Talking About Christ

One night, a conversation was struck between a man and a woman. It was ignited by a curious point made by a teacher who mentioned an interesting fact about John Calvin, the Swiss theologian. Interestingly enough, prior to that they were just talking about what they were seeing on Netflix.

So that escalated quickly.

Then a conversation about Church History led to a discussion about theologian’s controversial doctrines. They were talking about the doctrine of election, and how people may see it as unjust.

The man had several arguments up his sleeve, yet in his patience, he waited and listened instead. He then smiled and nodded, “I know right, that’s such a mystery.”

The woman replied, “Yet, although I don’t embrace it in full, I know He loves me, by everything that He had done and the blessings He poured over me in abundance.”

Thank God he didn’t shoot her with his many ammunition of rhetoric, for then his heart wouldn’t be overwhelmed with praise, knowing that although they disagree, the redeeming work of Christ remains a beautiful treasure cherished by His people!

Personally, I experience such pleasure when talking about religion.

There are many occasions in which people’d start opening up and sincerely express their feelings not only about theological statements or the newest findings of scholars nor archeologists, but about how they make sense of life. Despite of all our stance in what we believe in, each of us has a certain worldview, a certain lens by which we look at the things around us.

The sun rises and sets each day, and it’s witnessed massively by the inhabitants of the world. Some overlook it as something ordinary, yet others would tremble with joy as the warmth touches the skin, as they see the beauty exerted as the light is refracted through drops of water, knowing that they are signs pointing to a Creator.

Our beliefs tell us of how we see suffering as it happens to everyone around us and ourselves. One may condemn suffering as a proof that there is no one who cares for us, yet for some, it encourages them to lay their all unto Him who works all things to good, even the bad ones (Romans 8:28, 1 Peter 3:13-17).

Our view on life says a lot about us for they are the fuel by which we say what we say, and do what we do.

So although it’s not without its negative consequences (this might be one of the fastest way to make debate nemeses!), I think religion (how people see God) is one of the best topics to talk about.

Perhaps one of the best parts of these kinds of conversation is that we’d get to talk about Christ. Unfortunately, there are occasions in which it could be a haunting name to even mention. Some people may laugh, see you with disgust, or start attacking you with the worst weapon there is — words. Yet some listen, and are curious about This Man from Nazareth who lived a perfect life, died on the cross, resurrected, and promises that He shall come again to judge everyone. I mean, if I were in their place, I’d be interested!

The story between the man and the woman continues. Now they’re starting to share their own experiences and their friends’ — how they have questions and doubts about God. The man’s smile’s starting to fade, and his posture changes as he’s starting to listen to the woman even more intently. Instead of answers, unfortunately, the man says nothing. He could only nod as the woman makes her points, expressing his sympathy and his sincere intent to be a respectful listener.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there.

The same woman then shared the other side of the coin, the experiences in which she couldn’t explain, yet strengthens her faith. The story doesn’t necessarily sound supernatural — there’s no instantaneous healing or anything — yet it’s a miracle that deserves a similar praise, it’s a miracle of forgiveness and her unrelenting passion to serve the Lord.

The once fading smile’s starting to make its return.

Then it’s the man’s turn to share his stories. Yet not his own experiences that was told, but his friend’s. It was a tale of a prodigal son and his unexpected return, showing how the Lord sovereignly orchestrates all seemingly ordinary circumstances as the instruments of His glory.

As the story ends, both shared how the exchange of stories had blessed them, and they ended the conversation saying, “The Lord works in amazing ways indeed. Just look at how we finally get here and got to have such a conversation!”

A quote that still remains with me about such conversation is one from D. T. Niles, “Evangelism is telling one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread.”

Oh such beautiful truth! We are beggars, indeed. As beggars saved by grace (Ephesians 2, Romans 8), it is only fitting that we tell other fellow beggars of the Bread of Life, Christ Himself. He shall fulfill our deepest needs — better than money or power — He shall give you life and you shall have it in abundance, in moments of joy or sorrows.

He shall be your greatest joy, for who could satisfy your longings but the One who creates you?

Friends, I invite all of you to give much thought into this — sharing the faith, and thinking about Christ and its implication to how we see the world. The gospel of Christ is the power of God to save (Romans 1:16), and we’ve been given the grace to proclaim it in even what seems to be ordinary circumstances.

May we pray all the more for courage, wisdom, humility, and gentleness as we join our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ proclaiming the greatest news there is that is Christ!

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Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it all unshrinking
My God is true,
Each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’s care
Is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/4r5SjM8nGxsD4QAoP7eHvS

Grace Alone

It was November 2017 when I first heard a hymn written by Scott Wesley Brown, Grace Alone. It was sang by a huge choir group — there must have been at least 50 people on the stage — and done so excellently. I’m not ashamed to say I teared up a little (haha!), not merely because of the performance though, but rather also being captivated by the beauty of the lyrics. It’s not that long of a song and the lyrics aren’t necessarily hard to grasp, yet it’s full of God’s glorious truth. It’s missional and unashamedly God-centered.

This hymn has also been part of my mornings these past couple of days. Having joined the bands of people who had finished their studies and now en route to “building a life”, I found myself often forgetting why do I get up every morning, go to work, and wandering around the office for the next 8 hours, and then go home to just resume the same routine the next day.

It’s like that hymn, isn’t it, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love?” Sure, I didn’t renounce the Christian faith or anything, but the fact that I’m not doing this routine joyfully indicates there’s something wrong. And for more times that I could count, the answer’s this: my heart.

Every promise we can make

Every prayer and step of faith

Every difference we can make

Is only by His grace.

This hymn then encourages me every morning to take that step of faith — to rely not on my wisdom and strength — but rather on Him who grants wisdom and strength to those who ask (James 1:5, Daniel 2:20). And that God in His infinite love, doesn’t deal with me according to my sin, but rather holds my life for my ultimate good and His glory (Romans 8:28, Psalm 103:10, 12). That Christ has lived a life I could never live, one that is unblemished and is pleasing to the Father, and yet also took my place to completely receive the punishment I deserve. That each day is blood-bought and it’s not for us to own or control. And all these things should compel our hearts to worship Him, even in our daily labors.

Today, Sunday September 19th 2018, I encountered an unexpected surprise about 30 minutes out after the service started. The church’s choir started singing this hymn — the song without which I honestly think I could never last a week. Having written a series of blogpost about God’s grace 2 years ago, I can now testify that His grace is truly inexhaustible and oh how this knowledge brings warmth to this frail heart of mine!

Friends, join me in meditating the glorious truth of God’s grace each morning.

May doing so remind you to present yourself as a living sacrifice, seeing Christ as your all, and approach each day confidently with God-given humility, wisdom, strength, and love, all for His glory.

Amen!

Friends, You Don’t Have to Get It All Together

Sometimes it’s comforting to have people telling us, “It’s okay that you’re not feeling alright.”

As someone who constantly suffers from perfectionism, I often need to be told, “Hey, it’s okay. Now, just rest.” I feel that I’m supposed to be working 24/7, which is how my mind interprets Paul’s commendation to making the best of time (Ephesians 5:16). Yet, in the same chapter we also see Paul telling us to walk wisely and being fruitful by doing things that are pleasing to Him.

A question then arises, “Am I doing these things to do the will of God, or is it just my ego? Am I pleasing Him?”

To be honest, there are moments when I don’t want to have God telling me, “That steering wheel you’re holding is nothing but a shadow. It is really here, in my driver’s seat.” This feeling of control can be so deceiving that we forget we’re merely pretending to be sovereign; we’re playing god and we may even not know it.

The Bible on Not Being Okay

If the consolation offered by our peers is of much importance to us, then having the Bible – God’s Word – telling us that it’s okay to not have everything figured out should be of even much worth. In fact, throughout the Bible we see men who are “not okay.”

We see Moses and his insecurity of speech. We read narratives of Israelites turning away from God even though they just witnessed His mighty works moments prior. And there is also Solomon, a man who though was with manifold of wisdom committed adultery and killed a man. In the New Testament, we see Peter, the toughest of all 12 disciples, denying Christ just moments after he said that he’d die for Him. We also have Paul suffering from “a thorn in his flesh.”

These guys were far from okay. These people didn’t have it all together, yet we see how God’s faithfulness pays off – having their Spirit-inspired writings changing people’s hearts – even ours. Throughout the lives of these men, we see God’s will continuously prevailing despite their constant shortcoming.

In the Gethsemane, He faced an unimaginable sorrow to a point of death. His sweat even became like “great drops of blood” (Luke 21:44). An even more agonizing moment – even topping the moment where blood coming off His pores – came as God’s wrath was poured on Him in our place.

If Christ’s suffering was without purpose, then our faith would be futile. It would mean that we always need to be okay, or else. It would mean Moses’ insecurity among his other countless sin would still haunt him eternally. Israelites would keep running astray as they fall into an infinite abyss of regret. Solomon would forever be a murderer who didn’t even know that he made a grave offense toward God. Without Christ, our horrid fear of imperfection will forever define our identity.

Gratefully, Christ’s many sufferings mean that we have a high priest who sympathizes with us – who knows what it means to be “not okay” and escapes it snare – through whom we can “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Friends, this is why we don’t need to have it all together. Christ is God telling us to stop stressing over our lives and instead ponder over the fact that He died for us. Christ is the hope of those who are not feeling okay – which are all of us – because in Him we see that God remains sovereign despite evil, and His grand design is without flaw. He came forward to be handed into the filthy and barbaric hands of men by His own accord – God Himself wills it to be so. Christ kept walking on the path of obedience, knowing very well that in every step He took He was getting closer to facing the most “not-okay” moment ever.

Yet, in all these hurt, all these sorrows — in all of them, Jesus sees joy (Hebrews 12:2). In spite of all those things, Jesus promises joy. He says, “.. your sorrow will turn into joy.” Surprisingly enough, Jesus said all these things just moments before His disciples turned away from Him – one even denied Him publicly, and another betrayed Him – and He was about to be judged by the sinful beings who wouldn’t even come into existence if it weren’t for Him.

The gospel shouts, “It’s okay. Stop now, friend. Look at the cross, and pray for mercy. Then get up, and keep looking to Christ.”

It’s okay to not have everything altogether now; you’re not supposed to.

Tell

Friends, let’s tell other people that it’s okay that they don’t have everything figured out. Let’s keep reminding ourselves the same thing as well. Let’s tell them about Christ. Without Him, we would only be capable of offering the people we love a false sense of comfort for we’re just as vulnerable as them. But with Christ, we’re delivering God’s powerful message that saves.

Friends, let’s do this. Embrace this truth. Though this might be the toughest and most intimidating undertaking imagined, may we do it nevertheless. Let’s do it together. Do it by the power that is from Him.

Do all these things, to His glory.

My Rock and My Fortress

Psalm 18, being titled under ‘The LORD Is My Rock and My Fortress’, opens beautifully with a line from the psalmist,

I love you, O Lord, my strength.

Personally I’d often hear God as the source of strength, but reading that sentence right there, I think it’d be wise to also ask ourselves, ‘Is God the object of our strength?’, that is, when He is all we have, shall we be satisfied in Him?

Not simply asking for gifts and being grateful for them, but rather see Him as of supreme value, more than the gifts themselves. Can we do that — should we do that? To be grateful towards the Supplier of the Strength even more than the strength itself, is that even possible?

The psalmist continues,

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

God is his all, he wouldn’t be alive without Him — he wouldn’t really be living without Him. He is our rock, our fortress, our deliverer, our shield, the horn of our salvation, our stronghold.

Of having steadfast hope the psalmist also writes,

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3)

What makes him stand like a tree, with such strong leaves, flourishing? The chapter writes, the delight of the law of the LORD, to which he meditates day and night (v. 2). The way of the Lord excites him, to which he says,

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.’ (v. 30).

The thing that brings him most pleasure is nothing short of perfection — the truth, one that shields those who finds rest in Him. He then continues,

For who is God, but the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?‘ (v. 31).

Answer: no one! May as we think we have much, we see Him as our only strength; and may when we have little, in Him, we have all we shall ever need.

The psalmist then closes with a testimony, that He lives,

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation‘ (v. 46).

And again, blessing Him, for His gracious act of salvation,

For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
and sing to your name.
Great salvation he brings to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his offspring forever.‘ (v. 49-50)

In Jesus Christ we see such beauty unfiltered, blasting like a ray of sunlight — He is the ‘wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption‘ (1 Corinthians 1:30),  ‘the image of the invisible God‘ (Colossians 1:15), ‘the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature‘ (Hebrews 1:3).

It is amazing to see how His word — His perfect word — testifies of Christ consistently with such grand and radiant attributes. Who is like Him? No one! Who deserves all praise as He does? No one!

He is the Only One who says, ‘.. call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’ (Psalm 50:15).

To Him be all glory, who gives us life and breath and everything, who shows us what love is, who delivers us from death and brings us to Him that we may have life everlasting — full of abundance beyond all measure — giving us the best gift He could ever give, Himself.

May we praise you forevermore, O LORD, our Rock and Fortress.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.

(A Mighty Fortress Is Our God)

Amen.

On Movies

People say it is wise to read books since life is short.

Somehow, books transports you to places and gives you the opportunity to be in other people’s shoes. May it be a detective duo uncovering the identity of an evil professor in 19th century England, a hobbit going through hills and mountains bearing himself a magical ring, a group of young adults exploring the vast world beyond a wardrobe — books offer a passage into limitless possibilities. As long as someone thinks of it and puts it on paper to be read, it’s as if a new world can be constructed in a flick of a finger.

Now, that’s exactly how I feel about movies.

Whenever I see Shawshank Redemption, I feel as if I am part of Andy Dufresne inner circle, laughing every time he shares the story of how he made fun of the guards.

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Or joining Cooper and Brand in interstellar travel, traveling through the complex nature of time and space in order to find a new home for the sake of humanity.

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Perhaps entering the world of Inception, exploiting the world of dreams with Cobb and his crime circle.

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These feelings may even last until the last credits roll, following even to the way home, taking up a distinct space on the mind.

Roger Ebert, a renowned film critic, testifies of the same thing:

Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.

The first memory of movies that I have was watching The Green Mile at a cinema that I still go to even until this day. It was 1999, which means I was only four, and I remember that I was half scared seeing a convict played by Michael Clarke Duncan opened his mouth and hundreds of dark-colored particles came out after he supernaturally healed a prison guard played by Tom Hanks.

the-green-mile

I still remember the moment when I was getting ready to watch the first Harry Potter movie after reading about it on a magazine. It is rather surprising to realize that I was only six, and it happened over 16 years ago. Whoa.

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The cinema looks completely different now. It was once surrounded by dark blue wall, having a large selection of arcade games near the left entrance with their blaring arcade-y sounds, and there was a section near the line of movie posters where people can see photos of shots that are in the movie they were about to watch. Now the cinema looks much more elegant with better lighting and a dark cream and golden tone covering the walls. There are also more studios and a distinct room filled with arcade machines so the blaring sound of the games wouldn’t fill the atrium anymore.

The place may have changed, yet the memory remains timeless.

As I got older, I realized that some movies aren’t only moving pictures where the main character hops around until two hours pass and a happy ending is presented. Some seem to want to talk about tough topics. Off the top of my head, the Oscar-winning musical drama, La La Land for instance seems to focus on the topic of achieving one’s dream. The same could be said for Whiplash which portrays a realistic and rather brutal depiction of working hard to make it to the top.

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It’s as if those kind of movies speaks, that the lines that were uttered when combined with the moving images captured by the camera, the looks and expressions of the characters are trying to calmly whisper a voice that transcends the realm of the movie itself — the voice of the filmmaker.

Directors and screenwriters seem to have a way with relating to human emotion, getting us to cry on moment’s notice, ignites laugh, or even contempt. Their creative approach in doing so testifies of a certain truth that binds all audiences — the human part in each one of us.  Of great movies, George Ebert says, “The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.”

The way movie communicates about the mysterious, the sacred, the beautiful, and how all these elements relate on a personal level, I think is the main source of awe. In a way, my whole worldview is shaped by these things I watch over the years, tested and polished, in order to find the answer of what makes us human.

Movies and the Christian Faith

One of the reasons why I like to watch movies is that I can think most clearly when I am feasting on these moving pictures. While this may sound like going to the movies isn’t a relaxing activity for me, it actually is.

After long hours of sitting in a classroom or an office, for instance, it is such a great moment to just lay back with a bag of popcorn and drink on each side of the armrest, and reflect on life itself. Being a follower of Christ, I’d feel stimulated whenever a movie explores the theme of love. Not exclusively on romantic love, but rather on a higher kind — a lasting, and an eternal kind. Just like when Brand, a character from Interstellar says of love:

Love is the one thing that we’re capable of perceiving, that transcends dimensions of time and space.

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That line really did an impact on me. Contemplating on the theme of love biblically, I find this to be consistent to the Christian faith. Jesus says of the greatest commandment, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31).

About love, John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10).

In the great epistle to the Romans, Paul writes, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). He continues, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39).

The eternal and inscrutable love of God, bestowed unto His creations and His people, O how mighty and mysterious is this truth! O how this should change how we view our relationship with other people who are also created in God’s image, and most importantly, how our all devotion should be directed to Him alone.

Another example would be paternal love, a theme that can easily be found in most family movies. Of parents the Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

The captivating love between a woman and his son portrayed in the 2015 movie Room for example, a portrayal that surely is an effective tearjerker, when compared to God’s Word should then invite us to meditate on a love that is more transcendent, that even the strong bond of a mother and her child don’t come close. O how this should point us to the inscrutable love of Our Heavenly Father!

How immeasurable is this love! May we join Paul contemplating with other Christians, “.. the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” (Ephesians 3:18-19). O how such knowledge should compel us to love God more!

These are several examples of why movies are really precious to me. For me, these movies are great because they make most of Christ. Even though the directors don’t intentionally mean it to be so, the messages that they’re trying to deliver for me are whispers of deep yearning for something transcendent, Something awe-inducing in which all pleasure dwells, the One that deserves all praise and honor, the Trinitarian God Himself.

In the end, I love watching movies because they make me a believer. I hope it does the same to you too.

The Experimentation Years

As a young adult living in the 21st century, I often hear that the teenage years are the crucial moments where one can explore the world to figure out who they really are — the things they like and what they would like to do when they grow up. Many teenagers are given the freedom to do all sorts of things — taking classes, applying for internships, or maybe even backpacking through Europe — to answer the big question, “What am I going to do with my life?”

This liberty of experimentation encourages us to see everything the world offers so that we may know ourselves better. Thus many nurture romantic relationships, apply to their favorite schools, choose career paths, believing in their hearts that it is the right thing to do. However, this exploration journey might not be forever a smooth sail — relationships may end with heartbreaks, school applications replied by rejection letters, and wrong career decisions leading up to frustration.

Sometimes we are unconsciously experimenting with our own lives, following the demands of our culture, with the hope that we’ll get the much-aspired answer to the question of our identity. Shall we find it in relationships, academic reports, or our professional accomplishments? Or have we been looking in the wrong place all this time?

Experimenting with the Heart

People have a lot to say about hearts. The heart is a delicate thing, they say. When we are about to make important decisions, we’re told that we should follow our hearts. “Go with your gut!” they say.

The Bible also has a lot to say about hearts. Ever since the fall, the disobedience of Adam and Eve has led humans to eternal death (Genesis 3, Romans 5:12). Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The famous reformer and theologian, John Calvin, goes even further, saying that the human heart is a “perpetual forge of idols.”

Naturally, our instinct tells us to follow our hearts, for it is the moral compass we’re commended to rely on. On the other hand, the Bible sees things quite differently; instead of trusting it, we’re presented to the only solution that only God can accomplish – change it, and follow Him instead.

God says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God is the solution to our heart problem.

Timothy Keller says, “If you try to put anything in the middle of the place that was originally made for God, it is going to be too small. It is going to rattle around in there.” None of our heart-forged idols — our relationships, study, or career — can ever fit to the God-shaped hole. We can experiment all we want, but none will quite fit. Ironically, in this search, our natural state fails to distinguish things that are truly beautiful and mere vanities (Romans 1:21-23).

About this C. S. Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

We are far too easily pleased, indeed.

New Heart and Our Identity

Only a restored heart, the gift of salvation given by grace through faith, can point us to the only One who truly matters, God Himself. It is through Christ, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” that we’re enabled to know Him (Hebrews 1:1-3).

In our search for fulfillment, look at Christ who humbled Himself, not counting “equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philipians 2:6-7). Fix our eyes on the One who came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15, John 3:16), by “making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20).

About this Paul testifies, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philipians 3:8).

The experiments can now end. Our identity is found in Christ. What are we supposed to do with our lives? Glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

This is the gospel. This is our identity.