The #10YearChallenge: How Has God Worked In Your Life?

Written By Aryanto Wijaya, Originally in Bahasa Indonesia

If you’ve been active on social media lately, you would’ve seen the #10YearChallenge hashtag, along with side-by-side photos of your friends from 10 years ago and now, dominating your Facebook and Instagram feeds.

While I had fun looking at the physical changes my friends and I had undergone in the past 10 years, this trend also prompted me to think about other changes that have taken place in my life over the years.

I had already started thinking about this question since the week before, when one of my church leaders asked us to think about what the biggest changes in our lives have been since we accepted Christ.

The question left the whole class speechless. We looked at each other and smiled. It wasn’t until our leader singled us out one by one, that we began answering the question.

The answers we all came up with were very different. Most of my friends shared that they have become more patient, more energetic, or more grateful. When it was my turn to answer, I reflected on my life, and realized that I had gone through an incredible journey in the past 10 years.

In 2009, I was full of fears about the future, but now in 2019, I realized that most of these fears were unfounded—and life isn’t as scary as I imagined it to be.

Through the different transitions and life stages that I went through—starting from moving away from home to college, relocating to a different city for work, and dealing with the different family problems that I faced—God was me with each step of the way. While my journey in life is far from over, each storm that I have survived serve as a reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my life.

If I had to answer the question, “How has God worked in your life?” more specifically, my answer would be that He’s changed my perspective on life, and I’ve learned to cherish my life journey day by day. The past 10 years has taught me that our lives will never be free of problems, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed and sidetracked by them. However, if I leave them all in God’s hands, He might not change the circumstances that I’m facing, but He will definitely use the situations I face to shape me into the person He wants me to become. And that’s the kind of transformation that really matters.

Three years ago, I experienced a transition that shook me. After graduating from college and moving to a different city for work, I was very pessimistic about my future. I thought I made the wrong career choice since I found my job so unfulfilling. I also felt lonely in this new city, as I was living far away from my family and best friends. The problems before me felt so big that I didn’t see how I could overcome them.

But as time went by, I saw that I wasn’t truly alone—God was there with me. This knowledge changed the way I view my life and the work that I do.

I realized that my life is like a journey from the shore of a beach to the top of the hill. When I’m at the shore, the ocean is full of huge waves. As storms come, the waves grow bigger and stir up fear in my heart. But if I choose to keep going and focus on getting to the top of the hill, my view of the ocean changes. Along the way, the ground I step on may be full of pebbles or uneven terrain. But when I finally reach the top of the hill, and look down, suddenly the waves of the ocean do not seem as fierce as they were before. All I see is the calm surface of the wide blue ocean, which brings peace to my heart.

Whenever problems beset us, we can choose to stay by the shore of the beach and end up being drenched by the powerful waves. Or we can choose to keep focusing on the path until we reach a safe and high place.

I’m not suggesting that we should avoid or run away from our problems, but to alter our perspective so that we can deal with them wisely. We can choose a perspective—God’s perspective—that enables us to view our problems not with anxiousness, but peace and calmness because we know God is with us and will help us overcome the problems that we’re facing.

I like how Deuteronomy 32:11-12 gives us a clear pictures of how God leads us:

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and overs over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. The LORD alone led him…

God’s work in our lives can be likened to an eagle that deliberately stirs up his child’s nest to awaken them, but keeps watching over them and protecting them until they are strong enough to fly on their own.

Dear friends, regardless of the changes we may go through in the next 10 or 20 years, God will never leave nor forsake us. If you’ve been participating in the #10YearChallenge, make it not just about marking the changes in your physical appearance, but take some time to also reflect on how God has carried you through different seasons in your life, and be reminded that He will continue to lead you for the rest of your life.

Stan Lee: The Man Behind The Marvel-ous Superheroes

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

There is something about superheroes that speaks to us, inspires us, and motivates us. Many of these superheroes whom we have come to love can be attributed to one man: Stan Lee.

When news of American comic book writer and Marvel co-creator Stan Lee’s passing broke on November 12, tributes flowed in from every corner of the Internet. This is no surprise as Stan Lee has been credited for creating many of the world’s most popular superheroes, including the X-men, many of the Avengers, Daredevil, as well as my personal favorite, Spiderman. His creations have made a major impact on the entertainment industry from Marvel’s comic book sales to the many film and TV adaptations in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, Marvel’s most recent Avengers film, Avengers: Infinity’s War, was the highest grossing film of 2018.

So what is it about Stan Lee’s creations that have entertained and inspired millions of fans worldwide?

One of Stan Lee’s defining talents was to tap into our deep desire to witness sacrificial acts of heroism. In a 2016 interview with The Big Issue, he was quoted as saying, “The world always needs heroes, whether they’re superheroes or not. Since time immemorial there were stories and legends about evil power who had superpowers, and some human being had to find a way to conquer them. It seems to be part of the human condition.”

We celebrate when Spiderman saves Mary Jane from a villain. We get emotional when Iron Man seemingly sacrifices himself to save New York at the end of Avengers. We are inspired when Wolverine saves other humans, even when those same humans are trying to exterminate his fellow mutants. We love seeing Thor use his supernatural powers to battle against evil forces threatening to take over the Nine Realms.

But perhaps Stan Lee’s greatest contribution was to create superheroes with flaws and personalities that all of us can relate to. As he said, “I thought it would be great to do superheroes that have the same kind of life problems that any reader—that anybody—could have.”

In The New York Times’ obituary, the writers noted that: “Under Mr. Lee, Marvel transformed the comic book world by imbuing its characters with the self-doubts and neuroses of average people, as well an awareness of trends and social causes and, often, a sense of humor.”

The Hulk has major anger issues. Daredevil struggles with his dark, violent tendencies. Iron Man has a gigantic ego. Years of violence and unforgiveness has built up to self-destructing resentment in Wolverine’s soul. Even Spiderman is prone to rash decision-making. But in spite of their flaws, they always triumph over the evil powers at the end of the day.

Stan Lee’s characters give us hope that we can all be superheroes in our own ways. As he himself said, a hero is:

[…] someone who is concerned about other people’s well-being and will go out of his or her way to help them—even if there is no chance of a reward. That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.

This reminds me of what the Bible says in Philippians 2:3-4. As believers, we are called to put the needs of others above ourselves, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

We can be “superheroes”, but the difference is this: we do not draw strength from ourselves.The reason we can now love and serve one another—regardless of our flaws, limitations, and circumstances—is because we are image-bearers and recipients of God’s love (1 John 4:7).

Christ has set the ultimate example to show us what this looks like: He “made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:7) and chose to come down to earth as a human in order to become one of us. He allowed Himself to be tempted in every way so that He could empathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) and show us a different way to live.

Stan Lee might have been closer to the truth than he realized when he said: “There is only one who is all powerful, and his greatest weapon is love.”

BTS: Is True Love About Loving Yourself?

Screenshot taken from YouTube Video

“True love first begins with loving myself,” began BTS’ leader Kim Nam-jun, better known as RM, in his impassioned six-minute speech, which ended with resounding applause from the packed crowd at the launch of a UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) youth campaign yesterday (24 Sep).

As I watched and listened to RM’s personal story of how he himself struggled with meeting the expectations of others and broke free of it, and his eventual call to stop “trying to fit ourselves into a mold”, I was moved. Of course, it helped that the leader of the world’s biggest boy band spoke articulately and fluently in English, and that he, along with the rest of his team mates who stood behind him in solidarity, was dressed impeccably.

I was also impressed, because this was the first time a K-pop band had been given the privilege of addressing the United Nations, as a result of their partnership with UNICEF’s global initiative, Generation Unlimited, which is aimed at empowering young people by increasing opportunities and investments for them.

But at the same time, I couldn’t help but find his message a little ironic, as I recalled the many reports I had read of the extremely competitive, stressful, and controlled conditions members of K-pop bands are put through in order to fit into the industry’s mold. It has been reported that trainees are often required to forgo their personal lives, which includes their friendships and hobbies, in order to devote time to perfecting their vocal and dance skills.

This was recently debated about and cast into the spotlight again following the tragic suicide of SHINee’s Jonghyun last December, who had left a harrowing note highlighting the pressures young stars face in South Korea’s highly competitive entertainment industry.

But beyond the irony of his sharing, it was his emphatic pronouncement of “loving myself” as the mark of true love which I found myself struggling to agree with. There is no denying that it’s a popular idea which stems from good intentions. Resist the pressure to conform. Be true to yourself. Express your conviction. These catchphrases definitely sound inspiring and empowering—but they can be dangerous if these ideas are separated from God’s blueprint for our lives.

As believers, we’re called to something else. Self-fulfilment or self-actualization cannot and must not be our end goal. Instead, the greatest commandment Jesus gives to his believers is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And he immediately follows that with a call to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40).

The Bible is emphatic and consistent about where true love stems from and who we should love: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7a). Self-love, as the Bible puts it, is a natural posture we all already gravitate towards. Loving God and loving others, on the other hand, is not.

In fact, one of the most notable references to “loving ourselves” is highlighted as one of the characteristics of what it would be like in the “last days”, as it says in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (Emphasis mine)

It can even be argued that the Bible seems to speak strongly against “self-love”, such as in Philippians 2:3-11, where it is written that we are always to value others above ourselves and consider the interests of others more than our own.

To be sure, BTS has done a lot of good for others, such as raising 1 million USD for UNICEF to help in ending violence against children and young people—and they certainly should be lauded for that. But perhaps we as believers, particularly for those of us who are fans, need to take a step back and evaluate what we hear—especially when it comes from those we esteem in high regard.

As believers, whose voice will we listen to? Who do we love the most? Are we prepared to be break out of society’s mold and definition of true love?

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka: When Our Heroes Fail Us

Screenshot taken from ESPN video

It was meant to be a historic match, but ended up being remembered for all the wrong reasons.

20-year-old Naomi Osaka was looking forward to a “tough, competitive match” when she walked into the women’s final of the US Open Tennis Championship on September 8. She would be playing her childhood idol, Serena Williams, a legend in the women’s tennis scene who started playing pro tennis even before Naomi was born, and had won more Grand Slam singles than any other active player. Naomi grew up admiring Serena and her achievements; she even did a school report on her hero when she was in third grade.

So Sunday was a big day for Naomi.

The match was off to a good start. Naomi played well against Serena and managed to win the first set. But as the game progressed, Serena was given three code violations at various times by the umpire. She was progressively frustrated at the umpire’s calls and disputed them hotly. At one point, Serena appealed to tournament officials, and held an angry conversation that lasted close to three minutes. She even smashed her racquet in an angry outburst. The audience was riled up, but Naomi waited patiently for the duration and held her calm as they both returned to the game.

Naomi won the match, her first Grand Slam title. But as she and Serena stood on the podium, listening to boos from the angry audience, she pulled down her visor and cried. She even apologized for how the match ended. While Serena gave her a hug and a few comforting words, this was not how the young athlete’s first Grand Slam should have gone. Regardless of whether the umpire had made unfair calls, Serena’s poor response during the match had left an ugly mark on what should have been Naomi’s finest moment as a young tennis pro.

Perhaps many of us have experienced our heroes letting us down. It seems inevitable, doesn’t it? Favorite celebrities get embroiled in scandals. Elders at church make unbiblical, hurtful decisions. Parents, even, blurt out hurtful things in the heat of the moment.

We expect the best of our heroes. Yet, they never fully live up to the expectations we have for them. Even Naomi Osaka, who conducted herself impeccably during and after this tumultuous match (saying that she will always remember Serena in a good way) will perhaps disappoint one day. Who can we look to? Is there no one that can bare the weight of our expectations?

The author of Hebrews describes Jesus Christ as “one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). Jesus doesn’t say hurtful words that He would regret. He doesn’t betray us by bad decisions. He doesn’t lose His temper on a tennis court.

Though fully God, Jesus chose to become a mere human being, humbling Himself by taking on all our limitations, and yet remaining obedient even to death on the cross (Philippians 2:6-10). Though He was tried, He did not sin once in His entire life here on earth, unlike us who sin daily. He is the hero who could never fail us.

“For this reason,” continues the author of Hebrews, “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).

Not only is Jesus perfect—a hero who could never disappoint—but His perfection, coupled with His sacrifice, offers us a promise of perfection as well. His death on the cross sets us free from our sins. We’ve all had bad moments: emotional outbursts, taking unfair advantage of others, lies both big and small. . . Because of Christ, these no longer need to count against us. Because of Him, sin can no longer separate us from God.

Not only that, but when we put our hope in Jesus, we also put our hope in the fact that He will work in our lives and one day perfect us, so that we may receive the “promised eternal inheritance.” This “perfecting” takes a lifetime. We won’t simply stop having emotional outbursts or hurting people around us entirely. But when we turn to Christ, the process has begun. He is already working in our lives, and by His grace, each day we walk further away from our myriad sins.

Looking up to people around us is not wrong; there is so much we can learn from them. Serena Williams, for instance, still has incredible skill and experience at tennis. Teachers, parents, favorite writers, though all similarly marred by sin, still have much to offer us if we are willing to learn.

But we should not be surprised when the very people we look up to ultimately show themselves to be sinful human beings, just like us. At the end of the day, our hope does not rest in these people. Our hope rests in the perfect Christ Jesus who has conquered even death.

Knowing this, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2).