Category Archives: Pilgrim

High Places

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High Places

In reading the storyline of the kings of Israel and Judah, there seems to be a love-hate relationship with the Lord. For a particular period, there’d be “he did what was right in the sight of the Lord”, then there’d be a total shift to “he did evil in the sight of the Lord”. Details that would characterize the former and latter would be “did not remove the high places”, “sacrificed in the high places”, “built for themselves high places”, “removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars”…the narratives of obedience and disobedience seem to ebb and flow as the evidence of following God’s command to follow Him only appear and disappear through the course of time.

What are high places?

High places seem to be places that are literally elevated. In ancient times, as is visually obvious, high places bear a certain reverence. Shrines, pagodas, altar, pillars–these are high places where worship is drawn. While Abram, Jacob, and Joshua put up high places in honor of the only one true God, others create high places to call on to their gods.

In the time of King Josiah, an old Book of Law was found that radically changed the course of worship. No other high places was to be put up because these shift the peoples’ devotion to the real God. He “broke down and pulverized” these altars and such blatant act stressed that God detests anything that we put before Him, even the seemingly glorious ones.

God, what are my high places? What are my pseudo-worship altars? What are the pillars of my pride and joy in building a pagoda of my work? Break them down, Lord, lest they take away the true worship of the heart that no high place can contain.

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Double Portion

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Double Portion

When I was working as a professional writer, I remember churning my brains out for words to fill the pages of our weekly newspaper. Hours would be spent threading words and weaving them into a web of a story. And while I struggled in my cerebration, I see my colleagues typing away as though the keypads weren’t fast enough to document their volubility. For someone who constantly feels like time is so fast and one’s actions are too slow, perhaps it’s not much to ask for a double portion of what is needed to accomplish a task.

When Elisha was asked by the prophet Elijah, who did wondrous miracles during the period of the kings in Israel, on what he hopes to be given before the latter would be taken away, Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”  Elisha was so bold to ask for a double portion, perhaps knowing that he does need the extra dose to get through the drama that the tumultuous times needed.

2 Kings 2:9 recounted the request of Elisha and I would like to ask God to do the same to me as I know full well that I am weak and He is strong, that I am easily swayed while His foundations are sure, that I succumb easily to temptations yet He will give me the grace to flee and overcome them, that my physical limits are incomparable to His enduring greatness, and in the end so that I may fulfill the task He has called me to do.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” Zechariah 4:6

 

 

A Beautiful Exchange in the Greatest Adventure

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February 17, 2017

“This is the best gift ever!” My friend Malaya enthused. She had just came from a singles women retreat over the weekend and expressed a deep gratitude for a much-needed yet unexpected turnaround that would happen in her life. “God used you to bring me to the retreat. I’m the least person to be expected in the event yet I feel so blessed for being there because of the realization on where and how to find peace. Finally!”

Malaya is my friend and classmate during my farming days. We were on this mission to liberate the communities from malnutrition, from chemical pesticides, from the shackles of colonial agricultural practices, because like what her name means in Filipino (being born on Philippine Independence Day), we’re freedom fighters. We may not be taking to the streets with red-inked placards but we knew our platforms—far-flung farms, academic conferences, trade bazaars, school programs.

Malaya and I are also explorers and seekers, we seek the truth where it may be found. We found it in the bright fuchsia blooms of zinnia, the grass blades of heirloom rice, the backyard-distilled fruit wines, late-night barbeques, in painting, in dancing, in music, in poetry. Yet we know it’s never enough, it will never be. We needed a spiritual adventure.

“I’m like a road without stoplights. It’s chaotic, directionless.” Her journey has been tiring, because even if the roadmap has been there all along, she had chosen to rush through things, afraid to miss a moment. And I can say the same about me.

I signed up for the retreat two weeks prior, a decision I came to after stumbling again on a habitual sin. I realized I really needed to immerse in God’s promises to me that He will make a new creation out of me, exchanging the old with the new. It’s a kind of trade that I knew would only require willingness on my part and a lot of working on His end. To be surrounded by mature Christian ladies is something I knew would be a safe venue to be vulnerable to be known of all my sins and be made new.

A week into it, I’d been coordinating with the organizer on how to arrive at the event venue. I still have classes, both teaching and attending, and I decided not to miss them. There were options on coming later, but the time wouldn’t be enough for me to catch the transport service because my university is in another city. I could have driven, but I just came from a long drive the past weekend and it drained me so much I don’t think I could manage to do it again in such short interval. Commuting was a choice but not wise either because safety on this side of town isn’t really the best. So I really wanted to go but it seems like it’s going to be hard how to do so. Then I got a text message from our Sunday School coordinator asking if my absence that Sunday is confirmed. I had asked permission for a leave, but I was half-hearted to confirm because it will be transition day when students would be moved from one class to another but we were faced with clingy students who wouldn’t want to transfer to another teacher, even threatening they won’t show up to classes anymore next week. So that was the last straw. I felt in my spirit that God just wanted me to stay in the city even if it meant missing the retreat.

A few weeks ago, my Bible reading had been in Numbers 22 about Balaam, saddled in his donkey, going to see Balak, but which the Lord had not blessed. God then sent an angel to stand in front of the donkey so that it went out of the way. Balaam struck the donkey so it went back on path again. This happened three times until the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey to rebuke Balaam, then finally the eyes of Balaam to see that such journey displeased the Lord. When I was struggling with the schedule conflict, I remembered this passage. It’s not to say that the retreat is anything similar to an unblessed journey, I’m sure if I had gone, it will be a blessed experience as well, but I can sense the parallelism on how God maneuvers His will, that when God has better plans, He puts natural circumstance to hinder us and ordains all other things in place.

God knew Malaya needed the retreat. I would usually share to her about God and my realizations to her. She’s very open, but she’s also open to New Age and numerology, and the universe speaking to her. My eyes had been opened earlier on and I knew that no amount of religious rites (which she had initially rejected, having asked me if the retreat slot I’m passing on to her was some sort of like that, and to which of course I said it’s not, but would be nothing short of spiritual nonetheless) nor transcendental inner peace can lead me to a life of great spiritual adventure.

Praise God for orchestrating the schedule conflict and for Malaya’s availability. I didn’t know what has been going on with Malaya prior to my invitation. For a few months I’ve been busy with school and I knew she’s been busy with working here and there and figuring life. Yet it disarms me to see on front row how God has His own perfect timing, His masterful directorial skills, His persuasive goodness, to keep me off the list and put my friend instead, knowing that I’m equally, if not overwhelmingly more blessed now seeing a friend who was once lost but now saved and found. It is a beautiful exchange.

“My heart is full and my soul is free!” Yes, Malaya, you’re finally free. We are free! Because a Savior came and exchanged our bondage for our freedom. What a beautiful exchange.

I love Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, “The Great Adventure”. It’s a lifesong because my life hasn’t all been lived in a bubbly fairy-tale world of carousels and ferris wheels. It has witnessed wilderness journeys, lost in desserts, drowning in unknown…yet I knew in my heart that this is what I am created for, to experience the wild blue yonder, to discover horizons and territories beyond farmlands, this is the greatest adventure, and I’m journeying it with God, with Malaya, and with many other men and women who have exchanged their lives for something far more beautiful, far, far more.

Come on, get ready for the ride of your life

Gonna leave long faced religion

In a cloud of dust behind

And discover all the new horizons

Just waiting to be explored

This is what we were created for

 

Saddle up your horses

We’ve go a trail to blaze

Through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace

Let’s follow our leader into the glorious unknown

This is the life like no other

This is the great adventure

 

We’ll travel on, over mountains so high

We’ll go through valleys below

Still through it all we’ll find

This is the greatest journey

That the human heart will ever see

The love of God will take us far

Beyond our wildest dreams

 

Eternal Rest

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“There remains a rest, therefore, for the people of God.”

The writer of the Hebrew went on to explain that those who have entered “the rest” have “ceased from his works as God did from His”, to mean that only those who have died and moved on from the turmoils of this earth have indeed started their rest. The attainment of “rest” comes with it a prerequisite of “work”: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works.” It also entails an approval before “rest” is given: “So I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.'”

Reading these verses from Hebrews 4 made me think of the nature of man. Look around a typical working man and his unquenchable search for R&R (rest and relaxation), only to get tired after every vacation and coveting for more. Man has a seemingly insatiable desire to have ultimate comfort. How many times have we heard or ourselves wistfully desired, “If only I can be so and so, or I have this and that, I’m sure my life would be perfect.” Man, by nature, searches for something beyond the workings of the now. And in his continuous working, strives daily, hoping to land into that perfect place of forever. Yet no matter how seemingly perfect the situation we are in, it never seemed to last. That’s why when such times happen, we would have subtle wishes of, “I hope this would last forever,” knowing that it won’t because the steam of things would ultimately dissipate into mist.

God has placed eternity in the hearts of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). It is that hole of “forever” that is so elusive we cannot even grab hold of it even as we try to put a cut-out puzzle piece to cover the whole. It is so pervasive, it dulls even the most active of souls.

We will never get satisfied. We will never get fully comforted. We will never attain perfect rest…at least not until we enter THE rest promised to us. And that is the redeeming value of rest, that we can have it. “And this is the promise that He has given us–eternal life.” (I John 2:25) There is a rest. There is a promise. Instead of prematurely chasing after rest (which we will attain in due time), let’s take comfort in the promise and believe that the One who has carved out that hole of eternity will one day fit His perfectly-molded piece and let us enter into His promised rest.

Honor the Builder

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There is a universal reaction when you see someone who was just beside you go ahead of you.

It’s not like you’re in a rat race. But there’s a twitching feeling in the heart when you look down at the ground you’re still on while someone else have gone up the pedestal way farther.

Call it jealousy. Call it low self-esteem. Call it pride. Whatever it is, it’s an unholy feeling.

I had that feeling recently when a classmate who self-admittedly wasn’t the most studious kind is now a lawyer holding a top post in the government. Yes, at our young age! And me, I didn’t pursue the law path, did journalism, went abroad, dabbled on creative projects, and if not for God’s sustaining grace, would have been a starving artist by now.

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On a blue morning, I was randomly flipping through my Bible when I found an unlikely verse that I never thought was even there. Hebrews 3:3, “He who built the house has more honor than the house.” It was a right-on slap-in-the-face comment for my sentiment.

How many times have we had a good meal and repeatedly shout out to the world via social media how good the food is, yet miss honoring, or at least, thanking the one who made it? How many times have we looked out into the great wilderness and gasp in awe at such magnificent rock formation yet dismiss the “maker of all things”? How many times have we credited the conspiracy of the universe for letting us be where we absolutely wanted to be instead of praising the one who has the sovereign will?

The Bible verse did more than just remind me of a God who created everything. It made me look beyond the accomplishment of other people and thank the God who was behind such achievement. Instead of letting this acid creep into my bones (“Jealousy is like cancer in the bones,” Proverbs 14:30), the wisdom of the Bible is teaching me to look up to Him who has transformed my classmate for the better and given her a very big break. And instantly, the unholy feeling dissolved in the mist. And I had added yet another praise list to an amazing and awesome God who does not settle for where we were, but brings us to where He wants us to be.

Let us worship the Creator, not the created. And that, in essence, recalibrates our wandering eyes, steadies our hearts, and puts our emotions in a good countenance.

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—June 11, 2015

Come Pilgrim, Come My Princess

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God wants us to be more than His creation. He has invited us to be a member of His family.

To be created is indeed a privilege. To be breathed life into is a gift of grace. Yet to be led to enter into the presence of the Maker and dwell in His Kingdom is privilege beyond privilege. It is a prized invitation that should set our feet into dancing, our lips into unceasing praise, our hearts into rejoicing, our minds into leaping!

The invitation is not based on past merit nor of present excitement. Just as Jesus’ disciples, having been invited to become His followers, went on to sleep when they should have stayed awake at such a precarious hour (Matthew 26). Instead, it is an invitation based on the sheer choosing of the inviter. In Love Letters from Your King by Sheri Rose Shepherd, the King empathizes with the invited: “I understand that you don’t know how it started, nor do you know how to become the who I have called you to be.”

I can’t understand it, I confess. Why God?

Him who invites bids us, “Rise, let us be going.” (Matthew 26:46) It is a call to “let the past sleep, but to let it sleep in the sweet embrace of Christ, and let us go on into the invincible future with Him.” (February 18 My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers) Just as how His calling is based on His redeeming love, our future with Him is all based on His redemption. We come because we have been invited. We are able to come because His grace and mercy enable us to do so. We are coming because His love sustains us. If His grace, mercy, and love were not overwhelming, we would have fallen away from our own despair. Yet His is a well that does not run dry.

He bids us to come. “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) He bid us to come, and to come as we are, not in princess clothes, but even in pilgrim sackcloths, because it is He, not us who will clothe us with the “garments of salvation” and cover us with “the robe of righteousness”.

“My princess, My child, I have chosen you, come, arise, let us get going.”

God of So Much More

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Learning last night about the “God of so much more” challenged my small brain to grasp the magnanimity of God’s exaggerated greatness, abundance, and big-ness!

In the gospel story where Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, He answered them with what we now know as “The Lord’s Prayer” or “Our Father”. He then shared a parable of a persistent friend knocking at a friend’s house at night for food. And because of such persistence–and not for the sake of friendship–the friend conceded. The lesson was “Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9)

My impression of the above story was that as a Christian, I should come boldly before the Lord and ask, seek, and knock–persistently as I can–and for sure my desires would be given. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:10) So oftentimes, I find myself telling God of my requests and reminding Him of those that remain unanswered.

Yet reading the following passages revealed a truth beyond what I thought I knew. Not that there’s anything wrong with asking, seeking, and knocking per se. But I realized that those aren’t the main point. Luke 11:11-13 states, “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more with your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who asks Him!”

Jesus, in his very interesting way of communicating, was actually making a contrast, not a comparison! He wasn’t comparing God to the reluctant friend who gave because of annoyance nor to the father who would naturally give what the son asked for. He was contrasting them!

Jesus depicts God as a willing and generous heavenly Father who knows how to give good gifts to His children–not necessarily what they asked for, but surely what is best for them. In “The Lord’s Prayer”, Jesus said to tell God, “give us day by day our daily bread”, erasing the need to run to God late at night knocking for bread, because He would provide our daily needs. Jesus also said that our heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit, and we know that “…for we do not know what we ought to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” (Romans 8:26)

The realization that God is indeed so much more than I thought He was (gives when asked and what I asked for) is shaking my brain until now. It’s confusing. Yet it’s so liberating! This God of so much more knows so much more, will give so much more, will let me know so much more what I really need…it’s beyond even asking, seeking, and knocking!

I am reminded of one of my favorite children’s illustrated book Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram. Little Nutbrown Hare wants very much to make sure Big Nutbrown Hare knows how much he loves him by asking, “guess how much I love you?” He stretched his arms as wide as they could go and told his dad how much he loves him. And when Big Nutbrown Hare did the same thing, Little Nutbrown Hare realized that his dad’s arms were way wider. Little Nutbrown Hare went on to exemplify his love…”I love you as high as I can hop!” “I love you right up to the moon!” Only to be assured that his dad can hop way higher, and as he lays asleep, Big Nutbrown Hare whispers, “I love you right up to the moon–and back.”

We have a God of so much more.

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