Monday, May 30, 2011

Six Lessons on Prayer

"If you want to get close with God, there's one thing you can do -- pray," says Rev. Arnel Tan. Rev. Arnel Tan is the station manager of Far East Broadcasting Co. in Davao City, the Senior Pulpit Minister at Davao Chinese Baptist Church and the Senior Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He was one of the guest speakers in FCCF One Thing Youth Conference last May 22 to 26, 2011 at BE Resort Mactan, Cebu.

Once upon a time, Rev. Arnel Tan was given a responsibility to head a six decade old church. After sixty years of existence, only 12 people were attending its weekly praying meeting. Rev. Tan was puzzled and disheartened with the fact that the church is supposed to be a house of prayer but how come only few are willing to come and pray? Then he realized, there was something wrong with the church. Together with the church leaders, they acknowledged that the church had problems, it was dry bordering to dying, in spite of all the activities they had held onto to keep the church moving.

There was only one thing they could do; that was to pray a very dangerous prayer. They knelt down on their knees, and uttered a simple yet extremely scary prayer...

"Lord, please cleanse this church or close it."

God answered their prayer. God chose to cleanse the church and, as a result, a great number of people --members and nonmembers-- realized the need for God and communing with God. Soon, the number of members grew exponentially. Rev. Arnel Tan emphasized that this growth was not because of his or the church's strengths; it was truly by the power of the Spirit.

He shared with us some insights on prayer within his two-hour talk.

Six lessons on prayer:

1. The role of problems may be God's invitation to prayer. God uses problems to make us vulnerable.
It is only when we are really helpless that we are really praying. It is at the point of helplessness, a full and life-long dependence on God, that we see Him at work. Hannah desperately wanted a child, but was helpless when God closed her womb. Through this instance, Hannah was moved to utter a breath of prayer in the house of God.

What problems are you experiencing lately? Have you talked to God about them?

2. The reward to prayer is not the "YES" from God. Rather, is it the very privilege of talking to God.
Rev. Tan shared about church members who had asked him to dedicate their businesses and pray for the sick. Many were disappointed because some of the businesses closed down and some of the sick died. The purpose of prayer is not for God to fulfill your will. Rather, is it a beautiful bonding moment with God, through Jesus Christ. It aligns your heart to His, at the end of the day, you might just discover God's amazing purposes.

If you want something from God (i.e. for God to bless your plans, to make your ministry to grow or your business to flourish), that is not Christian, that is Chinese. It is called investment

Have you prayed for God's will? Pray also for the strength to pursue God's will.

3. Cruise on a sailboat and not on a speedboat.
The Holy Spirit leads a person or a church like how the wind blows a sailboat. Throughout the journey, one is not only awestricken taking in the view but also experiences the soft gentle breeze caressing on one's skin. However, our sinful, selfish, self-reliant, shortcut-loving nature would rather sweep the waters through a speed boat which is stirred by man and is moved at a desired pace. In the speed boat, although one can surely feel the strong gust brushing across one's face, there is no room for appreciation. The focus, is on the destination rather than the journey. And the destination of our churches is marked by the attendance, the budget, the building or the cash and not the believers' experience with God.

God's work cannot be done by men. When men attempt to do God's work in their own limited strength, and not by the power of God's Spirit, the church will become like a dry and parched land. Instead of a rich bountiful vineyard, we find.... no love, just work; no fruit just chaff.

The moment you depend on God, it is effortless. You will see the difference. Are you cruising on a God-dependent sailboat or a self-dependent speedboat? How about your church? Do you see God at work? Or does it seem dry?

4. Pour out your heart to God.
In Rev. Tan's words, we can actually "shake, rattle and roll" as we pray. Hannah probably looked like that when she was praying, and surprisingly, she was judged by a priest named Eli. He accused her of being drunk. There may be people like Eli in churches today who remain prayerless, and judge other people who are praying. Perhaps they think when a person prays and cries, he is weak, weird or emotional.

Do you pour out your heart to God? Do negative thoughts come to your mind when you see people shaking, rattling and rolling while they pray? Is your church encouraging this type of prayer?

5. While in prayer, surrender.
Many times when we pray to God, we already have a made-up plan at the back of our head. Instead of pausing for a moment to seek Him, we continue on with the "tried and tested" plans of leading our church, and even our lives. At the start of every year, we pack the church with scheduled activities that must be performed, thinking these are the very demands of God's covenant. And you may be wondering why your church is not growing even with your prayers. This is because you are not really praying! You are simply planning and asking God to bless your plans.

Perhaps, it is time to surrender all the plans to God and clean the church of its activities until God fills the church back with His plans and purposes again. Make the congregation know that your church is a house of prayer, not a house of camps, of events, of practices, and of meetings. Encourage -- no, I think this is still a very light word -- drive the church to trust God for His leading amidst the coming uncertainty.

No more shortcuts, you surrender
No more demands, you surrender
No more hurry, you surrender
No more envy, you surrender
No more manipulation, you surrender
No more regrets, you surrender
No more revenge, you surrender

When you surrender, you will have the surprise of your life. It's a beautiful, overwhelming experience.

Have you surrendered your life to the Lord? How about your plans and your dreams?

6. When God gives you a surprise, you will be fully prepared to enjoy it.
Many times, God will prepare you until you are ready to face the surprise of your life. God will let you undergo a process before you receive a blessing. What are considered God's surprises? God's surprise is to enrich your faith. God surprise is to glorify Himself. God's surprise is connected to the purpose of God.

Now, there is one greatest surprise that God has given. That is Jesus Christ Himself.

More than healing, the healer. More than salvation, the Savior.
No blessing, no gift, no surprise can fill you completely.

Only Jesus Christ can.

Are you filled with Jesus? Or are you more preoccupied with your goal setting? Have you had any surprise from God? What did you go through to discover it?

'The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.' ~ Psalm 145:18

Sunday, May 29, 2011

FCCF One Thing Camp: Beyond Expectations!

I couldn't believe I still passed as youth when I was invited to attend the FCCF Youth Camp last May 22 to 26, 2011. I almost did not join when I heard the word youth. But since many of my friends were going there as counselors and a couple were attending as delegates, I decided to hop on the plane with them and headed to Cebu, Philippines. Never did I regret a second since then. The whole experience was very beautiful, quite surreal.

If I were to express my whole camp experience in two words, like the name of the resort, it is: BE -- Beyond Expectations.

Let me tell you my top 8 BE experiences (based on the order of appearance).

1. Calm Chamber
When I swiped in my keycard and opened the door to room 422 of BE Resort Mactan, all I could say was wow! What I saw was beyond my expectations. I felt like Percy Jackson on his first trip to Vegas. It was too beautiful to be a camp room that a thought like, hmm... could Satan be luring me? came to mind. I later realized, it was simply one of God's blessings to me that I should be thankful for.

I felt like melting in the calm colors of the room.. the hues of blue and green.. the plumped up pillows.. the climb-in-like-a-queen beds. I absolutely loved the soft coffee colored window seat with its accessorized pillows and the very witty display of frosted glass with round mirrors of varying sizes of which reminded me that Hey, we also have a beach! But nah, I'd rather curl up in the window seat and read a good book until the sky paints red and then fades to black.

2. Woman in White
My roommate and I were feeling a bit off on our third day. She had colds and I had a bit of sore-throat, so that morning we decided to drop by the hotel clinic for a quick check-up. A petite nurse with a warm smile opened the door and ushered us in. She checked our blood pressure and gave my friend the last cold medicine from her kit. As for me, she admitted apologetically that they had no available lozenges. That afternoon, I received a call from a camp officer saying that my lozenge was already available. I received a set of 10-pcs Strepsils inside a Mercury Drug Store plastic.

In the next days of camp, I heard that this woman in white would ask the unwell campers how they were doing when they'd bump into each other at the lobby.

3. Surprising Seat
At first glance, this wooden chair is as hard as mini wooden logs clumped and tied together to be used for roasting hotdogs and marshmallows. But when I sat on it, it was delightfully soft and comfortable. It followed the curvature of my body. Later I learned that unknown to the naked eye is the foam underneath the numerous wooden cylinders.

4. Breakfast by the Beach
It was my first time to enjoy a meal of bangus with garlic rice and a bowl of Arroz Caldo on the beach, with (rocky) sand under my shoes and the sound of tides in the background. Soon, I found that all meals were set on the beach.

5. Packed with Punch
I realized I wasn't too old for this youth camp. The camp may have a broad target group, but surprisingly (almost) all the scheduled talks were substantial and helpful for the young and old. The teens were silent and behaved as they listened intently and laughed occasionally when the speakers threw in some jokes (evident that they were not sleeping). The older ones listened just as attentively. Sometime during those days, you might have caught me, my seatmates, some counselors (males even) tearing up.

The messages were very powerful. Like the breath of the Holy Spirit, they filled and guided the attendees, blowing them (those who were open and willing) forward and upward. The speakers spoke with utmost honesty and strong conviction of the truth. There was a message on prayer by Pastor Arnel Tan, a pep talk by Elder Cecilio Pedro, four revival messages by Pastor Jebo Banzuelo and four theme messages on the four chapters of Philippians by Rev. Chris Chia. Learnings were definitely beyond expectations!

6. Selfless Speakers
It was my first time to encounter guest speakers giving spontaneous messages during their supposed free time. Both Pastor Jebo and Reverend Chia gave additional sessions on separate occasions (mind you they did not overlap) for those who raised their hands to go full-time and those who are already in ministry, respectively. I sensed their genuine concern for those who heeded the royal call to do the royal task.

7. Compassionate Counselor
Cathy Chi (older sister) met with us fifteen minutes earlier than the designated group devo time. She knew that we would be too tired to read, digest and answer the devotional questions late at night. And so she gave us time to read the passage silently during the morning devo time and patiently waited until we were already moving about in our seats, before she asked us to share the principles we got from the passage. She also tried to provide as much help as she could for our individual growth, in life and in ministry, during our short stay in the camp. She's indeed one of the sweetest!

8. Solemn Signature
The final climactic stage of the camp was the dedication night wherein attendees would be asked to make one of the biggest, life-changing, earth-stopping decisions in their lives. After much prayers they would be asked to choose between (1) To dedicate one's life to the Lord, (2) To rededicate one's life to the Lord, or (3) To commit one's life to full-time ministry.

God knew how lost I was (and honestly, still am). I am at a crossroad of my life where I don't know which path to take... north, south, east west, forward, backward, sideward, diagonally. Every path seemed probable and reasonable. I may not know my path, but God knows. I choose to let God take hold of the "full"-ness of me and lead the way. And so I walked to the front with my eyes filled with tears and feet trembling, I placed my name on the yellow poster together with the others who've decided to do number 3. My signature doesn't tell people that I am already a pastor or a missionary. It just says, "No reservations anymore, Lord. Wherever you take me, your princess is willing."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Gou Bu Li: A Dog's Remarkable Steamed Bun

I'm currently writing this entry in a hotel room overlooking the Tianjin daylight cityscape. Tianjin is a city in China that is about 3 hours away from Beijing by bus or 52 minutes away by bullet train. This was where my sis-in-law once upon a time resided. When I asked her how it was like to live in Tianjin, she told me "There's really nothing much to see in Tianjin," and so I expected this place to be something like a province-- full of trees, cultured animals and cool blown winds. Of course, my imagination exaggerated it a little bit. Tianjin proved to be a city and a whole lot more. I heard that people would intentionally come to this city, (it definitely looks and feels like a city) for its food. It has the finest "Bao Zi" in China, and perhaps, in the whole world.

Bao zi is a steamed, filled bun that has been a staple in northern China for hundreds of years. I asked my sis-in-law why this dish is more popular than rice in their town. Being a smarty walking encyclopedia, she gave me two reasons: (1) The weather in Tianjin is cool making the land dry. Since water was difficult to transport then, they opted to plant grains that would grow and harvest easily without water. (2) Bao zi is a full meal on its own. One can get carbohydrates from the bun, protein and fiber from the varying meat and vegetable fillings.

Yesterday, I got to taste a dumpling that even Empress Dowager went out of her way to take a bite of. This dumpling place is popularly known as "Gou Bu Li" or "Dog that doesn't pay attention" in English.

Gou Bu Li is 150 years old and it stands five storeys high in Chengde Dao street, 20 minutes walk from the Lotus Hotel. When I entered, I walked on a red carpet and it led me to the lobby with an overwhelmingly high ceiling. I thought I entered a palace or a hotel at least. The whole building is the restaurant by the way.

You may be wondering how the place got its name. Once upon a time, there was a boy in Tianjin whose nickname was "little dog." He was called such by his mother so that people would not bully him. It was for safety purposes. Little Dog worked as a baker's assistant, and soon when he was skilled enough, he opened his own food place. He was selling just one type of food, the bao zi. Soon people started flocking in for the bao zi and business was doing good that he spent all his days bent down wrapping the meat. When people would call him "Little Dog" he was too busy to look up. That's where he got his new nickname "Dog that doesn't pay attention."

After 150 years, the bao zi is still the main reason why people go to Gou Bu Li. So when we went there, each of us had eight bitable pieces of the ever so infamous bao zi and an individual bowl of plain congee. A set of eight bao zi is priced at RMB 38. The white bao zi was shaped like a chrysanthemum, with at least 21 equally spaced folds on its outer covering. At the middle was a pointed top like the mountains at the northern part of China. I was all too excited to take my first bite. When I finally did, I couldn't help but close my eyes to savor every bit of meat, every dot of vegetable and every inch of the bread covering. I first tried it without the black vinegar. It was very tasty in itself.

The cover was like that of a siopao. It was very smooth and chewy. It held a savory filling of meat and vegetables together with its juices similar to a Xiao Long Bao. The contrast of the plain tasting outer covering and the salty savory filling reminded me of the yinyang symbol, the balance of two opposing forces. Sometimes when I eat a lot of the same thing in a meal, say pizza in an eat-all-you-can-pizza, I would vow to myself that I would never eat pizza for a year. But in the case of the bao zi, even after the 8th piece, I still longed for more.

Come to Tianjin, taste the bao zi for yourself, and feel like Empress Dowager for a day! Here's the address. If you can't read Chinese, just print this out and show it to your taxi driver (most won't be able to understand English). I assure you, a short visit to Tianjin is definitely one royal experience.

Then hold your bao zi up high and say 'Kampei'! (Cheers!)