Sunday, December 31, 2017

Welcome Home

Keeping the right perspective in approaching the next year is critical in experiencing new things even if the package is the same. It is a parallel concept as far as a church family is concerned. We need a physical home, but we also need a spiritual home. Therefore, finding a church family is essential to our spiritual growth. The Old Testament concept of a gathering place is around the temple. In the New Testament, Jesus provided a new perspective of a gathering place called church when He declared, “…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV). In this new setting, Jesus showed a picture of God’s Kingdom filled with God’s people called and chosen as God’s dwelling place to fulfill His plan and purpose for humanity’s salvation.
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It begins with Jesus as the Foundation Stone of God’s church family: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11, ESV). An important question is this: How does this church function? It is a place where believers of Jesus are called to become living stones: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV). Another major component of God’s church and His living temple is His Spirit dwelling in us: “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV).

In this gathering place called the church, believers are invited to become God’s dwelling place: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16, NIV). It is a church where believers are called to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading: “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24, NIV).

In serving God as a church pastor for twenty-five years, I firmly believe belonging to a church family is non-negotiable. It is natural inclination of coming together as Jesus’ disciples. As such, having Jesus Rock of Ages Ministries (JRAM) as my spiritual family and church in the past five years is an opportunity and a privilege. Moreover, I am proud to say JRAM is an active part of God’s Kingdom and the Body of Christ with a clear intention of seeing people meet Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. More importantly, it is a church family where people are warmly greeted with a particular tagline, “In JRAM, the welcome never ends.” 

In this declaration of complete openness and a welcoming spirit, we follow Jesus’ example of hospitality and care. Here’s an excellent portrayal of what a church family is all about: “A family is a shelter from the storm, a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No person is ever alone who is a member of a family” (Source Unknown). JRAM endeavors in following these principles in our church family.

If you haven’t found a church family yet, I urge you to look for such a place where you can experience real belongingness and where the welcome never ends. Also, in looking for your church family, please remember that each church family is unique and its members are imperfect. However, knowing this fact must not deter us from becoming part of a church family. Similarly, we love and care for our unique and imperfect family members because after all, they are our family.

That's why we extend in JRAM a warm welcome because we love and care for everyone just as Jesus said we must do. Finally, if in the future you get to attend to one of our church family gatherings, expect to hear, “Welcome to JRAM, where the welcome never ends.”

Let’s talk again!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Baby in a Manger: God Sent His only Son

The days are filled with excitement as Christmas season arrives. People are scrambling for various things and events with families and friends. Everyone is becoming focused on finding the best gift for one another. Some, along the way, share with those in need in the spirit of the season. All of these running here and there are good. However, when we remove the real concept of Christmas apart from Christ, we missed the whole message altogether. Laura Hooker provided this insight of what occurs
during Christmas:

What is the thought of Christmas? Giving.
What is the hope of Christmas? Living.
What is the joy of Christmas? Love.
No silver or gold is needed for giving,
If the heart is filled with Christmas love,
For the hope of the world is kindly living,
Learned from the joy of God above.

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Simply put, the Christmas message is primarily about the coming of the promised Messiah and God’s love for fallen humanity through the birth of Jesus Christ. Most importantly, God gave His Son for our salvation. Luke wrote: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (2:12).  Somebody said, “Christ was content with a stable when he was born so that we could have a mansion when we die.” His birth is a paradox to many because everyone thought of his birth happening in a palace and not in a manger.

There are various realities shown regarding His birth demanding close attention. First, the helplessness of humanity is expressed in Jesus becoming a baby. Second, the humility of Jesus became evident because He became like us: God became like us (Philippians 2). Jesus went through the process of humanity to become our Savior and Lord. Lastly, the hope of humanity’s redemption from the power of sin came because the Messiah Jesus was born. The Promised Messiah arrived at the perfect time of God’s timetable, not ours (Galatians 4:4). Joel Pankow explained,

God became man - born in the manger with one mission. He had to take on our flesh - born of a virgin - so that he could fulfill God’s will - and save us. He fulfilled his mission of dying for you. He fulfilled His mission of making you holy. That’s the reason for Christmas.

Why did Jesus come? What’s the message of Jesus’ birth in our time? There are three things to consider. It begins with obedience. Jesus’ birth as a baby showed His obedience to His Father’s will without questions. Next, His birth signified servanthood. And Jesus, in being wrapped in swaddling cloths, affirmed His intention of associating with the poor people of the world. Finally, His birth revealed the mission-mindedness of Jesus and a clarity of purpose in what He wanted to achieve, i.e., salvation of humanity.

God expects everyone respond to His Son with a simple acknowledgment of our need of a Saviour. If we don’t see Jesus this way, then the message of Christmas is lost in translation, i.e., “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21, NIV). Let’s put everything in the right perspective. Someone asked this question, “What shall I give Him, poor as I am?” The answer comes in this way:
If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
But such as I have I give Him,— Give Him my heart.

Christmas is a significant event for everyone whether people believe it or not. Also, it doesn’t change the fact of Jesus’ birth and its value for everyone needing a Saviour. He gave His life, and we reciprocate in the same way by acknowledging Him in our life. It becomes our greatest gift to Him as we remember and celebrate His coming. Think about it for a moment. No other person of great importance in human history claimed what He did, and other founders of religion never declared of being the Messiah except Jesus alone.

Therefore, when people asked, “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” Give them a simple answer: It is the celebration of the coming of Jesus as the Saviour of the world.

Let’s talk again!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Biblical Perspective of Decision-Making

Andrew Jackson provided an excellent point as far as decision-making is concerned: “When in charge, ponder. When in trouble, delegate. When in doubt, mumble. Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go on.” The value of utilizing biblical decision-making process in our time is evident in the lives of God-fearing people in the past and today. In Proverbs 1:33, security of life comes in acknowledging God: "But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil." It is in this level of partnership with God that creates self-confidence in making godly decisions: The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (Proverbs 16:9). Most importantly, if we need help in making the right decision in any situation, God provides wisdom enthusiastically: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).
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How do we go about attaining godly wisdom when making decisions? It begins by aligning ourselves with God’s ways: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23). I find this statement from The Treasury of David very helpful, “Where God sanctifies the heart he enlightens the head.” What does this mean? The Pulpit Commentary clarified, “God shall make his way plain to the God-fearing man.” Moreover, somebody said, “Wisdom is merely seeing life from God’s perspective and responding accordingly.” I say, when we honor God in all of our dealings, every decision made emanates from a spiritual perspective anchored in our relationship with God.

How does biblical decision-making work? It seeks God’s says so when the Spirit of God is allowed access in our daily journey. Paul testified to this fact: And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them (Acts 16:7). In Abraham’s conflict with Lot, there was no fear in giving up his first choice because He knew God’s plan for his life (Genesis 12:1-3). It seems absurd to do so but logical in attaining a peaceful settlement:

So Abram said to Lot, "Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. "Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left" (Genesis 13:8-9).

In leading others given to our care, listening to counsel is a decision marked by humility. During Jethro's visit, he saw how Moses fulfilled his leadership role and became burdened. He provided a valuable counsel in lessening his responsibility through proper delegation: So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens (Exodus 18:24-25).

Another area of our life needing biblical wisdom is maintaining a godly standard. In Daniel's time, he stood his ground in preserving God’s honor and received favor as a result:

But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king's choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself (Daniel 1:8).

Standing against the cultural norm also needs biblical wisdom. When the three Hebrew youth became confronted with worshipping a golden image, they held their ground and placed their faith and hope in God’s intervention: "But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:18). They risked everything but God honored their decision and with an intervention of a mighty miracle. For every decision anchored on godly principles towards honoring God produces extraordinary results. Remember, godly wisdom outmaneuvers worldly wisdom.

Finally, when we acknowledge that God holds the key to life and death, our decision-making process changes dramatically. Remember, if Jesus followed God’s will in all of his decisions while living on earth, we are wise in pursuing the same lifestyle as well.

Let’s talk again!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Faith in God: The only source of our confidence.

Lou Nicholes in Conquest of the Promised Land shared a wonderful story of faith and confidence: An
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American missionary couple and their family were home on furlough, and spending their vacation at a cabin near a lake. They had three children, ages twelve, seven and four. One day the four-year-old slipped away from his brother and sister, went out on the dock to play, and fell into the lake. He didn’t know how to swim, and he wasn’t wearing a life jacket. The screams of the two older children alerted the father to the danger. He ran to the dock, and the kids pointed to where their brother had fallen in.

The father dove into the lake. He went all the way to the bottom and felt around frantically for his little boy. Finally, he ran out of the air, came to the top, took another huge gulp of air, and went down again, searching for his son. On his way down a third time, he felt his little boy’s leg. He turned and found his four-year-old son with his arms and legs wrapped tightly around one of the pilings, about three feet below the water. The father pried him loose, carried him onto the lawn, and they both caught their breath.

After about thirty minutes, when things had calmed down and were restored to normal, the father asked, “Son, what were you doing down there, hanging on to that piling?” The little boy answered, “I was confident that my daddy would rescue me.

This story provides an excellent picture of how we should exert full confidence in God’s ability no matter what may lie ahead. Stephen Curry asserted, “I've always believed that success for anyone is all about drive, dedication, and desire, but for me, it is about confidence and faith.” When surrounded with ambiguities, there’s no other recourse but look at God’s direction. Others may see faith in God as an escape from reality but those who seek Him taps into the only source of enduring strength through faith in His power.

In these times of various troubles and increasing uncertainties, we need a sustainable strategy for developing confidence in our faith on a daily basis. First, it begins with a strong anchor of our faith in God since He began a good work in us: For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Martin Luther described, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” 

Next, we must build our strength in God’s capability: Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you He will not fail you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). Helen Keller, being a blind person provided a clear perspective: Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.

Like the boy in the story, we must follow and cooperate in agreement to God’s timetable: Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes (Psalm 37:7). Charles Stanley stressed, “Submitting to God's timetable requires faith and courage. Believe in the goodness of His heart and His plans--and determine to wait until He gives the signal to move forward. Then, as you follow His schedule, you'll experience the joy of watching Him make all things beautiful in His timing.”

In the end, it all boils down to whom we ware entrusting our faith and confidence. Are we going to trust in our limited ability or turn to God who is infinite in His ability to do great things? Wayne Jackson provided this reminder, “The study of “confidence” from the biblical standpoint is a wonderfully enlightening and profitable endeavor. Pursue it to your own benefit. And remember this, God does not want us to embrace a spirit of “fearfulness,” but one of power, love, and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). Keep looking up to Him with faith, and He will respond to you according to your faith. Try it, and you will never be the same again!

Let’s talk again!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Keeping our Tongue Subdued

Dale A. Robbins explained: “It has been said that the “tongue” is one of the most exercised muscles of our body. It has been estimated that in a typical week, the average person will speak enough words to fill a 500-page book!” Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers stressed, “The first mark of true religion is gentleness of the tongue, just as the contrary, blasphemy, is the most damning fault of all.” These two statements are significant because they speak volume of the reality and consequence of using our tongue. Also, it is worth noting the tongue never gets tired of talking and even when the person is asleep it speaks. Moreover, there’s no tongue transplant, but other parts of the body get replaced when needed.    

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From a Christian perspective, subduing the tongue is a discipline one must learn repetitively. Somebody said,

It is a great art in the Christian life to learn to be silent. Under oppositions, rebukes, injuries, still be silent. It is better to say nothing than to speak in an excited manner, even if the occasion should seem to justify a degree of anger. By remaining silent the mind is enabled to collect itself and call upon God in secret prayer. And thus you will speak to the honor of your holy profession, as well as to the good of those who have injured you when you speak from God. (Source Unknown)

Another individual explained,

Maybe you’ve heard the old saying “You have two ears and one mouth—use them proportionately.” Almost all of us could stand to listen more and talk less. Rather than being compelled to tell everyone we meet everything we can fit into the length of the conversation, we should remember that one of wisdom’s best qualities is the ability to hold the tongue. (Source Unknown)

Moving from being talkative to subduing one's tongue indeed is hard work. It is making a daily decision of becoming a person of honor. It is where the Scriptures provided fundamental principles to follow on a day-to-day basis. First, let’s guard our mouth against speaking careless words. Matthew 15:11 described, “A man is not defiled by what enters his mouth, but by what comes out of it." Sharing unsolicited opinions without value to the other person may worsen the situation. Someone said, “The problem today is that those who know the least know it the loudest” (Source Unknown). Next, let’s hold back our tongue from sweet talk and insincere flattery. Psalm 34:13 emphasized, “ Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” Here’s something I learned worthy of sharing for additional knowledge:

The next time you receive a letter that carries the word "Sincerely" above the signature of the writer, pause a moment and think of the origin of that word. It was first used as "sincerely," meaning "without wax," by ancient sculptors to mark a flawless piece of work. Wax was then commonly employed to conceal defects, to patch a chipped nose, a poorly shaped finger, etc. Sincerely is too honest a word to be used loosely, but it is a good word when consciously employed (Source Unknown).

Finally, let’s safeguard our heart from any “root of bitterness” described in Hebrews 12:15. According to the Apostle John, it manifests in this way: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Alfred Auston wrote this realistic description of utilizing our tongue as a tool of blessing or animosity:

When you speak, speak clearly and naturally. Say what you mean and mean what you say; be brief and sensible. Words should drop from the lips as beautiful coins newly issued from the mint, deeply and accurately impressed, perfectly finished, neatly struck by the proper organs, distinct, sharp, in due succession and of due weight.

T. J. Bach shared from Pearls from Many Seas an excellent portrayal of the dynamics of cause and effect whenever our tongue is involved:

A careless word may kindle strife,
A cruel word may wreck a life,
A bitter word may hate instill,
A brutal word may smite and kill,
A gracious word may smooth the way,
A joyous word may light the day,
A timely word may lessen stress,
A loving word may heal and bless.

From the above descriptions, may we choose to bless not hurt others with our tongue.

Let’s talk again!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Overcoming Personal Insecurity

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Never become insecure about what others are doing beneficial to God’s work. Insecurity becomes an enemy of releasing great potential in an individual’s life. When you find yourself in this predicament, all level of creativity becomes dull and ineffective. Trusting in your gifts and what you are capable is crucial to achieving personal success. No one has everything, and remembering everyone has moments of insecurity helps us overcome ours. However, the difference with others is how they conquer their insecurities and becomes a stronger person than before.

Here’s a story found in Numbers 11:24-30 about an instance of insecurity attack:

“So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.”

The same scenario happened when John saw another performing what Jesus was doing:

Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:49-50, ESV).

Just like how Moses provided them with an important truth, Jesus provided John the most important guideline in our service to God: “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” No matter how you view it, God is not a respecter of persons. He wills and chooses whom He wanted. Just because a person is not part of our “exclusive” group, they must stop doing what they are doing. On the contrary, these instances are eye-openers for us that we are not alone in doing the task given to us. But unfortunately, this is where insecurity attacks people by often masking as a seeming concern for the individual or group where an outsider operates in the same way or better.

It is during this moment of seeming concern that a sharp discernment of what is going on in the person’s psyche is needed. Are they concern or just insecure of others sharing in the same gifting? Let’s learn to differentiate what’s real concern when there’s one and when insecurity is rearing its ugly head. Seeing the big picture like Moses and Jesus is more important than engaging in exclusions of others outside of our group especially when they are doing God’s work as we do.

What’s the best way of overcoming insecurity? First, admission is the first step and recognition of its reality in one’s life. I like how Kobe Bryant dealt with his insecurity:

I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I'm like, 'My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don't have it. I just want to chill.' We all have self-doubt. You don't deny it, but you also don't capitulate to it. You embrace it.”

Next, become open with the fact that God endowed people with various gifts and talents. Individuals received what is appropriate for them because “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV). Finally, we must realize our uniqueness. When we do, we will never see other people as competitors but instead, see them as partners in the same work albeit in a different group. Remember, God is in the habit of doing various things His way in fulfilling His plans and purpose. If we are doing God’s plan and purpose, others are doing the same and they are part of God’s team just like us.

Let’s talk again!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

When Things Are Rough

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How should anyone react to the rough and tough times one is facing? I believe that in all things, one should never lose hope but instead be filled with optimism. Nothing by shall any means for anyone to become pessimistic. 

Here’s a story to illustrate how all of us should have the right attitude in life: A little boy was overheard talking to himself as he strutted through the backyard, wearing his baseball cap and toting a ball and bat. "I'm the greatest hitter in the world," he announced. Then he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it, and missed. "Strike One!" he yelled. Undaunted, he picked up the ball and said again, "I'm the greatest hitter in the world!" He tossed the ball into the air. When it came down he swung again and missed. "Strike Two!" he cried. The boy then paused a moment to examine his bat and ball carefully. He spit on his hands and rubbed them together. He straightened his cap and said once more, "I'm the greatest hitter in the world!" Again he tossed the ball up in the air and swung at it. He missed. "Strike Three! Wow!" he exclaimed. "I'm the greatest pitcher in the world!" (Hodgin,1994, loc. 1081).

Your attitude determines how circumstances impact your life. The little boy's circumstances hadn't changed, but his optimistic attitude prompted him to give an encouraging meaning to what had happened. There was an instance in the life of David that could teach us how to have the correct attitude during some rough times. In 1 Samuel 30:1-6, the story goes like this: “And it came to pass, when David and his men were come to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had invaded the south, and Ziklag, and smitten Ziklag, and burned it with fire; And had taken the women captives, that were therein: they slew not any, either great or small, but carried them away, and went on their way. So David and his men came to the city, and, behold, it was burned with fire; and their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, were taken captives. Then David and the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept, until they had no more power to weep. And David's two wives were taken captives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite. And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (KJV).

What happened to David and his men was indeed heartbreaking and their reaction was ordinary and reasonable. However, after they were pacified they put the blame on David even if all of them including David were affected. Yet they could not help but to blame him for their misfortune. It was a typical response for anyone to find fault. Someone must receive the brunt of it all. But instead of reacting, he retreated to a secluded place and “…encouraged himself in the Lord.”

This made David a remarkable character. He responded with the tragedy like any other men. He felt helpless and angry. He empathized and cried with his people. But what separated him from the rest was his own ability to rise above it all in spite of the negative reaction he faced from his men. He knew what to do at times like those. He gave us a great lesson to bear in mind: during rough times, don’t give up!

Like the little boy I mentioned in the story, he was like David, not allowing anything to deter him from looking at life from both perspectives. Some of us might call it “fighting spirit.” But the Scripture calls it hope. The most important lesson of them all is this: rough times are God’s opportunity to show His miracles when given the chance. Keep in mind that “God never leaves us nor forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5). Thomas Edison said, I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

What difficult time are you going through right now? Can you do something to change it? If you can, don't wait another day, make the needed changes. If you can't change the circumstance, however, change your attitude; you'll discover that circumstances won't have the last word.

Hodgin, M. (1994). 1001 Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking: Fresh, Timely, and
Compelling Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers and Speaker. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Furr, N. (2011, June 9). How Failure Taught Edison to Repeatedly Innovate. Entrepreneurs.

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