All the World's a Classroom
“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.” ― Abraham Joshua Heschel
How would you describe this moment: standing on a precipice, you view the extensive terrains made up of lush green meadows, forests, and blue streams. Or at this time of the year, the orange and red leaves that signal winter’s coming. How would you explain what happens when in silence, you watch the evening’s sun sinks into the horizon? Perhaps this word would do for now: Wonder.
Heschel would describe these as moments when one comes face to face with the ineffable, moments when we part with words.
Awesome though they may be, I thought that these moments are like birthdays. They come rarely (only once a year), far in between, and you can’t ask for it. Until I saw that quote above, I never thought that I could ask for wonder.
But when one has the God of the universe as Friend and Father, why couldn’t one ask for wonder? It’s like saying to God, “Impress me.” Why, of course He’ll do it! Talk about a guaranteed answer to prayer.
5. God’s Mysteriousness
God is mysterious and His ways are past finding out. I like how there are many, many things that I don’t know or understand about God. He keeps me curious and amazed, and I can actually ask Him to amaze or make me wonder, and be in for a real ’whoa’ experience.
Romans 11:33 – Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unfathomable (inscrutable, unsearchable) are His judgments (His decisions)! And how untraceable (mysterious, undiscoverable) are His ways (His methods, His paths)!
Job 9:9-11 – Who made [the constellations] the Bear, Orion, and the [loose cluster] Pleiades, and the [vast starry] spaces of the south; Who does great things past finding out, yes, marvelous things without number. Behold, He goes by me, and I see Him not; He passes on also, but I perceive Him not.
This post is my gratitude for the little surprises God had for me everyday this week (which is number 4 on the list). I don’t have to wait until I get to a mountaintop or the beaches in Bali to bottle up wonder and store it in memories. I can have a dose everyday, for to wonder is to worship. And far more incredible than to wonder at the grandeur of His creation, is to wonder at God Himself.
Ask for wonder. You’re in for a real treat.
Once upon a time ago, I was taught not to leave any spiritual event/conference/retreat without reflection. Here are my reflections from the ANEW Fall Conference 2012: “Rise Up and Build.”
1. The Personal Call
For Peter, the miracle by the sea was a personal call to a non-partial, entire-life commitment to Jesus Christ (Mark 5). To him who knew the coming and going of fish, the miracle said, this Man had authority even over fish! A farmer would think the miracle was awesome, but wouldn’t impress his heart as it did to the fisherman’s. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Peter knew Jesus was divine.
God has a way of convincing each person of His divinity that is especially customized for that person. It will be distinct than the next person’s experience. The call to discipleship comes to each of us in a deeply personal way, that there will be no shadow of a doubt in our hearts that it is indeed the voice of Jesus calling me to be His disciple.
Have I not been convinced? Have I not heard His call? Answer: Yes, I have. Through the story of Peter, Jesus said to me, “Then stay with me.”
The disciples left Jesus to fish because they were disappointed with Him (Mark 4-5). His ministry seemed fickle, success was not consistent, and visible results were discouraging. They thought of John the Baptist in prison.
Disappointed with Jesus? Sounds almost sacrilegious, but the experience is real in our walk with Jesus. The great news is that God too is real in mending the wounds of disappointment. To the disciples, He went to them again, called them again, and showed them they could trust Him with all their cares.
168 years ago today, a multitude was disappointed with God. He did not show up. Many hardened their hearts and left God, because they feared of getting hurt again. But those whose hearts stayed soft and mendable found not just healing, but a new song to sing, a deeper understanding, a greater cause to fight for.
Don’t be afraid of disappointment. God knows how to heal.
3. An Education Highest in All Schools
There are a few men and women whom I long to study under, sit at their feet, and say, “Pleeeaasseee, teach me…” What would I give to shadow them for a day, a week, or a month?
“If men will endure the necessary discipline, without complaining or fainting by the way, God will teach them hour by hour, and day by day.” (Desire of Ages, 250) Hour by hour! To be taught by God, to have that “contact of mind with mind, and soul with soul” (Desire of Ages, 250) with God! What craziness, what privilege! And this is actually reality! God wants to teach me… Woh. No tuition involved, just patience endurance, shutting those murmurs up, and yielding to the teaching. This is the highest education in all of the schools, taught by Him of whom it was said, “Never had the world’s great men such a teacher.” (Desire of Ages, 250)
What an awesome privilege it was to have Elder Geoffrey Mbwana spend the weekend with us. I was blown away by the wisdom that emanated from him, the dignified manner in which he carried himself, and the pointed way he answered questions. Such are the things learned in the school of Christ. I want to be like Elder Mbwana when I grow up.
5. I Am the Church
Oftentimes it is the trendy thing to do amongst young people to express skepticism and criticism toward the church, as if the church is a separate entity from us, from me. But the church is the people. I am the church; you are the church. And so every problem the church has is not their problem (whoever they may be), but my problem. And I can engage and be a solution, instead of a source of discouragement.
No matter how many faults there are, the church is still God’s appointed agent of salvation, and it is still the object of God’s affection. “Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts.” (Act of the Apostles, 12)
6. I Love My Church
One evident thing from Elder Mbwana’s enlightening seminar and Q&A session was how ignorant I am about my church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 150 years of church growth experience and history is a treasure house of knowledge and wisdom. “We have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” (Life Sketches, 196).
Young people, we cannot be laissez-faire about how our church operates. We don’t do campus ministry in vacuum or in isolation from it, and it’s time we take responsibilities as members of the Adventist church. I love my church; I care about my church. Would I make plans to attend the 60th General Conference Session in 2015? You bet. It’ll be in San Antonio, Texas. Who’s with me?
7. A Place for Everyone
In Isaiah 56 God says that in His house, there will be no strangers, no one who has no name, family, or inheritance. There will be no outcast, because God will give them a name and they will rejoice. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
One occasion in the Gospel accounts, Jesus quoted this phrase from Isaiah when He kicked out those who turned the temple into a marketplace, those who made merchandise out of salvation, forgiveness, and grace. The fact that Jesus was livid at this reveals how serious God is about making His church a place for everyone. There is a breach between heaven and earth, and the church is called to be repairers of that breach.
When I came to Princeton 4 years ago, I found it a desert (c.f. Acts 8). Seeing that I was coming from a place that was, how should I say, a “spring of waters”, it was rough. Princeton isn’t a desert anymore, but for a while I found myself praying, “Please, God, don’t let me go through that again. Don’t send me to another desert.” But Philip, when the call came to leave a thriving place to go to a desert, rose up and went.
I cannot be marveled by the story without making the link to my life. So this weekend, in the context of considering post-grad school options, I said once again to God, I’ll go where You want me to go.
“Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service of God supreme, will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet.” (Ministry of Healing, 481)
9. Get In the Acts
Pr. Israel Ramos’ testimonies were crazy. No other way to describe them. They were the stuffs of the book of Acts. So what did those testimonies tell me? First, the book of Acts continues today. Second, you won’t see miracles if you just sit in your room. If you want to see God in action, you gotta go where the actions take place.
10. Five Years
I’ve had the privilege of serving with ANEW for five years now, having a glimpse of what it means to “Rise Up and Build.” We are far away from being done. There’s so much more to build. But meeting each person who joins in the network every year, I wish everyone could see what I see, the way God had orchestrated a movement and how each person is weaved into this awesome story. One of these days I’ll complete the writing of the ANEW story, for this reason.
I’ve tasted the stress and joys of service (more joys than stress, though, trust me) in this Mid-Atlantic part of God’s vineyard. Would you believe me if I say it’s really fun? It is. And whatever’s next, I’m definitely not giving this fun up. Not ever.
“He is the Christ of God, and I will devote my life to His service.” (Desire of Ages, 163).
The longer I am a Christian
The more I find out
How much of a sinner I am
How incapable I am
To be like Jesus
My understanding increases
My nature struggles to catch up
Still wretched, still poor
Thus I fall shorter, shorter of the mark
The longer I am a Christian
The more I desire to be real
In the heart, not just on paper
In the flesh, not just in debates
But it’s easier to be an intellectual Christian than a real one
And when I go home to my mirror
The light of God shines
In my reflection I see two faces
The longer one is a Christian
They say one sees his sins even more
Because Jesus is closer
But for me that is often questionable
And it is very distressing
To be seen more pious than I really am
The longer I am a Christian
The more desperate I become
Because I am helpless
And powerless to obey
But the longer I am a Christian
The more I know the all-sufficient grace
That covers me just the same
The more I know of me
The greater I need my Savior
And He saves me
Yes, even today!
And that is why
The longer I am a Christian
This grace is just more amazing
Than when I first believed
My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things; That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour. – John Newton, author of the hymn Amazing Grace.