Saturday, June 06, 2020

Preach the Word

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:2-4



These words are St. Paul’s advice to the young Timothy, when Paul believed he was nearing the end of his life. He wrote : “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2Timothy 4:6-8) 

How wonderful and poignant to be able to read these words from a man who gave up so much for the Lord, suffered persecution and still remained steadfast, imprisoned in body but not in mind and spirit! Push on, he tells Timothy, whom he met in his second missionary journey, do not give up! Timothy perhaps was a little timid at first, but eventually became zealous in preaching the gospel with Paul, leaving his comforts to share in his mentor’s sufferings and poverty. 

We must remember that no matter our station in life, no matter if we think we have little gifts, we can all be used by the Lord. Whatever is in our hand and heart, no matter how small, if we give it God, like the little boy who offered his loaves and fishes, God will multiply it. Sometimes, because I write these meditations, and make a painting every day, I get praised, and thanked, and someone may say, “Amazing!” 

Yes, every day I am amazed, because I start out with absolutely nothing. I read God’s word in Anawim, a meditation guide, let His words sit a while in my mind, and have an absolutely blank brain. But because I have been faithfully pondering God’s word and writing in my journal every single day since I was in my 20s, God is faithful, and uses me! Even I am amazed! I feel that there is a fountain in me that has to be released, a fountain of love for a God who is faithful and loving and kind! 

Friday, June 05, 2020

Passing Away

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16



Do we really realize that 100% of us, with no exception are going to die? This body which we take so much care of, is decaying, even as we breathe.

St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:8, "For bodily exercise and discipline is of some value, but Godliness and spiritual training is profitable, has value for all things in every way, for it holds promise for the present but also for the life to come."

I can't help comparing the time we spend for our bodies (bathing, dressing up, applying lotion, eating, taking vitamins and supplements, buying clothes and shoes, going to the gym, etc.) with the time we spend tending our spirits. Our body is not who we are. When we take care of our body, we are taking care of a temporary thing, a thing that is perishing every second of every day. But when we take care of our spirits, we take care of the eternal.

 Jesus, as He was on the cross, called out, "Father, into Your hands, I commit my Spirit." To commit means to entrust for safekeeping. Jesus didn't say, "I commit my body", perhaps because He knew He would get a brand new one. It was so easy for His Father to recreate His mangled and bloody body, just as He will for us one day.

Do we spend more time taking care of our physical bodies than we do for our true selves, our spirits? Let's take stock of our priorities and remember that if we spend time reading scripture, we are feeding our spirits which will never die.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

The Most Powerful Weapon in the World

“Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation.” 2 Timothy 2:15




“I’ve always thought that the most powerful weapon in the world was the bomb and that’s why I gave it to my people, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the most powerful weapon in the world is not the bomb but it’s the truth.” This was the statement released by Nobel Prize winner and International Humanist awardee Andrei Sakharov. He was the nuclear physicist responsible for the Soviet hydrogen bomb. Sakharov was eventually fired from his job and exiled because of his advocacy for human rights and his views against the arms race.


The truth is the most powerful weapon in the world, and that’s why our enemies, both in heavenly realms and in the world, seek to destroy it. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)


Ever since the very beginning, we read in Genesis how the serpent sought to deceive and beguile Adam and Eve. “Did God really say that?” he insinuated. He continues to deceive us today, more and more blatantly. If we listen to him, just as it happened in the Garden, we will be filled with shame, guilt, confusion, uncertainty, doubt, and stress. These do not come from God. Truth comes from God. If we know His truth, we will be free. (John 8:32)


Our very identity should come from God’s truth, that we are loved by Him, worth so much to Him, that He gave His only Son that we might have a glorious future with Him. “Did God really say that?” the enemy asks again and again in so many ways, until the world does not put any value on a human being, until a woman, a child is seen as an object and dispensable. 


God has a unique, wonderful plan and purpose for each one of us. “Did God really say that?” the enemy asks again and again, in so many ways, until the plan and purpose becomes shredded in humanistic thinking that dismisses belief in God to superstition and dogma. 


We need to know the truth or we will be deceived. God gave us the truth in the Bible. We need to read it, study it and see what a treasure we have in His Word. 


Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Our Eyes on the Lord

“As the eyes of a maid ​are on the hands of her mistress, So are our eyes on the Lord, our God, ​till he have pity on us.” Psalm 123:2




God is moving, and if we are to be unbeaten, undefeated by the unfolding circumstances in the world, we have to keep our eyes on Him, just like a maid keeps her eyes on the hands of her mistress. I have a helper in my house named Lucy. She has been with me for about twenty-five years. She anticipates what I need. If I move towards the electric fan, she is there before me to turn it on. At ten o’clock, she appears with merienda. Without me having to instruct her, she takes care of me and makes sure I am comfortable. I appreciate her so much! 


The picture of a maid and her mistress in Psalm 123, shows us how we are to be discerning of God’s will and pleasure. As servants of God we are fully reliant on Him. During these times of trouble and uncertainty, we should fix our gaze on Him so we can find our peace and stability. Only He can get us through this. Not our intelligence, our wealth, our power, our fame, our resources if we have them. Last year could we ever have conceived of a worldwide pandemic that could overturn the whole world? The world is broken, bleeding, and is in need of more than bandages and soothing words. We need a Savior, and we need Him now. The first day Jesus began His ministry, He started out by reading from the Book of Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” (Is. 61:1) 


What good news was Jesus talking about back then? Is it anything to do with us? It has everything to do with us! He was talking about His mission, why He came to earth, to free us, to free our hearts, to free us from the shackles of our enemy! He came to ransom us and save us, and turn our devastated lives into victorious, praise- filled lives. All we have to do is focus our eyes on Him, not to attend to all the messed-up cacophony happening in the world. He will get us through all the noise. That is what He promised, and He is a promise-keeping God! “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)



Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Whose Image is on You?

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Mark 12:17




This is one of the most satisfying encounters of Jesus with the Pharisees and Herodians. These people were the trolls of Jesus’ day. They pretended to be righteous and truthful and wise, when all they wanted was to trap Jesus. They asked Him whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not. How we all wish Jesus’ answer was different! 


Back then, their taxes were even more crippling than ours. There was not only the income tax, there were crop taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, emergency taxes, and a tax collector could even stop someone carrying a load to pay taxes on that as well. The taxes and the grain were sent to Rome and it was used to support the lavish lifestyle there. No wonder there were riots because of the taxes imposed on the Jews. 


Jesus’ answer utterly amazed them. He was not trapped. On the contrary, His answer still resonates with us today. It is so dismaying and disheartening to see how our taxes are being wasted, stolen even, by people in government with no conscience. The government borrowed billions of pesos with almost no account made of how it was spent. It feels like some won the lotto with this pandemic upon us! 


Jesus asked His questioners to show him the Roman coin, the denarius. “Whose image and inscription is this?” On one side, the face of Tiberius Caesar Augustus was inscribed, on the other, the words, Pontifex Maximus or “Highest Priest”. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Pay Caesar his taxes even if we do not like what he does with it. We are citizens of two kingdoms. One kingdom, in which we are exiled for a little while, will not last. We are also citizens of an eternal Kingdom. 


Whose image is on us? In Genesis, we read that each one of us, is made in the image and likeness of God. His fingerprint is on us, just as a potter’s fingerprint is on his clay pot. You and I, we belong to Him. Kingdoms come and go. Caesars, no matter how much power they seem to have over our lives, decay and become dust. Let us just follow the instruction in Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Monday, June 01, 2020

One Thing

Why did you do such a thing?” Genesis 3:13



Adam and Eve could have had a perfect life. God provided everything they needed and they lived in this wonderful garden we can only dream of. There was only one thing, ONE THING God commanded of them. “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die (Gen. 2:6-7)”.


Now there was a serpent in the garden. Instead of stepping on it, the woman listened to it and actually conversed with it. There are many serpents around us. The best thing to do is not converse with it because it is crafty and deceiving. It can convince us of things we wouldn’t do otherwise. The serpent said, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from ANY tree of the garden?” The serpents in our life always try to make God appear harsh and tyrannical. 


Eve answered, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or TOUCH IT, lest you die.’” Where did the exaggeration come from? Only from accepting the serpent’s invitation to interact with him. 


The woman continued to listen to the serpent. “You surely shall not die! God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So the woman ate from the forbidden tree, and gave it to her husband to eat. 


The man and the woman were banished out of the garden. Now man and woman had to work for their food, toil over land with thorns and thistles. Fast forward to Luke 10:41-42. Martha is toiling over a hot stove, preparing food for Jesus and His disciples while Mary her sister was sitting at Jesus’ feet, enthralled with His words. Martha complained to Jesus, “Please tell my sister to help me.” 


“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—really only ONE thing. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”


Let us learn a lesson from Eve. We should not listen to the serpents in our lives. Let us instead make it a priority to listen to God. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

More of You

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Acts 2:1-4




My sister Peggy and brother-in-law Charlie attended the Golden Jubilee of the Catholic Charismatic renewal in Rome in 2017. Representatives from the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches were present as well. After all, the renewal started in Duquesne University in February 1967, during a student retreat, when they invited a Pentecostal to speak about what happened in the Book of Acts and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. During that retreat, God poured down His Holy Spirit and students began experiencing Him in a new way. Patti Gallagher Mansfield's face glowed like Moses after she encountered God's presence in the upper chapel. Some spoke in tongues. Some cried. Some laughed. Some felt a burning sensation. Some, like David Mangan, experienced little explosions going on in his body.

 

Previous to that, the charismatic Pentecostal way of worship made its way dramatically to mainline Protestant churches, and then from there to the Catholics. After that Duquesne weekend, God's 'current of grace', as Pope Francis calls it, travelled around the world and changed millions of believers' lives and faith. In unity, with one body, great things are accomplished. There is more that unites us than separates us. We have to learn from one another's strengths, and recognize the gifts God wants to give us. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of uniformity, but unity in diversity. One body, one Spirit. 


Lord, may we desire more of Your Spirit. May we not be complacent with what we have right now, but may we always want more of You! 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Hope and a Future

“There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.” John 21:25




Ever since this line was written by St. John the Apostle, the youngest of Jesus’ twelve disciples, so much more has been added to what Jesus did, and is continuing to do in  men’s lives. He can take a messed up life and turn it into a masterpiece. Jesus has changed many a man and woman from a worm into a butterfly. He is not a magician, but He can turn a stony heart into a compassionate one full of forgiveness and love. The key is rejecting sin, accepting Him and following Him. With the Lord, every life is of intrinsic worth, every one a diamond in the rough. He will not turn anyone away. There is hope for everyone, even a man who murders without compunction, steals millions from the government treasury, curses and lies with every breath. 


Who is not interested in finding riches? I wake up every morning because I know I will encounter the one true Saviour, the One who can turn the dross of hardship and trials into gold. He is the only one who can give meaning and purpose to our lives. Even if what is happening in the world right now doesn’t make sense, if we offer all our doubts, fears and questions to Jesus, He can assure us with His eternal words of hope. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) 


Every morning when I wake up, I read the timeless words in the Bible, and discover how “the New Testament is concealed in the Old, just as the Old Testament is revealed and fulfilled by the New.” (St. Augustine) If we do not study the Bible, how will we discover the precious things hidden in it? I’m not very intelligent. Yesterday I was listening to a webinar about how to shift our retail strategies post Covid 19 pandemic. I have to confess that all the talk about omnichannels went over my head and I had to stop listening. If our business is to survive this pandemic, it will be hugely because God is continuing to take care of it the same way He has been the past 50 plus years. 


And every morning after reading God’s words and just letting it stay in my head for a while, I put my pen to paper, and I am amazed that the Lord can use me and my gifts. This is what Jesus continues to do in this world. Let us put our lives, our dreams, our plans, our gifts and talents, and our challenges, in His hands. He is more than able. “If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)




Friday, May 29, 2020

Far as the East is from the West

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12




Seventy times seven times. That's what Jesus answered to the question, "How often must I forgive?" Seven is the number of completion, and seventy times seven means without limit. This is how the Lord forgives. We get hurt all the time. A careless word. A stupid joke. A boss who takes credit for your idea. A classmate who prefers someone else to you. We can practice being forgiving and merciful every single day. It's a decision, but it's also a miracle of grace. 


The story of Matt Swatzell and Erik Fitzgerald is an amazing story of superhuman forgiveness. Matt was driving home after a 24 hour shift as a firefighter. He was very tired, and very sleepy. He woke up to a crash that changed his life. The crash killed June Fitzgerald who had been driving the car Matt hit, and her unborn child. 


June's husband, Erik, was a full time Pastor. “You forgive as you’ve been forgiven,” said Pastor Erik in his grief and pain. “It wasn’t an option. If you’ve been forgiven, then you need to extend that forgiveness.” Because of that openness, Erik and Matt forged a friendship that has lasted, and Matt has been able to build a good life instead of one disturbed by demons of guilt and regret. 


“This has been just as healing for me too,” said Pastor Erik of his relationship with Matt. “I’ve taught on forgiveness and I know that forgiveness is not so much for the other person but for yourself.” 


Lord, is there someone I need to forgive? Pour down upon me Your abundant, overflowing, healing grace that I may be worthy to be called Your child. May I forgive just as You have generously forgiven me. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Fullness of Joys

"You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in Your presence..." Psalm 16:11




It's easy for me to speak of the joy of the Lord. Ever since I was young, I would pray, "Lord, treat me gently", and He has for the most part. One day I was before the Blessed Sacrament during a singles' retreat in our community. God gave me a vision, my first and only one. He showed me a beautiful garden and Jesus and I were walking on the path. He said, "I am the gardener here. I take care of all these plants. I prune each and every one of them." 


"I will show you a plant I do not prune," He continued gently, and He took me to a decaying, ugly, dying stump of a tree. He was in effect telling me that He had to prune me, He could not treat me gently all the time. In order to bloom, Jesus had to cut off what was not pleasing to Him.

 

Sometimes we do not understand what God allows in our life. Sometimes it seems just too hard. Some of our suppliers in our family business have kidney disease and they have so much to deal with. They always needs dialysis and sometimes the doctors have to surgically create an access to remove and return their blood during hemodialysis. They undergo a lot of pruning regularly. I see them and the families that care for them as gorgeous, magnificent plants in Jesus' garden. The path to life to fullness of joys in Jesus' presence requires that we see the eternal invisible with the eyes of faith. 


Lord, help us to see with Your eyes. Your pruning brings life for it cuts off the dead places in us, and allows for new growth. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

God’s Ways

“I gave them your Word...because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” John 17:14




Here we have it, from Jesus’ own mouth. We DO NOT BELONG IN THIS WORLD. We certainly act like we do. When we travel, and stay in a hotel room or Airbnb, do we move the furniture around, hang stuff on the walls, put hooks in the bathroom, get rid of the TV and buy a bigger one? Do we get a nice mattress because the one in the room is too soft or too hard? Do we replace the leaking shower head? Not likely. We wouldn’t because the place isn’t ours and we are only going to be there a short time.


Our time on earth is also supposed to be a way station, a pass through, a pilgrim’s path. For the Lord, it is but a blink of an eye. For us, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. For some of us, this quarantine has gone on interminably. And it’s only been two months. Was it enough time to get a change of outlook? A reconfiguring of how we see our lives? I am sure this worldwide pandemic that has changed our world is not an accident. God has a purpose for it. I’m not wise enough to know what, but St. Paul said in Romans 8:28 that we can know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.


All things work together. That phrase ‘work together’ is just one word in the Greek, “synergei”. It’s where we get the English word “synergy”, which means “the interaction or the combined power of a group of things, organizations, or substances, when working together is greater than the total effect by each working separately”. Whew! 


Our lives are in God’s hands. Our businesses, or jobs, our families, our country, our economy, our world. It may seem devastating right now, even hopeless, but God sees things in an entirely different way. In Isaiah 55:8-9, our Heavenly Father declares: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” We just need to trust in a loving, faithful, good God who sees things differently, and wants the best for us. 


Sometimes when something goes wrong with a gadget, we push a button and close it down. Maybe the whole world world needed a reset or a reboot! We trust in You Lord! Help us to see the bigger picture like You do. Help us to see that we do not belong in this world and there is always something better waiting for us!


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Always

“And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to You.” John 17:11




A popular meme I read several times on Viber and Facebook goes: “The Feast of the Ascension is the day Jesus started to work from home.” 


In the 1st book of Acts, verses 6-11, we read about Jesus’ rise to heaven: Then they gathered around Him and asked Him, “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After Jesus said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.” 


After Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, He showed Himself on different occasions to many, many people in the 40 days before his ascension to Heaven. Most probably, not all occasions of His encounters were recorded. He showed Himself to Mary and the other women, to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, to the disciples on numerous occasions, and then to 5000 people all at once. Then the disciples were eye witnesses of Him rising into the clouds! I would have liked to see that! But it would have been heart wrenching at the same time. Never to see Jesus again, never to be in His comforting, radiant presence. Never to be able to ask Him questions and to hear His answers.


But that is precisely why Jesus had to leave. So He could send His Spirit to be with each of us. Then He could be with us always until the end of time. We could always have His comforting, radiant presence about us. We can always ask Him questions and hear His answers. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

Monday, May 25, 2020

Take Courage


“In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” John 16:33





There can be no doubt that trouble is part and parcel of our life on earth. When I was young, I asked God to treat me gently. It was my constant prayer. He answered that prayer until He showed me that if He did not prune me, His plans for me would not come to fruition. I remember clearly when He said during my prayer time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, “If you are willing to be pruned, I will give you Luigi as a husband.” I prayed for 3 days, in wonder. Does God do this? Did I really hear Him say that? Finally, after 3 days, I answered yes. And a couple of years after, Luigi and I were married. 


The pruning did not come right away, but several years afterward I was beset with persistent mouth sores that we could not find a cure for. Several doctors and treatments after, we learned I had Pemphigus Vulgaris, a rare autoimmune disease. Thank God my blisters only broke out in the lining of my mouth, and not all over my skin! This condition occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks proteins in the upper layers of the skin. Then a few years after that I learned I had Thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder in which my body makes an abnormal form or inadequate amount of hemoglobin. And then I suffered from Deep Vein Thrombosis, and Pulmonary Embolism, which eventually led to my needing open heart surgery last December to remove calcified blood clots. So one may say I have certainly had my share of troubles! 


Yesterday, I attended a virtual prayer meeting led by my brother-in-law. The theme was “Faith that isn’t Troubled by Troubles”. That is what we want, isn’t it? That when we have troubles, our faith will not be shaken, we will not be anxious, but continue to anchor our life on God. If we want that, we need the troubles to test us, and God will use the troubles to produce in us good fruit. 


In the first chapter of the book of James, we read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Well, I certainly am still immature and lacking so many things, but I recognize the grace of God in my life when I encounter it. Last December, in my hospital room, His grace was so palpable, I was devoid of anxiety at my coming open heart surgery. I felt I was wrapped in His grace and mercy. I had no fears at all, I could “laugh at the days to come”, like the woman described in Proverbs 31. 


Today, I continue to recuperate. I am stronger but my lungs still need the help of oxygen. I get tired quickly, and have to walk up the stairs very slowly. God has a sense of humor. There are so many recuperating with me, having to stay home as well! I continue to persevere, and hope in the Lord, and trust in His promises. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12) Troubles come and go, but the goodness of the Lord is forever! 



Sunday, May 24, 2020

Always

“And behold, I am with you always...” Matthew 28:20



We must nurture our gift of faith, like a gardener takes care of his garden. The enemy likes to plant weeds, and we must not allow those unruly, fast growing weeds of doubt, anxiety, or despair, take over our garden. God said He will be with us in our journey, and if we believe, and trust, and hope, we will see the riches of His glorious inheritance even while we are here on earth. 

God was riding in a particular subway train on the morning of January 10, 1948, when a man named Marcel Sternberger boarded the 9:09. While on the train Marcel decided on the spur of the moment to visit a sick friend, and changed to ride the subway for Brooklyn. After visiting his friend, he then boarded a Manhattan-bound subway for his Fifth Avenue office. 

Although the train was crowded, a man sitting by the door suddenly left, and Marcel took his spot. The young man seated beside him was reading a Hungarian newspaper, and Marcel who usually did not talk to strangers, asked in Hungarian, “I hope you don’t mind if I glance at your paper.” This started a conversation, and Marcel learned that the man with sad eyes was named Bela Paskin, and that he was captured by the Russians during WWII and made to bury the German dead. After the war, he went back to his hometown in Debrecen, to look for his wife and family. His old neighbors told him his whole family was dead. “The Nazis took them and your wife to Auschwitz.” Heartbroken, he managed to immigrate to the US in October 1947, three months before Marcel met him on the subway. 

While Bela Paskin was speaking, Marcel felt his story was ringing some bells. A few days ago he had met a lonely young woman at the home of a friend and she had also lived in Debrecen. She was captured and brought to Auschwitz, and her relatives were all killed in the gas chambers. After liberation, she was brought to America in 1946 on the first boat for displaced persons. Marcel was so affected by her story that he had written her name down in his address book, intending to invite her to dinner to meet his family. He asked Bela, “Was your wife’s name Marya?”

He turned pale. “Yes!” he answered. “How did you know?” Marcel suggested, “Let’s get off the train”. They got off and Marcel led the man who looked as if he was about to faint to a phone booth. It seemed hours before Marya Paskin answered. “Try to be calm,” Marcel urged Bela. “Something miraculous is about to happen to you. Here, take this telephone and talk to your wife!”

The man started mumbling hysterically so Marcel decided to just bring him to where Marya lived. “Providence has brought us together,” Bela said afterward. “It was meant to be.”

Didn’t the grand weaver make sure Marcel would ride that particular train and sit in that particular seat? He also planned that Marcel would meet Marya a few days before, and that he would be so affected by her poignant story, he would write down her name, number and address. How many times has God journeyed with us in our life? “His name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (Mt 1:23) Trust in God and His promises. He will always bring us through whatever situation in life we find ourselves in.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Whatever

Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. (John 16:23)



Unlike other religions or beliefs, Christianity is first and foremost about relationships. We cannot be a Christian without having a connection, a loving bond with Jesus Christ, and with brothers and sisters in the faith. 

We cannot use a person’s name to receive favors without really knowing that person. If I was the daughter of the King, then I could go in and out of the Palace, and eat the good food in the kitchen without an invitation. If I was the daughter of the owner of a multi billion corporation, I could ask to use the company jet or helicopter. 

Jesus told His followers that if we know Him, the Son of the King of the Universe, we can ask things in His name and the King, His Father will grant it. Whatever? Not all my prayers are answered, so ‘whatever’ does not mean anything at all. To ask in Jesus’ name means because we have a relationship, Jesus and I, I know what to ask. 

In the chapter before, John 15:1–8, Jesus gives a clearer explanation to what He means: “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

It is plain that we need to remain in Jesus, abide in Him, be close to Him, connected to Him, that we will understand Him. Only then can whatever we ask of His Father will be granted. St. Therese of Lisieux, said “God gives me whatever I want, because I want whatever He gives.” 

1 John 5:14-15 says, “And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” We can only know His will if we continue to have a closer and closer relationship with Him.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Turned to Joy

“When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” John 16:21



I was 38 years old when I was pregnant with Joshua. Back then, 25 years ago, 38 was considered “old” to be pregnant, and my pregnancy could have been complicated. One day, I became worried because the baby was making odd little consecutive “coughs”, and I prayed that he was all right inside. It turned out that Joshua had the hiccups! I did not know that babies could have hiccups! God reassured me then, “You will know how much I love you when you hold your baby in your arms.” Mothers experience many anxieties, pains and inconveniences, during pregnancy, and while giving birth, but truly, there is no joy comparable to holding your baby in your arms! 

Jesus uses the picture of a pregnant woman in the throes of childbirth to give the apostles an idea of what is in store for them. They will have anguish and suffering while ‘giving birth’ to this new way of life of following Christ. We too can relate to this imagery, as in our life as well, we cannot escape pain. It is part of growth, part of maturing, part of learning, in different stages and seasons of our existence. It is inseparable from God’s design. Just as Jesus suffered, and died, to bring about the greatest good for mankind, so our pains and sorrows, our strivings, have meaning and purpose as well. 

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24) Sometimes we cannot understand God’s plans, but if we trust and follow His words, there is always a reward, our labors will be turned into joy. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Grief Into Joy

“...you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” John 16:20



Yesterday, I woke up to the sad but joyous news of Ravi Zacharias’ passing. He was to me, a “lion of God”, and I will forever be grateful for all I have learned from him. I say joyous news, because he is for certain with Jesus now. After all the years of excruciating pain from his back which he did not take painkillers for, preferring to keep his mind sharp, he is free of all pain and suffering. I enjoyed his talks which were always peppered with stories, poignant, funny, memorable stories. 

I listen to the Youtube recordings of Ravi Zacharias a lot. It is fascinating how he makes God’s message riveting and I have no doubt many have been convinced to investigate Christianity because of him and his ministry. He liked to come to the Philippines because he had many friends here, and loved our macapuno icecream. He was here just a few months ago.

One of Ravi’s most compelling stories is what happened to Hien Pham, his interpreter when he spoke to the troops in Vietnam back when he was 25 years old. After Vietnam fell, Hien was accused of working for the CIA and incarcerated. He was forbidden to read anything but writings of Marx and Engels in Vietnamese or French. He was indoctrinated that there is no God day after day. One night he decided, “Tomorrow I am going to live as if there is no God.”

The next day he was assigned to clean the dirty, smelly latrines. He covered his mouth and nose as he mopped up the toilets. As he was about to throw out one bucket, he noticed a piece of paper in English. He surreptitiously cleaned it and put it in his pocket. That night when all was quiet, he took it out and read it. It was a page from Romans 8: “And we know that all things work together for good for them that love God.” No verse was more relevant for him that day and he fell to his knees. The next day he volunteered to clean the latrines again. Each day he would find a page from the Bible, wash it and read it eagerly at night for his devotions. It turns out the Commander had been given a Bible and he would tear the pages out and use it as toilet paper!

When Hien was eventually released, he and 53 other people decided to build a boat and escape. A few days before they were about to leave, four fully armed Viet Cong arrived and interrogated him. He insisted he had no plans of escaping. When the four left, he asked forgiveness from God for the lie and promised to tell the truth if they came again. 

A few hours before he and his companions were to board the boat, the four Vietcong came and asked him again, “You’re trying to escape, aren’t you?” “Yes,” Hien Pham admitted, “Are you going to kill me?” “No,” they whispered, “we want to go with you!”

So all fifty-eight escapees set out. In the high seas, there was a storm and the boat almost capsized but the four Vietcong were the best mariners they could have wanted and because of them, they all safely reached Thailand. 

When Hien Pham visited Ravi Zacharias in his home, Hien said during dinner, “You know you always think you’re going to manage it your own way. It never works. The most important thing is to find intimacy with God, and He will guide you and take you through safely in your journey as you walk hand and hand with Him. When everything comes together, you have wonder, truth, love, and security. That’s what gives life meaning, and you’ll find only God is big enough to do that for you.” #ThankyouRavi


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lead Me

"They were to seek God, yes, to grope for Him..." Acts 17:27



A curious word, GROPE. In other translations we read, "feel their way toward Him", "reach out for Him", or "feel after Him". I remember the story of the blind men and the elephant. They wanted to know what an elephant was and each one of them would grope a part of the animal. One felt the tail and thought the elephant was like a snake, the other the tusk, the other the trunks of its legs, and they all thought differently of what an elephant was like. We are like those blind men in every way, trying to grope after God and coming up with our own versions of God UNLESS, and this is a big UNLESS, we are guided by the animal trainer around the elephant. And who's the animal trainer? The Holy Spirit of course!

In this chapter of the Bible, Paul is preaching in the Areopagus, a place where people make public lectures, the highest court in Athens. He was standing before the Council because they were very curious about his ideas and his beliefs. Some, not all, became believers. We are all created by God and in Ecclesiastes 3:11, it is written that He has put eternity in our heart. I believe this means, we will always be restless, we will never be satisfied, unless we find Him! So its OK to continue to grope, to feel our way to God. The full sentence is, "They were to seek God, yes, to grope for Him and perhaps eventually to find Him- though He is really not far from any one of us." All beauty, all truth leads to the God of the Universe. 

Holy Spirit, lead me, guide me, so I will find You, the true eternal God!


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Faithful

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30



Paul and Silas were imprisoned, and when they started singing to the Lord and worshipping Him, a severe earthquake opened the prison doors and their chains broke open. The jailer who was instructed to guard them well, almost killed himself when he thought they had escaped. Paul and Silas said, “Do no harm to yourself; we are all here.” Trembling with fear, the jailer rushed in to the innermost cell he had placed them, and asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

This story in the Bible reminds me of a man named Daniel. Before he attended a church in Southern California, he lived in Uganda, when Idi Amin was President from 1971-1979. At that time, he was caught and tortured brutally for being a Christian. For several days at a time, a guard would hang him from his feet and whip him. One night as the guard was leaving, Daniel said, " Have a nice evening."

The guard turned back to him, and asked incredulously, "How can you say that to me? After what I have been doing to you?" Daniel then told him about Jesus, about the blood shed on the cross for him, about freedom, about how he had been forgiven and loved. A few days after that, the guard helped him escape, brought Daniel to his house, fed him and let him share about Jesus to his family. 

We may not be imprisoned, but many people are shut in worlds full of fear and anxiety, despair and unforgiveness. If we are given the opportunity to be a witness of Christ’s love, hope and peace, let us not pass it up. 

Lord, may we be faithful to Your calling. May we live in such a way as to show You that we know You, love You and obey You. May others who know us, know as well that we are Your servants. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Better Way

"A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart..." Acts 16:14




I can imagine Lydia listening to Paul eagerly, drinking in his words. She was already a worshiper of the true God, and He opened her heart to receive Paul's words, to accept them, to respond to them. The message found a place in her heart.


It's easy to see how Lydia would open her heart and follow Jesus after Paul spoke to her. He was obviously a charismatic speaker. But how about others? Why did they decide to follow?


How did Christianity grow from Lydia, the first Christian convert in Europe, living a clandestine, persecuted way of life, to being the legal religion under Constantine the Great? A miracle? Most certainly. There are always miracles for those who believe.


But in sociologist Rodney Stark's book, The Rise of Christianity, he proposes that "the way" provided a better life for its followers. There were more women followers because women were honored and respected, unlike their low status in the pagan world. He cites that "loving one another" and helping each other attracted many followers.


"Amidst the epidemics and fires, and other disasters that beleaguered

the Greco-Roman cities, Christian communities were a stronghold of mutual aid, which resulted in a survival rate far greater than that

of the pagans. In the meantime, voluntary martyrdom, especially a generation 

after the death of Christ, reinforced the commitment of the Christian rank and file." Rodney Stark


Do our actions attract others to our way of life as Christians, the way the first Christians did?