A Year of Favor

“…the year of the Lord’s favor…” (Luke 4:19)

If there is a word to describe the past year of my wife Jeng, it would be this: tough. Hurdling one challenge after another, Jeng emerged from the chaotic mess more beautiful than ever. Let me recount those days…

Jeng valiantly endured the financial crisis we experienced after I resigned from my full time legal job to become a missionary.

She was a sturdy pillar for the family when our daughters got sick of dengue fever one after the other.

She courageously underwent a gall bladder surgery and a full month of painful recovery.

She boldly carried me throughout the entire month long ordeal of my father’s hospitalization due to a cardiac arrest.

She patiently suffered a month-long bedrest due to a near miscarriage early in her pregnancy of our third child.

Through it all, Jeng shone brilliantly for Jesus. Prayerful. Positive. Patient. Persevering. Today, on Jeng’s birthday, I thank God for such a lovely gift in the person of my wife. And I pray that the coming year for her will not be as difficult as her previous year. Instead, may the next year truly be blessed. May the words of scripture today be hers to claim: “…the year of the Lord’s favor…” (Luke 4:19)

Jeng, if I get to own a square meter lot for every thanksgiving prayer I utter because of you, I would now be owning a continent.

A blessed birthday, my Love! You deserve to enjoy this day!

Much love and appreciation,

Bobby

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Welcoming Death

“…Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour…” (Matthew 25:13)

Statistics say:

10 out of 10 people die.

In other words, each one of us has a 100% chance of dying. Someday, your heart will have its last heartbeat. Your mouth will expel carbon dioxide one last time. Your name will be on a tombstone. When people talk about you, it will be in the past tense.

You can deny it all you want. Or delay it as best as you can. But you can never escape it.

Death.

Recently, it was a hot topic in a conversation I had with a group of friends. We were talking about not just any kind of death. It was the most dreadful kind. The sudden kind. The unexpected type. Accidental. Thief-in-the-night kind of death.

Death recognizes no age or occasion. It has no respect for your appointment or your calendar. It comes when it wants. It arrives without warning. And it happens to all of us.

So what do we do in anticipation of that day?

Scripture today says:

“…Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour…” (Matthew 25:13)

While we cannot predict it, we can prepare for it.

Live a good life. Love God. Love people. Be detached to material things. Stay holy. Be vigilant against sin. Pray.

If you do, you will welcome death with open arms.

Stay blessed!

Bobby

Circle of Control

“…conduct yourselves worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory…” (1 Thessalonians 2:9-13)

Do you want to get depressed? I suggest you watch the daily news program on TV. I did just that the other night and the effect on me was predictable.

Here is the usual menu on late night news:

Death

Corruption

New diseases

Economic meltdown

Crime rate up

Global warming

Showbiz couples breaking up (Hmmm, maybe I should stop there.)

Sometimes, one can’t help but be anxious and wonder.

What does the future hold for us and our children? The more we think of it, the more it scares us. And that is why today’s first reading offers us an important tip on how to live one’s life in these uncertain times.

There are two things in life which are definitely beyond our control: the past and the future.

For instance, if you invest your money in a business which did not work out, you can no longer “un-invest” it. It’s done. Over. Gone.

In the same way, if you want to be able to travel around the world one day, you can work hard for it only to find out that you have cancer and has only a few weeks to live.

But while the past and the future is beyond your control, it is something you can manage. How? By focusing on your circle of control.

So what is your circle of control?

Answer: The present.

What you do with your time. What values you will protect. What attitude to take in very situation. What to believe in.

In the reading today, Paul focused on the present. He didn’t tell people to be wearied of their past or worried about their future. Instead, he told them to focus on the way they conduct themselves in the present.

He said: 

“…conduct yourselves worthy of the God who calls you into his kingdom and glory…” (1 Thessalonians 2:9-13)

Live righteously. Work diligently. Be fair at all times. Love the people God has given you. Choose to be happy. Aim for eternity.

These are things within your control. Focus on them. If you do, the past cannot haunt you, and the future cannot harass you. Give both your past and your future to God. 

Give them to Him who is always in control.

I remain,

Bobby

Convenient Christianity

“…And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to them he said, `You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’…” (Matthew 20:3-4)

There was a time when the employment status of a person was classified as only either active or retired. Today, there is an emerging third class: semi-retired.

What exactly does this mean?

That you work only when you feel like it?

That you determine the days of the week when you report to your office?

That you simply act as consultant to your previous company?

Now, I know that semi-retired employees are now widely accepted in the corporate world. Unfortunately, many people try to bring this concept into their spirituality.

There are many self-proclaimed “semi-retired” Christians out there.

Their favorite motto is “Been there, done that”.

Their favorite expression is “When I feel like it”.

Their favorite excuse is “Let the newer church/community members do it. It’s now their turn.”

They evangelize only when they feel like it. They witness only when the occasion presents itself. They serve only when it is convenient.

Oh you know they are not retired. You see them around. They still serve. They still witness once in a while. They evangelize when they can. They still sing in the choir. But that’s that. The fire is put out. The zeal is gone. They call themselves semi-retired. To me, I would classify them as those who have fallen into a spiritual disease called convenient Christianity.

They serve, witness, evangelize only when convenient.

Lest you accuse me of berating those among us who are elderly, let me say that falling into convenient Christianity has very little to do with age but everything to do with attitude.

In my community, the Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon, our senior citizens are part of a ministry called Nuggets of Wisdom (N.O.W.). Even in their old age, they continue to meet, pray, evangelize and witness for Jesus. Arthritis is not an excuse. A failing eyesight is not a justification. Diabetes is not a reason not to go all out for Jesus. And rightly so. For God never wants Christians to be idle.

In today’s Gospel parable, Jesus talks of a rich landlord who goes out into the marketplace to hire those who are idle to work in his vineyard:

“…And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to them he said, `You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’…” (Matthew 20:3-4)

 Save perhaps for those who are on their deathbeds, all Christians never semi-retire from being one. Christianity is not a job they keep or a title they hold. It is their lifestyle.

You may be seventy years old or seventeen years old. If you’re a Christian, make sure you are not semi-retired. Keep loving, praying, healing, witnessing, and evangelizing for God’s kingdom.

And before you know it, eternal retirement is just a hearbeat away.

Staying in the game,

Bobby Q.

Ain’t Over Yet

“…’if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?’…” (Judges 6:13)

When I tell my eldest daughter a bedtime story, she has a tendency to finish the story for me.

“No, Papang,” she’d interrupt “I don’t think the dragon should be bad. He can’t be bad. In fact, I think the dragon became friends with our hero in the end.”

I think Gideon did the same thing with God in today’s first reading. He tried to finish God’s story before it was even over. Take a look at Gideon’s reply when the angel told him that God was with him:

“…’if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?’…” (Judges 6:)

Gideon wanted to know why their story turned out the way it did if God had been with them. But here lies the problem: the story isn’t over yet. God has not finished writing yet. It was still in progress. It has yet to reach its climax. That was why the Angel commanded him to obey instead of responding to Gideon’s query.

Sometimes, we think the way Gideon did. When bad things happen to us, we question God’s power. Subtly, we doubt God’s faithfulness. Secretly, we suspect God’s presence. But sometimes, we ask too soon. God has yet to finish writing this particular chapter of our lives. You see, God may allow us to lose some battles along the way, but you can bet your life on this: God is determined to win this war for us.

What is your war right now?

Against financial troubles?

Against a marriage on the rocks?

Against loneliness?

Against resentment?

Against meaninglessness?

Against parkinsons?

If you’ve hit a snag or you feel you’ve lost a battle, take heart. Don’t question God’s presence. For as long as you stand by the Lord, your story won’t be finished with you lying face flat on the ground. God’s ending is always in your favor. With God, you always win.

The next time you are tempted to complain the way Gideon did, think for awhile. Maybe God hasn’t finished writing His story with you yet. And your victory is just waiting for you around the corner. 

Enjoying my story every step of the way,

Bobby

Sacred Restlessness

“…The young man said to him, ‘All these I have observed; what do I still lack?’…” (Matthew 19:22)

My youngest daughter, Mara,  is a bundle of energy. She is constantly restless. She jumps. She climbs. She can run the whole day. She could not stay put in one place. It is as if she is always on a mission. To get that toy. To grab that cookie. To ride that bike. And that is why I am alarmed during days when she is not as active as she usually is. For sure, something must be wrong with her.

In a spiritual sense, we can say the same thing about the human heart.

I believe every person will reach a point of spiritual restlessness. There is a gnawing emptiness within that can’t be filled by anything that the world offers. Money cannot satisfy. Success cannot fulfill. Charity works lose their meaning. Even the constant presence family and loved ones seem not enough. The heart wants to move. It cannot stay put. It searches. It hungers. It thirsts. This, my friend, is what I call “sacred restlessness”.

Perhaps it was sacred restlessness that pushed the rich young man to confront Jesus with his classic query:

“…The young man said to him, ‘All these I have observed; what do I still lack?’…” (Matthew 19:22)

The heart is restless. Sacredly restless. Longing for Who it was made for. Pursuing the hearbeat that matches its own. Running after not only that which temporarily fills, but for that which eternally completes.

I believe many out there are like the rich young man. Not evil. Not necessarily leading a sinful life. Not indulging in any vice. Keeps a job. Works hard. Ambitious. Upstanding. Living an “ok” life. Average. And yes, RESTLESS.

As St. Augustine said: Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

Perhaps you yourself are going through some kind of restlessness as you read this blog. Maybe God is talking to you now…

Are you a nominal Christian who prides himself/herself with an averagely normal righteous life?

Or you may be an agnostic who somehow has reached a dead end?

Or perhaps you are a devout Christian who has stayed within his/her comfort zone far too long to still remember what it means to be radical for God?

Sometimes God disturbs us to wake us up from our complacency. He rings the alarm to shake us out of our stupor. He whispers gently to nudge us out of our slumber. He comes to let us know that there is more. More to give. More to offer. More to bless. More for you.

Sacred restlessness.

It will keep coming for as long as you are breathing. For only when you see Him face to face will the restlessness end. And when it does, you know, you are already in the presence of the Sacred.

Restlessly longing for that day,

Bobby

Sowing and Growing

“…The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness…”(2 Corinthians 9:10)

My first attempt at planting was a disaster.

It was in elementary when we were first taught how to plant. They gave us one of the easiest seeds to grow: mongo seeds. We were told that all we needed were five essential things — a small glass jar, newspaper sheets soaked in water, mongo seeds, sunlight and a disciplined attitude.The last on the list happens to be the most important. Somehow, it made all the difference. Let me tell you what I mean…

After a month from the time we started our little experiment, our teacher inspected our respective projects. My classmates did a fantastic job with theirs. Healthy-looking mongo plants sprouted arrogantly from their respective glass jars. My project, on the other hand, was pitiful. Not a single seed I planted sprouted. Not a single mongo plant grew. I sat on the corner dejected. I was crushed. I was bitter. It was only years later when I realized my folly. You see, my classmates were consistently watering their plants everyday. It didn’t matter if they couldn’t see tangible results yet. They just kept doing the right thing. I, on the other hand, wasn’t as faithful. I skipped days. Made excuses. I often gave in to the lie that for as long as I trust nature, it will grow by itself.

Good thing, I learned my lessons earlier. Today, I know better. Man works, God provides. Man does the sowing, God allows the growing. Man waters, God nourishes.

As a missionary, I see these lessons replayed before me very often.

I have witnessed young people grow into spiritual maturity in a span of a year because of their faithfulness to daily prayer and service.

I have seen prayer groups flourish in number even after only a few years of being together because of the leader’s dedication to his task.

I have encountered righteous Christians climbing dramatically the corporate ladder in only a short period of time because of their unquestionable integrity and admirable hardwork.

Truly, God does His part. It is if often we who fail to do ours.

As the bible today says:

“…The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness…”(2 Corinthians 9:10)

Today, I encourage you to never give up doing what you need to do. Even if the results are not yet evident. Even if the fruit is not yet there. Even if frustrating. Even if disheartening. Just keep doing your part. In God’s time, you will see  mongo plants sprouting from your jar.

I remain,

Bobby Q.