Open Our Eyes

(I was recently asked by my church to give a message to our local congregation. This is what I shared, a message for the current times.)

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A man was walking in the woods. It was very foggy and it was getting dark so visibility was poor. Because he cannot see, he walked straight off into a cliff. Luckily as he was falling he was able to grab a bush that was growing at the side of the cliff. He then looked up and he cannot see where he fell off. He looked down, and he cannot see the bottom of the cliff for it was dark and foggy. So there he was clinging on a bush, hanging for dear life.

He then started shouting for help. “Help! Is there anybody out there, help!”

Unbeknownst to him, the bottom of the cliff was less than 6 feet from where he was hanging and it was a sandy floor. But he cannot see that. So he continued hanging and shouting for help.

Then a voice came to him, “I can help you.” He was startled but relieved. He asked, “Who are you?” The voice answered back, “I am God.” Then he pleads, “Please God help me!” The voice told him, “Let go of the bush.” The man heard it, but he again pleads, “Lord help me!” Then the voice came again, this time more firmly, “Let go of the bush.”

The man thought intently for a few seconds, then shouted back, “Is there anybody else out there?”

Many times we only listen to what we wanted to hear. I pray that as we receive God’s message to us this morning, that we listen, even if it’s not what we wanted to hear.

Troubled Times

We are living in an alarming and troubled times. So we will study for today a story that happened during an alarming and troubled times as well.

The story we have for this morning is found in 2 Kings 6: 8-23

Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel; and he consulted with his servants, saying, “My camp will be in such and such a place.” And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are coming down there.” 10 Then the king of Israel sent someone to the place of which the man of God had told him. Thus he warned him, and he was watchful there, not just once or twice.

The king of Syria, Ben-Hadad II, was at war with the king of Israel, Jehoram, son of Ahab and Jezebel. It was not an all out war, but more of guerrilla tactics. He wanted to ambush the King of Israel. But every time he would make a plan or move his army to one place, the king of Israel would learn about it and would avoid to go to that place and the plan of the king of Syria was foiled. This happened several times. How did Israel get their intel? Israel had a secret weapon. Elisha the prophet, who was like a radar, would give warning to the king of Israel.

11 Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was greatly troubled by this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

So the king of Syria was frustrated. He thought there was a mole in his court. Then somebody told him that there was a prophet in Israel that can know whatever he says or plans even in his bedroom. The walls have ears! It’s like having the phone wire-tapped or the rooms having secret surveillance video cameras.

You now what? That’s the same way for us. God knows what’s going on in our day to day living. Whatever actions and thoughts we have, whether good or bad, God knows.

13 So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and get him.” And it was told him, saying, “Surely he is in Dothan.”

So the king of Syria wanted to capture the prophet. Was that a foolish move? If Elisha knows what he’s planning against the king of Israel, surely he would also know what is being planned against him?

So he sent spies to know where Elisha was, and he got a report that Elisha was in a small town, named Dothan.

Dothan is a small shepherd town. It is not a fortified city. One other time this place was mentioned in the Bible was when Joseph, son of Jacob, was looking for his brothers who were tending the sheep, and he found them in Dothan, meaning “two wells,” which is a famous pasture land. This is the place where Joseph was thrown into a well, and his colorful coat was torn, and where he was sold to merchants going to Egypt. So this is the place where Joseph’s misery began. But what was meant to do him evil, after several years turned into a blessing, as we all know his story. For that’s the God we serve, He can turn curses into blessings.

14 Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.

The the king of Syria sent an army of horses and chariots (tanks and Black Hawk helicopters), and under the cloak of darkness, in stealth mode, they surrounded the town of Dothan, and blocked every gates and passageways. For the residents inside the town there was no way out.

15 And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

Picture this, the young servant of Elisha was just waking up. Perhaps he wanted to start the day early. He probably went to the well to get water, then he noticed that there was a different glimmer around the town. As the rays of the rising sun was hitting the pasture land he saw something shining around the town. He squinted and he saw that it was the shiny metal armors of a big army. There were soldiers, war horses, and chariots. He squinted some more and he noticed that that was not the army of Israel, but that was the army of Syria! He looked not just in one direction, but all around him, and realized that the whole town was fully surrounded. This is bad!

So he woke up Elisha and blurted, “Alas my master! What shall we do?”

Let’s pause for a moment here. We know the end of the story but let’s dwell for minute in this particular stage of the story of “Alas my master, what shall we do?”

Have we experienced something similar? Maybe not as dire as this, or maybe it was more dire than this. Maybe you were a soldier and you were in a foxhole and bullets were flying all around you. Maybe it was not that dramatic, you were sitting in a doctor’s office, and the doctor told you, “Sorry, it is cancer and it is advanced.” Or you were at work, and your employer told you, “Sorry, but we are letting you go.” Or you were in an attorney’s office signing the final paper work of your divorce. Or other more situations that the problem was overwhelming you, and you blurted out, “Alas my master, what shall we do?”

Chariots of Fire

But Elisha was not afraid. Why? Let’s read.

16 So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 

With God on our side we always have the advantage. Even if it’s just you against the world if God is with you, you are already the majority.

1 John 4:4The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

Yet perhaps the young servant was not convinced with Elisha’s words of reassurance. Perhaps he was still shaking in his sandals. He cannot come to grips of the sight of the large Syrian army surrounding them. So Elisha prayed to God, a prayer not for himself, for he already knew of his deliverance, but he offered a prayer for this young servant.

17 And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 

God lifted the veil between the earthly realm and the spiritual realm and allowed this young man to see that the mountains around Dothan was full of army of angels riding fiery chariots. Suddenly the Syrian army became insignificant. Suddenly the enemy’s army looked so puny compared to the heavenly army.

Are we like the servant of Elisha? Do we lack the eyes of faith? I pray that God will open our eyes that we may see that there is a host of angels around us, even right now as I speak. May God open our eyes to realize that He never leaves us. May God open our eyes to remember that He is always in control no matter what the circumstances may be. Yes, there’s social and political unrest. Yes, there’s financial crunch. Yes, there’s a raging pandemic. But God is still in control.

Procession of the Blind

Then when the Syrian army tried to advance, Elisha prayed once more, he asked to release the horses and chariots of fire and scorch the Syrian army! No? That’s not what your Bible version says?

18 So when the Syrians came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, “Strike this people, I pray, with blindness.” And He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.

Elisha did not pray to kill the Syrian army, for God has a better plan. He prayed that the Syrians be blinded. In one prayer he asked for his young servant to have his eyes open, and in one prayer he asked for the soldiers to have their eyes be blinded. God can open eyes and He can shut the eyes.

In the Bible, there were other people that were blinded by God. Remember Saul who became Paul? When he became blind, he was able to listen more to what God was calling him to do. He was blinded so he can see. What a contradiction. Do we need to be blinded so we could be free of the world’s distractions? Do we need to be blinded so we can listen more intently to what God was calling us for? Do we need to be blinded for us to realize that we are really helpless so that we rely solely in God?

The term used in this verse that was translated as blindness is not the same term used for the illness of being blind that is the lack of sight, but rather the term used meant to dazzle or confuse. Maybe like a deer in the headlights.

19 Now Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” But he led them to Samaria.

Elisha then told the army that they are in the wrong place and their GPS was set wrong and they are looking for the wrong person. So he led them to Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel, which is a fortified city.

Dothan is 12 miles away from Samaria. That’s almost a half-marathon away. I have run several half-marathons before, and it took me more than 2 hours to finish that course. I am sure this Syrian army was not running and was traveling more slowly as they were blind and being led. So I surmise that most likely it took them 4 hours or more to cover that distance. If you’re blind and you are being led to cross an unfamiliar street, that maybe hard. But being led and walking for more than 4 hours not knowing where you are going, must be like an eternity.

Imagine this, Elisha was guiding the lead horse and the rest of the horses, chariots and the army were following – like a parade. When they approached Samaria the watchmen at the wall probably saw them from afar. They gave the signal “Enemy approaching!” And they prepared for battle. But as they came closer, Israel’s army noted – wait a minute, this Syrian army was not ready for combat, they were just having a procession, and they were being led by Elisha of all people!

Elisha called out to open the gates. Then he led the army of Syria inside the city walls and then the gates were closed. Elisha prayed again.

20 So it was, when they had come to Samaria, that Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and there they were, inside Samaria!

Again a prayer to open the eyes. And what did the Syrian soldiers see when they came into their senses? They were in the middle of Israel’s territory. They looked around and saw that Israelites soldiers up on the the walls have their arrows and spears aimed at them. The Israelite army was surrounding them with their swords drawn out ready to strike them. What a surprising sight for the Syrian army.

The circumstance had changed! Before they were the hunter surrounding the prey. Or so they thought. But now they were the prey and they were cornered. God can turn around our circumstances. He will fight our battle. We only need to trust in Him.

If Your Enemy Is Hungry

21 Now when the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?22 But he answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those whom you have taken captive with your sword and your bow? Set food and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 

The king of Israel was excited like a child inside a candy store. Shall I kill them all? Shall I give the command “open fire!” But Elisha said, no! These are really not captives, these are my guests. Don’t kill them, give them food and drink. After all they were tired from walking 12 long miles.

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the Lord will reward you.
(Proverbs 25:21-22)

There is something more of this giving food and drink. In the Eastern cultures there is a custom that if you eat together or share a meal together, that is like a covenant that you are at peace with each other and are now united as one.

23 Then he prepared a great feast for them; and after they ate and drank, he sent them away and they went to their master. So the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel.

This story gave us a lesson of how to deal with our enemies – Kill them with kindness. It should not always be an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” kind-of-justice. Mahatma Gandhi said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

I believe that there are more eyes being opened here that was not directly mentioned in the story. Yes there was the young servant’s eyes opened to see the chariots of fire, and the eyes of the Syrian army that were blinded and then opened to see that they were inside the walls of Samaria. I believe that Elisha was also trying to open the eyes of the king of Israel and the Israelites to the truth that we should repay good for evil. Just like what Jesus says:

Matthew 5:43- 48 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

For us today, I pray that our eyes be opened to see that this world is already full of hate. That people don’t like each other. People don’t trust each other. Not just in the opposite sides of the political fence, or opposite sides of any social movement, or whatever race, creed, religion or beliefs we belong to – there is already so much hate and anger in this world. May God open our eyes that what this world needs is that we love those who hates us, pray for those who curse us, and that we do good to those who do us evil. That the world may know that we are His children and He is our God.

Amazing Grace

I would like to end with a story from the post-apartheid era in South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was meeting and was gathered to reach a verdict on a particularly brutal case involving an elderly woman. A group of white police officers, led by a Mr. van de Broek, admitted their personal responsibility in the death of the woman’s eighteen-year old son. They acknowledged shooting him, setting his body on fire, and partying around the fire until the body was reduced to ashes. Eight years later, the same officers took the woman’s husband into captivity. The woman was forced to watch while the officers doused her husband with gasoline and then ignited him in fire. The last words her husband spoke to her, in the midst of the blaze were ‘Forgive them.’

Now the time had come for justice to be served. Those involved had confessed their guilt, and the Commission turned to the woman for a final statement regarding her desire for an appropriate punishment.

“I want three things”, the woman said calmly. “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.

“Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can be a mother to him.

“Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. And, I would like someone to come and lead me by the hand to where Mr. van de Broek is, so that I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real.”

As the elderly woman made her way across the silent courtroom, van de Broek reportedly fainted, overcome by emotion. And then the silence was broken when someone began singing, ‘Amazing Grace.’ Soon others joined in singing the familiar hymn, that the entire courtroom was filled with singing.

Lord, open our eyes that we may do good rather than evil, that we may sow love instead of hate, that we might sought forgiveness rather than revenge. This is my prayer.

(*photo from israelmyglory.org)

Mountains of Challenges

(I was asked by my aunt in California to give an inspirational message for their virtual church. Here is what I shared.)

It is October. In only a couple of months, this year will end. And what a difficult time it has been this year 2020 to many of us, if not to all of us. I know many of us would rather forget this year and just want it to go away. The funny thing is, this year could not even claim the notoriety it will be known for, as COVID is named COVID-19 and not COVID-20.

The past several months was a constant struggle. It was a like an unending mountain climb. It was one challenge after another. However, these mountains of challenges can strengthen us and can fortify our commitment.

In 1923 when a reporter from New York Times ask George Mallory, an English mountaineer, why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, his answer was simple. He said, “Because it’s there.” What he’s saying is, it was there waiting to be conquered.

Mount Everest

Mallory’s first 2 attempts to climb Mount Everest end up in failures. But he did not give up. On his 3rd expedition to climb Everest, he never came back. He and his companion was last spotted in an upper ridge about 250 meters below the summit. Did he finally make it to the summit? We don’t know, for he did not survive to tell us the story. One thing for sure, he is committed to his cause.

There are some stories in the Bible of people who went up the mountains. One of them is David. But David did not climb the mountain for mountaineering nor for physical recreation. He ran to the mountain to escape and to save his life. This was during the time when he was running away from King Saul who wants to kill him. We can say that David was going through a difficult time in his life. One of the places he stayed is the wilderness of Ein Gedi, where there are rugged hills and stony cliffs.

Ein Gedi

During that time that he was running from one mountain to another, and was hiding from one cave to another cave, that he was inspired to write this:

I look up toward the mountains.
    Where can I find help?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the maker of heaven and earth. Psalms 121:1-2

For us Christians we should view these mountains of challenges in a different perspective. These difficult trials provides us the chance to realize that God never leaves us and it gives us the opportunity to witness how powerful our God is.

When I was growing up in Sampaloc Manila, I have posters on the walls of my tiny room. I could have a poster of my favorite basketball player Robert Jaworski. I don’t know if any of you even knew him. Or I could have a picture of a famous movie star. My favorite during my high school days was Phoebe Cates, but I didn’t have a poster of her either. Instead, my posters are photos of beautiful landscapes with inspirational message in them.

The poster beside my bed was a photo of a huge rock mountain. It is actually a butte that towers over a plain. I did not know at that time what mountain it was and where it was until I came to the US a decade and a half later. I found out that the rock mountain on my poster was aptly named the Devils Tower, and it is located in Crook County, Wyoming. On my poster, underneath the photo of this rock mountain are this words: Faith moves mountains.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, there are no mountains high enough that the devil can throw in front of us that our God cannot move.

Devils Tower

Matthew 17:20 – “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Few years ago, we were blessed to visit Israel. During one of our trips our bus was traveling to Bethlehem, and I saw that Bethlehem was a hilly region. I could only imagine that in one of those hills are where the shepherds were when the angels appeared to them. But the tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped.

It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

Herodium

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive yet very powerful regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

So when Jesus told his disciples that if they have faith as small as a mustard seed, they can tell a mountain to move and it will move, He was telling them that they don’t need an army of laborers to move a mountain like what King Herod did. That if they have faith they can be greater than King Herod the Great. With faith they can be more powerful than the most powerful king of their land. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

Yes, our God is powerful and He can move mountains. And if we have faith in Him there should not be any mountain of challenges that we cannot conquer.

May God bless us all.

(*photos from the web)

Who Will Roll Away The Stone?

(I was invited by my home church in the Philippines to give a message during their virtual church service through Zoom and this was viewed via Facebook live. Here’s what I shared, though it was in Tagalog.)

Good morning to all of you, though it’s night time here where I am. Thank you for inviting me to share the word of God today. It is strange that when there is a time of travel restriction and stay-at-home order, that’s the time I am able to go back to my home church. In fact I have been worshiping with you for more than 2 months now. We must remember that the church is not the building in Sampaloc. The church is us, the group of believers wherever we may be.

Unprecedented Time

We are living in an unprecedented time. Never in our lifetime have we seen so many parts of the world placed in lockdown. For you people in Metro Manila you have been in community quarantine for more than three months now, and I know you are longing to get out.

Never before in my lifetime have I witnessed the police guarding stock of toilet paper. Who could have imagined that I would go to the bank teller asking for money and I was wearing a mask? We have problems right now that we never knew we would have. Like, can I trust my wife to give me a haircut? Or, how many type of dish can I make out of a can of sardines?

More seriously now, yes we have problems in this world currently that we don’t have an answer for, and we’re looking for someone who can help us solve them. As a worker in the medical field, I have witnessed first hand the deadly effects and devastation of this COVID 19, especially in the place I work – in the ICU.

I would like to review a story in the Bible, where people had a situation and they asked who could help them with their problem? I entitled our study today as “Who will roll away the stone?”

Mark 16: 1-3: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

Extravagant Burial

It was Sunday morning, and the women, the two Marys and Salome, were on their way to Jesus’ tomb. The mood among Jesus’ followers were doom and gloom. Their Messiah died, and many of them went into hiding. They went into self imposed quarantine. I am not sure if these women were the only ones with quarantine pass so they went out, but the men were afraid to go out not because of a virus, but because they were afraid for their lives. These women’s hearts were broken, yet they would like to show their devotion to their fallen leader by anointing his dead body with fragrances.

It was the custom of the Jews to anoint the dead. The anointing of perfume was not to do mummification, but to put spice and fragrances to cancel the bad smell of decomposition. The most common spice used to anoint the dead is myrrh. Where else have you heard about myrrh? If you said that it was one of the wise men’s gifts given to Jesus when he was born, then you’re absolutely right. Do you see the theme here? Jesus was a baby destined to die.

We may ask, was Jesus’ body not given proper burial rights before being buried that the women have to do it again? Let’s read:

John 19: 38-40: After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.

One hundred pounds of spices (some Bible version says 75 lbs; the original Bible manuscript in Greek says 100 litras). That’s a lot of spices! Twenty pounds of spices was the usual burial custom in those days. Forty pounds was for the rich. So 100 pounds was really extravagant. I read that it is estimated that the cost of 100 pounds of this mixture of myrrh and aloes would cost about $150,000 (7.5M pesos) in today’s market. Those men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, gave Jesus a burial fit for a king.

Do we have that extravagant devotion? Do we give honor to God that is fit for the King of Kings? But even how extravagant our devotion to God is, one thing for sure, we cannot out love the Lord. Do you know what extravagant love is? This is extravagant love – when Jesus exchanged his divine and royal crown for a crown of thorns and gave His life for you and me.

Very Large Stone

So back to those women, why did they have to go? I don’t think these women thought that the anointing of Jesus’ body was not done right or not enough, but rather they only wanted to show honor and respect to their fallen Savior in their own little way.

So while the women were on their way, they asked: Who will roll away the stone? This implies that they alone cannot roll away this stone.

me trying to move a large stone in Jordan

Archeologist have found many tombs around Palestine that they believe were first century tombs. Most of the time the opening of the tomb was blocked by a stone. It could be a large mill-like stone, though some experts say that it could also be a square rock that can slide. Though to me when the women said “roll” away, original Greek word apokylio, it must be circular that it can roll like a wheel.

The books of Mathew and Mark said that it was “very large.” If we say it should cover 4 to 5 feet of tomb entrance, then a disc stone would have a diameter of at least 6 feet. That rock could weigh 1.5 to 2 tons. That weight alone even though it can roll like a wheel, would be hard to move.

But there’s another factor that was found by archeological diggings: usually the groove where the stone rolls was in an incline or had a deep ditch where it would drop. Meaning, it may be much easier to close it, but a lot harder to open it, as you have to roll it against an incline or lift it out of a deep rut, and put a wedge to keep it open. In a conservative estimate, you need more than 10 strong men at the least, to roll away the stone.

One more factor, according to Matt 27:66, it was closed with a Roman seal and thus cannot be opened without the permission of the Roman authority. Besides, there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. A usual Roman guard unit is 4-16 men, most of the time 4 men stay on guard while the rest sleeps, and they change shifts every few hours, to keep them fresh.

We must give credit to these women, even though their faith was imperfect as they did not expect that Jesus would be alive as He told them He would, yet they went out anyway even if they knew there would be barriers in accomplishing their mission.

So they asked, “Who will roll away the stone?”

People have the same question today? Who will help us if we get sick of this virus? Who will provide us our daily provision? Who can stop this world pandemic? Who will release us from our quarantine? Who will roll away the stone?

Rolled Away For Us

But when they came to the site, what did they see? The stone was already rolled away! How? Let’s read:

Matthew 28: 2-4: There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

No need for ten strong men, one angel is enough. No need to put a wedge on the stone, for the angel sat on it. No need to contend with the Roman guards for they became like dead men. Heaven took care of their problem!

The women seeing that the stone was rolled away, came in to the tomb, and the angel told them that the Jesus they were looking for was not inside the tomb, for He is alive!

Yes my friends, we serve a risen Savior. Our God is alive! The tomb was empty! That stone blocking the entrance of a tomb was rolled away!

I believe that the stone at the entrance of the tomb was not rolled away so Jesus can come out. What? Before you accuse me of teaching heresy and false doctrines, just hear me out first.

Remember when He appeared to the disciples when they were inside a house with closed door? Let’s read:

John 20:19: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

The disciples were staying at home and in lockdown. Doors were closed and locks were securely fastened, yet suddenly Jesus stood among them. How? He came through the walls! I believe Jesus when He was resurrected, can verily come out of the tomb even with the stone locked in!

But why was the stone rolled away? It was not that Jesus can come out. It was for the women and His disciples to come in inside the grave, and see that the tomb was empty. The stone was not rolled away for Jesus. It was rolled away for us, so we can believe.

Are we still asking who will roll away the stone? The stone of this pandemic. The stone of our failing health. The stone of our unemployment. The stone of our financial difficulties. The stone of our broken relationships. The stone of our addiction. The stone of our day-to-day struggles in life. The stone of our unbelief.

If we are asking the question “Who will roll away the stone?” then we are asking the wrong question. The answer is already clear.

The question for us is: “Do we have faith to believe that God can roll away our stone?”

David wrote a psalm during the time that he was running away from King Saul. Or maybe he was just doing social distancing from the king and his soldiers. During that time he was hiding from one mountain to another, staying in one cave to another. And he wrote:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalms 121:1-2

Faith Moves Mountains

Few years ago, we were blessed to visit Israel. During one of our trips our bus was traveling to Bethlehem, the tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped.

It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

Jesus told his disciples: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

What Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be greater than Herod the Great. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

Yes, our God is powerful and He can move mountains. And if we have faith in Him we can do that too. And if God can move our mountains, we should never be asking anymore, “Who will roll away the stone.”

(*most photos taken from the web)

The Power Pickpocket

(The following discourse was prepared for a local congregation.)

Have you ever been pickpocketted? When I was in high school, I lost 200 Pesos on my way to school. I knew I passed through a crowd during my commute. I was supposed to pay something in school with that money. It either fell out of my pocket or someone picked my pocket.

In the past I heard that when you land in Manila International Airport, you would be greeted with something like this: “Welcome to the Philippines, the only Christian nation in the southeast Asia. Please beware of pickpockets.” I am glad that this had changed for the better.

A few days after I first arrived here in the US, I was walking alone in the streets of Morristown, New Jersey, a relatively quiet town, when a stranger greeted me, “What a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I was taken aback. First of all, in Manila where I came from, you don’t talk to strangers on the street. Secondly, nobody in the Philippines talk about the weather, for it is the same the whole year through. And lastly, when a stranger talks to you, check your wallet if it’s still there.

Our story today is about someone who pickpocketted Jesus of His power.

Let’s read the story in Luke 8: 43-48.

Jesus just arrived from the other side of the lake, and probably landed in the town of Capernaum. Perhaps his boat was still far from the shore when a crowd of people already gathered to meet him.

Ruins in Capernaum

Have you ever been in a crowd? Maybe like in a sporting event, or a concert, or in a very crowded bus or train? During my time in Manila and also in New York City, when I rode the train it was so crowded that I could almost exchange faces with the people around me. And even if the train was moving I didn’t have to hold on to something, for I was propped up as we were packed like sardines.

That was how it must have been when the crowd gathered around Jesus, for the Bible said it almost “crushed” Him (Luke 8: 42). The Greek word used to describe it was sumpnigo. Interestingly, it is the same word that was used to describe the thorns “choking” the seeds that fell on the thorny ground in the Parable of the Sower.

One lesson for us is if we don’t have a deep foundation, the crowd and the cares of this world could crush and choke us.

Invisible Woman

Then a woman pushed through the crowd to get close to Jesus.

Who is this woman? We don’t know her name or her age. I would guess that she was not very old for she was still menstruating, and I will get into that. But we know that she’s been suffering for 12 years. Perhaps in the beginning of her illness she was seeing all the doctors that were recommended to her. From one doctor to another, were only met by disappointment after disappointment. According to the account of the Gospel of Mark, “she suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors.” In the end she used all her money and was broke, but still did not get well.

What was she suffering from? According to the Gospel writers she was “subject to bleeding.” I would surmise that it was some kind of vaginal bleeding like having menstruation. Yet this one did not stop, and has been going on for 12 long years! If you’re bleeding that long, you would be anemic, weak and fatigued.

As a doctor, I would speculate that her illness was most probably not cancer. Because she was still alive after 12 years. I think it was some kind of a benign uterine growth, like fibroids. This causes vaginal bleeding even between menses, and particularly can have very heavy menses. That’s why I think she was younger and not of menopausal age.

If you have uterine growth like fibroids, no medication can treat it. No kind of concoction would work. Only taking out the fibroid by surgery or doing hysterectomy will cure it.

Do you have an illness that no doctor can help? Have you been suffering despite all the medical interventions? Are you desperate for a healing? Maybe you can relate to the story of this woman. It is my prayer that this message is for you and that you find encouragement in this story.

Besides the physical ravages of bleeding for 12 years there’s another aspect of her suffering. She was socially exiled and emotionally isolated.

According to the Mosaic law, if you have bleeding, you are considered unclean.

“When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period. Whoever touches them will be unclean; he must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening.” (Leviticus 15:25-27)

All she touched or sat on was considered unclean. People who had contact with her or with what she touched were considered unclean. This woman had been longing for human touch, and she probably had not received a hug for 12 years!

Why does being soiled with blood considered unclean? It is the Universal Precaution rule. If you work in the hospital today you will don on gloves, gown, goggles if you are handling blood or bodily fluids. This is to protect yourself from contacting disease or also from spreading the disease.

Before people discovered and learned about bacteria and viruses, or how a disease is spread, God already provided rules among His people, the ancient Israelites, on how to prevent spreading diseases. That’s why in the Mosaic law, you are considered unclean if you touch a dead person or an animal carcass, or if you touch an open sore. All pots that critters crawled on must be destroyed. God knows about the bacteria and how they cause diseases even before men discovered them! God is so wise.

A couple of hundred years ago, doctors who did autopsy in the morgue came to the hospital ward to examine patients without thoroughly washing their hands. They probably just wiped them. This was before the era of discovering the bacteria. Then they have observed that those patients nearer the door get sicker or die more frequently than those farther away from the door. Why? Who do you think the doctor touched first after coming from the morgue? The doctors were spreading the bacteria!

This is not Divisoria, but a market place in Jerusalem

Let’s go back to our story. To be considered unclean for 12 long years was like an imprisonment, punished by banishment from humanity. Or she must have gone incognito, and became an invisible woman, that nobody recognized or noticed her when she went out of her home.

Then she heard about Jesus and His miracles of healing. And she learned that Jesus was coming in this part of town. So she decided to see Jesus. Even though she had no business of going out in a crowd, for all she would get contact with would become unclean. According to the law, if she touch Jesus, she would make Him ceremoniously unclean.

Yet this woman was determined to elbow, push and claw her way through the crowd. Though pale and weak, nothing would stand in her way. She was unshakable on her mission. She believed that if only she could touch Jesus’ cloak, she would be healed.

She finally reached Jesus. She approached Him from behind, typical of the modus operandi of a pickpocket. Then she stretched out her hand.

Healing Wings

If you’re going to touch somebody in a crowd, isn’t it easier to touch the shoulder or back? Why stoop down and touch the hem of the cloak? We may think that like a pickpocket, she does not want Jesus to feel her touch, so the edge of the garment would do. But there’s more significance to this edge of the garment.

In the Mosaic Law, God instructed His people about the corners, or fringes, of their garments. In Numbers 15: 38-39 it says:

 Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.

It seems like a strange instruction for us but in the Ancient Near East culture, the corner of a person’s garment represented his identity; it was a symbol of who he was and what he stood for. It is like an insignia, or perhaps a monogramed initials on the shirt.

In the story of Ruth, when she was seeking marriage to Boaz, she asked him to spread the corner of his garment over her (Ruth 3:9). It was a request for him to identify with her. The same Hebrew word means “wing” or “corner of a garment.”

When God spoke of making a covenant with His people, He pictured Himself as spreading the corner of His garment over Israel (Ezekiel 16:8)—a symbol of identifying with her as His bride.

In the story of David when he was running away from Saul, one day Saul fell asleep at the mouth of the cave where David and his men were hiding. David sneaked in and cut off a corner of King Saul’s robe, but “afterward David’s heart struck him” (1 Samuel 24:5). These pangs of remorse seem strange unless we realize that he had defaced an important symbol of Saul’s identity and God-given kingship.

So important were the corners of a man’s garment for the Jews that the Old Testament closes with a prophecy of the Messiah that references the corners of His garment: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2 KJV. Again, the same word means both “wings” and “corners of a garment”). At the heart of the Messiah’s identity would be healing for all who have faith in Him.

So when this woman reached out to the hem of Jesus’ coat, it was more than just for healing, but she was identifying with Him and what He stands for. She was embracing that Jesus is the promised Messiah who has healing in His wings.

This woman was not the only one healed when they touched the edge of Jesus’ garment. In Matthew 14, when Jesus was in Genneseret, perhaps after people heard this woman’s story, sick people lined up by the road where He would pass, and all who touched the edge of His coat were healed.

When this woman touched Jesus’ garment, “immediately” she felt that her bleeding stopped. She was instantly healed! And she felt it. But somebody felt it too. Jesus felt it too.

Then Jesus asked around who touched him. The disciples thought that Jesus was being silly. Why asked who touched him when we knew that a crowd of people was almost crushing him. But Jesus said “I know that power has gone out from me” (8:46). The Greek word translated “power” (NIV) or “virtue” (KJV) is dunamis, from which we get our English words “dynamo,” “dynamic,” and “dynamite.” That must have been a power surge that left Jesus. And He was looking for the power pickpocket.

Why did Jesus want to confront the woman and make her secret known? I can think of two reasons. The first one was to release her from the burden of uncleanliness and to take away the stigma. It was to make known to her and to the people around that He accepted her, and that she does not need to be incognito or invisible anymore. Secondly, to let her know that it was not the magical power of His cloak, but it was her faith in Him that healed her.

Ironically there were many people around pressing upon Jesus. But they have only brushed and casually touched Him. Are we one of those people in the crowd? Always in church, sits in the pew every week, present in all the church’s activities, and yet we have not really reached out to Jesus with that touch of faith.

I pray that we be like that woman – who have that elbowing-and-clawing-my-way kind of faith, that nothing-can-stand-on-my-way kind of faith. And that we reach out to Jesus. Be identified with Him and who He is. And that we embrace the Messiah, our Savior, who has healing in His wings.

This is my prayer.

A street in Jerusalem

*************

(*all photos taken during our visit in the Holy Land a couple of years ago)

Not Bound for the Promised Land

During our trip to the Holy Land, we visited  a place known as Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or the land of the Moabites in Biblical times. It’s pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.


On Mount Nebo’s highest point, the remains of a church and a monastery was discovered in 1933. Today a Christian chapel stands on its site.


As we were enjoying the view beneath an iron cross, the tour guide was giving insights and explaining the significance of this place to our group.


While another group near us was having a devotional and they were singing the hymn “I am bound for the Promised Land.”

You probably know or heard that song:

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land
O who will come and go with me
I am bound for the promised land.

But the irony of this is, historically, here in Mount Nebo was where Moses stood and God showed him Canaan, the Promised Land from afar. But here also in Mount Nebo was where Moses died and was buried, without reaching the Promised Land. Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Moses, even though he was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to go to the Promised Land, was not allowed to enter it. All his life work – including 40 years of top-notch Egyptian education, including military tactics and operation, and another 40 years as a lowly shepherd just to learn patience in preparation for his mission, and finally 40 mighty years of leading God’s people out of Egypt, and into the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land – yet he never set foot to that land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes we are assigned something to do, but we may not see the conclusion of that work. We may have started something that we are not able to finish, not because we are a failure, but because it is not planned for us to fully fulfill that. For God has some other plan for us, or He had appointed another one to finish the work we have started.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain to God why he was not allowed to enter the land that is “flowing with milk and honey.” A land that was promised to his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A land he probably dreamed of claiming all his life. He humbly submitted to God’s plan for him.

He may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God had a better plan for him. For he was taken up to the Promised Land in heaven.

So we may not be able to achieve the dreams or goals we set for our lives here on earth. We may never live a life so rich that it is “flowing with milk and honey.” We may not be able to claim the “promised life” we hoped for here on this world. We may not be bound for the earthly promised land.

But may we set a higher goal, the one God had promised for us. To live in heavenly Canaan with Him.

(The sign under the cross reads: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” John 3:14-15)

 

Peace Be Still

A few days ago, while I was in my clinic seeing patients, I received a phone call. It was another doctor who wanted to discuss with me the results of a patient’s laboratory exam.

It is not unusual to have another doctor call me to discuss about a mutual patient. Except this one was not about a mutual patient. On the other line was the Hematologist-Oncologist (Hem-Onc) doctor. The patient he was calling me about, is my wife.

It started with a regular annual doctor’s visit. After having routine test, my wife’s Primary Care physician was alarmed by the results of the complete blood count (CBC). This prompted a referral to the blood and cancer (Heme-Onc) specialist.

After the evaluation by the Hem-Onc doctor and having the exam repeated, that’s when the specialist called me. He said that he was concerned about the elevated count of a blood component, and for some “funky-looking” cells. He recommended a confirmatory test, a bone marrow biopsy.

Bone marrow biopsy is not a very dreadful procedure but its not a walk in the park either. It can be done as an outpatient, usually under “conscious sedation” (meaning, light sleep). It entails drilling a long large bore needle into the hip bone down to the marrow, and aspirating and scraping a “sample” contents inside the bone.

The problem of being a doctor, is that you know “too much.” Too much than needed. So in my mind, I already ran down on the possible differential diagnosis. I started to play the different scenarios, their treatments and outcomes. And even though I know that it can be nothing or something benign, I couldn’t shake off the idea that it can be a myeloproliferative disorder. In layman’s term, leukemia.

My spouse’s family history was not reassuring either. Her father died of cancer in his 60’s. She has two brothers that died prematurely, one was barely 50, and the other one in his 40’s. Then her sister who was a little older than her, was diagnosed with cancer in her 40’s.

I tried to be nonchalant and positive about it when I spoke with my wife, but I think she can sense that it can be something serious. For the succeeding days prior to the scheduled biopsy, both of us were feeling the uneasiness, as if there’s angry storm clouds hanging over our heads ready to discharge their fury.

The fear of the unknown is one of man’s greatest fears. It terrifies us. It consumes us. It kills us even before we die.

Two nights before the biopsy, we both cannot sleep. My wife asked me point blankly, “Am I going to die?”

I don’t know how to answer that question. Or perhaps I don’t want to answer that question.

She told me that she’s really afraid. So in the middle of the night she asked that we kneel down in prayer.

As we prayed, I asked God to be with us as we go through this storm.

Suddenly I was drawn to the story of Jesus and his disciples when they were caught in a great storm* while crossing the Sea of Galilee. I saw myself struggling with the oars and the sail with the disciples. We were trying our best to keep the boat afloat……

The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. The storm is raging. And I am terrified and trembling.

But where is Jesus?

He is asleep! How can he sleep, when we are about to be swallowed by the storm and the sea?

“Master, do You not care that we are perishing?” I cried.

When Jesus arose, he looked at me lovingly, yet he asked me why do I have so little faith.

Then he spoke: “Peace, be still.”

I looked around me. The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. And the storm is even more raging.

But I am still.

image from here

(image from here)

(*Mark 4: 37- 40)

Looking Beyond X-rays

I looked at her chest x-ray, and knew right there and then that she didn’t have a chance. I have seen bad chest x-rays before, but this time, it was different.

I look at chest x-rays and chest CT scans every day. I review 30 or more each day. It is part of what I do for a living. And it is something that I become good at.

Ever since German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered what he dubbed as “x-radiation” in 1895 we have used this technology in analyzing bones, teeth, and other organs in the human body. It also used to detect cracks in metal in the industry. Now we even use them ubiquitously in all airports for luggage inspections. That’s why bag inspectors know you packed in dried fish without opening your luggage.

But do you know that x-rays can also look into the future? It has nothing to do with radiation-emiting crystal balls.

IMG_3418

It was late August of last year when I went back to the Philippines, not for a vacation but for a medical emergency. The attending physician in the hospital, who knew that I am a doctor myself, led me to the radiology department to show me a chest x-ray of the patient.

It was also here in this same hospital, University of the East Ramon Magsaysay (UERM) Hospital, that 27 years ago, where I picked up a CT scan of the brain of another patient. But at that time I just started medical school. In fact I was only in my first month of my first year of medical school then. Yet even in my untrained eye, I knew that the word “tumor” is not good. Especially if it said it is in the brain.

Now I was back in that hospital, looking at a chest x-ray, one morning that August. I have gained more than 20 years of experience now as a physician. And interpreting chest x-rays has become my expertise.

The chest x-ray the doctor showed me revealed a large tumor, the size of a santol (wild mangosteen) fruit. Not just one, but three! A sign that cancer had spread. A sign of impending doom.

Somehow it felt like I was reading the patient’s obituary, way before her death.

The chest x-ray was my mother’s.

And the CT scan of the head that I picked up 27 years ago? That was my father’s. He died 3 months after I peeked on that head scan.

What is this that I was privileged to see the future through an x-ray, as it gave me an insight of what is to come? Is it a blessing, that I could have prepared for it? Or is it a curse, as I started mourning before everybody else did?

When I broke the news to my mother regarding the results of her chest x-ray, she was not surprised. It was as if she knew it already. She was serene and collected.

My mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer 5 years ago, and underwent surgery for it. We thought we got rid of it. We thought we kick cancer in the butt (no pun intended)!

But we were wrong. It came back. And with a vengeance.

My mother decided to not pursue any further treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation. For there’s no guarantee anyway that it will matter. Somehow she accepted her fate and was at peace with it.

When we took her home from the hospital she even willed herself even though she was weak to accompany me to the airport in Manila when I flew back here to the US. When I embraced her goodbye, I knew it will be our last embrace. Yet she told me, “Anak hindi ako malungkot. Masaya ako dahil nagkita pa uli tayo” (Son, I’m not sad. I’m happy that we saw each other again). She even added that I need not return for her funeral, it was enough that I saw her alive.

A little more than two months after I saw that foretelling chest x-ray, my mother died.

But there are things that the x-ray did not show. It did not show the inner strength and grace that my mother displayed on her last days. It did not show the peace and faith she had even when facing death. It did not show the confidence and hope that she had, that we will see each other again someday, in a glorious place where there’s no more grief and x-rays.

Invictus

You are a formidable foe. That we will admit. For five years we bask in the glory that we have defeated you. That we have eradicated you!

Or so we thought.

But you came back. Even with a vengeance. Now your are in a stance to take what was denied of you for the past five years. You are so ready to take your kill. You are again victorious.

But you are wrong!

You did not defeat us. We did not cower in your presence. We have fought a good fight. We looked at you in the eye and in spite of you always lurking in the shadows, we lived our lives to the fullest.

Our faith grew deeper. Our hope soared higher. Our ties grew stronger. We laughed. We loved. We lived!

And that you cannot take away from us.

So tell your friend, Death, that we are not afraid of him too. “O death where is thy sting, o grave, where is thy victory?”

The body may be broken, but not our spirits. As for you, Cancer, you never conquered us! slide.001 * Invictus is Latin for unconquered. It is also a poem by 19th century English poet William Ernest Henley. He wrote the poem while he laid in a hospital bed battling a life-threatening illness.

** Dedicated to my mother, on her last dance.

In Search for Direction

People are not created equal. There are those that are tone-deaf. Some are color blind. Some have no fashion sense. And some are directionally challenged. I am one of them. Just the last one. (Or maybe the second to the last too.)

I admit I have a very poor sense of direction and navigation. I always get lost. I cannot tell my left from my other left. And I have been late to some important meetings just because I cannot find my way. I even missed a wedding for the same reason. Fortunately, it’s not my wedding, but I was supposed to be a secondary sponsor.

It is believed that the sense of direction is innate. Migratory birds have magnetic-sensing neuron near their beaks that can sense magnetic field. Other birds have light-sensing cells in their eye that allow them to orient to where the north is, and thus help them navigate. Studies show that even in newborn rats, they have an innate sense of spatial orientation even before they begin to explore their surrounding.

Maybe I lack some magnets in my brain. In fact a neurobiologist who claimed that she had poor sense of direction before, was able to improve it by wearing a magnetic north-sensing hat, in other words a compass hat.

Should I wear this on my head? (wind vane in our deck)

Because of my inherent impediment, one of the most appreciated human-invented gadgets that I have is a GPS. Actually it was a gift from my wife. Maybe I will receive a compass hat next time.

Since I got the GPS, I don’t get lost much anymore. Maybe if I follow the GPS “all” the time, I would not get lost ever. You see, sometimes I feel I’m smarter than the GPS.

A couple of years ago, we were coming home from a place in Missouri which was a 4-hour drive from our home. The sun had set and darkness had blanketed the horizon. My GPS was still new at that time. I decided to take a shorter route, so I programmed the GPS to take an “alternate” route instead of the main highways. It made me turn to a small, dark country road. Then the country road became smaller and smaller. And then it turned into a twisting complex of dirt roads.

For almost 2 hours, the GPS led me into turn after turn of small dirt roads. On the right and left of the roads were vast gloomy expanse of cornfields. There was only darkness around us. No lamp posts, no light from houses or buildings, not even lit phone towers. I cannot read the street names, and I am not even sure if the roads are even marked. The only light I could see is my headlights and the faint twinkle of the stars above. Since I am not Columbus and cannot navigate by following the stars’ orientation, I had no choice but to follow my GPS.

To say that I was anxious during that time was an understatement. I was terrified! If our car would stall in that maze of cornfields in the middle of nowhere, I was afraid that it would probably be  days before someone would pass those lonely dirt roads and find us.

After nerve-wracking 2 hours of navigating through darkness, we emerged into a main highway. The GPS guided us home. If I did not trust the GPS before, after that experience, I trust it as if my life depended on it.

The journey through life though is not as easy as following the GPS. The road to our life’s destiny is much more convoluted and uncertain. Many times, even our destination is uncertain. However, I believe that we are not left to navigate life without direction.

Recently, my beliefs are being shaken to the core. I have questions to the views that I have embraced since I was a child. And no, its more than querying if there really is a Santa Claus. Which makes me think, which is worse: to believe with utter conviction something that may not be true? Or be uncertain on what you believe in? Or not believe in anything at all?

As for me, I needed something to believe in.

In my search for direction, I know that even though that there will be times that I cannot see where I am, I have faith that I will be guided home.

“We live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Cor. 5:7

Lessons From My Father (Tribute to My Late Dad): Part 2

(The original article was published a year ago in Sampaloc Times, a newsletter of my beloved home church where I grew up.)

Value for Education

At a very young age, my father already cultivated in us the importance of a good education. I remember us kids doing multiplication exercises with him while we’re riding home from school. I also remember him tutoring me in my difficult subjects, especially when it involves math. He told us that he may not leave us much material inheritance, but if we get a decent education, this will give us enough to have a chance of changing the course of our lives.

My father did not have a master’s degree or a doctorate degree. He came from a family of farmers, and in fact he was the first one in their clan to finish college. His family did not have the means for a higher education, but my father worked his way through college. He had these stories of working odd jobs so just he can finish college.

Many years later, I learned that it was his dream to become a doctor, but because of the circumstances given him, going to medical school is out of his reach. So he took up Accounting instead and eventually became a CPA, an occupation he performed diligently and with integrity. And his dream of being a doctor? He passed it on to me. Sadly he did not live long enough to witness it into fruition.

He value education that he gave the opportunity to get a decent education, not only to his children but to others outside his family. I later learned that he helped a few other people get through college. I am not sure where these people are today, but I am sure they are grateful to him for the opportunity given them.

And for me? I owe my father the education I got and where it led me. If only he can see me now………….I hope I made him proud.

Alma Mater

Unfailing Faith

I think it is safe to say that my father is a man of faith. He preached it and he lived it. I fondly remember him sponsoring several evangelistic efforts. There was one place that even involve a 7-kilometer hike up a mountain, and another place that can only be reached by crossing a river through wading in the waist-deep water, and another in an inner city slums. And the neat part is he brought as along to these efforts. I witnessed it first hand his burning desire to share the truth he had found.

His faith did not falter even to the bleakest of situations. I remember vividly when he was lying in a hospital bed during the last few months of his life. His doctor just told him that he had a tumor in his brain, and unless he be operated on, he had no chance of living; but even with the surgery, it was no guarantee. To this he said that he was not afraid to die, for his trust is in God.

Here was a man who had fearlessly accepted his mortality and placed his utmost trust to the only One who can give us immortality. My father’s unfailing faith let him see beyond the uncertainty of this life; yes, even when facing death. A few months later, he died. But his faith lives…………in me.

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passing the flame

As I lovingly embraced this faith that was passed on to me, I am hoping that I may I also passed it on to my children, and my children’s children.

To all the fathers in this world, Happy Father’s Day!