My Vocation

My vocation has become clearer as the years go by: to study the unchanging God without something else to do, some pragmatic reason or result. This is what I feel most called to do: SIMPLY ENJOY THE STUDY OF GOD – not write about it, not view it in relation to its political residue or imagine that my opinions will have some visible  social effect. THE JOY OF INQUIRY INTO GOD IS A SUFFICIENT END IN ITSELF, not only as a means to some practical consequence.

– Thomas C. Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, p. 95

The Roach

Always escaping when you should do so no longer:
a roach that scurries back to the dark
in fear of its life.

Being squashed – not a prospect to be relished;
but if life has no risks, then
it isn’t worth living.
Commitment is key, even if tomorrow
is uncertain.

To fear is to escape all the time,
instead of standing one’s ground
against your worst fears.

Have faith, make a stand,
commit and don’t budge!

(Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash)

Praying to be Rich

Sometime ago, I asked God to make me very rich – as in very, very rich! I now think that prayer was motivated by greed. Come to think of it, what would hundreds of hectares of land and billions of pesos in my bank account really mean to me on my deathbed? I am reminded of a Tolstoy short story: the man who ran all day to cover a large piece of land – he was promised that it’ll be all his, as much as he could cover by running all day – only to fall dead at sunset. Now all the land he’ll own is the six feet of dirt he’ll be buried under.

What about praying to be rich? I’m not saying that to pray in such a way is absolutely wrong all of the time. But I remember two examples from the Bible that seem to teach that praying to be rich is not ideal.

First, Agur. “Give me neither poverty nor riches.”
Second, Solomon. He prayed for wisdom. Riches were just a bonus.

That too is now my prayer: Lord, make me wise.

“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7, NIV)

MY GOD IS NOT STUPID

My God is not stupid;
He’s wiser than you are.
Do not presume to judge Him;
He knows you from afar.

His thoughts are higher than our thoughts,
His ways above our ways;
Our wisdom’s but a tiny drop
In the ocean of His days.

If it were easy to discern Him,
Then He would not be God;
To pit your puny mind against His
Is proof that you are mad.

Look to the mighty stars of heaven,
The worlds that fill the sky;
Great is the wisdom that has made them.
Kneel, then, and weep, and cry!

Dealing With Spiritual Failure

19 And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”

20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.

21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.

22 For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. – 1 Samuel 12:19-22

Introduction: Christian Realism

The fact that we are now Christians does not mean that we can no longer sin. It is true that if anyone is in Christ the old has gone (i.e., it is on its way out) and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17), but we are not yet perfect (Philippians 3:12).

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:8-10

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,

23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. – Romans 7:21-23

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. – Galatians 5:17

Steps to Dealing With Spiritual Failure

Remain Positive. “Do not be afraid.” (Verse 20a)

“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned . . . Get up! Consecrate the people…’” (Joshua 7:10, 11a, 13a)

Our sins should grieve us but not discourage us. “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” (Ecc. 9:4)

You may be a filthy cur, but at least you’re still alive. And the fact that you are still alive means that God is still giving you a chance to repent. Therefore, instead of wallowing in despair, get up and make things right! The thief on the cross was at the very brink of death but even he had a chance to repent. God is merciful. Do not be afraid! Get up! Your sins are great, but God’s grace is greater (see Romans 5:20).

Acknowledge Your Sin. “You have done all this evil.” (Verse 20b)

“Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the LORD; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt…” (Jeremiah 3:12)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Don’t Give Up. “Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord.” (Verse 20c)

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, – John 6:68

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. – John 6:37

Keep on Serving. “But serve the Lord with all your heart.” (Verse 20d)

“What God has made clean, do not call unclean.” (Acts 10:15)

“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”

Guard Yourself Against Idolatry. “And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.” (Verse 21)

“All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?” (Isaiah 44:9, 10)

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1-2)

“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21)

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

“Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” (Psalm 119:36-37)

Conclusion: The Lord Will Not Forsake His People

You have no right to give up on yourself, for the Lord has no intention of giving up on you.

For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. – 1 Samuel 12:22

What is at stake in our holiness is the greatness of God’s name. If God gives up on us and leaves us in our sins, then it is not only us who fail, it is God himself who fails. But God will not allow his name to be besmirched by failure. He will not allow himself to fail! He will save his people from their sins: completely from the penalty of sin, gradually from the power, and ultimately from the presence of sin.

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.

23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36:22-28

——-

Sermon preached at Ikthus East
The Porch, Lopue’s East
Bacolod City, Philippines
May 13, 2018 Sunday 10:00 a.m.

Death is Gain

“For you to say that death is gain
runs counter to this world’s good sense.
We grieve at death for our great loss.
How can your words convince?”

But if a brighter world awaits
the saintly soul, what better word
can best describe the state of things?
Not “Death is loss,” but “Death is gain!”

We are not stones that cannot feel;
we mourn just like the rest of men.
But, Christian as we are, we can’t
suppress the hope that yearns and burns

Undying in our Christian breast
for Life blood-won by our Lord.
Death has been conquered. It now serves
as entrance to Eternal Bliss.

Yes, death is gain because Christ lives,
Transformer of the dark and bleak.
Tho’ death be bitter, the bitter’s sweet
if it transports me to Heaven’s Gate.

On Lay-Preachers

A faithful man . . . being furnished with the knowledge of God and the requisite Spiritual gifts for the edification of others (graciously bestowed upon him by God), and also having the time and other things necessary for the right performance of this duty granted him by providence, then I certainly would allow him to interpret the Scriptures and to meet with others for their edification, even though he does not intend ever to holy orders — providing only that he makes no interruption of an established ministry. . . . Where Christ has provided the gifts there must be a vocation.

— John Owen, quoted in Barret and Harkin’s OWEN ON THE CHRISTIAN LIFE, pp. 46-47

Photo by malcolm lightbody on Unsplash

The Billionaire Who Gave Away His Billions

Yesterday I attended a talk by Jules Ledesma at the University of St. La Salle on Entrepreneurship.

Jules is a former congressman, a billionaire, and presently the highest-paying taxpayer in the country. His is a very interesting life. He was born heir to three inheritances: to his father’s estate and the estates of two aunts who remained single all their lives. He owns not hundreds but thousands of hectares of land. His annual net income is around 220 million pesos. All this is a matter of public knowledge, so I’m not divulging confidential information in writing this. When he told the audience, “I am wealthy,” he wasn’t bragging; he was simply stating an objective fact. The man has more money than I will ever make in multiple lifetimes!

One thing that impressed me about him was his sense of stewardship. He said that when he was five years old his aunt showed him the vast expanse of land that he was to inherit someday, and she told him, “You will have to take care of all this.” He had his life’s task mapped out for him, and he proceeded to do exactly what his aunt asked: take care of the land of which he was designated steward from birth!

He said a lot of things that inspired me, which if I put it all in here would make this article a very long read. But to cut to the chase, near the end of his talk came the clincher which made me open my eyes and my mouth wide: He and his wife were donating 1.8 billion pesos to charity! And he explained why: Because he believed in God, and because of the story of the rich young ruler. He was of course referring to the rich young ruler in the New Testament who came to Jesus asking, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus told him, “Sell all you have and give to the poor, and come follow me.” Upon hearing this the rich young ruler turned away, leading Jesus to say, “It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.”

It was a surprise to hear billionaire Jules Ledesma mention the story of the rich young ruler as that which motivated him to give away almost 2 billion pesos to charity. But I understand where he is coming from. He knows that at the end of the day money isn’t everything. He won’t be taking his billions with him when the time comes for him to leave this world.

This morning Pastor Jake Quinosa preached at Ikthus East. And guess what? His message was about the rich young ruler! Yes, the rich young ruler whom Jules Ledesma mentioned in his talk, the young man who had everything, but who in the end lost everything because he could not give up all that he had for the sake of having Him who is worth more than anything this world can offer.

The rich young ruler tried to hold on to what he had and thereby lost everything: he lost his soul. He did not understand what the apostle Paul knew, that giving up everything for Christ is worth it. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:7,8).

Jim Elliot, the famous missionary who was killed in Ecuador by the very people he was trying to minister to, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Unlike Jules Ledesma, we might not have any billions to give, but we do have the life God has given us. Let’s offer this back to him.

What to Do During a Sabbatical

“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

For a minister, a sabbatical is a time to rest in order that one may gather strength for the work of ministry. In other words, a sabbatical is a strategic retreat. A minister engages in a season of rest not in order to abandon the work God has given him, but in order to refresh his own soul so that he may return to the work with renewed strength and vigor.

For we need strength from above if we are to do the work of the ministry. On our own, we lack the strength (2 Corinthians 2:16). That is why we always need to pray, “Strengthen the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:17). And that is why we need to have times of refreshing for our own souls. If we are burned out and stressed out, how can we minister to others?

Jesus himself took time out from ministering to the crowds in order to be alone and to rest and refresh his soul.

Thus, we read in Mark 1:35, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, he went out and departed to a solitary place; and there he prayed.”

In Mark 6:31 we read, “And he said to them [his apostles], Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”

But we must make sure that we make good use of this season of rest. We must make sure that the time is well-spent in gathering spiritual strength for the work we have to do when we return to it.

How do we that? By making use of this time of rest to find peace in our hearts, and renew our trust and confidence in God. The formula here is quietness plus confidence equals strength.

FINDING PEACE

The work of the ministry – just like any other work – has its own stressors and troubles that eat away at our peace and, in the process, weaken us. If there are fears and worries that have ensconced themselves in our hearts, a sabbatical is a good time to face these fears and worries and dissolve them with the peace of Christ.

Freed from the daily grind of ministry, we have more time to cultivate a deeper relationship and fellowship with Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Whatever it is that troubles you, the Lord has promised, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

RENEWING FAITH

Just like all believers, a minister must live by faith. But ministers, being human like the rest of us, are also assailed by doubts and temptations. They too have burdens to carry, and they too sometimes wonder where is God when they need him the most. It is one thing to know in one’s head that God will never leave you and will never forsake you. It is another thing to deal with the disappointment you feel in your heart when it seems God has let you down. Doing so is difficult, regardless of the number of Bible verses you’ve memorized!

That’s why we need times of rest in order that we may renew our confidence and hope in God.

Just like Elijah. After experiencing a great victory at Mount Carmel against the 450 prophets of Baal, he fled because of the threats of a woman (Jezebel)! He was afraid, discouraged, and depressed, so much so that he wanted to die.

We read in 1 Kings 19:4-8, “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tee. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.’ So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.”

Elijah rested and slept, but he also arose and ate. And if I may be allowed to interpret this figuratively, the lesson we can learn from this incident in Elijah’s life is that we must make good use of this season of rest to strengthen our faith by nourishing our souls with God’s Word. Of course, a minister is always studying God’s Word. But during a sabbatical we meditate on God’s Word not for the sake of preaching to others but to nourish our own souls.

For God’s Word is the food that strengthens faith. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4) And “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

CONCLUSION

So there you have it. Make use of this season of rest to find peace in Christ, especially through prayer, and to renew your faith through feeding on God’s Word. In so doing, you shall be gathering strength for the work you are called to do when you return to it. During a sabbatical we are called off from the busyness of working *for* the Master in order that we might spend more time *with* the Master.

“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

(A devotional message given during the Ikthus East Family Retreat at Cabacungan, Negros Occidental on March 30, 2018)

The Pursuit of God

What shall I pursue
with vigor unrelenting?
A face no man can see,
a voice heard only in stillness,
a presence too real for mere sense.

All other things lose their relish
sooner or later.
I have tasted heaven once,
and now all else is insipid.

For the meantime I am dull;
my heart is hard, unfeeling.
But Hope hopes on:
it is its nature.

Oh, to delight once more
in things eternal!
To taste the sweetness of Deity,
To have Joy fill the heart to brimming,
To have Love prompt the soul to singing!

Maybe Tears will flow soon;
that is the way.