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.

Moses’ request

“Moses said, ‘Please show me Your glory.'” (Exodus 33:18)

After days of staying at the foot of Mount Sinai, God finally ordered Moses and his people to break camp and leave for Canaan. Their stay was far from uneventful, for there they saw the glory of God descending upon the mountain like raging fire; there they heard frightening thunderclaps whenever the LORD spoke. There they experienced the power of God, but it was time to go. The mountaintop experience was over, it was time to conquer the Promised Land.

But Moses wouldn’t leave just like that, for he had to make one final request before he obliged.

Please show me Your glory.

Moses was saying, “Lord, I will obey what You said. But first, I need to see You; how beautiful You are; how powerful you really are. I need to see more of You. It’s the most important thing for me right now. We’re about to slay giants, right? We’re about to tear down fortresses, kill ruthless armies and conquer fortified cities. Show me Your greatness first, and I will not fear anyone anymore.”

***

Since the first day of this 5-day prayer and fasting, I’ve been asking God to reveal something to me. Night after night, I was waiting for Him to speak, desperate to hear something from His lips. Tonight, His message was clear to me.

Seek My glory more than anything else.

It’s time for me to leave my own Sinai and march on to my Promised Land. But before I do, I’m desperate to see more of God; to see His glory in order to dispel any more questions and fears.

It’s the most important thing for me right now: To see even just a glimpse of His glory. Yes, He has already shown His power to me countless times in the past. I’ve experienced miracles and breakthroughs myself, and I no longer doubt His power and His love. But the future holds so much uncertainties, especially as I prepare to enter a new season in my life. To fear is human, to have faith is divine.

If all that I get during this fasting season is just a passing glimpse of God’s glory, I will be more than satisfied. Take away the answered prayers, take away the faith goals. Remove the blessings and the breakthroughs. If what I get is just a chance to see the glory of God, I will be more than satisfied.

God is my primary reward.