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Friday, November 15, 2013

Hope Is In God Alone

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." - Psalm 46: 1-3

It's exactly a week since the strongest typhoon ever recorded in history hit the central Philippines. Deaths and devastation in its wake are staggeringly beyond description. Not in a million years would local people think this was going to happen. No amount of typhoon drills or tsunami drills for that matter had prepared them for what was coming their way. Even to piece the thoughts on this catastrophe is beyond heartbreaking. Where do we start from here?

Even I myself cannot imagine being in the company of those zombie-like survivors who wander aimlessly from all corners scouring for food while soaking wet. They seem to have forgotten that they left behind dead bodies of loved ones uncollected and resigned to their fate so that they should hold on to survive. Men, women and children all orphaned by the catastrophe have no answer in their minds on how this misery could end sooner than they hope for.

There's no point in weeping if what we can only contribute is a bucket-ful of tears while watching the extent of people's miseries on television. Though some of us may not be able to help in the most conventional way, yet we can pray hard enough for them that they will still see hope in God despite this unheard of tragedy. Of course some of us would say, "are you serious?" kind of thing. In this genetic age or should I say bluntly as the 'end times', most people take away God in the equation. We just remember God only as our last option when we are at the center of the 'eye of the storm' literally or figuratively.

God is awesome and takes care of His children

No one was oblivious of the fact that a super typhoon was coming, its might unheralded in recorded history. People at the paths of the typhoon were all prepared, well-drilled and grew in confidence that previous experiences will get them through. In fact, government leaders had forecast that a zero casualty is a strong possibility considering their preparedness level. And that's what they thought.

Even before the typhoon made its first landfall in Leyte and Samar provinces, I being a Christian,  did not waste time calling out to God for His divine protection for my family and relatives and all those who are in harm's way. It's the most effective and most powerful way that get results - it is tested by time and generations - because God never changes. Do I sound senseless here if I may guess some people perceive me to be? This is the confidence that we have in Jesus that when we call out to Him with faith and humility He will hear us.

Just four days ago, power had been restored in my home province of Negros Occidental. My family instinctively knew how it was like waiting in agony to hear how everyone fared after the super typhoon . Our province specifically the northern part where we are located was among those places projected to be on the typhoon's path earning it a signal no.4 badge. My sister knowing I'd been on almost vigil mode since communications were cut off tersely messaged me that "we are all okay". And what a relief to know that indeed they were spared and as she puts it, "we can feel the hand of God protecting us". My younger brother has even a great testimony to tell when a flying tin roof almost hit him, but God was there, hallelujah!

In times of trouble when everything seems to conspire against you, be it frustration, desperation, crushed hopes, abandonment or even imminent death that you think there's no escape, we can still get comfort from God's promises and it takes only faith to be able to do that. Psalms 91 promises that those who trust in God will find refuge in the midst of trouble and that He delights in those who call out His name. That's His promise. And He never lies because He is God and not man. Thank you Jesus!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

For The Love Of Money

"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive..." (2 Timothy 3: 1-5)

As the ninth child in a brood of ten, being raised in an over- populated home has never been easy. First things first - food. Though it was not much of a dire issue, it never came by easily. Both my parents had to toil beyond their means so that each one gets to have a proper meal. Sending us to school and  finish our elementary is already a bounty, to say the least.

At school, I envy my seatmate named Garry for his daily "baon" of Ovaltine powder neatly wrapped in green cellophane. I thought that really tastes good as it smells good. He would sniff at it and teasingly parade on our faces as he stuffs his mouth. I would look at my classmates' glossy notebooks with 'That's Entertainment' stars for their cover while mine a hand-made by my mother salvaged from some unused pages from  previous year. Ah, those were fine memories that bring  smiles to me nonetheless.

A lot of people have gone through so much in their lives. Poverty, poor health, oppression, getting marginalized and the list goes on. I have seen on TV people who have won lotteries and became instant millionaires. They tell their stories of wastefulness as soon as they get rich, how they satisfied themselves with all the things they lacked and even going the extremes till they see themselves going down the drain with no hope.

There was also this one episode sometime ago in a GMA public affairs program, an old woman in Leyte in her early seventies who was left to care for her three grandchildren whose mother ventured to work in Manila and not to be heard again after a few years. Their decrepit house had no lights save for the generous night sky that lights up when it's full moon. Needless to say, it's good when it's not raining. The old woman gathers firewood and sells them in exchange for a meal - if it is fittingly so. Understandably, she would forgo her share for her grandchildren's sake. I can feel every tear she shed, the calluses in her bare feet stalked by the camera adds up to the agony of every viewer for her frail and bone-encased body. How much more  pain she should endure daily?

Sometimes when we're not confronted with this kind of reality, we seem to have lost touch with what is happening around us especially when we are literally swimming in the comforts of our achievements. Then very basic questions in life come to mind. With so much poverty around us, still a lot of rich people have that insatiable cravings for more riches even to the point of robbing others, even a whole nation. Look at some politicians in the Philippines and you will see greed personified. And it doesn't stop there. Truth is, these things don't bother us a bit as long as we too are unhindered in our own quest to store up more wealth for ourselves.

The internet and social media in particular has been abuzz recently with the corruption issue involving the Napoles family who allegedly channeled billions of pesos into their own pockets in connivance with some supposedly respectable Philippine politicians. And we are talking here of billions stolen from the Filipino people by these privileged few. It's not for me to talk about details but the flaunting of wealth by the daughter of the Napoles matriarch is vomit-inducing you wouldn't believe all the while there already existed an heir to the so-called the greediest woman in history. And your guess is as good as mine.

Though mostly got the shock of their lives for such a brazen display of extravagance at the expense of  people's money, I'm not a bit surprised. I'm not talking in a perspective of a citizen who helps keep the local economy afloat but as a mortal being who believes everything in this world has an end. Even the world's richest men know that at some point they will let go of their riches upon death. However, it is only the belief that they can pay their way to heaven that keeps them greedy even more. It has been foretold in the Bible (2 Timothy 3) that in the last days people will be  lovers of themselves and lovers of money - such is a terrible time that we are witnessing right now. And this is where it gets even more scary.

Justice Is On The Way

The Bible says in Mark 8:36, "For what profit is it for a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?" In this world where everyone is busy storing up riches for himself even at the expense of another human being, kindness and generosity toward those in need sometimes get obsoleted when the love of oneself supersedes anything that is called humanity. I am a firm believer though that God is coming swiftly with His justice and righteousness for the nations. Not that we should gloat on a bunch of robbers and bandits for their imminent destiny but that there is still hope for them if they change their ways no matter how sinful they think they have been.

The Good News

God loves His creations. He loves us, yes, even though it's too good to be true that a righteous and just God can forgive even the worst sinners among us. Jesus laid His life for all of us sinners: robbers, murderers, idolaters, liars, homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, everyone of us, even those plunderers. If we  repent of our sins and sincerely sorry for all the sins that we have done, then Jesus will forgive us of our sins and remember them no more. And He will most importantly give us eternal life. But who can escape God's wrath if we reject such a great salvation?

And The Bad News

It's just the opposite of the Good News. If we don't repent of our sins the wrath of God will follow us and He will come swiftly with His judgment that not even our gold and silver will be able to hide us and save us from His justice. That is the saddest news when people do not repent from their sins and refuse to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6) We might be struggling to find another way or some other ways imaginable, like donating to our church or giving alms to the poor or doing some good works just like what Oprah insists on her show because obviously she cannot accept that there is only One way. It's up to us people. We have been warned and lovingly told of the Gospel at some point in our lives. It is for us whether we accept or reject such a great gift of salvation. Sadly, many of us choose the path that we take. I hope it's not too late. We are happy to be alive today, but what about tomorrow? Do we know what tomorrow will bring forth?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

SE2-J Fellowship At The Corniche

"Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" - Psalms 133:1

Back in August, wilting under the scorching summer sun,  you wouldn't imagine plotting a trip to the Jeddah Corniche and virtually swimming in a pool of sweat as humidity level sees no letting up, let alone getting your epidermis toasted by midday sun. The city is topnotch for its whole year-round notoriety for soaring mercury so people get to experience only a feel of Siberian wind sometime in  Feb or January.

Shunning soaring temperature as such is one thing (even for those gifted with rich melanin deposits), and frolicking into bitingly cold night is quite another. And you see the contrast when people, young people at that (and at heart, wink wink), get to parade their best winter getup amid throngs of black-clad eye-only-popping spectators and their white-gowned counterparts. Hey, they aren't there for no purpose, it's a TGIF night meant for a workers' fellowship of Southeast 2-J!

Normally, Friday worship service at SE2-J concludes at around 2pm, and understandably workers are not in their freshest state notwithstanding the smiles that attempt to cover their glaring eye bags from a previous night's tug-of-war with drooping eyes. (Don't get me wrong folks, Thursday night BS is one of the most exciting  and most anticipated sessions of all midweek services that participants almost have no regard for time except for a little consciousness that fellowships in the  church also have got to adjourn :)

No one would have opted to forgo a needed afternoon slumber to compensate its lack thereof,  but wait till Kuya Sancho declares an invasion of the Corniche at dusk. Instead of seeing one romancing his bed to make the most of what remains in a Friday off, one if not all grapples to find his armor, this time a little bit panicky whether Ephesians 6 would be potent enough for a battle gear. Or what about a newly-bought 5-rial H&M scarf to complement a dream winter outfit most wearable only when gliding through the slopes of Abha or when plowing oneself down through a thick crowd in Batha?

Just the sheer excitement of cruising along the long and winding stretch of Jeddah Corniche on a cold and breezy night already hastened the J flock to assemble in less than an hour, except for Kuya Froilan and Kuya CJ who cannot be absent for a Friday afternoon duty. Okay, let's not exaggerate things. Everyone simply lusted for the wintry breeze by the seashore while wolfing down loads of pizza in various flavors.

Forget about some diet regimen getting breached not to eat heavy at night. Okay, it's not a daily occurrence so let's reward ourselves with some mighty slice and thick-crusted pizza!

And who can resist Kuya George's supposedly brimming hot and gigantic coffee pot in tow? Sadly, the hot coffee sees its life curtailed courtesy of a mercilessly freezing Red Sea breeze, so that we found ourselves conspiring to gulp it down while it still has relevance.  Pizza, coffee and relentless pictorial make up for a rather worthwhile fellowship.

This is what you get when juvenile minds outnumber the venerable. I say minds not age ha ha! And it doesn't get better than that when one fashions out a bottom up stunt - literally- the manager himself that is.  Unarguably, when you are in Christ your outlook in life turns positive, hence the youthful disposition. (Look Mr. Manager, I have come to your defense, so I don't expect any rebuke from you anytime soon ha ha!)

We call it a parade of hidden limbs terrified to get frost-bitten, except for one glaring misadventure of a pair of bare legs. This is a fashion statement gone awry. So what's with the guffaw Kuya Jeff?

Nope, not a beeline raring to harass the piles of pizza that begged to be devoured. Neither a parade as to who sports the best winter outfit or who best projects a friendly smile worthy of an evangelist. Just simply spontaneous. But let's make it a point when wrapping our arms tightly around someone else's neck it is not tantamount to strangulation. What do you think Kuya George?

Street lamp lights glowing against a man-made pool serve as a perfect backdrop for photo junkies. Wait till the lens had flashed and see everyone sprinted up towards the edge, thanks to the suffocating thick pollutants down there.

Seems like constipation or a match up with diarrhea takes its toll on Kuya Nhomer - it's quite unclear - the facial expression ambiguous by all indications - overjoyed or the opposite - as he shows off his exit visa. God has better plans for you Kuya, remember Jeremiah 9:11. We will be seeing you off at the airport. God bless you!

This is the downside when your stick-like frame makes everyone think you can pass for a javelin that you become easy pick for getting flipped around and dumped at sea, more so if you're a consenting victim. But just like Disney 's policy, no one gets hurt in this scene. Ironically, the benefit outweighs the peril of riding a human carousel ride, right Kuya Neil?

Don't mistake him for some school principal or CEO at Ortigas, he'd been there I guess, though much younger than most of us, if there is one I know being used mightily by God, this is the man - the newly-married but soon to be wedded (again?) Pastor Sancho - the jack of all trades in God's vineyard. He is our BS teacher, music mentor, a prophet with an amazing testimony to boot and a laughter-inducing giggle only God knows how he developed it.

If only for some meaningless and youthful escapade, we would have not set out for this activity, but for the glory of God it was an appointed time to have  fellowship with one another. Our pastors had decided that we could make use of the ambience for a workers' open forum as to suggestions how to improve and rectify lapses in the church, from church beautification to proper decorum.

Once the ball started to roll, Kuya Neil had plenty to admonish the photo buffs to shut their lenses once preaching gets underway.  Though some have muttered that the right phrase referred to it for political correctness' sake should be "documenting church activities" and not "taking random pictures"; either way, as everyone concurs, that shutterbugs need to be discreet so as not to create distraction with pulpit proceedings. Kudos to Kuya Neil for bringing that up!

Obviously, his hunger for learning deeper God's Word shows in his input, the zealous Kuya Celso suggests that some workers be assigned tasks to lead Bible studies  in the event that the pastors are tied-up with their hectic schedule - to which the pastors concur that there is time for everything as it is God who determines the time and season. 

Everyone's attention gravitates towards the unassuming Kuya Noli as he takes center stage with his litany of  serious and honest observation of the way some conduct poorly in the church. Seriously, that calls for  some soul-searching as it is difficult to draw a line between engaging in godly humor and "being annoying"(picture-taking included). So confused also that Kuya George shudderingly prays for wisdom, I assume. Or did I say everyone else shivers in cold? :)

Winter is great and all, but oftentimes there's just not enough opportunity to showcase one's fashion savvy. And what opportunity better than this to connive parading in hoodies? By the way, when the manager speaks up everyone has got to listen, right Kuya Josh?

Kids, don't mistake him for  a genie who emerges from the bottle.  He is Kuya Gener, our worship leader who catches everyone's attention with his Omani-like outfit more than what he has to say. Hmm, if my imaginary transcript were to vouch, he sort of says back-up singers are not allowed to use a microphone during praise and worship. And what's with the banning Kuya? Still we don't get it, ha ha!

Open forum adjourns, time to pack things up. I mean our garbage and all. Group pictorial  follows. And it has been hard though to create captions. But not with this one, as obviously Nhomer gets to release something in here - probably a memento (a toxic one?) as he is flying home in a week or so. 

Camaraderie born out of agape love spontaneously develops at church so are talents discovered. When we speak of skills and talents, edibles such as these generate yet another exciting race as to who gets to win best in take-out citation. And in this case, Kuya Neil wins hands down ha ha! (Joke only Kuya!:)

Of course, being deep into the night and we were already a little weary, we decided to call it a day. Soon we were away from the cold night shudder at the Corniche , leaving plenty to reminisce soon down memory lane as we hit off-road and pray for a repeat of the bonding time, hopefully soon. To God be the glory!
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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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