Your Time is Now Mine

Last night, we had our Ikthus East Couples’ meeting at the Dientes’ residence at Palisades Subdivision, Homesite, Bacolod City. Our speaker was a British national who is married to a Filipina. He is also connected with Family Foundations, a Christian organization engaged in helping families (spouses, parents, children) heal and strengthen their relationship to one another and to God.

He shared with us his testimony: How he, an atheist, turned to Christ after living a life marred by unfaithfulness and alcoholism, mainly because of the change he saw in his wife, who loved, forgave, and accepted him in spite of his sins.

He shared a number of things that surely touched the hearts of all of us: how he lost his job, how he faced his debts, how God provided for all their needs in unexpected and miraculous ways. But what impacted me most was the time when God, after giving him his job back (with another company) finally took it away again (he was already a Christian when this happened). And in his heart God was telling him, “You have no more debts. Your time is now mine.” They had no savings, but they had a small business, and that was enough for their daily needs. His time now belonged to the Lord; and he now spends it in sharing God’s word and helping families find hope, strength, and meaning in Christ Jesus.

That was yesterday. Right now I’m reading a book I just bought from National Bookstore: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin S. Sharma. I’m reading the first few pages about a great trial lawyer who suffered a massive heart attack in the courtroom. He was 53 years old – my age now. He was driven, a workaholic, a success, and now about to die an untimely death, most probably as a result of his drivenness.

I stopped reading and proceeded to write this article. I am reminded of how short life is, and how little time is left to serve God with all our might. I don’t know yet what the next steps in my life should be, but the thought of being nothing more than a lawyer when I die does not sit well with me.

God has given us enough time to accumulate enough wealth to pay off our debts and to provide for our future. It does not make sense to spend the time we have left on this earth to accumulate more and more (money, land, possessions, etc.), which we will certainly leave behind us when we die. That time is better spent doing something else, something more meaningful and more lasting.

“Your time now belongs to me.” If this is indeed God speaking, we do well to heed him.

God is Looking for Good Grapes

“Now let me sing to my Well-beloved
A song of my Beloved regarding His vineyard:
My Well-beloved has a vineyard
On a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
So He expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes.”
(Isaiah 5:1-2, NJKJV)

God is looking for good grapes. Why else would he spend all that time and effort to cultivate and till his vineyard? Why would he bless you with all the gifts and resources you need to serve him if he has no intention of you serving him with all that he has given?

Every opportunity then to bear good grapes and offer them to God must be cherished and eagerly sought after. To run away from serving God is not only an act of ingratitude, it is also dangerous, as it provokes him to anger. What horrors Jonah had to go through only to end up in the very place he tried to run away from – a place he could have gone to without much trouble at the first, had he not run away!

But Jonah’s case was God being merciful. At least, God put Jonah back on the right track. Here’s what happens when God gets really angry:

“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge, please, between Me and My vineyard.
What more could have been done to My vineyard
That I have not done in it?
Why then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes,
Did it bring forth wild grapes?
And now, please let Me tell you what I will do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge and it shall be burned;
And break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will lay it to waste;
It shall not be pruned or dug,
But there shall come up briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds
That they rain no rain on it.”
(Isaiah 5:3-6; NKJV)

The consequences of failing to serve God after all that he has done for us are terrifying. Loss of protection (taking away of the hedge and breaking down of the wall), utter destruction (burned and laid to waste), deprivation of blessing (no rain) and more (briars and thorns).

The New Testament puts it this way:

“For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:7-8; NKJV)

Forgive us, Lord, for our laziness and complacency. Help us to bear good grapes, grapes you are looking for.

No Perfect Time

I write poetry
even if I don’t know how;
but better this
than waiting till
I’ve fully learned how to.

Life’s wasted in too much waiting
for the perfect time.
There is no such thing!
There’s just the moving
and the doing
and the taking of risks
countless times.

Better that than always waiting
for the perfect time.

The Foolishness of the Cross

This month at Ikthus East we are remembering the Passion of Christ; that is, the fact that Jesus suffered and died on the cross of Calvary to save us from our sins. This morning one of our pastors at Ikthus East preached on the Message of the Cross. His first point surprised me: The Message of the Cross is Pointless!

At first, the statement struck me as misleading. Upon deeper reflection, I realized it was faithful to what the New Testament taught. The message of the cross is indeed pointless or foolish to the worldly mind.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Why is the Cross of Christ pointless to many people? Because they can’t see how it solves the problems we encounter in our daily lives.

Generally speaking, the solution to a problem is either political (i.e., power or force) or intellectual (e.g., management, technology). That is, you bend circumstances to your will through brute force, or you shape circumstances to your will through the application of effective techniques.

The first method is crude and often unsound. Many times, we are up against forces far stronger than our puny strength can handle. And even if momentarily we succeed, how long can we sustain the strength needed to keep our enemies down?

Pitting force against force is actually a simplistic idea. People who subscribe to this paradigm are enamored with the idea of accumulating, maintaining, and increasing political power and financial capital. They seek to vanquish their problem by overpowering it with superior force. In extreme cases, they cheat at the polls and assassinate their opponents.

The second method is at its core similar to the first, in that its seeks to get rid of the problem, but in more subtle and indirect ways – ways that require the application of intelligence. If meeting a problem head-on won’t defeat it, then we must probe deeper: Find its weakness and concentrate on that. One does not have to be stronger than his opponent to defeat him. Or maybe one can simply sidestep the problem, make it irrelevant so that it won’t be a problem anymore. If talking to the uncaring sales clerk is a dead end, maybe one can try talking to the supervisor or the manager, since the goal is to exchange the defective product you bought for a functional one, and not to win an argument!

The second method abounds with tips and how-to’s. It studies patterns of success and failure in order to discover what causes success and failure. And then it distills its findings and presents these in the form of easy-to-understand-and-apply tips or techniques.

Incidentally, many churches today have more or less adopted this managerial mind-set. The trend of how-to sermons is proof of this. Doctrinal sermons are taking a backseat to how-to-succeed inspirational messages sprinkled with Bible verses. This should not come as a surprise. People are interested in how the Bible can solve the problems they face in daily life – problems related to money, relationships, work, and physical and mental health. In other words, they want to know how they can live a successful, happy and comfortable life. Sadly, many churches cater to what people want, at the expense of providing soul-maturing spiritual meat, because they too want to be “successful.”

However, the message of the cross goes against this mindset. The cross sounds foolish to the worldly mind because it does nothing to achieve all those things we’ve mentioned that human beings crave: success, happiness, health, meaningful relationships, and the like. In fact, the cross represents the opposite of all the foregoing: The cross represents defeat, sorrow, death, separation and resignation! It is, to the worldly mind, a non-solution.

The irony is: It is in embracing the foolishness of the cross that human beings can find ultimate fulfillment, the satisfaction of their deepest longings, cravings, and desires. For the cross is the solution to greatest problem of all, the one problem that prevents human beings from experiencing life that is truly life: The problem of sin and holiness. In other words, the problem of how sinful human beings can be reconciled to a perfectly holy God.

All this pursuit of happiness, success, health, meaning, significance, and the like, is at bottom an unwitting pursuit of God. This is the paradox of our existence: In running away from God, we prove that we we were made for him. We run after this and that, only to discover that that which we desperately desire, in its truest and deepest essence, can be found only in him.

And this is where the cross comes in, the cross that negates the power and wisdom of this world. For no power of man can force God to bestow on man what he desires according to man’s terms. No wisdom of man can manipulate God into giving him what he wants.

But God gives us all that we need and truly desire through the cross alone: unconditional love, complete forgiveness, peace that transcends all understanding, ultimate significance, unbreakable intimacy, heavenly joy, and everlasting life! And he does this freely and voluntarily. Not because we deserve it or have earned it, but simply by grace. That’s what the cross means. By grace God gave his one and only Son to pay for the sins we could not pay for in order for us to have the everlasting life and joy in and with God we could never earn or deserve.

This is what the Bible calls Salvation. Left to ourselves, it is simply out of reach. Human power and wisdom can acquire wealth, win friends and influence people, improve emotional health and even prolong life! But no amount of human wisdom or power can do what the cross of Christ alone can: Cleanse and save one’s soul and reconcile it to God.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Be reconciled to God: Embrace the foolishness of the cross!

Success is Overrated

Southland College
Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental
February 22, 2018

Thank you for the honor and privilege you’ve given me to be your guest speaker this afternoon. I wasn’t given a particular theme to speak on, but I have a rule for speaking engagements such as this one, and that is to keep my speech short. That usually makes the audience happy from the start. Before I proceed let me congratulate you for a job well done. I don’t have to tell you how important getting an education is for your future, and the fact that you’re gathered here today as honor students means that you take education seriously and you care for your future. And congratulations too to Southland College, its leadership, staff and teachers, for your wonderful contribution to the molding of these young lives.

I am glad that you are honor students. To me, that means my words won’t fall on deaf ears because your being honor students shows that you care about preparing yourselves well to face a future the shape of which is still unknown to you. And I hope, in the brief time I have, I can say something that might be of some help to you. After all I’ve traveled further along the path of life than most if not all of you have. My credentials are my long stay in the school of life, or the school of hard knocks, as some call it. And my grey hairs are the proof that I might have something worth saying.

But what that is you still don’t know. You are probably expecting that I will say something inspirational, something about how to succeed in life. Let me stop you right there. For when I was your age – and that was a long, long time ago – I happened to read a book by a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton, and at a relatively young age I learned from Thomas Merton that success is over-rated, and that there’s more to life than merely making a lot of money and making a name for yourself. I knew then that I won’t be pursuing success as conventionally defined. I adopted the following as my motto: “All of my life I have avoided success. And I have succeeded in avoiding it.”

Thomas Merton wasn’t the last book I read regarding success as being over-rated. In the course of my reading – I am very fond of reading – I chanced upon a compilation of essays which included an essay by Henry David Thoreau, entitled The Conclusion to Walden. In that book I read and memorized the following quote: “Why are we in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Your teachers are probably getting nervous by now. They are probably asking themselves, “Where is he going with this? We better not invite him again!” The truth is I do not delight in making provocative statements. But I do think some things need to be said, especially when no one else is saying them. I’m not saying success is bad; I’m saying that it’s over-rated. Besides, I wonder what we mean by it. Success according to whose definition? Yes, success, but at what cost?”

That’s why Thoreau’s question is worth pondering: “Why are we in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises?” Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against success. In fact, I don’t really like being against anything. I prefer to be for something, rather than against something. And what I’m for is understanding. Or in other words, I’m for wisdom. If we intend to pursue success, I want us to understand what it really means and what it involves. Is this for me? Is it worth it?

I had a classmate who failed the bar exams. He never became a lawyer. Now 25 years after, he’s a successful businessman. You can say that failure was the best thing that ever happened to him because it taught him to leave a path that wasn’t for him, in order to pursue his true calling, the thing he was really good at.

To be sure, I might not be a believer in what this world calls success, but I do believe in honest and prodigious effort. I want you to do your best in whatever it is God has called you to do with the life he has given you. But whether your efforts succeed or not, that is up to him. Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. But at the end of the day, results are in the hands of God.

In conclusion, let me confess to you that I’m actually trying to find my way through my own speech towards a decent conclusion. I began with success being over-rated, but then it turns out I’m not against the exertion of effort that often leads to success. So what am I really saying? Which is which? If it’s not success I’m advocating what exactly is it? Something I learned in church a long time ago. In lieu of success I espouse faithfulness. As long as one has done his best, as long as he has faithfully discharged the tasks that providence has assigned to him, it no longer matters whether the world considers him a success or not. He has a greater master to please, and the greatest success that matters to him is to hear his Master say at the end of the day, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

Thank you and congratulations once again to all of you.

Learn to Say “No”

Sometimes you just have to say “No” to the many invitations and requests from people asking you to do things that they know you can do well. Oftentimes they mean well. They see something in you. They see that you have something significant to contribute that can be of help to others. You can be a great blessing to many people if you say “Yes” to their request. The problem is we don’t have the time and energy to do everything, especially if we have jobs and priorities of our own.

Invitations will always be there because there will always be a need sometime, somewhere, that others see you have the competence to fill. However, since you can’t do everything, it behooves you to choose and refuse. There will always be more good to be done than I have time and energy for. If I don’t muster the courage to say “No” to the many good things others ask me to do for them, I won’t be able to say “Yes” to the few best things that God has called me to do. Also, I run the danger of inviting unnecessary stress into my life. And that’s how burn-out happens, when we don’t know how to say “No.”

Interestingly, you can find an antidote to burn-out in a book by John Calvin entitled The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. In this book, Calvin reminds us that we ought to be faithful in our callings. Our callings serve as a fence to keep us from doing so many things which we were never called to do in the first place. “He who disregards his calling,” says Calvin, “will never keep the straight path in the duties of his work.” “Every individual’s sphere of life, therefore is a post assigned him by the Lord that he may not wander about in uncertainty all the days of his life.”

It’s possible, however, that some will consider this – concentrating on the duties of one’s calling – a selfish course of action. “Why deprive others of the blessing you can give them if only you do this or that? Why not sacrifice a bit? We need you!” This is the kind of plea that can undermine one’s determination to say “No” because the person to whom the plea is addressed might feel guilty about refusing. But guilt as one’s motivation for doing something is ultimately counter-productive, even destructive. A person who is prodded by guilt to give in to a plea to do something she doesn’t want to do (for one reason or another) becomes resentful. Rightly or wrongly, she will feel that she is being manipulated. What is worse, if one doesn’t know how to resolve the guilt such pleas generate, one will get caught in a vicious circle of guilt and resentment, each reinforcing the other until one simply explodes!

Fortunately, there’s the wisdom of the Puritans that can help us in this matter. Enter William Gurnall, a 17th century English pastor-theologian, who wrote a spiritual classic titled The Christian in Complete Armor. He wrote, “God will not thank you for doing that which He did not commission you to do.” That’s precisely what happened to King Saul when he decided to offer a burnt offering to the Lord because he couldn’t wait for the prophet Samuel to arrive (see 1 Samuel 13:8-15). Offering that sacrifice was Samuel’s job, not his. He paid a heavy price for that error: The Lord took away his kingdom and gave it to David.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that one should absolutely have nothing to do with anything that’s not related to one’s calling. There will be times when one will have to say “Yes.” Having said that, I still think that in the majority of instances “No” is the proper response. Gurnall made an obvious point when he said, “To be occupied with anything which is not your duty means you are neglecting that which is your task.” The lesson is clear: Be faithful to your own calling and learn to say “No!”

Why Work?

An Ikthus East Sermon
Ikthus East
The Porch, Lopue’s East
Bacolod City

(1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, NIV)

“Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”


As most of you know, we’re studying the book of 1 Thessalonians. We’re now in the 4th chapter, which teaches us about pleasing God. We’ve learned that we can please God by (1) being holy, (2) by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, and (3) by working hard. We’re now in number 3: we please God by working hard.

Work is such an important part of our life. A large chunk of our life-time – maybe 30% – is devoted to work. So it won’t come as a surprise if the Bible has a lot to say about work because God is interested in all aspects our life, and if so, he surely must be interested in what constitutes such a large part of it.

There are three things I’d like to share with you regarding the subject of Work based on our text: First, Why Work? Second, How to Work. And, finally, The Results of Work. Or we can put it this way: The Reasons for Work, the Recipe for Work, and the Results of Work. Since we don’t have time to cover all of these points, I plan this morning to focus only on the first point: Why Work? And in relation to that question, here are some answers. Why Work? Because (1) We were created to work. (2) We were saved to work. (3) God himself worked. (4) Working is the best way to wait for the Lord’s return. Read more


Alas, I cannot travel all the ways
of Wisdom, for the time alloted me
is short. I must content myself to be
a traveler of one road throughout.

But what road to choose I cannot tell,
Each road has charms I can’t dispel:
To embrace the one is joy and pain;
To leave the other, loss and gain.

The Happiness Track

Today is Saturday. Yes, I did post yesterday that I’ll be posting a Dennis’ Reader’s Diary article only once a week [note to Philippine Theo Law Gee readers: I originally posted this on my FB page]; but on Saturday mornings I usually do nothing but read (unless I have a class to teach), and today – Saturday – I finished reading Emma Seppala’s The Happiness Track, and I just have this urge to share what I’ve learned from this very good book, which I’m now recommending to all of you. Here are some of the ideas I got from this book:

– A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

– Your fatigue is mostly psychological.

– Keep calm and carry on.

– Imagination is more important than knowledge.

– Walking boosts creativity.

– The more creative you become, the more joy you invite into your life.

– Believe in efforts, not strengths.

– “Failure is success in progress.” (Einstein)

– Our beliefs largely determine whether we learn new skills.

– The experience, succeed or fail, is a form of success in itself.

– Gratitude balances our negativity bias.

– Writing about your emotions can help regulate them.

– Selfishness prevents success.

– Excessive positive regard can make you blind to your own weaknesses.

– If you are unkind to someone, they are likely to reciprocate.

– Self-focus damages physical and emotional health.

I found much of what the book has to say quite helpful and I’m glad I read it. But what I found interesting is that a lot of what it says coincides with the Bible’s teaching, especially the last chapter on “Why Compassion Serves You Better Than Self- Interest.” Seppala says, “[E]xcessive self-esteem can be harmful because it usually entails comparing yourself to others. Psychologists call this the ‘better than average effect’ …” She goes on to say, “While self-focus is associated with poor outcomes on both personal and professional levels, focusing on other people – that is, other-focus, especially in the form of compassion – leads to tremendous benefits.”

More than 1500 years ago, however, the Apostle Paul already wrote, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV)

The Happiness Track is a good book. I’m happy to recommend it. But a much greater book is the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Nothing beats what it has to teach about true happiness: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Tithing or Cheerful Giving?

“My rich dad gave money as well as education. He believed firmly in tithing. ‘If you want something, you first need to give,’ he would always say. When he was short of money, he gave money to his church or to his favorite charity.”

– Robert Kiyosaki, RICH DAD, POOR DAD

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

-Jesus Christ (Acts 20:35)

Robert Kiyosaki believes in tithing (or at least his rich dad did). I don’t know if Kiyosaki is a Christian or not, but I do know that many Christians don’t practice tithing. (If they did, we won’t have that many financially struggling churches and underpaid pastors!) They may pay it lip service, but actually practicing it? I doubt many do. So what do they believe and practice? Cheerful giving – and the lesser the giving, the more cheerful it is! Sarcasm aside, there’s actually a theological basis for thinking that Old Testament tithing is not required of New Testament believers. I remember reading a book a long time ago entitled Decision Making and the Will of God. If I remember correctly, this book teaches that tithing in the Old Testament was a form of taxation for the nation of Israel, and that the tithe reached up to 33% of one’s gross income. So even if we give 10% we’re still not practicing tithing according to OT standards. Moreover, Christians are no longer under the law but under grace. They’re freed from the law of tithing and are free to practice cheerful giving instead. Of course, there are those who disagree with this view and who insist that the law of tithing binds New Testament believers. They’ll point to verses in the NT that mention tithing, as well as raise the practical issue that if people don’t tithe, the ministry will suffer.

Each side has points in their favor, but this isn’t the place to delve deeply into this debate. However, I should confess that when I was young I was exposed to some detrimental teaching regarding tithing. At least the way it was taught sounded like blackmail to me. I remember listening to a sermon about two farmers: one tithed and the other didn’t. A storm passed by and destroyed the non-tither’s crops; the tither’s crops, however, were miraculously spared. Take-home lesson: tithe or else! On the other hand, the problem with some (many?) Christians who believe in cheerful giving in lieu of tithing is that the cheerfulness might be there, but the giving leaves much to be desired.

Does one really have to exclude the other? Isn’t it possible to tithe (and beyond) cheerfully? Whether one believes in tithing or not, there is no question that we ought to be generous. And even if we say that we are no longer under the law (of Moses) but under grace, being under grace doesn’t remove us from being under the law of love. And love is willing to give more than the law requires, not because it is legally obligated to do so, but because it delights to do so. So give cheerfully. And tithe cheerfully too. This doesn’t have to be a case of “either-or”. It can be “both-and”.