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How to Move Forward in 2018

Written by Jes Nuylan, Philippines

“Look to the future with the past in mind.”

 I came across this phrase last year when I went on vacation in Baguio City, one of the tourist towns in Benguet Province of the Philippines. Benguet is a place of lush trees and green mountains, where you can hear the chirping of birds and the rustle of leaves. It’s the perfect place to do some serious thinking, reminiscing, and soul-searching. So, far from my busy schedule and constant challenges at work, I had time to relax, reflect about my life, and remind myself to be thankful for all the blessings around me that I sometimes fail to see.

During those moments, I found myself thinking, where did the time go? It’s as if time had run on ahead of me and I didn’t notice till it had already gone. And what did I do with that time? Was it spent in a worth-while manner? Reflecting on those questions, I had a few regrets.

I earned a living, but did not spend enough quality time with family. I travelled and explored the world, but did not do much to advance God’s kingdom. I especially regretted the lost opportunities at work. Though I was generally a good example to my colleagues and friends at the work place, I did not take those opportunities to share God’s word.

During that vacation, I also visited the Philippine Military Academy—a training school for the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Inside, I not only got to glimpse the trainees doing drills, but I was also able to explore the grounds and see vintage tanks, helicopters, other historical military weapons, as well as memorials to the American and Korean wars. These relics reminded me of the sacrifices of the past, but could not actually bring me back to those times.

It’s the same with my own past. I can always look back on it: events that shaped who I am, people dear to my heart who have come and gone in my life, achievements I am proud of, mistakes I regret . . . I might cringe at a bad memory or smile at some small noble deed, but I can never go back to those times. Instead, I need to ask what I can do with the present.

The present is not always easy. Tragedies happen. Relationships fail. Pets die. But I am convinced that as long as we listen to and follow God’s voice and will in our lives, we can always count on what was declared in Romans 8:28: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

When I look at the financial problems and family difficulties I have to face, I can find it hard to get through the day. But this verse reminds me to follow Christ and serve the Lord, and eventually, He will put all things in order.

 

Looking to the future

After my vacation, the real world threw cold water on me as I returned to the city and my job. I had spent my vacation remembering the past, and I thought that reliving good times and knowing what mistakes to avoid repeating were going to be good enough. But as I returned to the battlefield of life, tons of tasks awaiting me, piles of bills accumulated, and loved ones continued to depend on me.

I realized that there are times for processing the past, but getting stuck there makes us forget what lies ahead. My current goals in life are to provide for my family’s house, as well as prepare for my future family. The time has come to write down my list of New Year’s resolutions, which should help me meet my goals.

Yet whatever my personal plans, it terrifies me that ultimately I am not in control over the uncertainties of the future. This thought always brings me back to my true purpose here on earth: to share God’s love through my life and win souls for Him. This should always be my first priority, above any of my personal plans. As it says in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

In 2018, I will focus my eyes on Jesus, not on my mistakes, trials, or even people around me, but on Jesus alone. I have to admit that in 2017 I did not fully contribute to my purpose here on earth. But instead of complaining about my trials or wishing for a different life, I will instead be thankful for God’s unconditional love, abounding grace, and all the blessings He has bestowed upon me. I will try harder to live out what I am reading in the Bible and learning in my devotions.

More importantly, I will do more to share God’s goodness and bring souls to Him. This year, God has led me to a new company and helped me gain more friends whom I can share His good news with.

With all that has happened this year, be it good or bad, the new year brings another chance. Learning from past mistakes and lost opportunities, I am able to run this race while looking to the future: the life that God has prepared for me in eternity after this life on earth.

 

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

The Day I Spent in Prison

Written By Jes Nuylan, Philippines

I braced myself for the encounter, wondering how I should talk and act around them. I was excited and nervous at the same time since I had never interacted with inmates before. And I was thoroughly surprised when I finally met them.

New Bilibid Prison. I had only heard of the name up till that visit. A few of my friends had first visited the inmates and gotten acquainted with them while working on their dissertation. They invited me to join them in their second visit. They planned to minister to the inmates—to give them some Christmas presents, as well as words of encouragement.

Hearing that they were all middle-aged men and had been imprisoned for drug and theft related offences, I was apprehensive at first. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I met them. They were delighted to see us and treated us like old friends. I later learned that they yearned for interaction with “outsiders”, having been separated from their families.

We gave them simple gifts, which they felt were the best gifts they had ever received. They listened attentively to the testimonies we prepared and the short devotion my friend shared. They told us that they were moved and encouraged. Their response stirred our hearts.

In return, they presented us with handcrafted items like parols (star-shaped Christmas lanterns) and wreaths. They also performed for us, showcasing their talents in singing, dancing, acting, and the like. It was a joy to watch! But beyond the happy feelings our interaction with them evoked, what struck me during that visit was that I had taken many things for granted.

  1. We are free, but we often act as though we’re imprisoned—by our selfishness, anger, struggles, stress, etc.
  1. We often fail to appreciate the people around us. That trip made me realize how much God has blessed me with in terms of family and friends.                                 
  1. We own so much materially but we’re hardly ever satisfied with what we have. I constantly gripe about things I don’t have and want to have.
  1. We hardly take note of the inspiring things that happen around us. The prison visit was a humbling experience, which caused me to reflect not just on God’s blessings, but His grace.

Though the inmates are imprisoned because of their past mistakes and are deprived of many privileges that free people enjoy, but yet, in some aspects, they have much we can learn from, especially when it comes to being grateful.

I had visited them with the intention of ministering to them, but instead, I was the one who walked away feeling blessed and inspired. And although it has been five years since that visit, it has served as a constant reminder to me to be grateful. I pray that this reflection will inspire you to be grateful too.

Photo credit: Gowiththe Flo via Scandinavian / CC BY-NC-ND

When Death Hits Us Hard

Written By Jes Nuylan, Philippines

Just a week ago, I received a text message that left me shell-shocked. One of my friends from high school had passed away from heart failure—he was only 18.

It didn’t help that my schoolmates and I were still recovering from the death of another of our friends on December 4, 2011. He had died of his injuries from a motorcycle accident. To receive such devastating news twice in just a few years was a double whammy.

The sudden and unexpected deaths caused me to ponder over my own life. What if I died today, at this age? There would be so many dreams and goals in my life that I would not be able to fulfil. Then realization hit me. Death would stop me from fulfilling my lifelong dreams. It would separate me from the people I held dear to my heart. And it would take away all that I treasured. No matter how hard I tried to fulfil my dreams, there was no certainty that I would be able to achieve all of them. There was no telling when death would come and bring all my endeavours to a crashing halt. This realization that I did not have control over my life started to make me fearful.

I asked myself: Since death is an inevitable rite of passage, what then should I do? Should I just sit and wait for death to take my loved ones away from me? Or worse, just sit and wait for death to come knocking on my own door?

Amid my thoughts of this cold, hard reality of inevitable death, I was reminded that as believers, we have the hope of eternal life through Jesus. An overwhelming sense of relief came over me as I thought about the hope God promises. Yes, I cannot fulfil all of my dreams—but there is a bright future that awaits me. I need not fear death. Instead, I should embrace it.

In fact, Paul writes in Philippians 1:21, that “to live is Christ and to die is gain”. This verse provides great comfort to us as Christians, as it tells us that we ought to see death as “gain” as long as we live our lives for Christ. Even though I cannot turn all my dreams to reality, and even though death will bring all my earthly pursuits to an end, I can be certain that I have a joyful life ahead of me in eternity.

This episode made me pause and realize that while our earthly lives are short and death is certain, life with God is everlasting.

“‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”—1 Corinthians 15:55-57

 

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