I have a pet name: Boxer. Not because I punch the lights out of people, but because I am tight-fisted. Kuripot. A miser. A Scrooge. A Chinese Ilocano Jew (with apologies to these ethnic groups).
One time, my wife Lucy and I had excess cash. She suggested we give it as a love gift to a pastor. I balked, "What for? We may need it one day."
I was not at peace for the rest of that day. Then I remembered how Abraham was blessed. Abraham waited 25 years for his son Isaac to be born. Then God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:2).
I don’t know about you, but I would shoot back, “Are you kidding, Lord?” The same "what for?" tone I gave Lucy.
Incredibly, early the next morning, Abraham set out with Isaac towards Moriah. No excuses. No delays. The journey took three days, plenty of time for Abraham to change his mind. But his obedience was unwavering and absolute. Upon arriving at the site, Abraham built a wooden altar, laid Isaac on it, and took the knife to slaughter his son.
Make no mistake, he was going to do it! Not, “Well, Lord, ummm… here I am, about to slit Isaac’s throat … If You really don’t want me to do it, now’s the time to say so… You really don’t want this, huh, Lord? … I’m still waiting, Lord….”
At the precise moment when Abraham was about to kill Isaac, an angel of God stopped him. The angel said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).
Do you see how we can be blessed? It starts with obeying God’s call to surrender all that takes first place before Him, i.e. our Isaacs. Then God will not only bless us, He will use us to bless the people around us.
Isaac symbolizes whatever is most near and dear to our hearts. Perhaps Abraham had grown fonder of Isaac than of God. For me, my Isaac was a comfortable life. That means money.
God wants me to be free from the love of money and be content with what I have. Thus, oftentimes God corrects me by giving me opportunities to give, to offer, to sacrifice. He is training me to rest my security on Him, not on a fat bank account.
Later, Lucy brought up the issue again. This time, I said, "Yes. Give." Thus, we gave that love gift to that pastor.
When we release our Isaacs, God releases blessing.
Photo credit: David Brooke Martin, Unsplash
My darling wife Lucy and I are hardly super-spiritual people. We still have our share of spats. Yet if I am asked for the secret of our marriage (18 years this coming April!), I would say “megadoses of grace.”
Why do many relationships break down? One major reason is unresolved hurts. The husband utters a cutting remark to the wife. The wife shoots a barbed comment at the husband. The result is internal friction that wears down the relationship. Left unaddressed, the hurt festers and poisons the relationship. In worst cases, the relationship disintegrates into a mess of bitterness and loathing.
A relationship is like a car engine. It needs lubrication. I had a friend who used to be a prosperous businessman. His car was a fancy Volvo. Then he fell into hard times. He still drove the Volvo to get around, but, being financially tight, he skimped on the oil changes. The time came that the engine oil got so dirty that it damaged the pistons. His car, now useless, sits rusting in his garage.
Grace is the lubricant of relationships. Great grace makes for great relationships. It works like this: "You hurt me, but I choose not to hurt you back. Rather, I choose to give you a blessing you do not deserve." This doesn’t mean that we condone the wrong or evade the issue. It doesn’t excuse domestic violence. But one can still exercise grace which seeks the redemption of the offender.
Yet the chronic dilemma persists. “How can I ever forgive her? What she did was so hurtful!” Where is the justice, you may ask? Well, it's all taken cared of at the Cross. Jesus paid for that sin, that hurt. And yes, He paid for our sins, too, which would have cast us into a wretched eternity.
As we realize the enormous grace which God has shown us, we find it easier to extend grace to the wrongdoer. Yes, especially in marriage. The popular song “love will keep us together” needs some tweaking. The better adage would be “Grace will keep us together.” Megadoses of it!
Does your relationship need an oil change? You will know it when you feel something grinding between the two of you. By all means, talk it over. But weld the power of grace.
Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash
People commend me for being so productive in my writing, speaking, and social media, even while running two factories. I could mumble something like vision or time management.
But the answer is simple: I’m old and dying.
Don't worry. I don't mean wrinkly, wizened old. And not wasting-away, wheelchair-bound dying. I mean: I am not getting any younger. In due time, I will kick the bucket, buy the farm, push up daisies, join the choir invisible, pop one's clogs, ride the pale horse, take a dirt nap, enter into Glory. You get the idea.
Statistically, the average Filipino male has 67 years to live. For the average Filipino female, it’s 75 years. Go figure. This means that, in theory, I have nine more years before I am “no more". That's not even a decade!
There are two extreme reactions to impending mortality.
The first is cynicism. George Bernard Shaw once quipped that youth is wasted on the young.
But I adhere to the Christian paradigm. Tim Keller once said something like this: Heaven is a place where you can do all the good things you want to do on earth, but can’t.
Think about it. In our respective rooms at the Father’s mansion, the musician will still be composing arias, the artist will still be chiseling marble, the author will still be welding the pen.
But there will no longer be griping about lack of time. In fact, will time still exist in eternity?
The words “potential” and “struggling” will be banished from our vocabulary; our skills and talents will find their fullest expression. Each output will be more splendid than the last.
Each masterpiece will attest to God’s unbridled radiance.
But meantime, I am here.
There’s a lot to wisdom to imbibe and to impart. Lots of experiences to pursue and to process, both real and virtual, the peaks as well as the valleys, the heartwarming and the heartbreaking.
Lots of old friends to greet, lots of new friends to meet.
I guess I am striving to make my deathbed as regret-free as possible. Blame it on Steven Covey’s funeral exercise, Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture, or Nelson Dy’s Final Interview.
Thus, I live, love, laugh, maybe lament a bit. I scribble, speak, share.
So heck, yah. I will call this post: Gratitude journal: Life
Sometimes I wonder why do people greet each other “Happy New Year”? Was the old year anything but happy?
I have observed that we think of New Year’s Day as the perfect date to “reboot” ourselves. We promise – this time, this year – to lose weight, to spend more time with family, to learn a new skill, and so on.
Then as we pack up the holiday décor and dive back to the daily grind, our resolutions on January 1 devolve into best intentions by January 15. We lose heart and wait for the next New Year’s Day to make those same resolutions!
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You may have heard of the quote “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Well, this means every day is New Year’s Day! It kicks off the next 365 days of your earthly existence. Really.
That means we can wake up each morning with the same giddiness and optimism as if it were New Year’s Day. Here’s how.
1. Don’t have a resolution. Have a goal with numbers and timetables.
2. Now break down that goal into specific action items that will eventually fulfill that goal.
3. Plug those action items into your calendar where you can regularly see them.
4. Prioritize those action items in your daily to-do list. That's your New Year's Day - everyday!
5. Keep doing it 365 times and your new year will be definitely better than the last one.
And remember: “Because of the LORD’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never end. They are new every morning, great is [His] faithfulness” (Lamentations 2:22-23).
Blessed New Year, everyone!
Photo by Daniella Maccines, Unsplash
After I ordered something online, I clicked Submit and waited for what I felt to be an unusually long time.
A dialogue box then announced that my time opted out and asked me to press a Reset icon. I complied and went through the ordering process again, which succeeded the second time.
In my calendar, January 1 is my Reset button. I had my share of things I wanted to do last year but didn’t get around to it. Meantime, new opportunities are looming for my career and personal development.
Got any emotional baggage? If you were miserable last year, don’t you think it is foolish to remain miserable for one more year? Now is the time to make peace with God, with others and (I dare say) with yourself.
Got any unfulfilled longings? Instead of moping, envying and griping, let us find ways to realize them as much as possible. For example, you yearn to be promoted at work or get a pay raise. Instead of blaming office politics or the economy, ask yourself, “What are the small steps I must do to merit an increase in responsibilities?”
Got any cherished aspirations? This period can be a breathing space: to breathe new vitality and vividness to our ambitions. Now is the time to dream big dreams and be bold and unfettered in our pursuits this year.
Are you poised to make this year your best ever? Get rid of the glitches, reset and launch forth!
The first Christmas night was not as serene as we think. History says differently, but what was happening then had some similarities with our situation today.
Keep in mind that Jesus was born under the domain of the Roman Empire. Now put yourself in the sandals of a Jew in first-century Palestine. From youth, you were taught that you are part of God’s chosen people. Yet you look around with chafing despair: how can this be, when we are under the heel of brutal pagans?
It wasn’t as if the Romans just showed up and took over. About 60 years before, Jewish rebels resisted the Roman general Pompey and barricaded themselves inside their Temple in Jerusalem. Pompey besieged the well-fortified Temple for three months and when he finally breached its wall, his soldiers stormed in and massacred the rebels. A historian said that 12,000 Jews fell in that day.
Then Pompey and his men marched into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred room of the Temple, and ransacked its furnishings. This was appallingly blasphemous to the Jews, because their religion allowed only their high priest to enter that room once a year. Jewish resentment had been festering and there were still pockets of rebellion since then, which grew so bad that the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D.
What’s more, the Roman government exacted taxes. Imagining yourself again as a Jew, parting with some of your hard-earned wages. Perhaps you have barely left to feed your family. To add insult to injury, some of your fellow Jews connived with the enemy, served as their tax collectors, and almost certainly lined their own pockets with corruption.
Understandably, the Jews were longing for a Messiah, who would vanquish the hated Romans so that they can be what they were supposed to be: God’s favored people.
This was the climate when Jesus was born.
Do these sound familiar to you?
· Loss of freedom?
· Drained finances?
· Emotional unrest?
How about covid?
Yet the Christmas story takes us to a bright spot. As we know, a Child is born. He did not grow up inside some safe bubble. Rather, He lived under the same arduous situation as His people did. He shared their stresses, challenges and griefs. He healed, comforted, taught, loved.
You may have gone through tough times the past months: lockdown, business closures, health problems, alienation. Yet we must remember that just as Jesus identified with the plight of His people, He can empathize with yours, too. And just as He came to help and save them, He came to you, too.
I do hope this pandemic will end sooner than later. Yes, we will have the vaccine, but this is not the bright spot. The bright spot is the Christ, to Whom we can turn for compassion and succor.
And one day, He will make everything right.
He didn’t need to come. But He did.
O come let us adore Him!
Nestled in the Christmas story is what an angel told Joseph: “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
Don’t skip the last phrase. The implications are profound.
First, it says that people have sins. Does this include you and me? You bet. Do we have sins? I have done things I wish I haven’t. I think you can relate.
Second, it says that people cannot save themselves. This is startling. Many people suppose that when they sin, they just make it up with some good deed somewhere. Doing good is nice, but the sin is still there.
Third, it says that Someone else had to come to save us. When you think about it, if we can save ourselves, then Jesus didn’t have to be born, right?
Our sins have eternal consequences. Someday we will stand in judgment before a loving but holy God. Now imagine His dilemma. Because He is holy and we are not, He has to banish us to a wretched eternity without Him. But He also loves us and wants to forgive.
So how can He satisfy both justice and love? If He just winks at our sins and waives the punishment away. He won’t be holy or righteous. But if He consigns us to everlasting torment, then He won’t be compassionate or forgiving.
Tim Keller described the solution well: “The Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died.”
Call it whatever you will: lateral thinking, outside the box, the middle way. In Jesus Christ, God has made the perfect balance between His holiness and His love. It wasn’t either-or. It was both-and.
The genius of the Christian faith is that salvation is not something we earn (we cannot save ourselves, remember?). Rather, it is given. But like any gift, what was freely offered has to be received. Our response is to accept that gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
It cost Jesus dearly to save us, which we will expound in Holy Week. But meantime, is it any wonder that we celebrate His birth?
May you and your loved ones have a blessed Yuletide season.
Photo credit: Biblia.com
In a touching insight, Andy Andrews wrote, “I scour my heart clean in preparation for the New Year by forgiving those I need to forgive. And I always include that person who often seems to disappoint me the most… myself.”
Have you done something that you are still castigating yourself for? Maybe other people have long forgotten that incident. But not you. That deed still stings as if you have done it five minutes ago.
Regret is basically the refusal to forgive oneself. It stems from having a perfectionistic vision for oneself, a life where we make no dumb mistakes, lousy choices or wrong turns. When cold reality reveals how flawed and foolish we really are, we refuse to grant ourselves emotional amnesty. Rather, we flog ourselves with castigating self-talk such as “How could I have been so stupid?” “I should have done or known better!” “What will people think of me now?”
I must admit I am the type who loves beating myself up. As I make a quick mental survey of the past year, what pops up are more of what I did wrong rather than what I did right. That speaks of how bonded I have become with regrets, as if existence cannot be imagined in any other way.
If regret is the refusal to forgive oneself, Christmas heralds the basis for forgiveness. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
Even the sins which we burden ourselves with – the clutter in our hearts, the buyer’s remorse, the high road not taken – Jesus came to forgive.
The Son of God has made His long-awaited debut as a helpless babe. A God so indescribably kind has reached down to a humanity so desperately conflicted. We deem ourselves undeserving of emotional pardon.
We fear that self-exoneration violates some cosmic justice. We assume that we must somehow atone for those acts that we regret. But Jesus’ birth overrules our myopic concepts of self-worth. The infant will increase in stature and wisdom, live the regret-free life we long to live and satisfy that justice on the Cross.
Bethlehem foreshadows Calvary. We are immensely grateful that God forgives us so that we can forgive ourselves. It takes courage. It takes love. It takes Christmas.
We have all the right to exchange our regrets with rejoicing. I gaze beyond December 25 with fresh hope, renewed commitment and yes, a lighter spirit. Let us adore Him Who was born Christ the King!
May you and your loved ones have a blessed Yuletide season.
Photo credit: www.govloop.com
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