Thursday, September 22, 2011

One Lovers' Quarrel

If you are using Yahoo Messenger, you have probably seen the red "angry" emoticon with wisps of smoke coming from its ears.  Well, I could pass as its live version last night.  Not only did I feel smoke blowing out of my ears, I could also feel it pushing out from my nose.

You see David and I had to meet some friends by 7:00pm.  He told me he'd be leaving the house before six to pick me up.  So by 6pm, I was fully packed and ready to go... only to find that I'd be sitting and wasting my time away in the next hour and fifteen minutes.

When he had arrived, I was fuming.  I closed the door, locked the car, and remained silent for some excruciating number minutes.  He apologized, "I'm sorry that I was late.  It's because I had to think through and plan..."  I was still fuming; I could feel smoke puffing out of my face.

"Are you going to treat me like this for the rest of the night?"  He was pertaining to my silent treatment. My silence meant yes.

I was thinking to myself, "Why did it take him so long?!" and.. "How could it take him that long?!"

A few stoplights later, the Lord started to convict me, "Don't you remember that earlier this week, you were also late for another meeting?"

Yes, I was late for 40 minutes, "But Lord, it was not my fault!  I didn't know it would take me two hours to enroll in school."

Then He seemed to reply right into my heart, "That is not the point Mitzi.  When you were late in that meeting, your teammates had shown you grace by pardoning you.  They even took time to share with you what you had missed.  Shouldn't you impart grace to David as well?  Shouldn't you forgive him just as how your teammates had forgiven you?  Shouldn't you forgive him, just as how I had forgiven you?"

"Okay, Lord. I get the point."

I then told David, "I forgive you."  It was indeed the Lord's work to take away my anger and replace it with forgiveness.  It was almost like in an instant.. way before we reached the meeting place.  I couldn't do that on my own.  Neither could I talk to myself and gain wisdom from an odd schizophrenic dialogue.  If it were up to me, and my sinful state, I'd probably remain angry a lot longer.

God helped me realize that my anger was out of proportion.  I was like the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:23-34.  This unmerciful servant was forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents (millions of dollars), but he was unwilling to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii (a few dollars).  I, like this servant, owe a BIG debt to God... I cannot pay off my debts, my sins, even if I were to live another lifetime.  Yet, through the blood Jesus Christ and in the name of Jesus Christ, He has forgiven me.. erased off my debts.. and even adopted me as His princess.  Shouldn't I be more than glad to impart His grace to other people as well?

Please forgive me, Father.  I thank You for your patience in teaching me.

 If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
~ Matthew 6:14-15

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Five Whispers of Satan to Writers

"We are not only forewarned, but we are also forearmed," I heard a preacher say.

What do we --believers in Christ-- have to be warned from and armed for? Isn't the Christian life supposed to be a great life since we have already been saved from sin? I guess not, the Christian life is a far cry from a walk in the park. Once we enter the Christian life, we all need to be forewarned and forearmed, because we are entering a battle in the spiritual realms.

All the mumu, the monsters, the demonic thoughts, the serpent, the exorcism, they are all real. This battle is definitely SERIOUS because Satan and the demons are real. That's why as Paul says in Ephesians 6, we need to wear the full armor of God daily.

"How can you fight the enemy if you don't know your enemy and if you are not even aware of your weapons?" The preacher continued with his preaching, "There are two mistakes we make against the enemy:

a. We magnify him.
b. We underestimate him."

We should acknowledge that Satan is a powerful being, but he can be overcome in Jesus' name!

My quiet time today brought me to the wilderness where Jesus was tempted. Satan is indeed the most cruel and cunning creature in the whole universe. Talk about provoking Jesus when he was at his hungriest, thirstiest and perhaps physically weakest point in time.. right on his 40th day of fasting.

Satan did not think of giving up. He touched on the physical need of Jesus by tempting him to use his powers and turn the stones into bread. When Jesus declined with a powerful verse, Satan shifted to the human's emotional need for security by suggesting that Jesus jump off the mountain and have God the Father save him. Again, Jesus who was well-versed with the Scripture responded well. Satan persevered and banked on the human's psychological need for achievement and esteem, when he asked Jesus to bow before him and he would give Jesus all the kingdoms under his rule. Jesus sited from Scripture, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only."

What beautiful ways to shut Satan up, don't you think? This made me reflect.. what are my needs? What thoughts have Satan been feeding me? What are he tempting me to do? What can I do to rebut him?

There are several ways Satan is tempting me as a writer. I started writing last year with a message in mind. I just wanted (and still want to) tell the world about my God. But Satan has been playing a very big role in distracting me.

Let me share with you FIVE whispers of Satan (based on my experience as a writer) that can pull you from obeying God, as well as FIVE biblical comebacks (BC) lifted from the Bible to resist Satan.

1. "You are not a good writer. There are a lot of better writers than you." This can pull you back to your shell, blur your faith in God, and make you feel incapable and ineffective in doing God's work.

Biblical Comeback (BC): "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us." (Ephesians 3:20)

2. "Why write? Nobody reads Christian literature much." Satan is so good in discouraging us from letting other people know about God. Tsk. Tsk.

BC: "But my child, let me give you some final advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much story wears you out." (Ecclesiastes 12:12). It is not wrong to study about arts, culture, food, life, philosophies, etc. But because our time here is limited, it is better to prioritize lessons that would affect both life and eternity.

3. "Look at how many people read your piece. You are doing good!" The "you" here means you and not God is good. Satan here is feeding your needs for achievement and esteem.

BC: "As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Galatians 6:14)

4. "Avoid writing topics that can run so deep and touch some painful roots. Don't write honestly, people might not accept you."

BC: "Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man." (Luke 6:22)

5. "Why write? Writing won't feed you."

BC: "Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?" (Matthew 5:26). I believe when God blesses you with a gift, and instill in you a passion, use it and do it no matter what it takes, because God has a purpose to be fulfilled through you.

Satan is moving about without you knowing it. He is real. He is cunning. He is fierce. So do keep yourselves armed everyday. Let your strength rest not on your own might and power, but on the Spirit of our magnificent, great God!

You have been warned! God bless you!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Big Family Project

When Ondoy had recklessly hit Manila two years ago, I remember our first floor was turned into a swimming pool. The tall vase in our sala floated on a thick brown colored muddy waters. The cars at the garage were all drenched and dirty. My parents were away for a couple of days and I was the only family member at home.

On that rainy 26th day of September, almost all of my aunties and uncles called my cellphone one after the other. Since they couldn't pick me up from the house due to the flooded streets, they resorted to calling me up on the phone every 10 minutes. One auntie told me to turn off the electrical switches at home. Another auntie told me to call them up for updates. An uncle asked if I could still take out the batteries from the car. And many other calls were made that kept me busy all day and night.

The next morning, my phone got drained which meant I couldn't be reached in any way. I walked to an aunt's place and she welcomed me like her own child. We had lunch together. After lunch, we passed by the house. I was surprised to see other aunties and uncles already at home sweeping the floors, fixing the electric circuits and drying out the cars. More relatives came later that day; they helped wash the kitchenware that floated in mud. All of them did different tasks with a smile, like they were working together for a big project.

Two years later, our maid suddenly got sick when my parents were not around. I was afraid that it was going to be another dengue case. I never thought that what had happened to Joy could cause me a bit of trauma. Even after much prayers, my heart still palpitated, my breaths were short and shallow and my sleep was tiring. Again, my relatives surrounded me during this time of, should I say, trial. One brought our kasambahay to check-up. Another aunt even brought some tawa-tawa leaves from Malolos, Bulacan to our place. Many others offered rides if I needed them.

I am simply overwhelmed with the love and support from my big family. I praise God that they enjoy helping out when the opportunities arise. It is a joy to see families being there for each other through thick and thin.

Last week, one of my teen cousins needed help in creating a commercial for his school project. Who were there for him? Who had enjoyed being his actors? His family of course! Hihi. :)

This is the final product from an amateur director and amateur actors and actresses:
Fountain Dew commercial.

Praise God for blessing us with big families -- whether families in blood or in Christ! :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sheep for Slaughter: Refocus

Just a month ago, I was asked by a dear friend to answer a survey of today's Fil-Chi church. This survey consists of the strengths and weaknesses of the church, the vision for the church, and the next steps the church must do. It was indeed a very difficult task. Who am I to think about the direction of plenty of hundred people, I thought.

So I closed my eyes and prayed about it. An image suddenly popped in my head. I believed it was God-given. Because when that image had come, I knew what to pray for and I was instantly filled with God's peace, the peace that transcends all understanding, the peace that I couldn't generate for myself.

If you are curious as to how the image looked like, here it is:

The image shows a wooden fence, topped with a much nicer fence, topped with a strong sturdy cement wall with fine glass doors, and then covered with an equally strong roof and a cross. This signifies the church. The tree on the other hand is the life the structure seeks to preserve. It is the body of Christ.

I realized from this image that we, the church, have been building on a previously set structure, improving it, making it more efficient and grander. But it does not mean that we are effectively participating in the building of the universal body of Christ.

Our focus, our visions, our strategies, our tactics have been set on the internal, very limited people... and not on what the Bible is claiming that we should: the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the orphans, the widowed, basically, the marginalized.

Based on Isaiah 1, the Lord is not impressed with our offerings and sacrifices (works, ministries):

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

What I'm trying to say here is that we need to seek the right focus; we need to build the structure on where God wants His tree to grow. I know many will disagree with me here when I ask you to seek the right focus, and change the wrong focus to the right focus; because many are allergic to the word change, because it is like "rocking the boat" or ceasing unity. But what I'm saying here are all based on what God wants, not on what I want.. They're based on what the Bible says and not merely on a random book I've read somewhere.

The copy-pasted verse above is just one of the many commands of God to help the poor, feed the sick, etc. And if we are aiming to be like Jesus, I think we need to study who His target markets were. Were they the greatest businessmen then? The high officials? The pharisees and the sadducees? No. They were the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the worst of all sinners -- prostitutes & tax collectors.

I pray that we, the church, would not be contented with all that we're doing now. Being contented would lead us to: (1) become ineffective for God's work. We miss God's plans. We miss God's purpose. We miss what's important; (2) depend on ourselves. Since we are contented, we are in the comfort zone that disables us to see God at work. And in Jeremiah, a church that depends on self is like a dry and parched land, with no love that builds the church up, which leads us back to point number one; (3) fail at worship. We focus only on ourselves, and what we want and can do, and not on God, and what He wants and can do. And this is very dangerous, because we could wrongly identify worldly successes for God's blessings. We might even get to the point of mixing worldly values for biblical ones.

Church, I'm not saying that we should give up everything of our budget for the poor. I would just like you to read your Bible and identify what the Bible wants us to focus 0n. Who are the target markets of Jesus Christ? What are the things that God wants us to do? Is God glorified when what we spend for the camps in hotels and high budgeted events is higher than the amount spent in helping the poor? Is God glorified when we create one big-time medical mission, rather than having many small minimal-budgeted activities targeted to the poor?

Many have told me that we have a different target market.. we target the ones in our network (which is mostly the rich). But is this enough of a reason to disregard the "target market" God says we should have in the Bible? Are we going to be like Sodom and her daughters who were described as "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." (Ezekiel 16:49)?

I'm not encouraging you to do good works by helping the poor just to be saved. By all means, no. We have been saved through Jesus out of the great mercy He dispensed to a dust like you and me. And we need to share about Jesus to our humbled brethren who have experienced heavier
effects of sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ can free them not only from spiritual bondage but also from the effects of sin in this world (i.e. poverty, slavery, injustice). God achieves this through the church.

May we become a blessing to the least of our brothers, for they too deserve to know Jesus Christ. Before we think of who to reach, let us remember why - the compassion of God for the lost.
Our families, relatives, friends, and colleagues all need Jesus. But so do the poor, the hungry, the sick, and everyone outside or network of friends. We need to reach everyone, with no favoritism.

Read Church.

Reflect Church.

Refocus Church.

~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~

The content above, particularly the need of the church to help the poor, has become a burden when I started reading Isaiah from the Old Testament; and it just kept on growing as I journeyed through the Old Testament during my quiet time. But I think what frustrated me more than our lack of compassion for the poor, is the missed focus of the church. The church has not been seeking God in humility and trust anymore... and this is such a sad sad thing.

I'm not sure if you agree with me when I say we should add to or shift our focus to the poor. Whether you do or you don't, I respect you. Whether your burden is to disciple the young ones, to help the old people, I am happy for you and I would like to encourage you to go do it! I just hope that more of us will read and be changed by His living Word. The Bible has it all..It can provide us the burden that also burdens Jesus. It can also set out the mission vision of the church.. and of your life!

Let me share how God moved to erase the frustrations I had. It was very humbling actually. Last Sunday, I woke up with an indescribable joy. It was like God, through the Holy Spirit, had placed a lingering truth in my heart.

"The church may have its wrongs, but you also have your wrongs, Mitzi. You have not completely obeyed me too. One disobedience means you've already missed the mark.. you are not considered right anymore. It is not what you did or will ever do that has caused me to make you my daughter. It is only because of My mercy and grace.

"Just like the church, there's nothing you, your pastors, or the leaders can do to make it right. It is only through My mercy and grace that the church will be cleansed."

I realized I myself have to do a big refocus. I am not someone "right" to correct the wrongs of the church. I must shift my eyes from looking at the imperfections around me (that can trigger my Messianic Complex) to the Lord above who is the ultimate source of life and love on this dry and parched land. It is not by my might nor power to right the wrongs in the community, but by His spirit!

If you are also seeing some imperfections in your church, do not allow these thoughts to frustrate you. Perhaps, you can pray this prayer with me?

Dear Lord,

Please teach me to focus on you and not on the problems that I see around me. I lift up the church into Your hands. It is now in Your control. I hope Lord that You will have mercy and teach us, the church, to really depend on You and make Your Word our compass. Even if it will be painful, refine the church, so that each and everyone of us will shine brightly like diamonds.. and nations will see that we are indeed Your people.

May you also enable me to remain faithful, to trust and obey you at all costs, even if it may seem like I am rebelling against the status quo of this world and maybe even of the church. May Your Word enlighten my path each and everyday as I read Your Word. And may You use me in Your grand masterplan.

In Jesus' name I pray,

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sheep for Slaughter: Warnings to Sheep

Recently I've been hearing about issues of pastors having conflicts with church leaders, pastors having conflicts with church members, and church leaders having conflicts with church members. It's like the church is in complete disarray. Funny thing is I am not surprised to hear all these, I have been expecting them actually. Because the problems of the Israelites then -- Old Testament time, are the same problems that we are facing now. These same problems have been reiterated over and over again through the different books in the Bible, and sadly now that we have the complete view of the Bible, we, like the Israelites, haven't learned from history. Solomon's very smart to say something like, "History repeats itself" in Ecclesiastes.

Go for a short adventure to Zechariah's little book, and jump to chapter 11. You would find there the heading, The Good and Evil Shepherds. When I was reading it, I couldn't help but utter, "This is sooo true" more than a couple of times. Because it is. It talks about pastors having no compassion for their flock and maybe some of them are even causing the flock to go astray. But before you sigh with discouragement and defeat, and decide to just leave your church, let me tell you something, don't sigh and don't leave...

In chapter 11, God used Zechariah as an illustration of God being the shepherd and Israelites being the flock. God removed the three unfit shepherds and placed Zechariah as a shepherd during a time of spiritual confusion. Later God used Zechariah to play two types of shepherds: the rejected shepherd and the worthless shepherd.

In v8 we see that God through Zechariah became impatient with His sheep because the flock fed on their own greed and evil desires. The sheep hated the shepherd, the sheep rejected the shepherd, and these made the shepherd vow in anger, "I won't be your shepherd any longer. If you die, you die. If you are killed, you are killed. And let those who remain devour each other."

Can you see the similarities of then and now? The church members and leaders reject our pastors. The church is more critical with the personality of the pastor than with applying what the pastor is really teaching. I don't think the pastors God has placed in our churches lacked compassion for the flock earlier in their ministry. It is the fault of the flock -- the church leaders and members -- who have grown to hate them. The church people who have not only rejected them but also looked down on them. Check verse 12. Zechariah asked his people how much he was worth to them. These people (his flock) said 30 pieces of silver -- this is an insult because this was the price paid for a slave.

Let me ask you..
How much is a pastor's worth to you?
How much respect do you have for a pastor?
How important are the messages coming from his mouth?

If you say little to no importance to at least one of the questions above, then I would understand full well if you do not feel any compassion from your pastor.

Moreover, if you are looking for a new shepherd, to become something like a.. umm.. Senior Pastor, just because you have rejected the current shepherds. BEWARE!!! You might just experience the second type of shepherd. I couldn't help but feel the remaining verses (15-17) is a prophecy. Israel would not only reject the true shepherd; it would accept instead a worthless shepherd. We might suffer the same fate.

I believe that pastors are given a burden to serve a particular flock by God. It is not their option to choose where and when they want to serve. I don't think anybody in his right mind would give up a high-paying corporate job to minister in the church unless God calls him to do so. It is ultimately God who places this pastor in a place that would fit His bigger masterplan. God sets the timing, the place and the pastor's heart for a ministry. But if the rebellious flock intentionally looks for a shepherd and provides him extrinsic motivation (only God can provide intrinsic motivation), then I would expect this shepherd to care for his own well-being. "This illustrates how I will give this nation a shepherd who will not care for those who are dying, nor look after the young, nor heal the injured, nor feed the healthy. Instead this shepherd will eat the meat of the fattest sheep and tear off their hooves."

If you are part of a flock that is ready for slaughter, why not work together with your pastor for common good -- God's good? He may not be the perfect shepherd, but He is still God's appointed one. Listen to him. Respect him. And instead of thinking what he can offer you, which is VERY selfish, think of what you can do to edify your shepherd who has a big responsibility.

Remember your pastor is not perfect and Satan works double time against him. Isn't it more reasonable for us to have double prayers than have double standards?