Monday, December 28, 2009

Love is Always In Season

Some things ought to follow a cycle but some don't.  The famous passages in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 talk about there being a right season for everything.  But when it comes to loving, the time is always right.  Jesus cursed the fig tree when it did not have fruit to feed Him when he was hungry (Matthew 21:18-19). 

The following song says of how we should make love a non-seasonal thing.   Love is always in season.


Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Christmas Star

Parol made of capiz shells. (Photo by Eugene Alvin Villar, 2007)

Reading:  Matthew 2
Christmas lantern in the shape of a star, known as parol is the most common symbol of Christmas spirit in the Philippines.  Every Filipino child knows what it is and they are taught how to make one.  The parol symbolizes the star that appeared in the east when Jesus was born which guided the three wise men to Bethlehem.   That same star also symbolizes the power of the light over darkness.  Probably the lights that we hang around Christmas time also came from the same basic idea.

The second chapter of Matthew talks about the appearance of the star in the east.   He came as the light of the world (John 8:12) and promised those who would follow him that they will not walk in darkness. 

Not everyone saw the star.  It was written all over the scriptures that a Messiah would come and to the Jews this is a hope that came down from generation to generation starting from Abraham (Genesis 18:18) to Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14) and to David.  This hope and expectation has been part of the Jewish tradition as their forefathers did.  They were looking for the arrival of the Messiah when God will restore their position with Him. 

Then Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  There were fireworks... and parades... and parties... and houses were was a holiday because this is the fulfillment of what they've been waiting for.   Right?  Not really.  Other than Joseph and Mary, their relatives like Elizabeth and Zechariah, and the shepherds whom the angels talked to, no one knew about the birth of a king.  Not even the owner of the barn where he was born knew.

One day, as described in Matthew 2:1-2, some foreign philosophers, called Magi, arrive in Jerusalem and claimed to have been brought there by the star of the new-born Jewish King.  They saw the light from the star and followed it.  They came to pay homage to the new king of the Jews, never mind that they are not Jews.   So we see that Jesus did not arrive secretly.  There was enough sign for anyone to see.  However, not everyone saw the light.  Not everyone welcome him the way we would expect a royalty was to be treated.

Even now, the Good News is delivered everywhere for everyone to hear it so that everyone would receive Him.  Just like the first star in the east, it was there, shining brightly but only those whose hearts are open will see recognize Him.  Not only will some not recognize Him, some will feel threatened at the mention of His name.  Herod, instead of acknowledging Jesus as the new king, planned to destroy Him (Matthew 2:13) 

God takes care of those who seek Him.  In the second chapter of the book of Matthew, we see a demonstration of God's protection to those who are on his side.  The Magi did not know what was in Herod's mind but God already knew and was busy planning their detour before Herod could do anything.  The same thing is true with Joseph.  He was unaware of the developing trouble around Jesus, but God warned him in a dream.

Jesus came to this world as our Savior.  He came so everyone would believe and follow Him.  He planned for us to follow Him so that we can spend eternity with Him.  This, however, did not mean that our life will all be beds of roses.  In fact, to follow Him requires that we deny ourselves and take up your cross (Luke 9:23).  To follow Him is not freedom from trouble.  But when we are on His side, we have His protection as He carries out His plans.  It would have been easier for the Magi to send their presents by FedEx but the knowledge that was revealed to them was so compelling that they had to do what had to be done.  This was no ordinary king, this is the King of kings.  Joseph likewise was yielded to his dreams and moved his family several times.  He beleived.  Action is the expression of what we believe. 
God involves us in His Work to Strengthen our Faith.  When I first believed, there were questions that I desperately needed to be answered but could not.  Such questions were making me doubt from time to time.  Back in chapter one, Joseph had doubts about Mary and the baby that she was carrying until the angel of the Lord spoke to him.  Then God involved Joseph in His works so that he would see the miracles with his own eyes.  God asked him to name the baby Jesus.  He asked Joseph to bring Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod.  He also told him later on to return to Israel when it was safe to go back.  By putting Joseph in the middle of all the events that are going on, God allowed Joseph to see the way God works.  Joseph at this point is by no means doubtful anymore. 

Do you feel that you are isolated and not know what's going on?  Look for the star, find out where God is.  Then join God in His parade.  Get involved and see the miracles happen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The First Christmas

When I was working for the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines, one of the projects that I was involved in was the introduction of a new corn variety to the farmers of Alcala, Cagayan.  One of the identified causes of poverty in that farming area was the use of an old corn variety.  The old variety is poor yielding and susceptible to a lot of pest and diseases.  Farming families who relied on their harvest for their food and some cash that they need did had difficulty making ends meet.  The goal of our project was for them to adopt the new variety which had the following characteristics: high-yielding, pest-resistant and higher-nutritional value.  This way they would have higher yields and lower loses through pest and disease problems, thus increasing their income.  Well, on would think that it is very simple.  On the contrary, it was very challenging for us.  The farmers in that area liked the taste of their old corn variety and feared that the new one would not taste as good.  They did not realize that they are losing anything through pest infestation.  They believed that they are good just they way they are.  They did not see their own problem.  They did not want to change anything.  There is comfort in tradition.

So how is this related to the first Christmas?  The birth of Jesus Christ was an explosion of events that broke Jewish traditions.  So it started with two normal people, Joseph and Mary, who were engaged to be married.  Just like any couple planning a life together, they had hopes and dreams to have family of their own and raise children in accordance with tradition.  Jesus, however, was different from his very beginning.  From the very start of his human existence He was already showing the world that status quo can be improved by breaking out from tradition.  The world by tradition is worldly.  He came to show us that there is another way.

The verses from 18-24 of chapter one describes the encounter of the angel of God with Joseph.  I believe that those events exemplify what God wants us to do to adopt the new life that he came to introduce.

A call to Trust
Joseph's betrothed is pregnant.  Of all his thoughts, one would have been "Who is the vile man?"   "I love her but to raise this child is just beyond me."  And in the midst of this confusion...Jesus Christ was announced for the first time to Joseph.  "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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."  This did not make things easier for him to understand.  He has heard readings from the scriptures about the coming of a messiah before...but it could not be now?  Let's assume that Joseph decided to trust and believe the angel about the Messiah.  Nonetheless, things are not settled in his guts.  Of all women, why his fiancĂ©e?  There are other women more mature who could be mother to the son of God.   This just makes things difficult for him.  Alright, Mary is the chosen girl, but why should it be happening now before the wedding?  So he shakes his head and accepts the fact that this is all God's timing that he could not question.   But that does not settle everything.  If the child is really the Son of God, why should it come to my future family?  How can I, a carpenter, raise God?  So many questions might have come to his

In the end, Joseph trusted the angel of the Lord who spoke to him.  He believed that Mary has conceived through the Holy Spirit and that was a virgin, still.  He trusted God that to go on with the wedding is the right thing to do, never mind that it is against tradition. He believed that Mary now carries the promised Messiah.

A Call to Give Up Pride
Joseph chose the best girl that he could have with the hope that he would be the only one in her life.  But even before the wedding, a terrible evidence of unfaithfulness comes out.  Mary is pregnant.  Based on tradition there is no obvious reason to stick with her, she is a disgrace to him and his father's household.  As one who is righteous, in this current age maybe he'd be considered Christian, he decided to be kind to Mary by ending their relationship without any fuss.  In the old Jewish tradition, the bride should be a virgin before marriage.  It would cost too much shame to marry her.  But the angel of the Lord told him to marry her anyway.

When Joseph believed what the angel of the Lord had spoken, he was willing to give up his pride in pursuit of what he was called to do.

A Call to Obey

The angel of the Lord made a revelation to Joseph that the Son of God is coming.  This revelation came not only with the information that he needed to know but it came with a call to obey.
  • Regarding traditions he was instructed, "Do not be afraid".  God knew that it was not easy for a tradition-abiding man like Joseph to brave the criticism and judgment that awaits him from deviating from what his forefathers had done and passed down to his generation.  He understood Joseph's emotions so told him to calm down and trust God instead.  Joseph ignored his fears and started to follow the rest of God's instructions to him.
  • Regarding Mary, "...take Mary home as your wife."  Joseph's intentions concerning Mary were pure and vice versa.  The marriage would be a fine one except for the fear that surged from his heart.  He thought that things are not right anymore.  Everything now seems against all sensibilities.  By the angel telling him to take her as his wife God is saying it is okay.  Everything may seem wrong in your eyes, but in God's eyes things are in order.  Joseph obeyed; he took Mary as his wife.
  • Regarding the baby in Mary's womb, "... give him the name Jesus."  The name Jesus means that "the Lord saves."  Names are very important in the Jewish tradition.  The idea that a baby's name should be meaningful is central.   The name honors their forefather or parents.  Sometimes the name indicates who the parents are, what the parents' emotional state was at the time of the birth or conception of the baby.  In the case of Jesus, the name expressed the plan of God and the purpose of the child in Mary's womb.  Joseph gave up his right to name the first born of his wife and obeyed God instead.  In so doing, he also was agreeing that the child is the Messiah, the savior of the world.
More than two thousand years later, here we are commemorating that event that happened in Bethlehem when the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph.  Do we still remember the true meaning of the occasion or have we replaced it with something completely different?  I believe that that the message of our celebrations should still reflect the relational exercise between God, as represented by the angel of the Lord and mankind, as played by Joseph, during the first Christmas.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

His Bloodline

Currently, I am doing a personal study on the book of  Matthew.  This is the first of a series of narratives that I'll write based on my study.

Matthew 1:1-17

Men of Faith
The book starts by describing the genealogy of "Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."  It is important to mention that his lineage leads to these two significant people in history.  David was a king, a great king during his time.  He was also the one whom God described as man after His own heart (Acts 13:22).  To mention that Jesus Christ came from David is to say that He came from a royal blood not only in man's eyes but God's as well.  Then if we go back fourteen generations before David, there was Abraham who was labeled by God as righteous when, in faith, he obeyed God on things that were not obvious.   These two men are men of faith, and they are the trunk of Jesus' family tree.  We can say they are the best of the best and yet they were not perfect.  The scriptures have recorded poor choices that these men made.  However, by grace, it was their relationship with God that determined who they were.

The Women
It was customary in those old Jewish days to put in writing a record of who begat whom.  Such records, however, normally only included names of men...fathers and sons.   Matthew, the author of the book of Matthew, included the names of four girls or women in Jesus' genealogy.  That must have created horror among the readers and hearers of the book.  Everyone must have posted it on Facebook.   They are getting 200 comments per post.  Everyone tweeting everyone about this unusual inclusion of women in this highly masculine tradition of genealogy.   What's more...three of the four women are all of questionable reputation. 
  • Tamar.  Let's begin with Tamar.  Who is she?  It's a long story (Genesis 38).   God intended for the Son of Man (Jesus) to come from Judah (Revelation 5:5).  However, Judah's first born, Er, was wicked and God, probably, thought that he did not qualify to be listed later in the genealogy of Jesus, so he zapped him.  Onan, Er's brother, was supposed to marry Tamar to give a child to Er, but he refused the idea and made God angry.  Guess what happens?  God zapped Onan.  So you see, Judah's chance to be in the list is getting very slim...he has only his youngest son left.  Then she made a poor choice, disguising herself as a prostitute and luring her father-in-law to bed. But God even used her poor choice to make things happen.
  • Rahab.  Rahab's story is more straight-forward...she was a prostitute from Jericho (Joshua 2:1).  She helped the Jews take over Jericho because believed their God. Later on she lived with them and ended up marrying one of them.  She eventually became the mother of Boaz.
  • Ruth.  Probably Ruth, the Moabitess, is better than the first two, you might say.  The Moabites were Semitic, descended from Abraham's nephew Lot through incest (Genesis 19:30-31).  There was a long history of tension between Moab and Israel through history. Ruth would appear suspect because her background. But she chose wisely when she had an opportunity to do so.  She then became the wife of Boaz.
  • Bathsheba.  The mother of Solomon didn't even get her name mentioned, but every reader would have understood the story. David takes advantage of her husbands' absence and impregnates her, then, after her husband is killed by David, becomes his wife.

Just Like You and Me
Connections make or unmake a person.  To those whose predecessors already had them, honor and glory comes easily, although there is no assurance that they remain.  Mrs. Bucket in the TV show, "Keeping Up Appearances" is always trying to hide her undesirable connections.  She covers up the fact that she is related to Daisy and Onslo (poor sister and brother-in law), and Rose her wild sister.  She likes to brags about her rich sister Violet but not about Violet's husband who dresses up like a girl.  In this culture, we tend to associate our reputation with who we are associated with.  We show our value based on our origins and we discriminate those whose roots we consider inferior by our standards.  Jesus Christ became man in spite of his deity.  He was born in a humble stable in spite of his royal descent.  He was born to poor parents instead of to a prince and princess.  He came to live among His people and lived like one of them.  He is perfect and yet He came with some blemished background just like all of us. 

Our Hope
Why is His genealogy written as such?  First of all, it is to show us that God carries out His promise no matter how long it may take.  When God called Abraham, He made a promise to bless him and that the whole world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-2).  How many generations did it take before His plan of salvation came to the first hint of fruition?  God is faithful to his promises. 

Secondly, it is to show us that what we were is not what matters but it is what we choose when it comes to our relationship with God that matters.  When we choose to obey God He honors us.  He confirms His connection with us just like the way He did with Abraham and David.  When we decide to follow Him He reverses our destiny from shame and condemnation to honor and value just like He did with Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. 

Therefore, the next time you read the genealogy of Jesus Christ, consider it beyond a list of hard-to-pronounce names.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Weekend of Fellowship

This weekend was well spent in spite of being away from home and family!  It's been my first at the famous Arco Arena, my first at the Women of Faith, my first to spend an extended time with some Cornerstone Women, and many more that I won't list here.

Fellowship and Friendship
Best of all getting to know some of the girls in church is really special.  We tailgated in the cold and dark parking lot of Arco Arena.  Gayle was very kind to prepare yummy food for us all.  Unlike the traditional fattening tailgating foods like hotdogs, hamburgers and chips, we had healthy chicken salad and huge cookies.  Unlike your normal carefree tailgating, we had every thing a lady needed from flower-printed napkins to brightly colored cloth lap covers.  We actually looked funny.  We stayed inside the Kris and Sue's vehicles with the heaters on till the arena opened for the evening sessions.  

We were together for a long time without any agenda in mind.  We were free to talk about anything and discuss about what we've been getting and enjoying from the conference.  These ladies (Nancy Wroblewski, Carol Kay, Bernadette Cranmer, Christine Church, Sue Ogrey, Kris Morphew, Shirley Horne, Chris Matassa, Gayle McKenzie, Ellie Retallack) are very nice and there's a lot of learn from each of them.  We also got to see one Superstar in the big screen that made us so proud...Denise Danberg!  She was there with her sister in a different section of the arena.  Paula Armor was also there with her daughter.  Bernadette also came with her mom-in-law and Shirley came with her sister during the second day.  It was really a time to fellowship and reconnect.

I must say that I am culturally uninformed.  This conference contributed to my cultural education to some extent.  For example, everyone knew who Mandisa was but I didn't.  She was there and performed for us.  I thought that she not only is a great singer she also has a tremendous potential as a speaker.  She spoke more smoothly and with a clearer and more direct point than some of the featured speakers.  She has a story to tell.  That night, she said, was the realization of a dream that she held onto for a long time since she was a little girl growing up in Citrus Heights.  I liked her because she seemed humble!

I knew the song "My Redeemer", but I did not know who sang it originally.  Nicole C. Mullen was there on both days rocking the whole Arco arena but I didn't know anything about her.  I was impressed by her but it wasn't until the emcee, Mary Graham, commented that she writes all the songs she sings that I became curious about her.  I came home shared my stories with my family and my son, Brahms, showed me all the albums that we own of NCM.  I was so embarrassed...but I don't pay attention to music if I don't like it.  Don't get me wrong.  I enjoyed all the songs they sang in the conference but not all of them would be the music that I choose to listen to.

For the other ladies, this conference had the reverse-culture lesson.  World Vision for some reasons was highly advertised in this event.  WV is an organization that helps children in need all over the world through individuals from the US sponsoring one child at a time.  The condition of these children in those poor countries is a very vivid picture for me, having come from one of those countries.  My friend Norma's cousin was a recipient of WV support.  I've seen it with my own eyes.  What little amount given to someone in need is a tremendous help.  A lot of the women there were motivated to sponsor a child.  Gayle, being a new child sponsor, was telling me that the support that she gave would be equivalent to one meal for two at McDonald's per month.   That would be sufficient to feed, clothe and send a child to school.  In my own heart, I praise God for those ladies who made a commitment to help some unfortunate children somewhere.

Intended Lessons
If I come to analyze the whole thing, the conference was intended to help women individually to get out of their own bondages.  It's focused on transformation.  The speeches and stories of the different speakers were intended to bring awareness and hope to each woman.  They are not alone in their plight.  Others have come out victorious and thus they too can.  Different stories: rape; lost childhood; addiction; loneliness; threat of death; failed marriage; finances; etc. were represented by the stories of the speakers and performers.  I was not extremely appreciative of most of the stories.  On the other hand, I was just glad that World Vision was introduced there.  It provided an opportunity to be generous or to think of other's much greater predicament.  Otherwise, the whole thing would have been all focused inward.  My problem.  My problem.  My problem.  I believe that the root-cause to a lot of our problems is self-centeredness and selfishness.  Do you want to get out of your personal problems?  Then look away and see what you can do to make someone experience a more beautiful life.  Look away and see what you can do to make the world better.  Stop brooding over your own.  Begin to be generous.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Women of Faith or Not?

Tomorrow is Women of Faith conference at Arco Arena.  It's my first time to go to one.   What do I expect to get from this two-day conference?  I'm not sure.  My friend Sue says she likes it.

From my experience, conferences like this one are generally a lot rah-rah to the speakers.  Women, especially, go to conferences like this because they've heard of the speaker before.  We've read the books or the bible studies the speaker has written.  Never mind that the study was not that good as long as it made us laugh.  I'm kind of hesitant to get excited because in these conferences, the speakers are celebrities.  They are promoted like stars of a movie event.  And we, the women, are like the fans.  God forgive me... but sometimes it makes me cringe to see how women adore them.  Don't assume that I am so righteous that I haven't fallen into the same trap.  I've been and maybe will be there again. 

The speakers teach us about God and the bible, they even tell you to worship God instead of them but some women forget that.  Johnny Depp, for example,  is not a pirate but in my house we call him Captain Jack Sparrow.  Johnnye Depp was only acting as pirate Captain Jack Sparrow.  The speakers in conferences and authors of books are sometimes perceived as what they write about.   I also think, although I can't be sure, that in a situation where there are several speakers in on conference, there is a hidden competition among them.   There's the pressure to be the best.  The one who made the crowd laugh or cry more is the one who will sell a book better.

Advantages to going to Women of Faith conference:
1.  Fellowship and renewed friendship among those who are going.  We will be tailgating for dinner- and we will have a lot of free time just doing what girls do together.
2.  Learning together - We'll all have the same experience although internalization will vary.  When we will talk about what we heard and not who said it then we will be in the right track.

After the conference, maybe I'll be in a better position to list more advantages since, after all, this is going to be my first time to go.  Everything that I've written therefore is based on my own previous experiences with similar events and my speculation.

If you have been to one before, then may I ask you help me complete the list.