Where does the True Gold lie?

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Were you an avid watcher of the Sochi Olympics? If so, what were your thoughts about the games? Did you find this year’s Winter Olympics the best and most exciting thus far? I personally wasn’t an avid viewer of this year’s Olympics, but I did pitch in to some of the games and rooted strongly for the teams I supported. Otherwise, the only contact I had with the Sochi Olympics was through scrolling down my social media platforms and reading the titles of articles popping up on my newsfeed.

The final closing of the Sochi Olympics ended with the thundering spectacle of Russia’s glorious history. It boasted its national pride. It celebrated the champions, and congratulated the participants in a final boom. Furthermore, with the closing of the ceremony, the game has left athletes with either gold, silver, bronze, or other less precious medals. That also means that it has closed its curtains with fans either praising their country’s athletes and teams, or patting their players on the back and thanking them for their great sportsmanship.

Whatever the case, I think there is no better way to understand the value of the gold medal as demonstrated through the Olympics. For many of us, success or at least the sound of success (the one that sounds like a boom of explosion, with firecrackers bursting in the night sky, sparkling show lights, and the sound of cheers… I would imagine) comes in rather an ironic silence. It may come like a thief, silently and without being seen or heard, perhaps when you are busy maintaining that successful status. Yet, in an arena resembling a coliseum of people cheering and hooting for players who have waited and trained diligently for four years, success is visible and it is on the spot.

It’s going to be hard to argue that gold doesn’t matter. Most athletes that participate in the Olympics are there to win gold, even if they know they won’t be the ones going home with that medal hanging on their neck. But when these athletes are training, they envision that moment of standing on the highest podium, smiling and making their country proud.

But there is something interesting when each game ends. When their country’s team does not win, but their players have demonstrated exceptional sportsmanship and hard work, the often said words are: “It’s not about the Gold.”

But, does gold matter?

It probably does, doesn’t it. If it’s not about the gold, then what is all the hard work about? If the dream you envision, the one that was about that shining gold around your neck, doesn’t come true, was that a dream not worth having dreamt in the first place?

But, is it all about the gold?

The answer is no.

No, because even though gold does matter, it isn’t everything. No, because even if one’s goal was to achieve that gold medal, they have earned something exquisitely profound and invaluable that a gold medal would not have given. No, because even if the winners say that the world only remembers the ones that win the gold, people are moved by those who have a golden heart and shine because of their genuine hard work and a battle won against their limits.

Apply that gold medal to the silent victory in our everyday lives, among the people who don’t have the arena to hear the applause that they deserve. What does it mean to be the first and the best at what you do? And more importantly, how does the Bible teach us to understand success. Does it only prize the first and the best in class?

The Bible defines success in many ways, but one way it doesn’t is: one big bang with explosions in the air and a thrilling round of applause.

Rather, much like the response of many people all over the world who congratulated the Olympic players for their participation, hard work, and genuine sportsmanship, the Bible too resonates a message similar: “It’s not about the Gold”. There is something more, something more valuable.

It is the good well-played game, the fair play, the hard work and the payoff of it all. It is the thanking of the people who believed in the players who at times wanted to give up. It is the competing against the odds, playing in advantageous and even in disadvantageous situations. It is creating, for the next generation, a story of a person who had to beat all odds to make it to where they have. It is the lesson of challenging and trusting.

Though we don’t have every four years to test how much we have come, or the chance to visibly see and feel a glimpse of the so-called success, we go through a similar journey everyday. How much are we participating in this life? How fair are our fruits of success? Have we earned them with honesty and hard work? Did we put our complete trust in God with all that we do, so that even through our success and failure, we never forget why we do what we do? And have we remained steady in our faith, not losing hope in God every time we stumble on an obstacle?

Sochi is over, but not our game of life. Our gold medal lies not in the worldly signs of success but further:
“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:32-33)

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Not by Head but by Knees

In the internet, it is common to see people posting in their blogs things like “weight-loss project D-100,” or “10 self-help books that forever changed my life.” Apparently, people in all parts of the world are constantly striving to change their lives for the better, whether that change is physical or psychological. They report their improvements live via the web, and share their knowledge (or “wisdom”, or “know-how”) with the people all around world, who themselves are scavenging for “the insiders’ knowledge” to accumulate the maximum number of information they need to maximize their chances of success in an ever-demanding society. Everyone is restless. They are ever-more keen in their endeavors to make themselves a better person, to have better career, to accumulate greater wealth, and ultimately, to achieve lasting happiness. They want to be the superman, the over-achievers, so that they may add another zero in their salary. They wake up at 5 AM to jog in early January; they stay up until 4 AM to finish the second draft of their senior thesis; they embrace their famished stomach and look away from the clock that points to 8PM. They train their mind and body, happily embracing their hardships for the faint light at the end of a tunnel that seems to be stretched ad infinitum.

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Certainly, we are in the favor of God by not letting ourselves be idle. For, in Thessalonians 3:10 it says:

“…the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat…”

Or, in Philippiians 3:14:

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ.”

However, in the next chapter of the book (Philippians 4:13), it says:

“I can do all this through Him Who gives me strength.”

We all want to better ourselves by our own will, our own effort, our own strength. But, have we ever seeked God’s compassion? Have we ever dropped ourselves so low in front of Him that he may pity us and raise us back? Have we ever admitted our weaknesses and wrongs in front of Him that He may sympathize with us and grant us the strength we need?

Are we that dignified?

I certainly thought so for a while, until I received this verse from the Bible in the new year:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

It is strange, for in words we readily admit our lack of abilities yet in action we depend on that alone.

And thus, let us strive to achieve not by our head but by our knees.

A.K.

Inside Every Block of Stone

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
― Mark Twain

photo (19)Wise words from Mr. Twain. There is no advantage over the ones who don’t have if the ones who do, do not make some use of what they have. I doubt there is a single person in this world who was born without a single gift to make themselves useful, not only for their own lives but for others. There is that common argument lazy students often give: “I’m not stupid. I’m probably smarter than all of you in this class, but the only reason why I’m failing is because I don’t try. Not because I’m stupid.” Wise words for a young child, but oh so wrong in several ways!

What probably frustrates a teacher more than anything isn’t the student who slowly but cautiously applies himself to the challenges of studying, but the student who pipes up about his intelligence yet shows no application of that so-called intelligence. It is also a trait that aggravates so many of our parents when a child refuses to work up to his capabilities.

There are no guarantees that any two people are built the same way: genetically, without a doubt, but also in factors of intelligence, personality, and capability. Yet what separates the doer from the observer is that one lives his life, and the other watches the doer living. The observer develops a sharp-tongue, a critiquing mind that parses the acts of the doer into multiple categories of good and bad. Yet, that is only a skill that has developed from spending time observing, comparing, and judging lives from the third person. Not to say we don’t need observers who put into study a comparative module of good and bad, but speaking solely of those who lay back and create nothing helpful or useful neither to themselves or those who they critique.

Yet, the doer, though slow in tongue he may be, lives his life. He changes, he develops, and he creates extensions of life by the works of his hands and mind.

In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 64, verse 8: “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand”. This confession promises not only that we leave it up to our Father to shape us, but furthermore, that we are shapeable. Inside every block of stone, there is masterpiece. Likewise, by the hands of our LORD, we can be made like valuable. We can be made into a new creation from the clay that we are.

It is a complete transformation. We have been made new.

And like our Father, have we worked, have we molded anything into something valuable? Meaningful? We may not have all received the same amounts and qualities of talents and skills, but have we expressed our gratitude for what we have by working and molding what we have into something better?

In summary, first let us entrust God with our lives. There is no door God cannot open, and there is no open door God cannot close. If God chooses not to use your talents, then no effort or work invested into your talents will prosper into anything you hoped for. However, as long as you stand righteous before God and entrust Him, discover what God has given you. There may not be a hundred, fifty, or even ten. But take whatever you have and constantly work on it. Farm it, water it, and nurture it with prayer.

Just as you are molded by Christ, mold what you been given for Christ today.

I Put my Life Your Hands because I Trust You

In my younger years of youthful ambition or rather, greed, I looked upon the Bible character of Isaac and felt only questions and frustration. I’ve always only made a personal liking to the characters who at the end of their journey made an evident victory over their evildoers or at least were pronounced and expressive intellectuals who in various periods of their lives were able to battle and win in the name of Jesus Christ. Someone like Paul the Apostle.

But Isaac? Who was he but a son who willingly and quietly laid on an altar of firewood so that he may be made a sacrifice to the Lord? Besides the story of complete obedience shown so clearly on that altar, what else do people remember him for?

Perhaps some of you will remember the story of Isaac successfully digging wells everywhere he went, only for those wells to be stolen by nomads or villagers in that area.

Some of you may also remember that Isaac too, like his father Abraham, told Pharaoh that his wife was his sister so that he may be saved. Ah, and perhaps also the story of how Isaac married the woman chosen by his father’s servant!

But besides these few, his story, though unquestionably a major part, never quite seemed anything like the elaborate and intense narrative of the other more “vivid” characters in the Bible.

It was only until my arms were completely chained and my feet shackled that I remembered the story of Isaac. My chains were already choking my neck, and the pain was unbearable. Life or death, it was. Nothing in between. All doors in my life seemed closed shut. Darkness enveloped my life and a form like death seeped into my bones.

Yet, like a sudden gust of wind, the story of Isaac knocked a door in my tight-closed chest. It was as if a dust-covered book suddenly came to life and before me was a wisdom I was not, until now, ready to learn.

Was I kneeling before the Lord, praying like Jesus did before the Cross, that God’s will be done? If I truly say I believe in the Lord, in Jesus Christ, have I submitted completely and have retained not even a little, not even an ounce of myself? Or have I conceitedly applied the Almighty God to the schemes of my desires instead of submitting to His great and Good will?

And therefore, what was repentance all along if I had only asked God for grace for the chance to sin again? Have I  asked for heaven when within me I retained that little bit of hell?

Then, I remembered the story of Isaac, that righteous humility to leave everything up to God. Like a lamb, he quietly followed the path to his cross, without once putting forth his greed for life on earth. To every land he invested his work and discovered prosperity (the wells), it was stolen by thieves who steal the work of others and make it their own. And like a mute, he did not fight back. He was able to let go of “possession”, made his by his work and sweat. He did not question God and ask, “God, why give me the opportunity to find, to dig, to build, to invest my work only to take it away from me?” Tell me, what brave and faithful person can let go of something they treasure so much? A well, water, signifies a source of life. If I were to be cut off from my source of life today, the source that feeds me day to day and what I believe I need in my life, could I faithfully let go of it when God takes it away and believe that God has prepared a new way for me?

I stopped and looked at my hands, holding on to the chains and shackles of my greed. My desires. My wants. My belief that I knew what was best for me. I repented for the obvious sins I sinned, not knowing the underlying sin of trying to play God in my own life.

I ask you today, do you really trust In God that He has truly prepared a better way for you? Even if that path is not necessarily the path of your dreams and desires? Can you let go of things you think you need in life when God says to, believing that He has prepared a better way? Or will you be like the rich man that asks Jesus, “what can I do to receive salvation” and walks away from the truth when Jesus says:

“go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

To give up the self and to follow Jesus… this was what Isaac had done. C.S. Lewis says:

“The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.” Mere Christianity

Now, I ask myself, who was the wiser man? The one who constantly battled with the Lord to finally submit to His will? The man who began as a persecutor of believers and than was struck blind so that he may learn of the true God?

They are all wiser than anyone can judge, but it is now I understand Isaac a little bit more and why God was pleased in him.

The story of Isaac does not show much drama, and in his complete submissiveness to the Lord, his life seemed to me all too boring to make any human connection to. Of course I understood the teachings and the theological importance his story had to my faith. But in developing any further reason to declare I wanted to be more like Isaac, it was not so.

But how blind I was! In my struggles I have come to face again a fraction of the whole Truth that even in its small comparison to the Whole, is ever so monumental. And how blind I was because all along, the Truth was right there. Never moved. Never changed.

Let me leave this post with a quote by C.S. Lewis about what it means to truly trust God:

“…handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already.” – Mere Christianity

May we all trust in God.

The Humble Reflection

So as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness.”

– Hebrews 3:7-8

The Bible should not be considered an allegory, but it can certainly be considered a holy text full of parables that teach us more than what is on the face of it. It is so often said that there are no questions that have not been answered in the Bible. If we do not see it, it is merely because we do not understand  the meaning behind the words we read, or we are not prepared to take to heart what Holy Spirit wishes us to obey. A simple line can have more meaning and application than a thousand hours of self-help lectures. If we just think about that, we can imagine how profound the Bible is.

By learning and loving the Word of GOD, we learn to become more like Him and understand His will. But through the Bible, we are also given the chance to really look into ourselves. It is constantly said in the Bible that the word of GOD is like a double-edged sword because of how exacting His words can apply to our lives. Sometimes His words cut us open so that the walls of our conceit and obstinance fall down and we can finally see ourselves clearly in the mirror, that is the Word. It is then we confess with great humiliation that we were so blind to the sins we were committing.

This time of humble reflection is a time of pain because the double-edged sword of the Word cuts us open, however it does not end with just pain. It is also a gift of God’s grace. It is grace because by the wounds of our sins being torn away, we are made new. We learn from our sins and begin to walk in the righteous path of the Lord again. We stop justifying the wrongs in our life and we come to accept that we have wronged and it is time to make it right before the Lord.

I found this verse from the Book of Hebrew. [So as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness.”]

God speaks through us through so many ways. There is always the Holy Bible that lays somewhere in our room. The Word is always waiting for us. But there is also sermons at church, the prayers of our fellow congregation members, and even our friends. There are times we hear God’s words through signs in the day and night. Whatever the medium, when God speaks to you today at this very moment, let us not turn our heads away in the other direction. Let the double-edged sword pierce through us and make us know that it is time for a humble reflection. It is pain but it is also what makes us right again; not only internally but when all things stand right before the Lord, the rest of our lives fall through.

Have you had time for this humble reflection through the Word?

Grow a Habit of Achieving!

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We are now past the midpoint of January. We’ve set up long-term goals and plans at the beginning of each year to boost up energy and give meanings to our actions. For instance, we set goals like getting certified, going to a new school, establishing a good career history, or even making a hundred-books-to-read list. Setting goals and looking over our plans ahead of time sort of leave us feeling satisfied and even accomplished, and motivate us with great energy to work harder than ever before to attain the goals!

But somewhere along the way the plans that once gave us motivation, became heavy loads on our backs. We start negotiating with ourselves, lowering the expectations and making changes to plans. The worst part of this is that we become accustomed to the cycle of not keeping our own promises.

Of course the Bible says that “a man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Are we then completely free to say we have no blame for the spoiled plans? I do not think so, and I think we are still responsible to find a remedy and break free from the cycle of failing.

What can we do? We can grow habits of success where we make a chain of smaller goals that eventually lead to the highest goal. Break large plans into smaller and smaller parts, so that these goals become a list of things we can do on a daily basis. Then complete each task. Keep reminding yourself that each day is a new day. Learn to celebrate your victory everyday!

Grow a habit of achieving and enjoy fulfilling them everyday. But most ultimately, ask for God’s guidance and wisdom along the way. Know that in the best of all that we do, it is God who is leading our way.

By K.P.