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Three Cubed

Another birthday post. It’s one of the few times that I force myself to write regardless of my schedule, hoping that in distilling the lessons I’ve learned in the past year and articulating them, I might better remember them.

The standard answer that I’ve been giving to the question of how old I am is, “33.” Now that’s a very significant number, as three is a significant number in the Bible, and a product of three threes is just, well, you can’t go wrong with it. Sadly, it is the last nnth birthday that I will have. And though it is mathematically interesting, I cannot dwell on it for too long; I am entering into my late twenties, and there is no going back.

The thought that life operates one-way often leaves me wistful. I have to remind myself that God is fulfilling His purpose in me right now, and that He is leading me home. I think of the lyrics of the song, “It’s Alright” by Third Day, in which the chorus goes, “It’s alright / It’s okay / I won’t worry about tomorrow / For it brings me one more day / Closer than I was to You.” Nevertheless, death is undoubtedly a regrettable event. After all, even Jesus wept when Lazarus died. Sure, he knew without a doubt that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but still, he wept because his friend died. Death, though part of God’s overarching plan, was not part of the way things were designed to be; it was not part of the Creation that was deemed “very good.”

It is sobering to think about the end of life on earth. Steve Jobs addressed this topic quite powerfully in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford. Though I did not know the man personally, and my only connection to him was probably the MacBook Pro that I’m now using to type this post, the fact that he was a visionary somehow made me more familiar to me and evoked a sense of regret at his passing. He, like me, desired to make the world a better place. Or perhaps this tinge of melancholy can be attributed to my presence at that stadium six years ago when he delivered his speech. Steve had known his time was short, and lived each day as if were his last. And one day a month ago, he was right. He is now gone.

Jobs wasn’t the only person I knew who died this year. One of my classmates palo-alto-car-crash/ with whom I spent three quarters in the same time-intensive lab series died from a car accident last Winter break, a young man by the name of Rune. He was friendly, outgoing, loved to meet new people, and loved to contribute back to society -on-in-memory-of-rune-thode-nielsen. Though I did not know him well, I respect him for the passion he had for life.

Indeed, life is short. One of the lines that stick out for me from Jobs’ speech (there are quite a few memorable quotes, actually) is: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” Each year as I grow older, my own mortality becomes more apparent. Some are allotted more time on earth than others, and I don’t know how long my own lamp will burn. I do know that like Steve and Rune, I want to leave a mark in this world. If I were to go, I would want to be remembered for more than my material possessions or my academic achievements. Jobs said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.” Job (of the Bible) made the same point millennia ago when he actually lost nearly everything he had: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21).

What remains behind though are faith, hope, and love (totally taken out of context =P). I wish that my speech and my conduct in this life would give cause for people to say, “Now there’s a man after God’s own heart!” like the great men of faith before me, and inspire a generation of Christians to place their hope in and pursue God with all their might, to worship God more and to fall in love with Him more, so that out of the abundance of the love they have received, they would fearlessly love others and make this world a better place.

Perhaps that is vanity. Perhaps my desire for my life to be of significance is misguided. Yes, a part of me desires honor. A part of me desires not to be building in vain. My only recourse is to lift these desires and thoughts up to the Lord, that he may sanctify them, that they may be righteous and acceptable to the Father through the finished work of Christ. Perhaps we can be bold to be ambitious now because of the sacrifice on the cross that redeems all of creation.

I want to live each day to the fullest, fulfilling the roles my God has placed me in to the utmost of my capabilities: being a brother, a friend, a researcher, a programmer, a child of God, a servant at church; but life in these roles hasn’t been easy, and discouragements were not far away.

Research has had its toll on me this last year. I would often scramble for the week or two leading up to teleconferences, demos, or visits, and then be forced to take a week or two off to recharge and to catch up on real life responsibilities. With unsatisfactory experimental results in the midst of relentless requests for updates, I rapidly felt myself burning out. More than once I wanted to throw in the towel because research had become unfulfilling. I was being limited in my creativity by the necessity of pleasing someone else. A few times, I even thought my project was in danger of being discontinued, only to be delivered at the last minute.

At church, the last few years of serving had taken a toll on my spiritual life. It should not have been that way. (Details classified.) Church service became a routine and I lacked joy and passion. My life was marked by bouts of sin and indifference.

But God held on to me. He provided me with caring individuals who prayed for me, fellowshipped with me (in the full sense of the word), and encouraged me. He answered their prayers even when my own prayers were cold. The greatest obstacle to my research—namely, the lack of motivation—was miraculously taken away. The apathy toward the spiritual disciplines of prayer and reading and meditation upon the word was replaced by a growing desire to know and commune with God more. I came to realize that I had been neglecting the very things that provided the means to experience God’s presence and His grace.

Through these people, I learned that community is indeed vital, but community must go beyond the surface-level socializing that it has a propensity to become. Community must be rooted in a common love for God that is itself derived from the love that God has shown us through the saving work of Christ. Community is a partnership in seeking Christ together, learning together, and standing for the gospel together, spurring one another on to love and good deeds, challenging one another in waging war against sin.

To all those who are convicted of the truth and primacy of the Word and the good news that it brings, to those who are convicted of their sin and see Jesus Christ as the one and only hope, to those who encouraged me not only to take joy and find rest in Jesus’ work, but to pursue a life worthy of his calling, to those who laid aside their differences in interests to become united in faith and spirit—I say, “Thank you.” Your fellowship is precious to me. Through your sharpening, I have rediscovered the meaning and importance and relevance of the gospel as something much more than the intellectual assent of justification by faith alone one the one hand, and much more than merely an incentive to serve and to give and to behave on the other.

A friend once gave me his fortune from a fortune cookie, and it said, “Don’t be afraid to take a chance when the opportunity of a lifetime appears.” Every day is an opportunity to live life to the fullest in the knowledge and worship of God, in communion with Him and also with other believers. I’ve realized there are very few people who are not busy; almost everyone is. But life will always be busy, and so one must make time for what is important. My resolution starting this moment then is to take those opportunities and chances to make this world a better place, to live, and to love, so that I may die without regrets.