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.

Advertisements

Reflections on Baptism

Yesterday, July 15th 2017 was the day of my baptism after years of embracing the Christian faith. I personally never thought that day would never come, to have fellow families and friends showing their support by witnessing this moment.

Looking back, years prior I was still reading my Bible in secret, fearing if my family were to find out. The Bibld was a NKJV New Testament Gideon Bible, with a two-column side-to-side translation in Indonesian language. I would normally read before sleep, illuminated with a night lamp with yellowish hue placed above my bed. I would place the Bible beside my head pillow, start reading, and put it there for the rest of the night after I had finished. This fear-induced nighttime ritual was really challenging, and now that I think about it, was quite silly. Despite my own anxieties at that time – which were immense – it is not right to fear for my family to find out that I was practicing the Christian faith. As a matter of fact, I think my fear at that time was the fear of shame – one of the worst kind of fear.

To finally have the same people I once feared for expressing my beliefs coming to my baptism was beyond words. For years I thought that they were the problem, while it had actually been me. It felt easy to position myself as a victim, to feel self-righteous, for I was the only Christian in my household. But the problem had actually been shame – ashamed of embraching the gospel of Christ – making it even a worse kind of fear. But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and this perfect love is shown in Christ.

The desire to be baptized had been there ever since the moment I read the Bible for myself. At that time, however, I thought of being baptized as nothing more of a commitment, as if I have something to prove. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with a commitment that comes from a pure heart, my desire, on the other hand was self-centered and was highly contrary to God’s Word.

According to the Scripture, baptism is a symbol of “having been buried in him … you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God” (Colossians 2:12). It is also written, “The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;” (2 Timothy 2:11). Baptism glorifies Christ, that we may boast in His death and resurrection, in which all our hope rests. The death and the resurrection of Christ – the gospel – is our sure foundation (1 Corinthians 15:14). If baptism was the proclamation of our self-sufficiency, it would diminish the glory of Christ, the very thing that awakens our heart to the incomprehensible beauty of God.

Therefore baptism is more than a personal commitment, but a proclamation of the glory of God, an expression of faith that relies solely on God’s grace. The baptism is a one-time event, as Christ had died and rose once and for all, that we may be set free from the enslavement of sin, and live eternally with Him, in whose presence is the fullness of joy.

I could have seen baptism as the proclamation of the confidence that was similar to Peter’s just before he was about to deny knowing Christ three times (Luke 21:33). But may our confidence rest in the finished work of Christ instead, and in Him who intercedes for us (John 17), as He also prayed for Peter lest his faith fails (Luke 22:31).

My journey towards this moment hadn’t been a smooth sail. In the past there had been countless moment of unbelief and constant failure. Yet God’s faithfulness prevails, for “if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13). It is Him who works within us and it is His righteousness that is imputed to us, so that all may be made right as we know our place as His creations, and worship Him as Our Creator, forever.

Baptism screams nothing but God’s faithfulness over people who least deserve it; it screams nothing but God’s grace. May this hymn be our daily prayer,

“My heart is filled with thankfulness
To him who reigns above,
Whose wisdom is my perfect peace,
Whose ev’ry thought is love.
For ev’ry day I have on earth
Is given by the King;
So I will give my life, my all,
To love and follow him.”

Amen.

Baptism

Merciful Father

Father, I am a sinner.

I just realized that in all the times when I would suddenly feel an insurmountable amount of guilt, I haven’t truly acknowledged that I am a sinner.

I’d have thought that I did good.

Prayers? Check. Reading the Bible? Check. Helping others? Check.

Then a deep sense of guilt would start creeping in, ruining the “good vibes” I had going. That morbid feeling whispers, “You’re a sinner.”

It is when the reality finally hits me, it feels like I have finally sobered up. It is when I am finally aware of my fallen nature, I start losing hope, leading up to the questioning of my faith – questioning God.

I’d then forget how I could claim that I am truly a Christian. That moment years ago, when it was the unlikeliest moment for me to confess my faith, I declared publicly, “I believe in Jesus Christ.”

What is wrong with me? I pray, I read the Bible, I help others, yet my heart is all hard and cold.

I forget how it feels to know Him personally. I forget His goodness. I forget who He truly is. Then doubting His existence will be the most logical choice. It feels so easy to give in, I can’t help it.

But He is truly merciful. Even in times like these, when my heart is so blurred that I can’t see Christ, He draws near.

He reminds me that He is the only reason why I believe. He is the reason why I could confess my faith. He is the reason why I could see how sin is just by the door, and I feel fear; a fear that I’d stray from Him.

So in all my weaknesses, I choose to forget Him completely – forgetting the Only One I should fear – silently wishing that hope and peace will start rushing in.

But in all my weaknesses, I also choose to forget that He is my hope, and He is my peace.

I’m trying to forget the Only Source of joy with the hope that I could find it in something else. I am exchanging God for mere vanities – praises, accomplishments – shouting, “I am the god of my own life”, hoping that I’d gain hope and peace knowing that I have it all.

Yet, in all my weaknesses, I am deeply unaware that although it might seem that I have much, I actually have nothing.

All these things just prove that I am truly a sinner. My heart condemns me, and it wins.

Or does it?

Apostle John writes, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” (1 John 3:20).

God recognizes our guilt. He knows.

Now it all comes down to one question, “Do we trust Him to bear our guilt? Do we trust Christ?”

Thankfully, in all our weaknessess, He remains faithful.

“When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast”
(He Will Hold Me Fast, Matt Merker)

In all our helplessness, He keeps reminding us that it is Him who saves us. By witnessing such mercy, we see His true worth – how unworthy we are, and how grand He is.

“Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.” (Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson)

In all these things that we may see as evil, He uses it for good. Christ made sure of it through His sacrifice on the cross, so that we may come to the Father, and call Him, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

It is by His Spirit that we are enabled to confess that He is God (Matthew 16:15-17, 1 John 4:2).

It is by His grace that we are given the faith to repent (Ephesians 2:1-8).

It is by His goodness alone, to which we deserve not even a drop, He shows that He is God, and we can rejoice in Him (Romans 9:14-18).

Father, we are sinners, and Your Son came for this very reason, to save sinners. It is through the cross that we see the worst of punishments, that Christ endured Your holy wrath that should have been lavished upon us. It is a torture none of us can even start to imagine, Lord. Remind us of such torture when we’re drawn to sin, that these filthy acts are the reason why Christ came, and why You sent Your Only Son to die for us, the ones who can present nothing but filthy rags.

Father, I have never witnessed any miracle as Christ healed people – opened the eyes of the blind or made the lame walk. But may I never forget this miracle, that You changed my heart, opened my eyes to witness Your amazing grace, so that I may walk in the path of righteousness – a path covered with Christ’s blood – that I may live like Him, losing my life, that I may gain it in You, Lord.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Thank You, merciful Father.

 

Spurgeon on the Gospel Humility

We would have it so happen that, when our life’s history is written, whoever reads it will not think of us as “self-made men,” but as the handiwork of God, in whom his grace is magnified. Not in us may men see the clay, but the Potter’s hand. They said of one, “He is a fine preacher;” but of another they said, “We never notice how he preaches, but we feel that God is great.” We wish our whole life to be a sacrifice; an altar of incense continually smoking with sweet perfume unto the Most High. Oh, to be borne through the year on the wings of praise to God to mount from year to year, and raise at each ascent a loftier and yet lowlier song unto the God of our Life! The vista of a praiseful life will never close, but continue throughout eternity. From psalm to psalm, from hallelujah to hallelujah, we will ascend the hill of the Lord; until we come into the Holiest of all, where, with veiled faces, we will bow before the Divine Majesty in the bliss of endless adoration.

C. H. Spurgeon

 

When Reading the Bible Feels Tasteless

I remember how I felt after discovering the gospel of Christ. It felt like tons of weights had just been lifted off my shoulders and that I don’t have to live aimlessly for my selfish desires anymore. My insecurity — my constant inability measure up to everyone’s expectations, including God, was nailed to the cross as Christ finished the work that I could never do (Colossians 2:14, Romans 8:2-4). Then I realized how the gospel is not only a beautiful narrative, but more importantly it has the power to change every fiber of all our being (Romans 1:16).

The experience was quite distinguishable from the moments after reading great stories, watching inspirational movies, or listening to brilliant soundtracks. Unique from those entertainments, my whole life was changed not because I decided to read a book, watch a movie, or listen to a music track; not because of my doing, but His. And what was it that He did? He gave me grace — the grace to know Him, the Maker of the whole universe, the One who formed me and the days that are ahead, the One who is eternal and is sovereign over everything. I was given a precious gift of knowing God Himself and enjoying Him. This led to many hours spent studying the Bible, which was a delight.
Continue reading

Why Do We Fall?

In Mark 5, Jesus worked wondrous things before a large group of people. Described in the passage are three miracles: the casting out of demons (v. 13), the healing of “a woman who had had a blood discharge for twelve years” (v. 25), and the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter (v. 41). Despite the different nature of each wonder — one showing Christ’s authority over evil spirits, the other showing Christ healing a diseased person, and the pinnacle of all these wonders, bringing someone back to life — there’s one common thing that we can find in the text; the three key characters who witnessed these miracles fell down before Christ.
Continue reading

When We Suffer

When it hurts, it’s hard to focus on anything else but the lingering pain. Hope seems so distant; if any, the only glimmer of hope is of a hypothetical reality when the pain goes away and life goes on like a normal day. Truth be told, it is hard to focus on anything but ourselves as we try to define the hurt that alienates and fills up the mind with a strange kind of juice. We may think we are the exception — that we’re the most miserable person walking on the planet. But we are not the exception — everyone has been there as well. Maybe not to the point where everything is identical, but everyone has their own share of the same breed of pain. Like the problem of sin incessantly trying to penetrate our skin, going deep into our hearts, we’ve all been there. There is none but one exception, Jesus Christ. Continue reading