Tuesday, June 30, 2020

New Adventures

“Lord, save us!  We are perishing!” Matthew 8:25

My father loved to sail, even when he was 90 years old. He taught my husband Luigi to sail and they went off on many adventures together. Once they went off on a trip to Taal because there was a regatta. The wind was very rough, and as my daddy was getting on in age, Luigi went off by himself first. On his return he found my father waiting for him, all kitted out in his life vest. Obviously he wanted to go out even if the weather was so bad. Picture a small sailboat being swamped by the waves. The wind was terrifyingly strong. Luigi was  anxious because he knew he would have to take care of my dad if they capsized. But my dad? He was exhilarated. He was in his element. The strong winds and mighty waves excited him. Little did they know the fishermen were looking out for them, knowing the wind was so strong. They got back safely to the relief of Luigi, the fishermen and onlookers.

Life can be a ride on a boat. Sometimes it’s an easy, relaxing ride. Sometimes it is fraught with peril. Like during this pandemic. We don’t really know how to navigate, because we have never passed this way before. When my father knew he was nearing the end of his life, he talked to his grandchildren. He had built a boat in his backyard, and he had planned to go fishing in Simo Banks off the coast of Batangas. He showed them the map where Simo Banks is (so far!), and gave them instructions. Isabel was very receptive and daddy was so happy she said she would go. Even with a map, and navigational tools, I doubt it will be easy to get there, and I don’t know if they’ll catch any fish! The thing is, with or without a map, this journey called life is uncertain. But we can also be like my dad, excited about the twists and turns that God allows to happen. Challenged by new adventures, looking forward to what the future brings, and certain that with God at the helm, everything will be all right. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Who Do You Say That I Am?

“But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16

After Peter answered that he knew Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus responded, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My heavenly Father.” If we are asked by Jesus this very same question, “Who do you say that I am?”, what will our answer be? 

In the same way that Jesus gave Peter a mission after Peter declared Jesus was the Christ, so too we are given the mission to build His Church here on earth if we answer the same way. I came across a vlog of Abby Borja yesterday. She is a model who came from a very poor family. They were always thrown out of their home because she was an illegitimate daughter. She decided to do her best in school, so she will be able to take care of her mother. She worked very hard, became a model, host, then started an events company. In her vlog, she told the story of deciding to buy her very first expensive car last December. She named that car ‘Snow’. She was going to finance it using the earnings from her van which did Lalamove deliveries. Unfortunately, there was a surfeit of Lalamove drivers, business slowed down, and she had to get rid of her driver. In January, the Taal eruption occurred, all the weddings in Tagaytay she was in charge of were cancelled. Then the pandemic! All her income dried up suddenly! All the while, while she is narrating her story, she is crying buckets of tears. But she declares, “If there is one thing I am sure of, my God is my provider, I shall not lack! “ She shared that, “Our source of income may be drying up, our food supplies low, our bills pouring in, yet we can still be glad and praise God, for the greater our need, the more obvious it is when God provides for it.”

A Chinese friend offered her the chance to sell PPE products, and she did very well marketing and selling, that she was able to make a million pesos in earnings after all her hard work. If you look at her Facebook wall, you will see that she is really squeezing all her talents and resources trying to survive, selling not only PPEs, but plants, acrylic barriers, even Kani Aburi Sushi Torei with avocado that I am tempted to order. Interspersed between her posts on what she is selling are her testimonies. “I know my God will provide because He is able. But even if He doesn’t, still I will praise the God of my salvation!” Amen! Abby is really able to answer Jesus’ question, and now more than 2.7 million people know that Jesus is Abby’s Lord and Savior! 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Alive and Powerful!

“Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:38-39

This verse is very significant for me because when I was in UP High School, a group of people from Gideons International dropped by with cute little red Bibles for each of the students. They spoke a little about the Bible, and then we had to promise to read the Bible every day if we wanted to get a Bible from them. The Bible was so cute, and I wanted one, and to this day, I still have that Bible with markings on the pages. So I know that I stopped reading the Bible when I read those words of Jesus, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In John 12:25, the verse reads, “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

To a young girl in love with life, what would those words about the cross, and finding life if you lose it, and losing your life for Jesus’ sake mean? Not very much! I believe that Jesus intentionally did not speak in plain and simple language because one has to spend time seeking for layers of meanings. If one really wants to know the truth which is a priceless treasure, we need to read the Bible every day, pray about it, and like Mary, “ponder it in our heart”. St. Luke writes in 2:19,  “Mary treasured all these words (rhemata = acts of utterance) and pondered them in her heart.” The mother of Jesus was a very young peasant girl and she did not understand what was happening to her either. After all the mystery of the Incarnation never happened before or since. So she protected the words of the angel in her heart, not her mind, where it can get lost in all the meanderings of logic and cynicism, but in her heart, where God can give clarity and meaning. 

In the morning when I pray and read the Bible, I just like to think of the words I read just sitting and finding a place in my heart. I need not fully understand it. But I know that God’s word is “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”  (Hebrews 4:12) So let’s not worry, if we do not understand what we read all the time. Just trust God to reveal to us what He wants to reveal in His perfect time. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Not Worthy

 "Lord, I am not worthy to have you under my roof..." Matthew 8:8

We Catholics say these words before Communion during every Mass. These are the words a centurion said to Jesus when he heard that Jesus was coming to his home to heal his paralyzed servant.

"Lord, I am not worthy..." this coming from a man who had authority over a hundred men in the Roman army. He could have felt entitled, as many police captains feel entitled to favor. But this centurion knew his place. When one is sick, one needs a correct diagnosis in order to get an effective prescription for medicine that will heal you. If we don't know the depth of the problem, a doctor can't help very much. That's why a doctor has all those tests done, to get the real situation.

In this story, the centurion saw the situation for what it really was. He saw himself in relation to Christ. He recognized Jesus' authority. He knew he was not worthy to have Jesus visit him. How about us? Do we really recognize how unworthy we are in relation to God? We need to know the real situation so that God can "heal" us, and bring us to the place He wants us to be- His sons and daughters, bought by His Son's life.

Lord, I am not worthy to have you in my heart. Do your work in me, heal me, that I may have a true understanding of who I am. Beloved. Redeemed. Forgiven.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Through God’s Eyes

“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Matthew 8:2

Jesus stretched out his hand and healed the leper in this story in the gospel of Matthew. We pray about many things and sometimes we wonder why God is not answering our prayers. We just have to trust that God knows exactly what He is doing when He does not say yes to all our intercessions. 

Can you imagine how many people pray that they would win the lotto? The mother of Dionie Reyes kept praying that he would win the lotto and finally in April 2008, he did. He won 14 million pesos and after living the life of a millionaire for 3 months, he is now destitute and owes big sums of money. 

"I wish it never happened," William Post said. “It was totally a nightmare!" He won $16.2 million but after a year, he owed $1 million. There are many more horror stories like this.

A lot of people are under the illusion that having money would solve all their problems, and make them happy. Successful comedian Jim Carrey famously said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.”

Lord, we put our hope and our trust in You. Help us to see our circumstances through Your eyes. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Hope in the Lord

“Help us, O God our savior, ​because of the glory of your name, Deliver us and pardon our sins ​for Your name’s sake.” Psalm 79:9

The other day I was praying about many things. I was praying for our business, for wisdom to know what to do. I interceded for our many employees and their families. I implored God to bless and heal my brother who has colon cancer. Then I was asking God why He was not healing me. I am still coughing all the time, I need oxygen, I get tired just climbing the stairs. God did not answer me, and I went to sleep.

The next day I found out that while I was sound asleep, my husband Luigi smelled something burning. He was inside our bedroom and he went out to investigate, then came back inside. The outlet and plug of our airconditioner was so hot! It was a blessing he was still awake because the curtain was right next to the outlet and could have easily caught fire. 

It was as if God was answering my prayer of the night before. There are things in our life that God allows, and there are many, many things He saves us from. We just are not aware of them. We just need to trust Him. I have read many times that when autopsies are done, the coroner finds many diseases that are healed without medical intervention. In our life, God takes care of many things, protects us from accidents and even disasters that can change the course of our lives. There are many tragic stories about what happened on 9/11, but there are also amazing stories how some people were spared because they had to change a shirt, or they were fired from their job the day before, or because of traffic or some minor inconvenience. God’s ways are mysterious and we will never be able to fathom how He thinks or decides who lives or dies, who gets healed or when. We just need to pray and trust Him. Those who hope in Him will never be disappointed. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Wonderful Works

“Truly you have formed my inmost being; ​you knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; ​wonderful are your works.” Psalm 139:13-14

Here are the words of Pope Francis, in his General Audience St. Peter’s Square in April 2017:

“Of course, if we trusted only in our strengths, we would have reason to feel disappointed and defeated, because the world often shows itself immune to the laws of love. It prefers, so often, the laws of selfishness. But if the certainty survives in us that God does not abandon us, that God loves us and this world tenderly, then it immediately changes our perspective. “Homo viator, spe erectus,” the ancients used to say [Latin: “Man is a wayfarer, (supported) upright by hope”]. Along the journey, Jesus’ promise “I am with you” enables us to stand with hope, upright, trusting that the good God is already at work, accomplishing what humanly seems impossible, because the anchor is on heaven’s shore. The holy, faithful People of God are a people that stand – homo viator – and walk, but upright, erectus, and they walk in hope. And wherever they go, they know that God’s love has preceded them: there is no part of the world that escapes the victory of the Risen Christ. And what is the victory of the Risen Christ? The victory of love.”

Yes, we were created in love, surrounded by love ever since we were a mere idea in God’s mind. God will never abandon us, even if it may seem so sometimes. The world is so full of uncertainty, sadness and pain. Many people take that as a sign that God has forsaken us. But that is far from the truth. Once I was praying about so many things, my brother’s health and well being, my own condition, our business, our country, our leaders. So many challenges confront us that it may seem overwhelming and hopeless at times. But I felt God say to me that the bigger the mess, the more material He has to work with. There is always victory if we work with God. Perhaps all we see is the difficulty, the suffering, the incompetence, the injustice, the evil of the system. But what does God see? 

If we see the beginnings of a baby in the womb, it does not look anything like a baby. But each day, each week, each month, the primitive form inside the womb is developing into an individual like no one else. God is working with blood cells, and neural tissue, and bits of bone, that at first looks like a baby dinosaur, but God sees the finished result. Yes, He will finish what He started, in our lives, and the lives of our loved ones. We just need to trust in Him who created us with love.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Narrow Gate

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14

Many, many years ago, before Korea was divided into North and South, a theological professor from Yale visited a country church in a rural Korean village. He had an interpreter with him. But when he began by saying, “All thought is divided into two categories, the concrete and the abstract,” the interpreter made a quick decision. 

The small congregation was composed of barefoot schoolboys and toothless grandmothers all eager to hear what this man from far away had to say. The interpreter began his own sermon, “Dear friends,” he said, “I have come all the way from America to tell you about the Lord Jesus Christ.” From that point on, the sermon was firmly in the interpreter’s hands (Samuel Moffet, Christianity Today [11/14/94], p. 55).

I am sure the Koreans profited more from the simple sharing of the interpreter rather than if the interpreter used the high falutin’ words of the esteemed theology professor from Yale. God is not distant and Jesus used stories that his listeners would be very familiar with, shepherds and sheep, vineyards, masters and workers, etc. In the gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus speaks of a narrow gate and another gate which is wide. We should choose to go through the narrow gate, not the gate which leads to destruction. The meaning is fairly simple. Fewer people will choose the narrow gate which is the way of Jesus, the way of humility, faith and eternal redemption. More people would rather live their life their own way, choosing worldly pleasures and relegating God on the side. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Measure

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” Matthew 7:1-2

We have to realize that mankind, all of us, did something terrible to merit Jesus, God's son, dying on the cross for us. Sin is terrible, horrible to a Holy God. And that's why Jesus gave the gift of His life to each of us. We are all recipients of God's mercy and grace, not one is exempt. C.S. Lewis, when asked what made Christianity different from other religions, answered, "That's simple. Grace."

Victor Hugo's "Les Miserable" is a remarkably beautiful story about a man who made something of his life because he was the recipient of the unmerited favor of the Bishop of Digne. When the hero of the story, Jean Valjean, was released from prison on parole, he was given food to eat and a bed to sleep in by the good bishop. Valjean steals the silver and is arrested by the gendarmes and brought back to face the bishop. Jan Valjean was surprised when the Bishop says that he had given the silver to Valjean. “My friend, you left the best behind!" he exclaimed, and offered the massive silver candlesticks. These candlesticks were treasured by the Bishop because they were the last remnants of a formerly rich life, and presents from his great aunt.

In the musical, the Bishop sings to Valjean: 

"But remember this, my brother

See in this some higher plan

You must use this precious silver

To become an honest man

By the witness of the martyrs

By the Passion and the Blood

God has raised you out of darkness

I have bought your soul for God!"

Just as the Bishop recognizes that he was "bought" by God, ransomed to be reclaimed by God, we too should realize that Jesus' gifts of forgiveness, mercy and grace, should be passed on to others. Just as God gave us His Son as a free gift, we too should make our lives a gift to others. Let us not judge others with our critical eye, but see them through God’s loving eyes. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Mighty Champion

“But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion.” Jeremiah 20:11

Who does not need a champion? I think we all do! Especially during this time of pandemic when all seems uncertain. We need people to pray for us, to encourage us, to be for us even if they are far away. Many of our friends and relatives are front liners, and they need us to be their “champions” by praying for their safety always. Many small and big businesses are in danger, and we need to be their “champions” by buying from them and supporting them at this time. Many people have lost loved ones, their jobs, their sense of security. We should do what we can, but we should also know that we have a real champion, our Father in heaven. We need not be afraid. Just as he takes care of every little thing that happens to us, He will also take care of the big, important things. 

We need to know God as our champion so that we can become winners ourselves. The story of Esther Ahn Kim is a powerful testimony of a person who knew God as her champion and was never defeated even when she was thrown into prison for 6 years. Like the Old Testament heroes, she refused to worship at the shrines to the sun god set up by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea in WWII. She prepared for her impending incarceration by eating decaying food and memorizing the Bible and many hymns. She knew she would be tortured so she prayed so as not to be afraid. “I knew it would be impossible for me to keep my faith in my own power,” Esther wrote later. “God would have to work through me if I was to stand firm. I decided to fast.” 

In prison, she ministered to many people. Murderers, swindlers and other criminals got to know Christ through her witnessing to them and serving them with compassion. After she was freed, her story of faith became the all-time religious bestseller in Korea. 

Indeed Lord, You are always with us. Thank You for answering our prayers, for showing us we can depend on You. May You teach us also to be Your soldiers, Your ambassadors, Your champions where You need us. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Be Quiet, Be Still

“Your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow." Luke 2:48

There are very few stories about Jesus' childhood, and one of them is about how His parents lost him in the crowd during Passover. He was 12 years old at that time. Too young to be completely independent, but old enough that you don't hold his hand all the time while walking back home to Nazareth. Usually, a family travels with a party of relatives and friends, and Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was traveling along with them. When they did not find Him, perhaps during the evening meal, they got distressed, went back all the way to Jerusalem to continue the search there. I can imagine how Mary felt. Fathers are more sanguine and relaxed when their sons are missing. But mothers! The furrows in their foreheads says it all! I am sure Mary was continuously praying, while her eyes frantically looked everywhere.

After three days, three days!!! they finally found Him in the temple. He was calmly sitting among religious teachers, listening and asking questions. Apparently Jesus was also answering questions, because verse 47 says, "All who heard Him were amazed at His intelligence, His understanding, and His answers."

Sometimes we too lose Jesus. We forget to pray and read the Bible. There is just so much to be done in a day! Even during a pandemic. We forget to pray one day, two days, three days... and then we find out He is missing in our life! And we start searching for Him. Many people try different religions, read all sorts of books, try different kinds of meditation and positions. But Jesus, where is He? 

“You should have known that I would be in my Father's house," He told Joseph and Mary. We do not need to go searching all over the place. We will find Jesus in the Temple, the temple of our hearts. We just need to be quiet and be still. We will find Jesus when we read the Word, the Bible. He can answer all our questions, even the deep ones that bother our soul. God's promise to us is we will find Him when we seek Him.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8

Friday, June 19, 2020

Only Love

Moses said to the people: “You are a people sacred to the Lord, your God; he has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own.” Deuteronomy 7:6

Moses went on to explain, “It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations.” We are loved by the same big God with the same big love! He chose us not because we are smart, beautiful, important, or even good. We are sacred to Him, set apart, to be peculiarly His own. He set His heart on us. 

He already knew when He set our heart on us, that we would break it. He had a plan for His special, wayward people. He would send His Son, His only beloved Son, to be mangled and torn, by the same people He loved. How is this possible, we ask? 

In 2006, a terrible tragedy occurred in a small Amish schoolroom. Charles Carl Roberts turned his gun on a class of young girls and killed five of them, and injuring five others. Then he killed himself. In his suicide note, he confessed that he hated God. The response of the Amish community was amazing. After they took care of poignantly burying  their own daughters the day before, thirty of them were present at Charles Carl Roberts funeral. They embraced the widow and other members of Roberts’ family. They even helped the widow with her expenses for the funeral. 

Martin Luther King’s famous quote comes to mind, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of starsDarkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” As children of our Father in heaven, we have to learn this and live this. To repay hatred, bigotry, selfishness, anger, even murder, with acts and voices of love. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

More than Wonderful

“This is how you are to pray: ‘Our Father who art in heaven...” Matthew 6:9

This beautiful prayer that Jesus taught starts with showing us we have a relationship with His Father. He shares His Father with us. We are His sisters and brothers. One of the things the devil, our enemy who is like a prowling lion waiting to devour us (1 Peter 5:8), wants to do is to keep us from knowing this fundamental truth. That we are loved by Our Father, that we have intrinsic worth, that nothing can separate us from His love. It is so easy for our ancient adversary to do this because most of the time we are so insecure that we think Our Father loves us for what we can do for Him, how much we pray and do good deeds, how good we are. Nothing can be farther from the truth! 

I love the song of Sandi Patty, “He’s More Wonderful”. Here are the lyrics. Try to listen to it here: https://youtu.be/2E5TgMPCmDA and let the meaning sink in. 

“He promised us that He would be a counselor

A Mighty God and the Prince of Peace

He promised us that He would be a Father

And that He would love us with a love that would not cease.

Well, I tried Him and I found His promises are true

He's everything He said that He would be.

The finest words I know could not BEGIN to tell

Just what Jesus really means to me.

For He's more wonderful than my mind can concieve

He's more wonderful than my heart can believe

He goes beyond my highest hopes and fondest dreams.

He's everything that my soul ever longed for

Everything He's promised and so much more

More than amazing, more than marvelous

More than miraculous could ever be

He's more than wonderful, that's what Jesus is to me.

I stand amazed when I think that the King of glory

Should come to dwell within the heart of man

I marvel just to know He really loves me

When I think of who He is, and who I am.”

It is so important for us to know the goodness of Our Father, of Jesus Our Brother, who wraps us in a bond of everlasting love with the Holy Spirit. We can be confident that God has our good in mind and and our future in His hand. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Sit with Me

“Ask for whatever I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha answered Elijah, “May I receive a double portion of your spirit.” 2 Kings 2:9

Where are the prophets of today? Is God not speaking to us in this day and age? Perhaps we are not listening. In our community, we regularly ask our members to listen to the Lord and speak what God has placed in our hearts. In the last prayer meeting, this was one of the prophecies that was recorded:

“I hold this world in the palm of my hand. I hold this universe in my hand. I hear every sigh, every prayer.  I know your sadness and your pain, your challenges. Have faith. I am creating a new order. You are part of the new order. This is a time of refining for each of you to be part of the new order. You are called up to rise up and take territory through words and actions in my Spirit. The new order will reverse the spiraling down of a fallen world. I will make things new. Look forward with hope and trust, and be ready to move with me.”

In the Bible, there are many major and minor prophets. And there were people with prophetic experiences like Simeon in the 2nd chapter of Luke, who met the holy family in the temple and proclaimed, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel." How did Simeon, described by Luke as a righteous and devout man, recognize Jesus as the Messiah he had been waiting for? Mary and Joseph arrived in the temple quietly, and there was no sign that pointed them out as extraordinary. Simeon had been reading the scriptures and praying, and he had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ.” 

If we follow Simeon’s example, of daily reading the Bible, and praying, and waiting for the Lord, God promised to visit with us. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20) Yes, Lord, please do come and talk to us! 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

We are Clay

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

Sometimes our enemies live with us or are our relatives or friends. Think Cain and Abel, Luke Skywalker and his dad, or the countless stories of fathers and sons trying to kill each other because one is a Taliban warrior and the other in the militia. I remember back in college when I would tell my classmates that I was working in the family business, some would comment adamantly, "I'd never work for my parents!!! We would just quarrel every day!" Most of the time our enemies are those who are close to us. After all, how can anyone hurt us if we do not care about them? It is those we love who have the most capacity to wound us. 

How do we love our enemy, our mother, who deeply injures us when she compares us to our siblings? Our enemy, our dearest closest friend, who told our secrets to someone else? Our enemy, our brother, who abandoned us when we needed his protection? Our enemy, our uncle who kept the money given to him for safekeeping for himself? People always disappoint. That's what people do. People are made of clay, easily broken, in need of redemption. WE are made of clay, we disappoint. We usually cannot give what others expect of us, most of the time. 

What we need is God's love shining through our brokenness, our cracks. After all, we can only love because He first loved us (1 John 4:9). We cannot give what we do not have. To love our enemies, or our friends, we need to be confident in God who loves us immeasurably, forgives us unconditionally, and will walk with us till the end. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

An Eye for an Eye

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. Matthew 5:38-39

Jesus in His sermon on the mount was quoting from Exodus 21:24-25, which reads, “an eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise”. The proverb, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” came from the Code of Hammurabi, a King of Babylon in 1792-1750BC. This code of justice prevented the escalation of violence, meaning that a person should not retaliate beyond the crime committed against him.

This is not the way of Jesus which is always the way of love and forgiveness. He says, “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” This is very difficult to do. Only by God’s grace is this possible. 

Detective Steven McDonald worked in the New York City Police Department when he was shot in the face and throat by one of the teenage boys he was questioning. As a result, Steven was paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a wheelchair and breathing machine. 

He was interviewed by Johann Christoph Arnold who wrote Steven’s story in his book, “Why Forgive?”. This is an excerpt from the book:

“Then, about six months after I was shot, Patti Ann (his wife of a little over a year) gave birth to a baby boy. We named him Conor. To me, Conor’s birth was like a message from God that I should live, and live differently. And it was clear to me that I had to respond to that message. I prayed that I would be changed, that the person I was would be replaced by something new.

That prayer was answered with a desire to forgive the young man who shot me. I wanted to free myself of all the negative, destructive emotions that his act of violence had unleashed in me: anger, bitterness, hatred, and other feelings. I needed to free myself of those emotions so that I could love my wife and our child and those around us.

Then, shortly after Conor’s birth, we held a press conference. People wanted to know what I was thinking and how I was doing. That’s when Patti Ann told everyone that I had forgiven the young man who tried to kill me.”

Steven wrote to Shavod Jones while the teenager was in prison, and eventually Shavod called him and apologized. “I accepted his apology, and I told him I hoped he and I could work together in the future. I hoped that one day we might travel around the country together sharing how this act of violence had changed both our lives, and how it had given us an understanding of what is most important in life....I forgave Shavod because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart. Such an attitude would have extended my injury to my soul, hurting my wife, son, and others even more. It’s bad enough that the physical effects are permanent, but at least I can choose to prevent spiritual injury.”

Thank God that very few of us will experience what Steven experienced. His superhuman act of forgiveness should show us that if we open our heart to God’s grace, we too will be able to forgive those who have hurt us and set our lives on the road to freedom. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Behold God’s Love

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” John 6:51 

God’s Word is creative and if He says, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever,” we better ask, “What can He mean? How do we eat Him if I want to live forever?” 

If we read it in the original Greek, Jesus uses the word “trogain” which means to GNAW, as a lion would eat the meat off the bones of its prey. “Unless you GNAW me, you will not have life within you.” This was very disgusting to the Jews because they were taught from childhood, from the Law and the Prophets, that they should never eat animal flesh with blood. Many followers left His side at this point. Did Jesus tell them, “Come back! I did not mean what you think! I only meant that you eat me symbolically!”? No! He let them go. 

The Words of Jesus transforms reality. After all He is the Word became flesh for the life of the world. God made light by saying, “Let there be light.” Jesus says, “I am the bread of life... I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 

Do we hunger for this living bread just as we hunger for food when we are deprived of it? Saint Augustine writes in his Commentary about the 6th chapter of John: “This bread, indeed, requires the hunger of the inner man...The Lord said that He Himself was the Bread that came down from heaven, exhorting us to believe in Him. For to believe in Him is to eat the living Bread. He that believes eats; he is sated invisibly, because invisibly he is born again.” 

Today, we cannot receive the Holy Eucharist because of the pandemic, but one day, we will be able to again. Let us not take it for granted as we usually do. How many of us miss the wonders of God because we are not present to the many graces of the Church and His Word? 

Rosalind Moss, a Jew and an evangelical minister who converted to Catholicism after reading the writings of the early Church fathers, wrote: “I remember the night I received the Eucharist. I don’t know how my body contained me because as the Eucharist went on my tongue I thought the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whose name I couldn’t write or pronounce as a child, before whom no one could stand and live, (as God said to Moses), THAT God had entered history. The God who created time became man for our salvation, the unapproachable God of Mt. Sinai did that. And that God who entered history is now on my tongue!” 

In many ways the Old Testament prefigured the Holy Eucharist and the first Jewish Christians believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. They saw the Eucharist as the new Passover, the new manna from heaven and the new Bread of the Presence. Dr. Brant Pitre lectured about Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Eucharist. One of the points he brought out was that the mystery of the Trinity is foreshadowed in the tabernacle of Moses.

The 3 key symbols in the tabernacle, he said, were the Ark of the Covenant (God the Father), the lamp stand or the menorah with tongues of fire (Holy Spirit), and the gold table with the Bread of the Presence (Jesus). In the Jewish Talmud it says that at Passover, the priest would take the table from the holy place of the temple. And in the midst of the people, the priest would lift up the table with the bread and say, "Behold God's love ❤️ for you."

Thank You Lord for the bread that You give, Your flesh which You gave to give us life and love! And thank You for choosing us to be your instruments to spread Your love to others!!!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Let Your Yes Mean Yes

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’” Matthew 5:37

That is simple enough, isn’t it? But when I was young, my mother, sisters and I attended a Bible Study every week. Then one night the teacher said that it was all right to say you were not home even if you were. He said, “You are only meaning you are not home for that person.” I sat there shaking my head, and the teacher called upon me to say something. Of course I said that he was wrong, and there was a short argument. I started crying and he asked me why I was crying. I answered that it was because he was my Bible teacher and he was teaching wrong things. Well, the Bible study group broke up after that. 

Today, people do not take their words seriously. A famous boxer promised that if he was elected Senator, he would not enter the ring again. And then he did. Many people deceive because of their love for money like Bernie Madoff, a former chairman of NASDAQ. He was an accomplished and respected expert in the financial field when he was found out to have perpetrated an elaborate lie about his investment firm. 

Another reason for lying is the desire for power. Perhaps the biggest liar of all time was Adolf Hitler who reasoned that everyone tells small lies but few have the temerity to tell colossal lies. He and his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, were able to eliminate six million Jews by convincing the German people that the Jews were the enemies and the cause of all their country’s problems. 

It is so sad to hear a Mayor say that honesty should not be an issue in elections. “Lahat sila sinungaling, lahat ng tao sa mundong ito sinungaling,” she claimed (All of them lie. Everyone in this world is a liar.)  No wonder our country, our world is in such a big mess, if we cannot depend on the word of the people leading us! 

If we want to see change in the world, we have to be the change. We have to tell the truth, and we have to teach our children to tell the truth. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

A Tiny, Whispering Sound

“After the wind..the earthquake...there was fire- but The Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound." 1 Kings 19:12

Elijah, the great prophet was running for his life in fear and anguish. After all the mighty miracles, his great victories over his enemies, he wanted to give up! 

God had to remind him, and indeed all of us, that our strength comes from being with Him, praying, listening to Him. 

Sometimes we look for miracles, demonstrations of great power, healings, to grow our faith. But our faith will grow if we get to know the God of the Bible, if we read His Word and listen for His still, small voice. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Son of Encouragement

June 11 is the Feast Day of St. Barnabas. He was one of the first teachers in Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians. Originally named Joseph, he was given the new name of Barnabas which means ‘son of encouragement’ or son of consolation’, when he sold his land in Cyprus to give to the apostles in Jerusalem.

“News about them (the Christians in Antioch) reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord.” (Acts 11:23-24) There was so much to be done in Antioch, that he went in search of Paul who was living in obscurity in Tarsus, to labor with him. They preached and taught there for a whole year, made many converts of the Gentiles in many parts of Asia Minor among other places, before returning to Jerusalem. That was the start of a new chapter in Paul’s missionary journey. 

Wouldn't it be great for us to be all like St. Barnabas, to be an encouragers, life-givers, to strengthen the church, reminding our brothers and sisters in our parishes, communities, churches, to be true and faithful and steadfast to the teachings of God? How wonderful if at the end of our lives, someone would stand and say this about us! 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

As For Me and My House

“How long will you straddle the issue? If the Lord is God, follow Him; if Baal, follow him.” 1 Kings 18:21

I don’t think this really happened, but it is a joke that has been going around about two of soccer’s greatest stars, Leonard Messi and Cristiano Reynaldo. In an interview, Reynaldo is said to have boasted, “God sent me down to earth to teach people how to play soccer.” When Messi was asked to react to the statement, he pronounced, “I don’t remember sending him!”

Many people look up to sports stars, celebrities and now even influencers as their gods. They put up posters on their walls, follow the way they dress or put on make up, have their names or faces tattooed on their bodies.

A fan sent Jared Leto his severed ear. Dolly Parton had to care for a baby left on her doorstep till the Department of Health and Human Services arrived. The note said the newly born baby was named Jolene, and left by her momma because she wanted Dolly to look after it. Some fans are so obsessed they will do anything to be just like their idol. One teenager broke her foot when Jessie J injured her leg while rehearsing for a performance. She sent Jesse photos to prove it. A super fan changed her name to Mrs. Kanye West when tattooing his face on her arm and derrière was not enough to claim his attention. 

None of these is as bad as how the Hebrews used to worship Baal during the time of the great prophet Elijah. They would sacrifice their children alive in fire, and actively engage in unholy activities in Baal’s pagan temples. So frustrated was Elijah, that he summoned the 400 priests of Baal to a challenge. This led to one of the most dramatic miracles in the Bible.

After that, all the people had no choice but to see Baal was a straw god, with no power, and no ears. It was obvious that Elijah’s God was the real, one true God, all powerful and mighty. But the real question was, would they abandon their unclean pagan ways to follow the true God? Sometimes we too straddle between believing in a God who requires obedience and faithfulness, and wanting to go our own way. We have to be like Joshua who said with firm resolve, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Salt of the Earth

"You are the salt of the earth...." Matthew 5:13

During the times of Jesus, they had no refrigerators nor freezers. Food like fish and meat would not keep for long unless they dried it or salted it. Today most salt is cheap and we can easily find it. But in ancient times, it was used as a currency, and people carried salt cakes around to barter with or buy something with. Roman soldiers were at some point paid in salt, and that's why we have the idiom, "worth his weight in salt". Taxes on salt have even inspired revolutions! And according to a salt company, the compound has more than 14,000 uses! 

When Jesus told the crowd, "You are the salt of the earth," He probably meant a lot of things. We are of immense value in the world. We add flavor to the world in the use of our gifts and spreading the gospel. The world is corrupt and headed for destruction, and in need of preserving. That is the value of the Church in the world. Many today do not see the need for the Church. They think of the church as a building where people go to have religious services. But the Church is the people, the believers of Christ. We have a role to play to preserve what is of value in the world. 

2 Chronicles 7:14 emphasizes how important it is for us, the people of God to be salt and light in the world: “If MY PEOPLE, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways: then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 

Yes, Lord, today more than ever, help us to be the salt of the earth!  Help us to humble ourselves, pray, seek Your face, and repent! Forgive us O Lord of our iniquities, and hear our prayers! 

Monday, June 08, 2020

Lift Your Eyes

“I lift up my eyes toward the mountains; ​whence shall help come to me?” Psalm 121:1

My father quoted this Bible verse often. He was what was known as a PK, a preacher’s kid. Although he did not tell many stories of his father, Bishop D.D. Alejandro, and his mom who was a Deaconess, I know that my grandfather was well thought of in the Methodist Church. My dad’s father was elected in 1944 to be the first Filipino Bishop of the Methodist Church during the Japanese occupation. In 1915, after studying Philosophy in Asbury College in Kentucky, grandfather, or Lolo as I call him, was appointed District Evangelist for Bulacan and Nueva Ecija and became editor of the Tagalog monthly newsletter “Mabuting Balita” (Good News). He also became an instructor in the Union Theological Seminary. 

I like to think of my grandfather, reading and studying the Bible to become a preacher and an evangelist, and then using what he learned to write the newsletter, and teach scripture to many students. One of those students, Pastor Apilado of the Methodist Church in The University of the Philippines, came to give the anointing of the sick to my dad when my dad was nearing the end of his life. When my dad passed away, we found letters among his things that led us to meeting a woman, a Deaconess in the Methodist Church. She too was a student of my Lolo, and she told us that my dad was very generous, always donating to the Preacher’s Kids Association, and even helped her and her late husband, a Pastor, pay for their apartment. 

My grandfather lifted his eyes toward the mountains, my dad lifted his eyes toward the mountains, and now I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Just like Peter, we say, “Lord, to whom shall we go, You have the Words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) 

Prayer Changes Us

“If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.” Exodus 34:9 

In the New Living Translation, we read, “Yes, this is a stubborn and rebellious people, but please forgive our iniquity and our sins. Claim us as your own special possession.” In the ESV, it is translated in this way, “go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” 

I love taking the prayers in the Bible as my own, and here is what Moses asked the Father, that He journey with us, come along as we live our lives. Moses is asking that God be not a distant God, an onlooker, but a part of our lives. We read in Exodus 33:11, “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (NKJV). That is exactly what the Father wanted from the start when He created man, fellowship. God is love, and God loves each of us as if there’s only one of us to love. We are the apple of His eye. 

Sometimes we ask what is the use of prayer if we don’t get what we ask for. Prayer is not a grocery list and God is not the errand boy who buys the groceries for us. Prayer is the means by which we connect to God, get to know Him, form an intimate relationship with Him. With prayer, we do not change God, for He is the same yesterday, today and always. He is all good, always loving and forgiving, and more of everything we can ever imagine. When we pray consistently and faithfully, it is not God who changes. Prayer changes us.

I remember my father who could be impatient at times. When he had a bad mood, we would stay away from him. As he grew older, his bad moods got less and less and less. We all knew he was a prayerful man, and he would talk to God as he went about his day. No formula prayers for him, he would just converse with God. Towards the end of his life, when he was confined to his bed, he would sometimes tell us about his prayers. One time he could not turn on his laptop, and he talked to God for some time, ending with, “Can You fix this? “ God said, “Of course!” and the laptop turned on to my dad’s surprise. He had other stories like that and his face would light up when he shared them. 

Even if we are stiff-necked, hard headed, disobedient, the more we should pray. God never gives up on us. He takes delight in us, and always, always calls us home to Him.