Sunday, February 28, 2021

Insider Information

“And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” Mark 9:2-3

Everybody gets excited about insider information, be it about stocks, or someone getting engaged, or having a baby! That's why there are TV shows, magazines, websites devoted to inside information. When Jesus was transfigured on top of a mountain, only Peter, James and John were with Him. Only these three got to share in Jesus' huge revelation. And now, with Matthew, Mark and Luke writing about this "inside information", we get to know about it as well.

The three disciples watched in awe as Jesus' appearance changed. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became whiter than white. If that wasn't enough, Elijah and Moses appeared. A cloud came over them all. Can you imagine what the disciples must have been experiencing by this time?

In the Old Testament God manifested Himself to the travelling Israelites with a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. He could not show Himself to them. He was too too inscrutable, too too awe-inspiring, magnificent...I doubt there are any words to capture what our God is. Our minds cannot wrap around the idea of God, much less describe Him. But God wanted us to know Him. And so, He said to the 3 disciples, in a voice that came out from the cloud, "THIS IS MY BELOVED SON. LISTEN TO HIM." Can God be any clearer than that?

In Matthew 17, we see that Jesus touches the terrified disciples, who had fallen face down on the ground, and said, "Don't be afraid." The insider information the disciples received and which we now can share with others, is that they saw a glimpse of the glory of Jesus, and they saw how men like Moses and Elijah would share in that glory. And that even if God is terrifying and unapproachable, we who will one day have to face Him before His throne, need not be afraid, IF we are with Jesus. IF we listen to Jesus. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

God’s Ways

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? “ 

Matthew 5:44-45

This is very difficult to obey, but I remember women offering flowers to soldiers during our People Power Revolution in EDSA in 1986. The whole world witnessed our non-violent civil resistance against the threat of the military through the CNN live coverage. Who would have imagined that offered prayers, flowers, and sandwiches, would be successful in bringing back our democracy and would inspire other countries to take the same peaceful path against tyranny? 

A few years after, the Berlin Wall was dismantled, ending the Cold War. A portion of the wall is dedicated to the Philippines in remembrance of the People Power Revolt that inspired the Germans to do the same. 

I read about 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. 

Jesus’ way is hard. He teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. He says His Father makes His sun rise on the bad and good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. God’s ways are not the world’s ways. If we want to be His children, we have to learn His ways. His way is the way of love. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

God’s One Desire

‘You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?’ Ezekiel 18:25

Ezekiel chapter 18 is full of questions and puzzlements if there is such a word. I think of our business, and the rules we have. All our employees sign a paper with a list of minor offenses, serious offenses and offenses in between with corresponding consequences. If an employee commits the serious offense of dishonesty and is given the appropriate consequence, the employee cannot say he is unaware that dishonesty is counted as a serious offense. If he asks why he is suspended, the HR manager need only to point to the consequence attached to the offense. If the employee continues to commit the same offense, one can say it is his choice to get terminated. It is not the company at fault. 

I am assuming that most people want to go to heaven. The Bible is full of instructions on how to get there. Even if someone has been wicked for most of his life, he can still enter heaven if he repents of his sins: 

“If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all My statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him.” In one sense, we can say the Lord’s way is unfair. Everything is stacked in our favor. God’s one desire is to get us all to heaven, and He did everything, even to giving His only begotten Son, so that we might live and not die. If we face a judge after we die, Jesus for sure will pay the price for our sins. IF HE KNOWS US. “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14)

Isn’t it a life or death decision to know what Jesus commands so we know the consequences of our actions? 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

I Will Trust in You

“Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion and turn his heart..." Esther C:24

There are additions in the Book of Esther that are found in my Catholic Bible that I could not find in other versions. The verse I found interesting today is found in Esther C:12-25 (inserted Chapter 4). ‘Queen Esther, seized in mortal anguish, had recourse to the Lord. She lay prostrate upon the ground together with her handmaids, from morning till evening..."Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion," she prayed.’

Esther was a Jewish orphan, raised by Mordecai, and because of her beauty, was chosen by King Ahasuerus to replace his recalcitrant Queen.When the Jews were going to be annihilated by order of Haman, the contemptible, proud, right hand man of the King, Mordecai advised Esther to plead on their behalf.

Before doing so, Esther together with her handmaids, interceded the whole day and night. She asked God to save them and teach her what to say. Her prayer lasts from verses 14 to 30, and concludes with, "From the day I was brought here till now, your handmaid has had no joy except in You, O Lord God of Abraham...

Deliver me from my fear."

Queen Esther was rightly afraid of going before the King.She tells Mordecai that anyone who goes before the King without being summoned suffers the automatic penalty of death. (Esther 4:11). We all have to confront fears in our life. Fear of a loved one dying, fear of cancer, fear of the future, of loneliness, of not getting married, losing our job, incompetence, helplessness...The list is long, but faith is the step we need to take against fear. Faith says that what I cannot do, what I cannot control, what I cannot foresee, is all in God's hands. He knows me, He knows the future. AND what's more, He loves me!

There is nothing, NOTHING that happens to me, that is NOT under His jurisdiction and control. I will trust in Him no matter what. I will trust in Him even when circumstances appear dire and spinning out of control. I. will. trust. in. Him. Period.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Sign of Jonah

“The only sign I will give them is the sign of Jonah.” Luke 11:29

The sign of Jonah is a call to repent. In verse 32 of the same chapter, we can read what Jesus said to the “evil generation” listening to Him, “At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” 

Such an understatement! Jesus is much greater than Jonah, much greater than all the prophets combined! His grace-filled Words fill the Gospels, and the Old Testament all point to Him! When two young Muslim girls read Jesus’ words, they converted to Christianity, and put 20,000 Bibles in mailboxes in Iran. They started two house churches, and spread the good news

In 2009, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh were arrested and put in the notoriously brutal Evin Prison in Iran. At first, they were terrified, and prayed that they would be released. But as it became clear they had a purpose being there, they became a sign of Jonah to the inmates, the prostitutes, and a sign of hope for the desperate. Even though it was dangerous to speak loudly, they would sing in tongues, and the Moslems around would feel the presence of God. Many would cry, confess their sins and turn back to God. 

After 259 days, they were both released. Many Christians, the UN, even the Pope wrote letters to the Iranian government. Now they are free, they wrote their story in a book, “Captive in Iran”, and vow to be a voice for those who are still in prison. There are hundreds of thousands of Christians in Iran, and the numbers of Iranian refugees converting have grown tremendously over the years, even if they face persecution, and even death. 

Lord, there is so much evil in the world. Like Maryam and Marziyeh, may we be a sign of Jonah where we are. But more importantly, may we sit at Your feet every day. Soften our hearts that we may receive You who are the source of all good things. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Watch What You Say

"Thus says the Lord: As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return till they have watered the earth, making it yield seed for the sower and food for others to eat, so is My word that goes forth out from My mouth: it will not return to Me idle, but it shall accomplish My will, 
the purpose for which it has been sent."
Isaiah 55:10-11

God's Word is creative. He said, "Let there be light,"and there was light. 
He created everything in this way.

He also gave man a part of His creative power. In Mark 11;23, Jesus said: “If you do not doubt in your heart, but believe what you say will come to pass, you shall have what you say."

So we have to watch our words, and be conscious that no negative words come out of our mouth. “We're not going to make it!" “What dim prospects!" “It's going to be a miserable day!" And especially never speak a curse over children! “You’ll never amount to anything!” “ How stupid can you be!”

"The good man out of the good treasure in his heart produces what is good. The evil man out of the evil storehouse brings forth that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." Luke 6:44-46

So let us fill our heart with good things, so that we speak good things! 
"...whatsover things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things." Phil. 4:8

There is so much that is good and wonderful in the world, why is it that a lot of times we concentrate on the negative?

I've been watching the way my mind thinks. And I've resolved not to allow negative thinking to run away like a mad dog, but to reign it in, pull its leash. I've got some ways to go yet, being a judgmental person a lot of times, but I've got time to work on it! 

Monday, February 22, 2021

My Shepherd

"The Lord is my Shepherd..." Psalm 23:1

My husband likes to tell of the time he visited a shepherd and his flock. He offered to take care of the sheep while the shepherd took a rest.

"Well, you see that's the problem. See if they'll eat if you give them food."

 My husband got the food and called out to the sheep. They did not come near. When my husband would go near, they would move away warily. The farmer then explained, "They're nearsighted. They can’t see you. But they know my voice."

He called out, and they came to feed. In John 10:4-5, Jesus explains, "The sheep follow him because they know his voice. The sheep will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of a stranger." 

Do we know the voice of our Shepherd?

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Your Ways O Lord Make Known to Me

"Your ways O Lord, make known to me; teach me Your paths." Psalm 25:4

What a wonderful prayer to start our time with the Lord! Even if we've been reading the Bible for years and have gone from cover to cover, we will never be able to say, "I already know Your ways. I can stop reading and learning now." 

Even monks, nuns, and preachers have to ask God to continually guide them and teach them His ways. In St. Benedict's Rule for Monks, there is this important dictate: "Listen, O my child, to the precepts of the Master and incline the ear of thy heart." 

There was a beautiful, very successful actress in the 50s and early 60s named Dolores Hart. She made movies with Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift, Anthony Quinn, and other famous leading men. Just when she was going to sign a contract which would have made her even more successful, she left her flourishing career in Hollywood, and her fiancé, to become a Benedictine nun in the Abbey of Regina Laudis.  She found out about the Abbey when she went on a retreat there after an exhausting time in her career. She recalls, “I wasn’t expecting just how peaceful it truly was. I found inner certitude. I felt like this is where I belonged. It became more than just a retreat. It’s the kind of feeling you get when you meet the person you’re going to marry. The more I came to visit the more it came calling to me. And the more I knew God was present to me in a very special way that I couldn’t deny.”

She is now 82 years old, wears a beret on top of her habit to keep her warm, and continues to receive letters asking her about how to find God and get closer to Him. She listened to the ear of her heart, which is also the title of her autobiography. 

Faith is a journey, an adventure. We need to be courageous, listen to God so He can lead us, and open up possibilities we would never even dream of! 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Help Others

“If you bestow your bread on the hungry ​and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, ​and the gloom shall become for you like midday.” Isaiah 58:10

In bookstores, it is a given that we can usually find a section on “Self-Help” or “Self Improvement”. An entire industry survives on giving ideas for people to help themselves out of depression, anxiety attacks, how to become a better leader, how to meet goals or find their purpose. But have you ever come across a bookstore or library with shelves full of books entitled “Helping Others”?  I love bookstores and libraries and I can spend a whole day browsing through books. One of the  best libraries I have visited was the Vancouver Public Library. Almost every day, after visiting the different parts of the city, my family and I would end up in their wonderful library. In the huge nine floor structure that resembles the Roman Coliseum, I don’t think there was a section centered on that topic. And yet, helping others, encouraging and supporting others, is so important to our spiritual, mental, emotional and even physical health. 

When Dr. Karl Menninger, founder of the Menninger Clinic was asked, "What should you do if you feel a nervous breakdown coming on?" he replied: "Lock the door of your house, go across the street, and do something to help your neighbor."

God’s ways are not our ways. God’s economy is not our economy. God’s solutions are not our solutions. If we lack money, we should give alms. If we are not happy, we should go and make someone happy. If we need something, we should give something away to someone in need. If we are constantly harassed and feel there isn’t enough time to do all we have to do, we should slow down and ask someone how they are doing. If we lack confidence, we should make somebody feel good about themselves. If we feel we were treated unfairly, or we feel unloved, we can combat that by being kind and generous to someone. A study conducted in 2017 found that when people who suffered chronic pain volunteered their time to help others, they experienced decreased pain and felt a sense of purpose. People who regularly volunteer find that it minimizes their stress and improves feelings of depression. 

There is a smart saying that goes “anything that’s wrong with you can be fixed by a change in me.” We can bring that into a broader perspective and say “anything that’s wrong with the world can be fixed by a change in me.” We might say we can’t do anything about terrorists or the pandemic. But that’s not how God thinks. He asks for our loaves and fishes, the bread that we have right here, right now, and He can multiply that and bless it until we have more than enough to feed the hungry, change the world and our perspective. Right here and right now, that is what God is asking for. Helping others who need help is what will save us. That is His promise. “Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, ​and the gloom shall become for you like midday.”

Friday, February 19, 2021

Cleanse Me

“My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; ​a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17

The great statesman, Winston Churchill, once said, “In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.” Not many people appreciate the diet of humble pie, and we often learn humility with the greatest difficulty. 

Something was very wrong in the Vienna General Hospital between 1840 and 1846. It was one of the largest teaching hospitals in the world but in the maternity wing, the mortality rate was staggeringly high. The mothers would get raging puerperal fever, painful abscesses in the uterus and birth canal and die within three days of giving birth. After studying the problem, two doctors, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, proposed that the doctors who did autopsies should wash their hands before going to the maternity ward to deliver babies. The doctors scoffed in disbelief! Some even erroneously maintained that the dirtier the doctor, the better, because then they were very well trained as they regularly performed autopsies!

Dana Tulodziecki, a philosophy professor, wrote that the “doctors weren’t pleased that  Dr. Semmelweis, essentially implied that they were responsible for killing all those women.” That was probably the reason why it took a surprisingly long time before doctors realized how very important hand washing and sterilizing their instruments were. 

Yes, it is most humiliating when we realize the problem is us. When will we be sensible enough to know that humility is the root of all virtues and the surest sign of strength and wisdom? Let us allow God during this season of “spring cleaning” to show us how we put ourselves as the center of everything and interfere in His perfect plan for us. 

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; ​in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt ​and of my sin cleanse me.”

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Choose Life!

"Choose life then that you and your descendants may live." Dt. 30:19

In Deuteronomy we find several sermons of Moses. He encouraged the Israelites to faith and obedience, and gave them many, many instructions on how to live. There were also promises that if they obeyed, God would keep His covenant of unfailing love, bless them and make them into a great nation. In Dt.30:19, God said to His people, "I'm giving you a choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Choose life that you and your descendants may live." 

I remember when Josh was young and I wanted him to go to the young adults camp included in our community program. It was his first time so he was naturally apprehensive. "Don't I have a choice?" he asked me plaintively. "Yes you do," I said. "You can choose to enjoy yourself or not." 

God our Father sets out His instructions to us in the Bible. In Dt.30:11, He says through Moses that these commands are not so hard to understand. He put it in our hearts so we can obey. We too, like my son, have a choice before us. Do we obey Him and enjoy the journey? Or do we struggle against every bit of rule, instruction or command? 

Lord, may I continue to get to know You more and more. May I love Your Word, and obey You with a heart set on pleasing You. I choose You. I choose life! 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Come Alive

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” The disciples answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” 

Mark 8:20-21

Jesus spent a lot of time explaining to His disciples, and a lot of times, He would ask them, “Do you still not understand?” I can fully relate to how my mind would boggle if I was one of Jesus’ followers. I am sure following Jesus around, seeing the miracles of the loaves and fishes, healing, exorcisms, and listening to His discourses for days on end, would be overwhelming. I think I would have a paper and pen everywhere we went. And that is what scholars think Matthew, the tax collector, did. 

Edgar J. Godspeed wrote, “Jesus now has a secretary, a recorder, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah had, to such tremendous advantage!...Tax collectors were not only proficient in writing but many of them knew shorthand, in Jesus’ times and a hundred years before. While we cannot say that Matthew used it in taking down Jesus’ utterances . . . even without it dictation could be taken down with great speed.”

Many scholars have done thorough studies of reading and writing during Jesus’ life and times. Allan R. Millard for one, writes that there is an impressive array of material evidence to show that Galilee was not “illiterate backwater”, and that coin hoards there “reveal the need for records and the existence of robust trade and trade routes”.  He concludes that because of the “ubiquity of writing in first-century Palestine, the variety of writing material and scripts, and the range of circumstances in which people wrote....This is not to say the Evangelists began to compose the Gospels in Jesus’ lifetime, but that some, possibly much, of their source material was preserved in writing from that period, especially accounts of the distinctive teachings and actions of Jesus.”

We are so blessed these days! When we have a question about the Bible, there are ways to find out the answers without going through dusty stacks of books in old libraries. When I was reading the 8th chapter of Matthew this morning, I asked myself, how did people write in those days? Was it easy to write? Would someone listening to Jesus have recourse to writing down his lessons if they desired to? And the answer is yes! 

There is a letter to Tiberius Caesar that has survived through the ages, supposedly written in 32 AD by the governor of Judea, Publius Lentulus, that describes Jesus. It was brought to the Vatican about the 9th century. “There lives at this time in Judea a man of singular virtue, whose name is Jesus Christ, whom the barbarians esteem as a prophet, but his followers love and adore him as the offspring of the immortal God. He calls back the dead from the graves and heals all sorts of diseases with a word or touch. He is a tall man, well shaped, and of amenable and reverent aspect; He has hair of a color that can hardly be matched, falling into graceful curls, waving about and very agreeably couching about his shoulders, parted on the crown of his head, running as a stream to the front after the fashion of the Nazarites. His forehead is high, large and imposing; his cheeks without spot or wrinkle, beautiful with a lovely red; his nose and mouth formed with exquisite symmetry; His beard of a color suitable to his hair, reaching below his chin and parted in the middle like a fork; His eyes, bright blue, clear and serene, look innocent, dignified, manly and mature.” There is more, but we get the picture. It has not been proven without a doubt to be genuine. 

What we know is much has been written about Jesus for He is a man without equal. More important than what he looked like is what He did and said. Let us read the Word that God has left us for our benefit and use the tools at our disposal to help us understand, and make Jesus come alive for us. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

My Brother’s Keeper

 "Am I my brother's keeper?" Genesis 4:9

None of us has perfect families. Just the fact that we belong to it makes it imperfect already!! Although we love each other, try to be kind and generous, something will happen to bring out some thorns. Usually it's not even intentional.

In the story of Cain and Abel, the conflict starts with both of them offering God the fruits of their labor. While God favors the offering of Abel which consists of several choice lambs from the best of his flock, God is not so pleased with what Cain gives him. Reading from the original Hebrew shows that Cain offered the last remnants of his harvest. Leftovers. A Jewish writer said he offered hemp seed or flax, trifling things. One wonders why he bothered to bring anything to God at all! And God made His displeasure known. 

In Malachi 1:6-14, God is not pleased when we do not offer to Him our best. It is the same as when we give a worthless gift to the President or to an important guest. It is as if we give them an insult instead of a compliment! But even after Cain insults God, God still teaches Him by saying that Cain should learn to respond in a right way to His teachings because "...if you don't, watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you!" Sin has a way of escalating. From envy, anger, then hatred. Before Cain knows it, he is the first murderer!!!

 After Cain kills Abel in his rage, God asks him where Abel is. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain answers defiantly. In Ezekiel 33:7-9, God makes it clear that we are responsible for our brothers and sisters. We are stewards of our relationships. And that is why God constantly reaches out to us. He takes it upon Himself to reconcile us to Himself.

Thank you Lord for Your loving kindness to us! Thank you for Your perseverance and faithfulness to us! Thank you for Your forgiveness!

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Invisible Crown

“...whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

“Noblesse oblige”, a French phrase which translates to “nobility obligates” or “nobility obliges”, means that people of noble ancestry have an unwritten obligation to act honorably, responsibly, and generously towards others, especially the less fortunate.

Is there anyone more noble than a son or daughter of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? We are children of the living God, and we should always remember to wear our invisible crown. What we do reflects on our Father, especially if we claim to be Christians. We may be the only Bible others may ever see. 

Alas! We may not always present ourselves on our best behavior, but we may be assured as heirs of our Father, “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the Church to Himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind – yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27). 

Without spot or wrinkle or blemish! Yes, Christ gave Himself for us so that it is possible by going to Him every day to be washed clean of our pride, arrogance even, our feeling entitled, our selfishness, our lack of compassion, and everything that makes us dirty and separates us from our noble family. 

Let us strive to live in a way that every day, we get closer and closer to our Father, and nearer and nearer to doing everything for His glory! 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

God’s Plan

“He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” Genesis 3:15

God’s words to Eve, the first woman, is very enigmatic, but when you look at the whole panorama of God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation, we can understand it better. As St. Augustine once observed, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” 

Adam and Eve sinned and Eve said the “nahash”, the literal translation of which is serpent dragon, had tricked her. God then warned the “nahash”, “Because you have done this...I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” 

In Hebrew we see the word נָחָשׁ (nahash), and according to the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, “Throughout the Old Testament nahash is used to refer to powerful, even gigantic, evil creatures. Isaiah calls the nahash a sea dragon, the great Leviathan (see Isaiah 27:1). Job also uses nahash to depict terrible sea monsters (see Job 26:13).”

From the first book of the Bible, if we go to the last book, Revelation, we meet the “nahash” again (chapter 12). This same horrible, fierce serpent dragon with seven heads and ten horns intimidates a woman clothed with the sun about to give birth. The “nahash” was just so ready to devour the offspring of the woman. But was he able to? No. The offspring was snatched away from the “nahash” and was caught up to God. 

The “nahash” still intimidates us into submission, like it did the first woman. It deceives, feeds lies and misinformation so that we will disobey God, and not only that, follow what the “nahash” says. But it cannot frustrate God’s plans and purposes. Let us rejoice and meditate on God’s Word this Lent. As Lent draws near, let us prepare to understand God’s declaration of war on the “nahash” who wants to devour all of us! 

Friday, February 12, 2021

We are God’s Masterpiece

“Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, ​whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32:1

During the Renaissance there were a lot of sculptures carved by masters. Marble from several locations in Italy were quarried and masterpieces made of these slabs from the area of Massa Carrara and Alta Versilia. There is one huge marble called “giant” that we will concern ourselves with today.

It had already been carved on two different occasions by two different master sculptors including the prolific Donatello. Both sculptors gave up on the project because of the marble’s many flaws and inferior quality. The slab was also brittle, weak, and had veins and countless taroli, or pinholes, riddling throughout the block. The marble was abandoned for more than twenty-six years before the authorities, the Arte della Lana, determined to have it finished. Many sculptors examined the marble, even Leonardo da Vinci. Aside from the flaws, there was the work already done by Donatello and Rosellino to consider. It necessitated binding decisions as to the spacing of the legs and shoulders. Finally, it was 26 year old Michelangelo Buonarotti who convinced the guild, and was given the official  contract to undertake this challenge on August 16, 1501. 

Michelangelo extracted from this single flawed marble block his 17 feet tall, 12,000 pound David. So in love was Michelangelo with his work, that he sculpted in utmost secrecy, barely sleeping and hardly eating. He worked on David for two years, concentrating his focused attention on it, until January 1504. 

Giorgio Vasari, wrote about the magnificent David in his book, “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects”. He said that it was “certainly a miracle that Michelangelo...” was able to “ restore to life one who was dead," and then Vasari listed all of the largest and most grand of the ancient statues that he had ever seen, concluding that Michelangelo's work surpassed "all ancient and modern statues, whether Greek or Latin, that have ever existed." Michelangelo’s brilliant masterpiece has stood on display at Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia since 1873. 

If a mere human can make a masterpiece out of an abandoned, flawed, cold piece of stone, what can God do with the human heart? Indeed if we put ourselves in the hands of our Creator, surrender to His chiseling, hammering, cutting and carving, what might He make of us poor miserable scraps of clay? Indeed, just like Michelangelo, God loves each of us, and I can imagine Him, working on us in secret, guarding the masterpiece He is bringing out in each of us. It does not matter if we are riddled in sin. If we give our lives over to Him, He will cover our sin with His very own blood and wash it away. One day He will unveil His beloved creation and we will be in awe and rejoice!

Thursday, February 11, 2021


“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Mark 7:28

This is one Bible story I am not very happy about. A Syrophoenician woman went to Jesus on one occasion, fell at his feet, and begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. I assume that it was because she was not a Jew that Jesus answered the cryptic: “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children to throw it to the dogs.” 

If I was this poor woman, would I have understood what Jesus meant? It was like a puzzle, a mystery that required the right answer. Fortunately, the mother had the “missing piece” she needed. She answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

Dogs? Dogs!!!! Even if Jesus meant puppies, or beloved pets of the household as some commentaries explain, it was still an insult. But this woman did not mind the rejection. She was humble, she was focused, she was persistent, she was resolved to get her daughter healed. I think before approaching Jesus, she asked questions about Him, “researched” in a way. Who was he? Was he really a healer, a miracle worker, prophet? Along with the tidbits, she learned He was a Jew, and some called Him the Messiah who came for the chosen people. That’s why she knew the “winning answer”!

In Matthew 15, we learn that she calls Him, “Son of David”, a title for the Messiah. She knew that the Messiah would come to save the chosen people, the Jews. That’s why she did not protest when He said He came to prepare a feast for His people and it was not right to give the food to the “dogs”, what the Jews usually called the Gentiles. 

Jesus said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” Oh, happy day when our prayers are answered! Do we know how to approach Jesus? We need to be humble, focused, persistent and resolved. Ever since the early Church, the people of God prayed back to God the Words He had given them. We NEED to know God and His promises so we stand on sure ground when we pray. 

Sometimes we do not understand when God is silent, when God seems deaf to our cries. Perhaps He is trying to draw out the genuineness of our faith. Perhaps he is testing us so we learn perseverance, endurance, we learn not to give up.  

Give us, gracious Father, crumbs from Your Table, and we shall be saved. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Created with Love

“The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for soul 'nephesh ' means to breathe. 'Nephesh' is used 750 times in the Old Testament. In Gen 2:7, we read that God formed man from dust, breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul (Nephesh).

 In the New Testament, soul is translated from the Greek word psyche, which would mean the life in us, where the will, decisions, emotions, our personality originate. Jesus says that the first, most important commandment is to love God above all, with everything in us. Isn't it amazing that God who has and is everything, should have this as His primary agenda? Pastor Ron Tucker said that the one thing God wants and will not take by His power is the VOLUNTARY love of a human heart.

God wants our heart, He wants our soul, He wants our all. What? He wants feeble, self serving, insensitive, broken me? What kind of love can I give Him? No matter what, that's what God wants first of all. How can we withhold whatever kind of love that is in our power to give God who loves us best?

Yes, we were created in love, surrounded by love ever since we were a mere idea in God’s mind. He will never abandon us, even if it may seem so sometimes. The world is so full of uncertainty, sadness and terrible pain even. 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, February 09, 2021

In His Image

“God created man in his image; ​​in the image of God he created him; ​​male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

What a beautiful amazing gift that God created us in His image and likeness! I don’t think we can find this truth in any other religion or belief. 

We have so much potential in us, so much capacity to create, invent, compose, think. We can exert our human body and mind to its limits and we have not even reached the frontiers of what we are capable of. It may not feel like it, but the human brain’s memory storage capacity is around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes), according to Paul Reber, a professor in Northwestern University. 

But because God gave us free will, we have abused our freedom. I cannot imagine how some sane, intelligent people think it is ok to allow babies in the womb to be killed legally! Shouldn’t those babies be protected and given the same rights we have? Those babies have so much potential, so much capacity to create and think, and could one day, give the answer to one of mankind’s innumerable problems. Each one is a masterpiece created by the Ultimate Artist! Who would ever think of destroying the Mona Lisa or one of Rembrandt’s amazing paintings? Only a madman! And yet governments legally allow the destruction of so many human works of art each day! It is a tragedy of unimaginable dimensions! 

Who gave man the power over life and death? How can anyone declare that just because a man or woman is a drug user, that person is useless, a dreg on society and will never change? 

There is so much in a person we will never understand. Joe Dean Sola was a drug user who used to burn Bible pages for his marijuana. His ambition was to become a druglord. What is he now after God’s finger touched him? He has saved hundreds of children from a life of crime and prostitution in the streets of Manila. How about John Pridmore who was a former angry East End gangster who couldn’t spend the money from his drug dealing faster than it poured in? Now he speaks to millions of young people around the world about God’s love and forgiveness. He even spoke in World Youth Day in Sydney in 2007. 

We should never give up on people. We need to encourage, we need to forgive, we need to believe, not only in others, but in ourselves us well. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

In God’s Good Time

“God saw how good it was.” Genesis 1:10

In the beginning, in Genesis 1:1, we read that the darkness covered the abyss, and I like to connect the Creation story with the first verse in John's Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word...and the Word was God...the LIGHT shines in the darkness, 

and the darkness has not, will not, and will never overcome it." (paraphrase by me!)

YES! God's creation is good! Very good! And no matter what darkness, what twistedness, depravity, the ancient enemy tries to inundate us with, LIGHT will prevail! 

Jesus is risen, VICTORY ours! And let us NOT be afraid to tell the world about it!

In the first book of the Bible, we can find that God saw what He created was good, and He pronounced it good seven times. He wanted to give us a world that was not only good, but beautiful, and in perfect order. But He also gave man free will. He wanted man to have the freedom to choose to love Him or not, to obey Him or not, to trust Him or not. What would have been the pleasure of creating automatons who did not have a mind or heart or spirit? 

Alas, we are the same as our first parents, and we prefer to act in our own ego drama, instead of following God’s ways, and pursuing His mission for us. In our rebellion against God, we find ourselves in a disordered, fractured world, where life is not sacred and not valued. How patient God is with us! He waits. He waits. He waits. And so should we wait upon the Lord as well. 

Monsignor Charles Kosanke wrote in his bible study, Come and See: “If people in contemporary society spent as much time praying for God's mercy as they did watching television and listening to political rants, society might be more stable. Busyness, noise, and distrust abound. But, the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel said, ‘In returning and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’ (Isaiah 30:15). Do you rest in the Lord? Do you spend quiet time with Him? Is your strength found in trusting in the Lord or in others? ‘Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore He exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him (Isaiah 30:18).’ Take some time to wait on God.” 

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Asking for Jesus

 "Everyone is asking for you." Mark 1:37

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1, we see a glimpse of what Jesus' Sabbath was like. He would preach in the synagogue in the morning, and then take a meal at a friend's home. This time it was Simon and Andrew's home. When He found out that Simon's mother-in-law was sick, He went to her bedside, helped her sit up and healed her. She was the one who prepared a meal for Jesus and 4 of his disciples.

That evening, His work was not done. Many sick and demon-possessed people came to Him for healing. To add to the noise and the melee, there were a lot of spectators, "usisero" in filipino jargon. So the next morning, Jesus went off by Himself before daybreak to pray. But Simon and the others found Him, and urged, "Everyone is asking for you. Looking for you."

Instead of saying, "OK, let's go to them," Jesus says He has to go to other towns and preach there too. It wasn't like today, where Jesus could go on TV and everyone who wanted to listen, could listen. No, He had to go to remote places, so more people would hear the Word.

Yesterday, I attended a free seminar called Joy of Discovery. Although a relative of ours came to our home and taught our family these tools for studying the Bible a looooong time ago, it was good to review these lessons again. One thing that was different from that time was we were all on Zoom, and anybody with a connection from all around the world could join in. Imagine if we could listen to Jesus on Zoom! Another thing that was different was that now it is so easy to delve deeper into the Bible and Bible times because of the online tools available to us! It was exciting to search for and find all sorts of details about sycamore trees, tax collectors, etc. It certainly added more dimension to the story of Zacchaeus who climbed a tree in order to better see Jesus. 

If we are looking for Jesus, He is looking for us too! He traveled far and wide, and all that he said and did cannot be contained in a library of books. “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

What we can be sure of is, whatever we need to know is in the Bible. If we look for Him there, we will find Him!