going to leave the other to remember our king-sized-bed-sized room alone. Just the thought of that makes me very sad. I don’t even want to think about it. But I have a much greater blessing than Yasmin, and she has One much greater than me. I am blessed, not because of what I have, but because of who I am, a person loved by God. What an unshakable blessing it is to be loved by God. In all circumstances, richer or poorer, sick or healthy, even in death my blessing does not part with me. This is what it means to be blessed: to be alive and so aware of God’s love, that every moment becomes a moment to share with Him, and a moment to share Him with the world, that others may live every moment with Him as well. That’s a lot of moments. That’s every moment. Everyone’s every moment with Him, what a beautiful thought. #db  
17

Art, Poetry
Lucha Loco, Singapore I found in my soul a weary journeyer Facing two different paths attracting Two distinct caverns in a heart That is miraculously still shining Both paths diverging under his shoes Both paths starting equally bright For he starts uninitiated to the night And still mistakes the shiny with light On the darkening road were lambs Bright-eyed, simple-minded, smiling But now starting to see the dimming And quickly finding that they’re dying But the other road, seeming narrow Leads to such bright a light that one Is both appealed and appalled by it Just as we wonder at and fear the sun Somehow, by inhuman revelation I can see beyond to the source of bright A majestic, powerful, wounded lion Spilling his blood that is a glorious light Encroaching on the shadowy path Just as the day defeats the night The lion roars a loud call to the traveler Inviting him to spill his own heart’s light That is glowing brighter within him Though he wrestles with choices Between the many loves of a heart Whispered to by a million voices To go one way is not to travel the other So he chooses and fearfully takes the lane Of the thin path by clear, still waters Towards the roaring lion’s mane #db
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