16 years

Today is May 22, 2015. 

Yesterday was my 16th year as a Christian, and I couldn’t help but look back to all the years that have come and gone since I accepted Jesus in my life.

It was during a youth summer camp in Batangas when I surrendered my life to God. I was a shy, skinny, 12-year-old kid back then, and matters about God, embracing a new life and leaving my former way of life are concepts that were too bizarre and esoteric for me. 

But on the night of May 20, 1999, my heart took over. The pastor in front was calling out the invitation; an old gospel song (No Greater Love), was playing on the background; and people started crying and walking towards the front. I didn’t fully understand what was going on, but I knew that when I take that step, my life will never be the same. Everything was in a daze, and I began shedding a few tears myself. The song got me — “You loved me, when I was so unlovely. You Sought me when I was lost. You showed me how much You really love me when You bought me at the highest cost.”

Soon enough, I found myself walking forward and joining the others in front. 

I knew back then that there’s no more turning back from that decision. And so the following morning, I was baptized in water, declaring that I am a new creation in Jesus.

Truly, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The step I took that summer night of May 1999 brought me to different seasons. Since then, God has called me to serve Him through the different ministries of the church. At age 12, I served in the ushering ministry; I remember waking up at 5am so I can attend to my duty for the 6am service. After my stint in ushering, I became part of the worship team — not as a singer or a band player, but as the projector guy. I remember doing my ministry as the “acetate boy” with so much enthusiasm, and I still smile at the thought.

Throughout the years, I have seen the hand of God orchestrating the events of my life. I have seen how he moved me from the backseat and gave me a platform to lead. He has brought me through the furnace of trials and challenges, pruned my character and humbled me before people.

As I look back to all those years, I also couldn’t help but feel thankful for all the people I have met. I’m thankful for all the friends with whom I have made some of the most amazing memories in my life. I will always be thankful to my Kuya’s and Ate’s from Cruzada Church of Christ who first taught me about following Jesus, serving zealously in the ministry, loving others and valuing relationships. I am thankful for all the best buddies I have had — the ones who stood by me, took care of me and offered the best of friendship to me. Nothing compares to the memories we had. I also thank God for the extended families I got there; the moms who took care of me, the dads who accepted me in their family. My spiritual family in Cruzada will always have a special place in my heart.

As I continue this walk with an equally amazing spiritual family in Victory, I can’t help but be thankful for the new experiences, the new friends I have, the new Ate’s and Kuya’s who disciple me and the new people I now serve with in the ministry. A new season in my life is about to unfold, and I am thankful that I am surrounded by people who share the same passion with me; people who I’m sure will be there to stand with me and keep me on the right path. I am blessed to be part of this movement, this family. Thank you for the love, friendship and all the wisdom you all impart. Most of all, thank you for helping me find my calling and for guiding me towards fulfilling my destiny in Christ.

As I celebrate my 16 years of walk with God, I thank Him for giving Me the chance to share His word. I preached at our Youth Service tonight, and I am amazed for all the things He has done in my life. My present self is a far cry from the skinny 12-year-old kid that I was when I first accepted Him in my life.

Happy anniversary, Jesus. Cheers to more years of togetherness! Thank you for not giving up on me.

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Beyond borders

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What Jesus did at the well when he spoke with a Samaritan woman was actually a brave act that challenged cultural and religious norms of their time.

When we read that story in John 4 today, perhaps all that we can read is a casual conversation between two people on a sunny afternoon. But that seemingly casual conversation is far from usual and it screams scandal for the Jews. More than that, this story teaches us a lot about how Jesus expects us to go beyond our borders — yes, even behind enemy lines — and share the good news to other people.

Let’s begin.

The ancient antagonism between the Jews and the Samaritans is rooted on racial discrimination and religious dispute. When the nation of Israel was conquered by the Gentile nations around them, the Samaritans intermarried with unclean races. The Jews found this disgraceful, and they considered them infidels, a sinful race, enemies of the faith. Any association with the Samaritans was unacceptable.

This is where Jesus stepped in and broke the walls of religious and moral prejudices of their time. By doing this, Jesus teaches us the following lessons about discipleship.

1. Be intentional.

In the story, Jesus left Judea and departed for Galilee, and “he had to pass through Samaria” because Samaria lies between Judea and Galilee.

During their time, the Jews normally took a longer route just to avoid setting their foot on Samaritan soil. Though passing through Samaria was the quickest route, the Jews chose to cross the Jordan River and avoid the Samaritans.
But Jesus had to pass through Samaria, not because he was tired or because he was in a hurry to reach Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria because he had a mission to complete. He knew that a woman at the well in Samaria will receive his message that day.

How about you? Do you intentionally reach out to people around you? Do you make a conscious effort to go out of your way, make time for others and listen to them in order to share the gospel?

2. Be bold.

Jesus leading his disciples through Samaritan territory was scandalous enough for a rabbi. But he did more than that: he spoke with an enemy of the Jews! And if it wasn’t scandalous enough, Jesus spoke with no other than a Samaritan woman. Proper Jewish men didn’t speak directly with women other than their wives.

When Jesus did that, he bridged the centuries-old wall of sexual, racial and religious barriers between the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus risked being questioned, misunderstood or even persecuted. For him, the woman was worth the trouble. She had a great need, and he had the only answer.

Who are the Samaritans in your life? The sinful, the immoral, the people whom the world (and even well-meaning Christians) have condemned and rejected? Will you reach out to them and give them hope? Will you boldly share the gospel even when it is not socially acceptable?

3. Be strategic.

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he grabbed the chance of using a present need in order to get his message across. Jesus began by asking for water from the well because he was thirsty. Then he pointed out the woman’s constant need for water. Seeing that he piqued the woman’s interest, he went on and told her about the Living Water that he offers.

If we want to reach out to others, we need to be armed with the best strategy to engage them and connect with them. We begin by listening to their needs, knowing their interests and genuinely caring for them.

Who are you trying to reach out today? What are his needs, interests and concerns? How can you connect with him more?

4. Be compassionate.

Towards the end of Jesus’ conversation with the woman, he exposed her sin and dealt with it, but he showed compassion by not condemning her. The most outrageous thing that Jesus did during that sunny afternoon was not talking to a Samaritan woman; it was offering hope and salvation to the Samaritans — the sinful, unfaithful, detestable Samaritans!

How many times have we judged, rejected and condemned others because of their sin? How many times have we felt morally superior to others just because we don’t commit the same sin that they do? How many times have we felt holier than thou, because read our Bibles and pray every day? How many times have we distanced ourselves from others just because they don’t go to the same church as ours?

How many times have we made fun of the cross-dressing homosexuals on the street? Or looked away from the stinky beggar on the road? When an ill-dressed man comes to church, do we welcome him warmly just as how we welcome the man in coat and tie?

I pray that we will see them through the eyes of Jesus; to see them with compassionate eyes and love them with the kind of love that goes beyond lip service. Jesus died for them, too. And we ought to help them follow Jesus as well.

5. Be Christ-centered.

As the afternoon chat between Jesus and the woman ended, Jesus pointed her to himself: the Messiah that they have been waiting for; the Savior of the world that will save us from hell; the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.

Discipleship is not about promoting the church. It’s not about growing the church’s dwindling attendance, nor is it about building a club where we stand as the leader. Discipleship is about following Jesus and bringing people along with us. We make disciples of Jesus.

We preach Jesus to the lost. We share the gospel to the harassed, helpless and needy.

As Jesus revealed himself to the woman, her eyes were opened and she did the most amazing thing in her life: She believed the message and shared it with her neighbors. Soon enough, many other Samaritans heard Jesus’ message and believed.

I hope that through our boldness and compassion, we would be able to disciple even the people beyond our borders. As we do so, we know that our courage and obedience will result in a bountiful harvest for God’s kingdom.

Honor God. Make disciples.

From Behind the Teacher’s Desk

I was an opinionated student back in college.

As a senior editor in the college paper, I was the type of person who will never stop at anything until I voice out my opinion on matters that affect me, whether directly or indirectly, as a student. 

My professors were never exempt from my rants and tirades. Because I was too young to understand everything, it was easy for me to pass judgment to them. I did not always understand their methods. Some of them were too harsh; some were too inconsiderate; and some were too idealistic in the standards that they impose.

There were professors who, I thought, were bending their standards for the sake of being liked by the students. There were professors that I hated because of their manner of teaching. There was a time when, in my foolishness and vain conceit, I even thought that I know better than one of my instructors.

Sitting down in front of the blackboard, all I saw was my professor who was very committed to make life miserable for us.

But when I was offered a job to teach part-time in a university, my perspective had changed.

Things change when you’re standing from behind the teacher’s desk.

Because from behind the teacher’s desk, what I saw are students with a bright future, if only they would be guided properly towards the right path.

From behind the teacher’s desk, what I saw are students with a destiny. And my job is to unlock their potentials, make them see that they are not just anybody and help them embrace the destiny that God has prepared for them.

From behind that desk, I saw beyond my students’ present selves — lazy at times, uninterested at times, contemptuous at times and easy-go-lucky most of the time — and saw the potential tucked in each of them. 

These students bashed me online, wished me dead just so they won’t have to do the articles I asked them to submit, cursed me during their private conversations and planned to get rid of me in their lives.

It’s ok, though. For them, I was willing to be bashed and misjudged, if that’s what it takes to mold them into the kind of person they are intended to become.

Later on, it was also they who vindicated me. Soon enough they understood that my rod was not meant to punish but to discipline. They understood that the deadlines I set, the numerous articles I asked them to write, and the strict standards I imposed were meant to instruct them, push them to go beyond their comfort zones and teach them not just the lessons in my class but also the lessons of life.

I once told them that, someday, somehow, they will thank me for all the hardships I put them into, because these things are formative and will help them grow their character. I know, because right now, I also thank the professors I had in college who tormented me and made my life difficult as a student. I realized that the things I endured are battle scars that I now proudly show the world. Had they not tormented me, I wouldn’t have become the person I am now.

These students will be graduating this month. They are far from perfect, and they still have much to learn. But I am willing to vouch for them, because I know that, given proper direction, they will be future nation-builders and world-changers. I hope they realized that by now.

This blog is dedicated to these students who also made an impact in my life, and to all my teachers who, in one way or another, have also taught me something about life and about myself.

                                                                        ***

   

   

My Rhythm and Blues

Something happens when you drink caffeine on a toxic day.

It takes you into another dimension when all you long for are peace and quiet. It takes you to your secret place — your own Fortress of Solitude — and shuts the world out. The only thing you hear is the rhythm of your breathing, in synch with the song on the radio, in harmony with your heartbeat.

Sometimes, some things happen in the midst of a busy day.

You notice the blur of the cars and the crowd. You get drowned in the noise of keyboards typing, buses honking, phones ringing and the sound of your own mind… Zooming.

Suddenly you enjoy the melody of Bluer than Blue on the radio. It gives relief, like a lullaby on a stormy night.

Suddenly, and quite ironically, you’d find the right rhythm to write something, anything, just to squeeze out the stress. You’d find that you can come up with something like this: A cross between poetry and prose, with a hint of rhythm and rhyme, a catharsis for your blues.

Suddenly, you can write about the sound of the wind as it kisses the trees. You can tell about the sensation of the waves gently lapping against the shores — the texture of the sand between your toes, the beauty of the cobalt green seas glinting under the sun, the smell of saline in the air.

Close your eyes and you’re there. You feel the sensations. You taste the salt and touch the sand. Take a deep breath. Inhale. Inhale. Then breathe out.

Something happens when you finally open your eyes. You’re back to where you were, in front of your coffee cup. Welcome back to the grind.

Ladies and gentlemen, my rhythm and blues.

Dear Pope

VATICAN-POPE-AUDIENCE

Dear Pope,

I join the millions of Filipinos who warmly welcome you to our country! You probably have heard how much our nation has prepared for your arrival, and I share in my fellow countrymen’s excitement about seeing you grace Philippine streets.

Your plane has just landed about an hour ago. Together with the bells of all Catholic churches and cathedrals across the country, we say “Mabuhay! Welcome to the Philippines Pope Francis!”

Millions of Filipinos are praying for you, and I am one of them.

I pray that you will have an enjoyable stay here. I pray for your safety and protection as you go through your itinerary. May God put a hedge of protection around you, and may He thwart any plan to cause you trouble or harm.

You are a good man, and you have taken the world by surprise because of your extraordinary charm and goodness of heart. Your unconventional stance on critical issues has restored a lot of people’s hope in the church, your humility has inspired not just Catholics but the world, and your compassion for the marginalized has brought the Catholic Church back to its core mission: To extend the love of Christ to the helpless, the poor and the needy.

I pray that through your leadership, millions of people across the globe will know Jesus as the only way to the Father. I pray that through your example, millions of people will be inspired to live like Christ. I pray that you will be a powerful instrument to open the eyes of the world to see Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith, and that no other name should be exalted in Heaven and on Earth other than His name.

Truly, you are one of a kind when you said that Jesus, not you, should be the center of everything. “From now on, enough of Francis, just Jesus,” you said.

I pray that through you, people will understand that all that they are asking for, believing for, praying for and hoping for can be found in God. And that they have direct access to Him through Jesus, without needing any human mediation.

May the LORD bless you and keep you, Dear Pope, as you lead the millions of Catholics across the world to the truth of the Gospel of Christ. May your life be a powerful testimony of the truth of God, before whom we will all give an account when we finally stand before His throne of judgment and grace.

Yours sincerely.