“Joy” Himself: A Reflection for the Third Week of Advent

My singing career had an unlikely breakthrough when I was in high school.

I became part of a group and we became the amazing singing sensation jumping from one gig to the next. Our calendar was full and we were in demand. But our gigs were not in clubs or bars. They were not in auditoriums or concert stadiums.

They were in wakes.

Yes, you see it right.

Wakes.

I still remember how our big break came when during a relative’s wake and funeral, we rendered one sentimental song after another bringing everyone to tears. Boy, were we proud. We were the “Imelda Papin” (in case some of you reading this still know the famous singer) of the “death genre” (I made that up!). Our measure of success was the number of people who cried after we sing our songs. Morbid, eh?

But our glory was short-lived. Before we can even begin to plan our “concert tour”, I had to leave Davao to study college in Manila. Sadly, we had to break up. And that’s how the world was deprived of what could have been the next big thing after the Beatles.

But kidding aside, I think that’s how most people gauge a successful religious event nowadays. They ask, “How many people cried?”. You may have your own story of how a retreat master tried his best to use all kinds of dramatic effects, from the timbre of his voice to lighting effects, to make sure the participants would weep, as if the success of the retreat depended on the volume of tears shed.

No wonder many people think that Christianity is supposed to be sad — that to take your faith seriously meant the end of your fun times in life.

This is far from the truth.

On this third week of Advent, we are reminded of the joy of following Jesus.

Joy is not a life without challenges but a life which sees God’s victory in every challenge.

Joy is not a life of having everything but a life of having the thing that matters most.

Joy is not a life without failings but a life of hope that is bigger than all failings combined.

Joy is not something you achieve but something you receive.

Joy is not a self-help concept that you work into your life, but a spiritual truth that you accept into your heart.

Joy is not something you aim to get, but something you already have but you must aim to bring out.

To have joy, you don’t need another program but another person.

Jesus.

He is “Joy” Himself.

Give it a try.

This season, spend more time in church than in the mall.

More time in recollections than parties.

More time in front of the Bible than your gadget (unless your bible is in your gadget).

Believe me, you will realize that Christmas is not just about fun.

In fact, it’s all about “Joy” Himself.

Enjoy the rest of this blessed season, my friend!

YOUR RESPONSE MATTERS

When you reach a dead end, don’t look back. Look up.
When you don’t know where to go, don’t keep running. Keep listening.
When you fail, don’t give up. Stand up.
When you are afraid, don’t run away. Pray and stay.
When you are exhausted, don’t retire. Fan the fire.

You have no choice on what the world will throw at you. But you always have a choice on how you will respond.

How you respond truly matters.

LET HIM BE YOUR WORLD: A REFLECTION FOR THE FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT

“Papang, can I have five more minutes to play before we leave?”

I am often confronted with this request from my children whenever I pick them up from school every afternoon. The request to stay in school a little longer evokes from me mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I am glad that they love their school — Cradle of Joy Centre for Learning. On the other hand, I kind of wonder, perhaps in my mid-life crisis sentimentality, if my arrival in their school every afternoon was good news or bad news to them.

Then I realized, that in much the same way, people perhaps have the same attitude when it comes to Christ’s return, whether it be His daily coming into our lives or His second coming someday.

Some people get so attached to life that the arrival of Christ is not so good news to them. Perhaps that’s why people avoid death or any talk of it. Perhaps that’s why people do not take the signs of our times seriously. Perhaps that’s why we try to hold on to life as much as we can.

But among my four children, my youngest Marco has a different reaction whenever I arrive. The moment he sees me at the gate of the school, he drops everything he’s doing, runs up to me and gives me a tight embrace. In a blink of an eye, he gives up his turn on the slide; he gives up the swing; he turns away from his playmates, and yes — welcomes me with open arms.

Then I can’t help asking myself: Will I have the same reaction when Christ comes?

You see, Marco’s reaction was typical of a 2 year old. Nothing is more important to him than seeing his dad. I am his world. But as children grow older like my 3 other children, their worlds expand. Somehow, dad is no longer their world but just becomes a part of that world. Not bad, mind you, it’s really just part of growing up.

But the tragic thing is this: This can also be true with many of us when it comes to our faith.

The older we get, our world expands. Our world becomes filled with careers to manage, bills to pay, dreams to achieve, marriages to keep, and children to raise.

God simply becomes just a part of it, if at all.

And then cancer strikes. Or a near-death car accident happens. Or your precious marriage falls apart. Or losing a child.

Then you begin to wonder: Where is God in my life now?

This Advent season, we are reminded that Christ will come to us. May we be like Marco, excited and eager, dropping everything and running to His tight embrace.

The Bible says that we should be eagerly awaiting Christ’s return:

“…we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)

Let Him be your world — now and always.

A blessed first week of Advent to you, my friend!

The Devil’s Tail

Satan doesn’t tell you a blatant lie. You are too smart for that. Instead, he tells you a half-truth and then exaggerates it.

To exaggerate your pain, he tells you there is no relief.
To exaggerate your challenge, he tells you it is hopeless.
To exaggerate your weaknesses, he tells you that you have no strengths.
To exaggerate your sin, he tells you that you’re beyond salvation.

The devil has a tail and it is called exaggeration. It follows every “truth” he says and turns it into a lie.

So how do you deal with a tail? Cut it.

Don’t dialogue with him. Don’t converse with him. Don’t linger in his lies.

Cut his “tail” early and live free!

In the Moment

I clasped my 4 year old Franco in my arms at the break of dawn today. He woke up ahead of his siblings and went up to our third floor study where I was having my prayer time. Seeing him up so early, I decided to spend some time with him. I lifted him in my arms as he rested his sleepy head on my shoulders.

That was when “the moment” came.

Accompanied only by the occasional noises of some distant cricket, the silence enveloped our tight embrace. In the silence, our hearts spoke so loudly as his chest rested on mine. Son to father. Boy to dad. Heart to heart…

It was then when I knew once more what “moments” are…

When silence speaks volumes of comprehensible words, and heartbeats convey torrents of unspeakable emotions.

When words are not necessary, and presence is more than enough.

When lingering in the silence meant hearing more of what truly matters.

When savouring the instant makes the eternal more relevant.

When your miniscule existence is atomized yet made significant by the immensity of what matters most in life.

Franco needn’t talk. I needn’t speak.

But it was our silence which made the moment. For without it, life, in all its busyness could have automatically muffled the voice of love which reverberated so significantly from our hearts.

“The moment” is also true when it comes to prayer.

Sometimes, prayer needs no words.

Oftentimes, it means just sitting quietly in a corner and being with God.

Scriptures says:

“in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

Prayer is being in God’s presence.

In his embrace. Heartbeat to heartbeat. Heart to heart.

You need not be fluent or articulate or poetic.

You need only to be there.

In “the moment”.

Pain in the Neck

I was recently diagnosed to have “cervical spondylosis”.

Scary medical term, huh?

It only means though that I have arthritis of the neck, at least that’s how my good doctor explained it to me — that my neck is older than my age. Without proper care of the neck, the painful sensation can radiate from my neck down to my arms. Quite painful, to be honest, when it is at its peak like say two weeks ago when I was rushed to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.

Now, two weeks later, and feeling much, much better, I got a chance to reflect and see my situation through my spiritual lenses.

My lifelong burden is basically a “pain in neck”, in both the literal and figurative sense. No more carrying of heavy stuff. No more random sleep posture at night. No more playing basketball. Quite a burden to carry for the rest of my life, don’t you think so?

Well, not until you see it from the perspective of Someone who carried something on his back in worse circumstances.

Compared to His burden which broke his spine, my burden only scarred a portion of mine.

I caused my burden, He didn’t cause His.
Mine was a pinch while His was a punch.
Mine can be relieved by medication while His can be relieved only by crucifixion.
Mine can be eased by therapy while His can be eased only by death.

And here’s the clincher: His burden was for my salvation.

Could I not then at least share in His burden by offering my pain for the salvation of others?

Everytime the shooting pain radiates from the neck to the arm, let it be for that lonely man behind bars who misses his family day after day.

Everytime the discomfort comes at night, let it be for that woman trapped in that marriage with that violent man.

Everytime a wrong posture hurts, let it be for that troubled young man hooked into drugs.

How about you? Are you going through some kind of physical or emotional pain now? Use it well. Offer it for the salvation of souls. Let it be your humble share in the salvific act of Christ.

Let your every pain, discomfort, irritation, and burden this week echo so loudly in eternity with every soul saved.

As for me, the pain in my neck will always serve as a reminder that my sins dealt the pain on the neck of my Savior.

The least I can do is share in that pain…even just a little and even just for a little while.

Have a blessed week ahead!

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P.S. Thanks for all those who have been praying for me! I am getting better by the day!

Just Like Before

I miss those days when my faith was simpler and less complicated…

When listening to talks were more often than giving them;
When serving God was measured not so much by how people responded to my service but by how I responded to God;
When worship was something I simply enjoyed, not something I lead;
When all fellowship needed in order to happen was fun, not funds;
When praying was a choice gladly made not a chore sometimes merely complied with.

Don’t get me wrong.

Being a Christian leader nowadays is indescribably amazing. But once in a while, it’s good to recall what it means to just be simple Christian madly in love with his God.

Just like before.