This day, thirteen years ago, marked the beginning of my publicly declared and lifelong commitment to follow that lovely Man whose likeness cannot compare to any other. Did I know inside out what that commitment would entail, or understand the full import of following Jesus? Absolutely not. But there’s such thing called growth, and the thrill of being surprised.
Sure, there should be research and thoughts before making any commitment, but if one insists in knowing 100 percent of everything that would happen afterwards, what’s the fun in that, right?
The impact of the Gospel, of knowing God, His kingdom, and His righteousness, has been pervasive in my life. It is true that there have been many moments of God’s special gifts and miracles, but what amazes me even more is His influence that is steady, His work that continues for years, silent, unglamorous, but radically transforming me into a newer and newer person.
It’s like He is planting a seed in me and waits for it to grow. Slowly, but surely, life transforms that seed into a tree, but one does not necessarily see the evidence of that life until years after. And once evidence starts to pile up, hindsight provides the opportunity to say, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” Gen 28:16.
The Gospel has changed me, in character and in personality. It has weaved new relationships and rejuvenates old relationships (here, here, and here) that multiply my joy in this earthen life. It has given meaning to my education that is higher than any common ambitions, and it has expanded my world beyond anything I ever dreamed before. The entire world is open enough to learn from, malleable enough to impact, destitute enough to joyfully serve, and rich enough to enjoy. God wants to take the Gospel to all corners of the earth, and because I am His child, He takes me on this global ride as well. I am on a path of infinite growth (again, a plug for the book Education), and God will not stop being my Teacher until eternity.
But wonderful though they may be, they still pale in comparison to the one gift that is so incredibly, fundamentally central, without which any of the others would not be possible. This gift is Jesus Christ Himself, His sacrifice, and the forgiveness of sin.
Since the focus of this blog series has been on God’s blessings, perhaps it makes me look more saintly than I really am. The truth is, I’m still wretched, still poor, still selfish, and still needing grace, more than ever. The core reality of my day-to-day existence is written in this poem, which is why I am most thankful about God’s amazing grace.
When God came into my life, I changed from being a sinner to being forgiven. And this forgiveness still happens everyday, every moment. Nothing compares to the thought that a sinner can stand in front of a holy God, blameless. How can that be? That difference is Jesus Christ, the mediator.
I’ve enjoyed many added benefits to following Jesus, but they are accessories that follow the first, most important step. For to gain Christ, and to gain only Him, is to gain all.
If you asked me during my early college years what I wanted to do when I grew up, I’d tell you: to be an ordinary, good person. You know, do good things in life, graduate, work, get married, have a family, et cetera. I once asked my dad, who worked so hard to send me to MIT, whether he would be OK if after I graduated from college I did absolutely nothing with my degree. Actually, he said he would be fine with that, since there was more to life than a degree.
While there was profound truth in that statement, my mindset wasn’t as deep then. Since the pressure was off, I felt essentially excused from having high ambitions. I wanted to go through life as inconsequentially as possible, as quietly as possible, not causing any stir, whether good or bad. Besides, I thought Christians were not supposed to be ambitious.
Which was why when I heard that GYC 2003 theme and read the originating quote, “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children” (Education, p. 18), my life philosophy was turned upside down.
You’re telling me that no human ambitions can equate God’s ambitions for His children?
I had to re-think a lot about how I approached life. I thought I had reached some decent heights in life, but God said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet. Come up higher.” New heights started opening up to me, things I had never imagined before.
With others involved in the Boston area campus ministries, I started doing things (of consequence). First as a participant, then slowly, I learned to get excited: “What about this?” or “Oh we can do that!” The most mind-blowing thing about all of this was the realization that I could actually do something for God and His cause! I was not inconsequential, and campus ministry gave my life so much meaning. I could be ambitious not for ambitions’ sake or the world’ applause, but for God, which was the only thing that mattered! I canvassed for two summers and the thought of an ordinary life grew dimmer by the day…
After undergraduate years, I spent a year as a missionary intern at C.A.M.P.U.S. to minister to public university students. There, my paradigm was further shaped. One of the resounding themes during the C.A.M.P.U.S. missionary training program (MTP) was the assertion, “You can change the world.”
The first time I heard it, I was like, “Yeah, right.” No one had ever said that to me before. “Me? Change the world? Pff.” But then they kept saying it, until slowly I started to believe them.
The thing that made it believable was because it was said in the context of Jesus Christ. The phrase “You can change the world” is energizing by itself, but without substance, it really is just a self-help, self-motivating type of mantra that will eventually fade away. No, the full phrase that was repeated at MTP and that stuck with me was, “Change the world by being changed.”
What does that mean? It means that you don’t change the world by your energy, loud voice, charisma, leadership skills, campaigning, or efforts. The key to making an impact in the world, a true impact that will last for eternity, is to be changed in the inside.
Think about Jesus. He did not start any organization, He did not have any degree, and at the end of His life everyone forsook Him. His life was simple, devoid of pomp and glory. But He changed and still is impacting the world, thousands of years after His life on earth. It was the force and nobility of His character that rippled through the ages.
The impact that will matter in heaven’s accounting comes only when Jesus changes and transforms a person in the inside, to be like Him in character. This is the prerequisite that will only give meaning to the eloquence, charisma, and these other accessory skills. Once that happens, with God by your side, nothing is impossible.
Fewer things can resonate with a youthful soul than dreaming the impossible. “You’re too young to know that certain things are impossible, so you do them anyway,” says the character William Pitt in the movie Amazing Grace.
Now, one of my favorite things to do is get together with like-minded friends, and with some Häagen-Dazs mango sorbet to fuel the brain, start a “dreaming session,” thinking and brainstorming about things to do to address what’s lacking. Many a project has come out as a brainchild. Some fell through, some took off, but in all of them there were fun, excitement, and passion. I mean, the joy of finding things that excite your very being, that you don’t want to go to sleep and you can’t wait to wake up, is indescribable. Life is so much more meaningful this way.
The last thing I want is an ordinary life. I can’t go back to a dreamless life. I have no straight plans or visions of how my life should be, because I want to be surprised. I want to always say yes when God calls me to a higher ground, and I want to see impossible things happen.
In the pursuit of higher education, I have been very fortunate to enroll in two amazing institutions. And I wasn’t even one who dreamed ambitiously about getting a piece of these prestigious names.
But the highest education available to mankind is not contained within the perimeters of the Ivy League schools or any other institutions, inaccessible to most. The highest education is in the communion with the Greatest Teacher incomparable to any being in the universe, and is available everywhere, every moment, and for everyone.
The mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God, the finite with the Infinite. The effect of such communion on body and mind and soul is beyond estimate. Education, p. 14.
That quote is taken from my favorite book of all time, Education by Ellen Gould White. It’s not about education as in classroom/teaching situation; it’s about the philosophy of life and learning. Such an absolutely amazing book. This first paragraph of the book blows my mind every single time I read it.
Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come. p. 13
It’s saying that the relevance of true education expands wide in space and time. It will be good and useful for this life and the life to come, and for this world and the world to come. It doesn’t focus on the intellectual development in expense of mental, physical, and spiritual developments. It concerns the whole being, the character of a person.
And I totally buy this idea.
In the school of Christ, every experience is a teacher, every personal encounter a lesson book, and all the world’s a classroom. Every knowledge and skill gained is placed in the context of who God wants me to be. To serve is to find joy. There is no vacation, nor would you want vacation from this school. And the most awesome part is that there is no graduation as well.
Heaven is a school; its field of study, the universe; its teacher, the Infinite One… There every power will be developed, every capability increased. The grandest enterprises will be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations will be reached, the highest ambitions realized. And still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the power of body and mind and soul. p. 301, 307
Need I say more.
When I gained Christ, I enrolled in the grandest school of all time and I gained the One who has all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, as my personal Teacher. Crazy.