Providing Privilege

Standard

It was a God-sponsored event. And I didn’t even realize it until I was actually there.

God knew I had wanted to organize field trips for public school students. I even went as far as writing a proposal letter for a crowdfunding group to help me in this endeavor. Though that didn’t push through, God surprised me that He can make things happen.

Yesterday, all nine of us were able to enter Cultural Center of the Philippines and Metropolitan Museum for 155 pesos! We were able to catch some folk dance shows, looked at classic paintings, touched sculpture, played with modern art, and listened to a live spoken word performance with interpretative dancing and accompanying ukelele.

How this happened, I can only say is God’s master orchestration. It was the yearly Pasinaya or the cultural event of the country and it’s an open house of some sort to most forms of art. The night before, I sent a message to the mothers asking if they have other things planned in the afternoon after Sunday School. I then proposed the activity and before I knew it, all six children were present (usually just three). Lunch was sponsored by my dad who had a Jollibee fastfood card which had credit beyond enough to buy us lunch, some water, and an ice cream.

Indeed, when God wants something done, He makes a way for it to happen. And for us, we can only stand in awe and respond in excitement. Praise God! Indeed, God provides us with privilege to enjoy so much more than what we wish for!

Advertisements

God of So Much More

Standard

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.

guess how much i love you1

guess how much i love youguess how much i love you2guess love-you-as-high-as-i-can-hopguess how much i love you3

Wandering Morning

Standard

This morning–in one of the rare moments when I woke up reminded that the first encounter I should have is not with the toilet nor a nice warm water but God–I read through Psalms 6 and 7. I had thought of just reading a chapter but I just couldn’t find anything there that spoke to me. Psalm 6 was a prayer of distress, and distress I wasn’t feeling! So I continued on to the next, until I stopped at the last verse of Psalm 7. “I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.”

I recall times in my pilgrim life when I awoke to an overwhelming sense of praise. It’s like my night’s slumber had constrained me from this bursting fountain of delight. Well today wasn’t that day.

Morning Bed

Despite of that dryness, I slightly decided (yes, slightly because it wasn’t like I was so adamant about it as much as I was very reluctant, actually) to make a DUTY out of my DEVOTION. I told myself that there were times that I had forced myself to eat even if I didn’t want to eat, or had a conversation with someone even if I didn’t have a voice. So there would be times that I’d really have to come to the Lord even if my whole being doesn’t really FEEL like doing so. Then I recalled something I had read a few weeks ago about meeting God as a “get to” experience, instead of a “have to”. I GET TO hang out with the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Maker of Heaven and Earth, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Adorable, Amazing, Awesome God! That thought alone should make me enthusiastic in encountering God.

The verse states, “I will praise the Lord…and will sing praises..” Nothing much of praise on my end. So I thought I’d youtube a few songs to get me started. I thought of songs that wouldn’t distract. I thought of looking up on my music library. Minutes passed. After a few tries, I was led to a song that echoed my heart’s cry. It wasn’t a cry of praise, but a bare cry of slightly wanting (yes it’s still slightly even to this point) to come to God but not really getting there.

Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above.

God, please tune my heart to sing. Your mercy is never ceasing and so should my praise be. Could You please put songs in my heart and mouth pretty much what the angels sing up on high in sheer adoration? I’ve been singing songs to myself, to other people, to things that I enjoy, yet there are times when these things numb me and I miss the whole privilege of singing to You. I’m really sorry. Would You once again orchestrate my heart to strum the right strings, let my voice ride on Your melody? 

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constraint to be!
Let Thy goodness like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart
Oh take and seal it.
Seal it for thy courts above.

Here’s me asking You once again to bind my wandering heart to Yours, seal it with a kiss. And thank You for your grace and goodness. Amen.

Your Pilgrim Princess on the morning of the 29th of January 2015

Remembering and Delighting in the Saints

Standard

Tomorrow is All Saints Day and as in most years, it’s a time when families go to the tombstones of their dearly-departed loved ones. The metropolis roads are close to empty as most people are back in their provincial hometowns. And the normally eerie cemeteries become festive with droves of candle-bearing, fruit-basket-carrying aunts and uncles. The white-washed tombs are heavily-decorated with pasted color paper. Some are in roofed mausoleums while others are under neatly-manicured lawns. You can kind of guess it’s a Chinese clan’s when there’s a small drum of burning gold paper on the side and extra large red candles embossed with red dragons.

Growing up, I never quite understood what November 1 meant, except that I knew it’s coming when scary stories are featured on television and the Halloween costumes line up along the escalators of SM Department Store. Then I knew that it’s time for the pilgrimage to the crowded cemetery to do the customary lighting of incense sticks to my grandparents. Sometimes I’m given two sticks, sometimes three. When I was in fifth grade, my mother told me to ask my grandfather to help me study better. I don’t know how he’ll do it lying on his tomb, but apparently if I ask it from him while waving the incense sticks with my two hands together, he’ll find a way to make it work. True enough, I made it to Top 3 that year and I wonder if it’s the wish I made or it was because I was just more studious that year because a family trauma kept off all other distractions in my life.

Now that granted, it doesn’t justify having a twisted view of what All Saints Day is. I hear that other people say it’s when the souls of the dead people roam around and pick up from where they left off. That’s why the people who are alive offer food, flowers, and burn incense to appease their spirits. Then I hear that some people don’t believe in such but just visit the tombstones of their loved ones to be reminded of their days together in the past. This sounds biblical because reading through the Old Testament I can pretty feel how God wanted us to remember our ancestors, for both their mistakes and good deeds. Of course we don’t want to follow their failures and we’re expected to learn from them, and we’re supposed to be encouraged by how they followed God and walked in the right path.

With that, I remember my dearly-departed AE who took care of me for 24 years before she went to paradise. She showed me how it was to be a servant of the people whom she chose to serve. She would complain and whine and get mad, and sometimes I would think that disqualifies her from being a good servant. But somehow, I realize that’s what makes her…real. I visited her weeks ago in the province and before her tombstone I asked her why she had to be gone so soon. I was mad at her for being too quick to let go at 76 when she could have waited for me to make a name for myself whom she’ll be proud of. How can she see me walk down the aisle or how can she accompany me to my trips abroad when she went rushing back home too soon, I lamented. The air stilled after my protest. There were no sounds or emotions apart from the ruckus of the children who were staring at me and asking if I needed help in sweeping the tomb. I politely said no. No tomb-sweeping can clean up the memories of the past, not even for the sake of the P20 the children were asking for.

Remembering a loved one has its way of scraping so many raw emotions. And I remember what the Bible says about being witnesses to these great people. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

The above passage reminds me that instead of looking down on the tomb of my loved one with so much drawn-up confusion, anger, and doubt, I should look up, up to Jesus who saw everything, who started and finished the race, who made my dearly-departed loved ones finish the race too, and who will make me finish mine, up until the end.

Someone once said that life on earth is just a matter of who goes first and who goes after. Everyone finishes at one point in time. Just like a race. When you’re stuck in the middle and the time gun shoots, then I suppose it’s rapture. But normally, we get to finish the race at the pace we were built for, cheering on to our left and right for those contemporaries, aiming for those ahead of us, and if we’re kind-hearted enough, turn our heads back and wink on the ones behind.

And I suppose that’s how life is supposed to be lived. Racing. “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14.

The Bible also mentioned about delighting in the saints who are still on earth. In Psalm 16:3, David says “As for the saints who are on earth, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.” So All Saints Day doesn’t just mean going to the cemeteries and remember the dead saints. It’s also a time to honor those who are still among us. Top on my list are my pastors and mentors throughout the years. They’ve seen me crawl in the faith, answered my doubting queries, shook heads on my delinquencies, mentored my life direction, and were basically witnesses to my life here on earth. If I were to name these heroes who would make it to my hall of fame, it would be a dramatic list.

I’d spare the drama and instead commit them to a prayer of thanksgiving. Occasionally, I should say hi to them, too, and make them feel that they are being delighted upon.  God has been very good to me for letting our roads cross. Without such saints, I wonder where this sinner could be found.

So on the occasion of All Saints Day, I remember the saints who have moved on to be with the Saint of Saints and delight in the living saints who are in the land.

Happy All Saints Day to all, if I could even say such! Remember your saints and most of all, remember our God who made saints out of the sinners in us for His glory!

 

No Doubt

Standard

One of my weaknesses in the Christian journey is that I am a doubter. My sense of assurance is very very weak so much so that when I was in grade school I would pray the sinner’s prayer everytime and anytime it was offered during chapel service or classroom devotion sessions. I would accept Jesus everytime there is an invitation to open our hearts to let him in.

Then one of our Bible teachers, when asked about assurance to salvation, encouraged me that we would only worry if the money we had put in our pocket is still there if we knew for sure that we put it in in the first place. He was saying that since I am very concerned about the status of my salvation, that goes to show that there is salvation to begin with. However, this did not wane my doubting spirit. But instead made me question what would happen if there were a hole in my pocket?

There was even a time when I was abroad for a few years that I felt God had totally neglected me. I felt like I was left like a dump when some friends in separate yet continuous incidents had put me on the sidelines of their lives. And I had reflected such to the Lord. I felt like if I do something slightly stupid, God would call out his other reserves and rearrange back to the benches and I’d be simply forgotten. I felt like I wasn’t special enough to have God’s attention. I felt I wasn’t good enough to the people around me so I felt like God, too, wouldn’t care much if I am but an average.

So my subconscious decided to make a scene to sort of wave my hands high and catch a glimpse of a God who might have his eyes pass my way. I served tirelessly at church, I showed more love to the underprivileged, I was resolute at making a better version of myself. But this was tiring. As I try harder, the doubt gets stronger. What if I’m not doing enough? What if this isn’t what God really wanted me to do? What if he’s not looking at me to begin with because I’m one of those he had warned in Matthew 7:21 calling him Lord but not really qualified to enter his kingdom? What if all these things I am thinking of is but a conspiracy of sorts?

Indeed, my doubt was fueled by my insecurities. What started as doubting if I am saved trailed off to doubting if there is a God who is the object of my ordeal to begin with.

A few years ago, a church nearby is organizing a Doubt Night and just by the name of it, I know I have to be there. Pastor Dennis decided to put together a casual gathering for those who have questions about the Christian faith. The church was located near a university where Christian doctrine find itself swimming with philosophical musings. At the back garden end of that cafe which sold imported Belgian beers, Pastor Dennis with a tall cold glass on one hand talked about Christianity like I’ve never heard of before, meaning not as a rigid pathway or solid set of by-laws. I looked forward to every meetings because my doubting heart found solace. One of the most powerful things he told me was that God’s grip on me is tighter than my grip on him. It’s like two people holding each other’s wrist, not hands. If I slip and let go, he won’t, perhaps even if I deliberately do it.

This is grace. This is what saving faith is all about. It’s not about how tight I clutch my salvation in my pocket. It’s not about if there’s a hole in my pocket. It’s not about how assured I am in my heart that he is there and he won’t leave even if my door’s open. It’s not about how faithful I am in believing. But it’s about faith in a God who is more faithful, more gracious, more saving that I can really imagine. This realization made a verse which I’ve memorized since young transform with real meaning: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8.9) I knew I never had a hand on my salvation, yet I thought I had a hand at keeping it, thus my insecurity and fear that I might lose it.

Then today, in this book I’m reading, a verse on shepherds and sheep nailed what I am learning. “Jesus said, ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and NO ONE SHALL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater that all; and NO ONE IS ABLE TO SNATCH THEM OUT OF THE FATHER’S HAND.” (John 10:27-29)

No Doubt Remains   your love never failsYour Love Never Fails

No one, nothing, not even me, can snatch myself out of the security of being in the Shepherd’s. I admit that my insecurities still show through. Oftentimes in my prayer, I still tell God love me more. Like a child, I tell him, “God, make sure you don’t leave me okay?” I clutch on to him in fear that one day he decides to walk farther. And sometimes I feel that he does. But that’s just feeling. That’s just what my insecurities say and often I allow them to reflect on what is the truth that God has clearly promised of never leaving me nor forsaking me because it was not I who chose him, but it was him who took me in the first place. And he’s not a God-investor who has a diversified portfolio which he can risk at his fancy. Nor is he a God-trader behind a big stock board waiting to buy or sell at the slightest dip or rise of his children’s market value. Because when he bought me at the highest price, he decided to keep me forever.

Father, thank you for the security I have in you. When doubts curry back up, would you remind me of my value in you and your value in me? It is because of you investing in me, that I have value. And what is valuable to you, you wouldn’t let go, ever. Your grip on me is tighter than I can ever feel. O Lord, you won’t let go, you’d never let go of me. I know there will be times when I’d say, “Love me more.” And you’ll answer, “I am already loving you a lot, yet for sure you’ll feel more of that.” Thanks, God. 

–April 14, 2014

Not Stopping Mid-Chapter

Standard

In the streets today are palm-leaf holding crowds. These ornate and decoratively-folded  leaves of palm (or coconut, I would suppose) have become staple items for religious Filipinos during this time of the year. Celebrating Palm Sunday a week before Easter meant buying these 20-inch wands from vendors right outside the church. Then at the priest’s signal, as though an unction, devotees would wave the palm leaves in unison. The rustling of the leaves are in themselves a melodic chorus.

I remember growing up with these palm wands drying on our window grates. I suppose our devout Catholic Ae (my beloved grandaunt and nanny) simply forgot to take them down even months after Lent. And perhaps it wasn’t until the cooler -ber months ushered in that she was reminded of the Lent that has since passed and perhaps, too, that the Christmas tree this time should already be given its due focus.

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all recount the entry of Jesus to Jerusalem. It was a festive entry on a small donkey as a great multitude took branches of palm tress, went out to meet him, and cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (Matthew 21:8-11; Mark 11:7-10; Luke 19:37; John 12:12-14)

One wonders, could the story have ended with “Happy Ever After” if that were the last scene of the act? Could it be a better ending if Jesus was coronated right after such grand entrance and eventually reign Israel and the world as befitting of him? Or, if he had wanted a more cozy conclusion, could he have just stayed in the welcome comforts of the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus–his dear friends one of whom didn’t even withhold the costliest of perfumes to be poured on his feet–and continue on with his teachings and fellowship?

However, as history has recorded, the events that transpired after were anticlimactic yet similarly engrossing that if it were a book being read, only a master novelist could have authored it so succinctly.

Jesus entered Jerusalem–or the world, for that matter–for one purpose and that is to go to the cross to do what no one else can do. Yet he did not let the noise of the palm-waving crowd take his eyes away from his purpose. Perhaps it was the first time on earth that he experienced such a frenzied mob who actually acknowledged him as God and King, instead of mere probable guesses every time he does a healing crusade. John 4:29 records the woman who ran to her friends after her encounter with Jesus at the well, “Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). Yet no first-time nor special recognition can distract him from his calling. He was single-minded about his mission.

Had Jesus chosen to back out of his calling, there wouldn’t be any Christians. There wouldn’t be a church. There wouldn’t be anything to base love upon. There wouldn’t be a redemption story in anything. There wouldn’t be hope for the future, joy for today, and peace for tomorrow.

I confess to being easily-distracted by power and attention. I crave them and am positively charged by the affection of people. Yet if these palm leaves of power, attention, and affection were to be my driving force or my guide ropes, then I am bound to trip, if not totally fall.

palaspas

So I thank Jesus that we’re different. He didn’t stop half-way on his journey when it seemed like it could have been the sweet perfect ending. He completed it. He went through the whole plotline of being betrayed and beaten, of having a crown of thorns buried in his head, of dragging a wooden cross on his own death march, of being crucified. Jesus chose not to be overwhelmed by the pomp and pageantry of Palm Sunday, nor the fatal kiss and garden drama on Thursday, nor the death verdict on Good Friday, nor the darkness on Black Saturday. He focused on Easter Sunday, when the redeeming value of the cost of his sacrifice will never betray him, nor time, nor anyone.

This Lent, I am reminded of the single-minded and straight-bound vision of Jesus. And of my own fickleness. Just as our loving Jesus fixed his eyes forward and far, may I, too, settle not on the passing comforts of this world, nor worry on the pressing burden of the cross. Yet look  forward down and further out into eternity to see a hope that is not fickle like myself.

Knowing that my frail will can only transport me thus far, I know I have to gaze on Jesus–the author and the perfecter of my faith–who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

There is an upward call. There is a heavenly citizenship. And I know I won’t be needing a palm wand to bring me there.

–April 13, 2014

Drop The Name

Standard

I was rushing to go to downtown today to be a panelist on a thesis presentation. You see, Downtown Manila is all about narrow one-way streets, pedicab drivers loitering by the nonexistent sidewalk, pedestrians who imagine the asphalt road as their sidewalk, tricycles maneuvering to make U-turns and lefts at their own whims, and fruit vendors on their wheeled cartons. Now these are stuff that immobilize unexperienced drivers such as myself. The little smarts in me thought that it’s wise to chart my route way ahead of time. So yesterday, I made a mental map on where I’d make my turns, and more importantly where I’d park. 


My mother goes to the local Catholic church on Wednesdays for Bible study, and its spacious lot seems perfect for my drive-reverse stunt. It was actually my mother’s idea when I told her I’d drive to Manila instead of taking the bus-LRT-pedicab-walk commute which I had predicted would stress me out like last time. She told me to mention the name of the husband of her friend who is an active member of that church, if not an elder or a major donor. I presume they wouldn’t be there at church, but they should be renown enough that their names hold such a steam of influence. And surely, when a guy in T-shirt, whom I would assume is a parking attendant, walked to my parked car as I rushed to alight, I blurted, “Kay Brother XXX“. And with that, I was a fairy in wings who just sprinkled magic dust in the air with her morning breath. I brisk walked past him and he nodded in acknowledgement. 

 

What happened today made me think about the power of a name. It can surely let me park for six hours without pay. Then I’m reminded of those days when I had dropped our boss’ name so I’d look cool in front of colleagues from the same industry. Or when I introduced myself as my brother’s sister so they’d acknowledge my existence at a church event. Well, the farthest my 31-year-old name went was getting a free box of tikoy (sticky rice cake) when my sister bulk-ordered from a bakery owned by a friend. At least my name’s sticky!

 

There’s this story about a soldier whose servant is sick. He didn’t want to bother the Master Healer, and He’s busy for sure. So he said that it should be enough that He say something and the sickness would be gone. The soldier knew the power of a name as he himself is in a position of power and can command a troop with just a seal of his name. This time, it actually was effective and the Master Healer commended the great faith of this soldier on His name. Luke 7:1-10 is more than just a story from the ancient days. It’s a Bible passage that is proof of the power of Jesus’ name. 

 

I end my prayers with “In Jesus’ name” as though it’s like a signature on my email messages. It’s a template I’ve known to use ever since I learned how to pray. I just didn’t realize how much power that holds. If I had, I wouldn’t be worrying ten thousand thoughts after I had cried them over to God. If I had really believed in the power of Jesus’ name, my Amen would be a very loud resound of an advanced thank you for what would be coming my way.

 

 

 

So IN JESUS’ NAME, my unbelieving younger sister wouldn’t be a wanderlust in this world, my other younger sister wouldn’t be hypnotized by the charms of this world, my father would be at peace in his heart, my mother would have everlasting joy, my older sister would walk her talk in the Spirit, my older brother would have the spiritual leadership of Moses, my extended families would be out of poverty, and myself would grow in maturity in His will and grace. In short, my whole family will belong to God’s household, AMEN.

 

–March 3, 2014