It wasn’t a difficult choice really. My family was living in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, when my father shared that his company had asked him to work in Hawaii for a couple of years. We loved where we lived in Maryland—it was home for both of my parents and all of our extended family lived in the area—but you cannot pass up the opportunity to live in a tropical paradise. So we packed up our home, put on short-sleeve shirts in the middle of the winter, and jumped on a plane.
Here is what I remember most from my time in Hawaii as a seven- and eight-year-old kid: I trusted in Christ and was baptized at Mililani Baptist Church, the school lunches were terrible, and my parents often wanted to take dreadfully boring drives around the island we lived on, Oahu. Yes, you read that right. I was in the middle of one of the most beautiful places in the world—a place people dream of visiting and where Magnum drove around in a red Ferrari (no, we never saw him)—and I was bored by it all. I was simply too young to appreciate it at the time. I look back now and wish I had been able to drink it all in, but as the saying goes, youth is wasted on the young.
I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I could have appreciated the beauty of Hawaii and savored every moment of living there. But that is far from what I most wish I had understood as a child. Rather, what I most wish I could have understood better was the gospel. Here are three big truths about God—about the gospel—that I wish I had known.
Big Truth 1: In Christ, God Has Credited Me with Christ’s Righteousness
I loved my Sunday School teacher in Hawaii. The axiom is true: I remember very little of what Mr. Chen taught me, but I remember that he cared about me. I remember his encouragement and grace as I tried my best to memorize the books of the New Testament to participate in an ice cream party. And I remember my family eating dinner in his home. Mr. Chen was faithful to his calling, and because of that (and my parents), I heard the gospel and I trusted in Christ.
I knew that I was a sinner. I knew that Jesus is the Son of God. I knew that Jesus died for my sins and that He rose from the grave.
But here is what I didn’t know: that Jesus is a kind and generous companion. He did not take my sin from me and give me nothing in exchange. Rather, He gave me His righteousness. I knew the John 3:16 of the gospel, but I didn’t know the 2 Corinthians 5:21 of the gospel.
Had I only known. I spent years after trying to earn God’s favor by obeying enough, never feeling confident that God loved me and accepted me fully because I knew my obedience was never full. Had I only known then what I know now, that God’s acceptance and love for me is indeed full and perfect because they are not based on what I have done or might do, but rather on what Christ has done—His life of perfect obedience.
Big Truth 2: God Is Sovereign, and That’s a Good Thing
We ended up living in Hawaii for about 18 months of the 24 months we were supposed to. Midway through our time there, my father’s company had a new idea: how great it would be if we lived in Munich, Germany, for a while. So we put on snow suits and jumped on a plane headed to Europe. I loved my time in Germany. By this time I had reached the age where I could actually appreciate it, and looking back, those five years were among the best of my life. My time in Europe shaped me in critical ways and I am grateful that God, in His kindness, sent us there.
But that is the second big truth I wish I had known as a kid. I know it now, but didn’t know it then—that God is sovereign and that going to Germany wasn’t a matter of chance. It was part of God’s design for my life. At the time, I don’t think I ever even heard of the word sovereign, let alone grappled with its meaning. I thought life was just happening around me, and as I plunged into my teenage years, the worries of fitting in, dating, nuclear war—yeah, that was a thing then, and so on plagued me at times.
We know that there is a tension between human responsibility and God’s sovereignty, at least from our perspective. We know that the Bible teaches both and that we must embrace both. We are to take our decisions seriously, but at the same time, we are to rest securely in God’s sovereignty. I wish I had understood this back when I was a kid. I wish I would have had the ability to take my worries, my cares, and my uncertainties and lay them before our loving, sovereign God. Had I only known that I cannot mess up what God controls.
Big Truth 3: Everything Was Created for God’s Glory
When I was in Hawaii as a kid, I failed to appreciate its beauty. God’s fingerprints were all around me but I was clueless to it all. My time in Europe, however, was a different story. I was amazed by the splendor of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I appreciated the different cultures. And I was grateful to be around so much history.
I was closer, but still not all of the way there. All of what I appreciated and enjoyed was for me. I liked going to Paris and Venice. I liked skiing in the Alps. I liked eating the different foods. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but what I failed to do is reach the true end of all of it. Paris, Venice, the Alps, and wienerschnitzel were not created ultimately to bring delight to me, but rather so that I might ultimately delight in their creator, God. My delight in those good things was to be a conduit toward a greater delight in the giver of those good things.
Had I only known then what I am continuing to learn today: that God is our greatest good and that everything was created for His glory. My enjoyment of those things would have been further magnified, but more importantly, I would have been able to worship God through those things, which I did not do as a kid. Oh, if I could only go back and worship God in the Alps. If only I could have connected God’s goodness to every good thing I experienced.
As I reflect over these memories and experiences, I am not filled with regret of what I missed then. Far from it—I am filled with a deeper sense of awe of God’s mercy and grace. That He lavished such good things on such an undeserving kid—such a clueless, ungrateful kid—fills me with great joy. And it also encourages me to seek God’s face in the moments of my days today, and to help my kids do the same.